OUT OF OUR PAST: February/March 1984 In Search of the Tres Marias Double Yellow-headed Parrot


In 1976 I decided to find out about /1 psittacine birds, so I purchased a _I couple of elderly parakeets. Within a few months I learned from observation and extensive reading that keeping parakeets was quite easy, depending mainly on common sense, so I decided to branch out and gradually worked my way up through the more common types such as a Finsch's and a Mexican Redheaded Amazon, a pair of Halfmoons (which produced two lovely chicks for me, thereby deceiving me into thinking that sexing parrots by observation wasn't really so difficult), and finally on to Yellow-napeds and the delightful Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot.

Along the way I joined San Diego's Hookbill Hobbyists Club and soon began hearing about the "fabulous" Tres Marias Double Yellow-headed. I started a systematic search of the literature on parrots and soon discovered that information is scarce and sketchy regarding this subspecies of Amazona ocbrocepbala. Bates and Busenbark, in their book Parrots and Related Birds ' have only this to say:

"Restricted to the Tres Mafias Island (sic), this subspecies can be distinguished from the Mexican Double Yellow Head by its larger bill and head, and a brighter, more extensive yellow head. A faint bluish tinge transforms it into a brighter green." Not bad as far as it goes, this description is hardly definitive.

A.E. Decoteau in his book Handbook of Amazon Parrots 2 writes the following:

"There is definitely more yellow on the entire head and throat, extending down onto the neck and breast. The back and wings are lighter green than those of A. o. oratrix. The bend of the wing has much red mixed with yellow; the thighs are a rich golden yellow. The bird is larger and has a longer tail than A. o. oratrix." This description fits exactly the Yellow-head that we in the San Diego area, at least, have been calling "Tres Maria," but is it? I'll get to that shortly.

Decoteau also describes what he calls a "Magna Double Yellow-headed Amazon." He writes: "An exceptionally large Double Yellowhead Amazon, two to three inches larger than A. o. oratrix; this bird from southern Mexico rivals the Tres Marias Amazon in size and beauty. If anything, the magna lacks some of the

yellow color that the Tres Marias exhibits and seems to be a darker green in general body color. Not all ornithologists consider this bird sufficiently different from oratrixto be classified as a separate species, but I think that it should be and will treat it as such."

What I find of interest here is that, according to Rosemary Low in her book Tbe Parrots of South America .i A. o. magna was first described by Monroe and Howell in 1966.4 Since Double Yellow-headed Amazons were discovered and described over 100 years ago - in 1871 by Grayson, who named the bird Chrysotis levaillantii -one wonders where the "rnagna" was hiding during all


those years, especially since it is allegedly found along nearly all of the east coast of Mexico from Tamaulipas to eastern Tabasco. As for the magna's appearance, Ms. Low writes: "larger than A. o. oratrix. As large as A. o. tresmariae, but lacks the bluish cast to the green plumage."

According to the Distributional Checklist of the Birds of 'Mexico 5 the habitat of the "standard" Double Yellowhead on the east coast of Mexico covers all the area listed for "magna" and then some.

Joseph M. Forshaw in his book Parrots of the World 6 does not list any A. o. magna, but does state that birds from the Caribbean slope of Mexico tend to be larger than those from the Pacific side. So it does not appear to me that the Tres Marias subspecies is involved in this particular confusion. Finally, Forshaw described A. o. tresmariae as "adults similar to oratrix, but yellow of head extending down on to neck and upper breast; upper parts slightly tinged with blue; averages larger in size and with longer tail." I would like to point out here that Forshaw's description of the adult standard Double Yellow-head A. o. oratrix fits almost perfectly what we in San Diego have been calling a Tres Marias. He wrote: "Adults: Entire head and throat yellow; bend of wing pale red intermixed with yellow; carpal edge and thighs yellow; bill horn colored tinged with grey towards base of upper mandible. Immatures: Head entirely green except for a patch of yellow on forehead; bend of wing green; carpal edge yellowish-green."

Having seen many specimens, both young and old, of A. o. oratrix, I have observed that the gray in the beak is only present in very young birds, and that fledglings also always have red feathers on the bend of the wing right from the start. So even Forshaw may make a little error now and then.

Finally, Arthur Freud in his book All About the Parrots 7 says that "A. o. tresmariae resembles the Double Yellow Head but has a much greater area of yellow extending over the head and neck at an earlier age. This subspecies can also be recognized by its massive head and beak, generally greater length and large red markings on the bend of the wing." He omits the usual mention of yellow thighs. So, it is evident that every writer sees and describes these mysterious Amazon parrots a little differently, whether they have actually observed them or not.






Bates & Busenbark: Parrots & Related Birds TFH Publications Inc., 1969, H 912

A.E. Decoteau: Handbook of Amazon Parrots TFH Publications Inc., 1980, H 1025

Rosemary Low: The Parrots of South America

B.L. Monroe & T.R. Howell: Geographic Variations in Middle American Parrots of the Amazona ochrocephala Complex. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge, No. 34, 1966

Distributional Checklist of the Birds of Mexico, Pacific Coast Avifauna. No. 29& 33, 1950& 1957

Joseph M. Forshaw: Parrots of the World TFH Publications, Inc., 1977, PS 753 7. Arthur Freud: All About the Parrots, Howell Book House, Inc., 1980

E. W. Nelson, et al: Natural History of the Tres Marias Islands, North American Fauna, No. 14, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Div. of Biological Survey, 1899

Kenneth E. Stager: The Avifauna of the Tres Marias Islands, Mexico, The Auk, Oct. 1957, Vol. 74, No. 4.

M. E. Mclellan: Notes on Birds of Sinaloa & Nayarit, Mexico, in the Fall of 1925. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, Vol. XVI, 1927

Grant & Mccowan: A Review of the Avifauna of the Tres Marias Islands, Nayarit, Mexico. Condor, May 1964.