And Now, Will The Real Parvipes Please Stand Up!


I first became obsessed by Parvipes Yellow-naped Parrots (then known as Amazona ocbrocepbala pannpes) in the early nineteen eighties. The more I read the more confused I became and from talking and corresponding to other aviculturists it was clear that I was not alone and the subject could use much clarification both for the scientific and avicultural world. Some 14 years later after research that has taken me from remote jungle beaches to famous museum collections, and in conjunction with the eminent ornithologist Steve Howell, I finally found answers for nearly all my original questions. The scientific clarifications have been published elsewhere (see Literature), what follows here is an attempt to educate aviculturists on the subject in the hope that captive birds will be properly identified, paired and hopefully bred. As you will see, there are actually three subspecies of parrot that have been labeled as pannpes in the past. In addition, two of these subspecies are somewhat dimorphic in coloration which has only added further to the confusion.

In 1983, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) split the Yellow-crowned Parrot, Amazona ochrocephala, complex into three separate species rather than just one species with a number of subspecies. As a rule, the amount of yellow on the head of both Atlantic Slope and Pacific Slope adult birds decreases from north and west to south and east. The taxonomic complications are covered in more detail in our previous papers; suffice it to say here that even without the recent questioning of the fundamental concepts of species and subspecies definitions, this is a very complicated subject and it is relatively subjective as to how one divides or lumps this complex.

With the exception of Mosquitia pannpes, all the parrots mentioned in detail in this article, are highly threatened with extinction. They are still collected widely for pets and for this reason, in conjunction with very little remaining habitat, the populations

now number in the low hundreds and are tiny remnants of what they once were ..

The belizensis Group

A. o. belizensis was, as the name suggests, first described as living in Belize. Many aviculturists will be relatively familiar with it as a Yellow-headed Parrot, Amazona oratrix, with the yellow mainly confined to the face area. In Belize it lives in pine savannas and adjacent evergreen forest patches. During my first research trip to Honduras I found that locals in the extreme northwest had belizensis-type parrots as pets. I was interested to further note that two birds that I saw, had yellow nape patches in addition to typical yellow faces, but at the time I was hot in pursuit of pannpes and so didn't investigate further.

In 1994, at the advice of Steve Howell, I returned at long last to the general area and found myself and a companion, Armando Morales, in a dug-out canoe in Guatemala, traveling across bays and down exquisite pristine rivers to try and take a closer look at these birds. The coastal scrub and mangroves were full of all sorts of wonderful birds and after several hours we arrived at a beach where a small community of people eked out a living fishing. The owner of the storage shed we slept in was a sea turtle refuge warden and he was able to guide us to an area where these parrots usually roosted. The roosting area was a two hour walk down a magnificent wilderness beach. At dusk a flock of around 100 birds came in to roost at a group of mangroves.

Through the spotting scope I was clearly able to see that some of the birds had yellow nape patches like the ones I had seen some seven years earlier. Subsequent studies of locally held captive birds also revealed a tendency of this population to have some darker nails, ceres and eye-rings than belizensis (see Table). Although not formally named, Steve Howell and I have called this population "guaternalensis" It is restricted to the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and extreme northwest Honduras and mainly differs from belizensis in having slightly more restricted yellow in the face, the above-


mentioned soft part features and the existence of a yellow-naped morph as a significant portion (about 200!0) of the population.

The Sula Valley hondurensis

Much of the confusion about the identity of pannpes is traceable to a small shipment of Yellow-naped Parrots arrived in the U.S. in the late seventies. The birds had almost white beaks and yellow crowns. Since these birds were distinctly different than nominate Yellow-naped Parrots, Amazona auropalliata auropalliata, they were assumed to be paroipes and hence were labeled as such in the photographs of them that soon began to appear in avicultural books and journals.

This formerly unnamed subspecies which we have named Amazona oratrix bondurensis has in fact been quite an enigma since the sixties when Burt Monroe and Thomas Howell first mentioned it in their landmark paper that officially named magna, belizensis, and pannpes as new subspecies. At that point there had been a few sightings of unidentified Yellow-crowned Parrots in the Sula Valley of Honduras and also records of Yellow-naped birds. The lack of success in finding any parrots to study in the wild, scarcity of museum specimens, and little knowledge at the time of age-related plumage differences, led Monroe and Howell to guess that the Yellowcrowned birds were an undescribed subspecies and that the Yellow-naped birds were possibly "individuals of pannpes that had wandered outside their normal range or were escaped cage birds."

The search for more clues seemed at times to be hopeless, but thanks to experience with birds in my own aviaries, l knew that immature hondurensis lacked yellow napes as did some older individuals of this subspecies, so it seemed likely that the historic records were all from one population. I also knew that to fully solve the mystery would mean many days in the field since these birds had not been seen by ornithologists for some years. In 1987 when we were first in Honduras, we were unable to find anyone who had even heard of them


let alone seen them and I feared that they might already be extinct. In 1994, Armando Morales and I systematically searched for them day after day and interviewed countless campesinos along the way. People either were not familiar with them or said that they had vanished years before. However, the sightings of a few locally held captive birds indicated that they were still extant. We were determined to find them.

Finally at dusk one day, on a remote hill top in the Sula Valley, I heard a strange call and saw one large Amazon parrot fly by. It was too dark to identify it but I knew it looked and sounded promising. On our walk back we suddenly heard more of them and realized that we had found a roosting area. But what were they? In the nearby village people had at first said no one had any pet parrots. But as we approached, someone said that they had found a person who did have a Guarar'a (the local name for these birds) as a pet.

It was almost pitch dark as I knocked at a door and said in broken Spanish that I really wanted to see their pet parrot. I don't know what they thought but they graciously let me in and pointed up in the rafters; there up high, roosted a parrot. They held up a candle and prodded the bird a little with a broomstick, it pulled its head out from under its wing and in the gloom I could just make out the large yellow crown of the bird I had been seeking for so long. The next day we returned and spent some time studying a flock of about 75 of these birds.






AOU (American Ornithologists' Union) (1983) Check-list of North American birds. Sixth edition. Washington,D.C.; American Ornithologists' Union.

Forshaw J. M. (1973) Parrots of the World.

Melbourne, Australia: Landsdowne Press.

Howell, S.N.G. & Webb, S. (1995) A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lousada, S. (1989) Amazona auropalliata caribaea: a new subspecies of parrot from the Bay Islands, northern Honduras. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 109:232-235.

Lousada, S. (1997). Neues zur Gelbnacken-amazonen-Systematik. Papageien 11/97.

Lousada,S.A. & Howell, S.N.G. (1996).

Distribution, variation and conservation of Yellow-headed Parrots in northern Central America. Cotinga 5: 46-53.

Lousada,S.A. & Howell, S.N.G. (1997). Amazona oratrix hondurensis: a new subspecies of parrot from the Sula Valley of northern Honduras. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 117:205-209.

Monroe, B.L. & Howell, T.R. (1966) Geographic variation in Middle American parrots of the Amazona ochrocephala complex. Occas. Papers. Mus. Zoo!. Louisiana State Univer. 34. ~