The Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot (Amazona vittata vittatais) is also commonly known as Iguaca. This name was given by Taínos – pre-Columbian inhabitants – as it resembled the sound the parrots make when in flight.
The species is the only remaining native parrot in United States territory and one of the 10 most endangered bird species in the world. Its closest relatives are believed to be the Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala) and the Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis).
There are two recognized subspecies:
- Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot – Amazona vittata vittatais – nominate species
- There range is currently limited to the Luquillo Mountains in eastern Puerto Rico (Carribean National Forest). They formerly occurred on the nearby Vieques Island and Mona Island.
- Culebra Island Amazons – A. v. gracilipes – extinct species since 1912
- They inhabited Culebra Island. They were described as having looked like the nominate species, but smaller and with more slender feet. Although there are doubts regarding the distinctiveness of this subspecies.
Distribution / Range
The Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot is the only remaining native parrot in Puerto Rico and has been listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union since 1994.
Its range is believed to have included the nearby Vieques and Mona Islands. The population declined drastically in the 19th and early 20th centuries due to an almost total loss of suitable forest habitat, hunting for food and the cage-bird trade.
Conservation efforts commenced in 1968 to save this species fom extinction. In 2006, the total estimated population was 34 to 40 individuals in the wild and 143 individuals in captivity. In 2006, 20 birds were released in the Rio Abajo State Forest marking the beginning of a second population in the wild.
Additional 26 birds were released in that area in December 2007. The first two active nests were recorded in the wild at Rio Abajo in 2008.
The Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot is small compared to other Amazon Parrots — it measures ~ 28–30 cm (11–12 in) and weighs ~ 250–300 g (8.8–11 oz), or 275 g (9.7 oz).
Its general plumage is mostly green, though their feathers have blue edges. The forehead and lores (the regions between the eyes and bill on the side of a bird’s head) are red; and they have white rings around the eyes.
The breast, abdomen and under tail-coverts are a paler yellowish-green. The head, breast, nape, back and some of the abdomen feathers have a black edging. The abdomen in some birds have reddish tinge.
The primary wing feathers and primaries (= longest wing feathers) are dark blue and the outer webs of the outermost secondaries (shorter, upper “arm” feathers) are blue with green edging.
The feathers on the underside of the wings, which can be seen during flight, are bright blue; those in the tail have yellow-green tone. The irises are brown, the bill a horn-colored, and the legs are flesh or horn-colored.
Males and females look alike.
Immatures have dark irises and paler and less extensive red foreheads. The base of their upper beak is tinged in grey. They reach sexual maturity between three and four years of age.
The Puerto Rican Amazon reaches sexual maturity at 4 years of age in the wild and at 3 years in captivity. It usually mates for life, with pairs only changing mates if one bird perishes or abandons the nest. A male may abandon the female if the latter is injured.
The pairing process is unknown; however, new pairs tend to participate in mutual mating dances characterised by coordinated bows, partial extension of the wings and full tail expansion.
The Puerto Rican Amazon is a secondary cavity nester, nesting in tree trunk cavities, both naturally occurring and excavated by other species. It prefers to nest in Palo colorado trees (Cyrilla racemiflora), but uses other trees, including the laurel sabino (Magnolia splendens) and tabonuco (Dacryodes excelsa), to a lesser extent.
These trees are mature cavity-forming trees which provide protection against predators and the entry of water.
Recently, the species has also nested in artificial wooden boxes designed as part of the recovery plan for the species.
Nest height varies from 7–15 m (23–50 ft) above ground. The male usually leads the search for nest sites, although the final decision seems to be taken by the female.
Once a site is selected, the pair will spend some time inspecting and cleaning it. No lining material is added to the nest.
The species usually reproduces once a year between the months of January and July (the dry season). Copulation between pairs seems to be closely related to food transfers, with this possibly serving as a trigger for intercourse.
Amazons have a copulation pattern similar to that found in other parrots throughout the Americas, with the male gripping a perch with one leg while passively placing the other in the female’s back.
As the time for egg-laying approaches the pair spends more time in the nest, with the male providing food to the female via regurgitation.
The female lays 2–4 eggs that she exclusively incubates for a period of 24 to 28 days, while the male will be present in the vicinity of the nest when providing food.
Females rarely leave the nest, leaving it on rare occasions involving repelling predators or if the male has not brought food in an extended time frame.
The chicks are fed by both parents until they leave the nest, usually 60 to 65 days after hatching. Nonetheless, they remain dependent on their parents and travel with them until the next breeding season.
Like other Amazons, the Puerto Rican Amazon is gregarious while performing daily activities, but territorial around its nest. The size of the territory around the nest is usually around 50 meters (164 feet).
Pairs are extremely cautious near their nest, usually moving in a slow manner when leaving the nest to avoid the attention of predators. Although territorial defense is mostly composed of loud vocalizations there are instances of actual physical combat.
Pairs will defend their nest sites against invading couples, sometimes focusing on the location’s defense instead of egg-laying.
Pairs nesting in areas uninhabited by other parrots will remain mostly silent unless other parrots enter the zone.
Some pairs may display moderate territoriality even when not apparently intending to nest, with these tendencies beginning in the latter half of the breeding season.
One hypothesis is that this would occur in young pairs that had still not reached full maturity, serving as “practice territoriality”.
Like almost all Amazons, the Puerto Rican Amazon is a herbivore. Its diet consists of flowers, fruits, leaves, bark and nectar obtained from the forest’s canopy.
The species has been recorded to consume more than 60 different materials, although its diet was historically more varied due to its larger range.
Among the items it consumes are the pericarp of the seeds of sierra palm (Prestoea montana), tabonuco (Dacryodes excelsa), and negra lora (Matayba domingensis); the fruits of bejuco de rana (Marcgravia sintenisii), camasey (Miconia sintenisii), cupey de altura (Clusia gundlachii), and palo de cruz (Rheedia portoricensis); the flowers of bejuco de rana, achiotillo (Alchornea latifolia), and Piptocarpha tetrantha; the leaves and twigs of cupeillo (Clusia grisebachiana), laurel sabino (Magnolia splendens), caimitillo verde (Micropholis garciniaefolia), and Piptocarpha tetrantha; the bark of bejuco de rana, cupeillo, and cachimbo cumun (Psychotria berteriana); and the buds of cuaba (Inga vera). It normally selects the fruits positioned directly in front of its eyes, picking them one at a time with some rare exceptions.
When feeding, it uses a foot to pick up the food. The Amazon feeds in a slow, paused manner taking 8–60 seconds to consume separate items.
This parrot is critically endangered and all specimen currently in captivity should either be placed into a well-managed breeding program and / or released back into the wild.
Should one of them be unsuitable for any of those purposes and needs to be placed into a pet situation, please consider the below …
More Amazon Parrot Information
- General Information about Amazon Parrots
- Amazon Parrots as Pets
- Amazon Parrot Species
- Amazon Parrot Photo Gallery
- Amazon Health Problems / Diseases
- Amazon Diet & Nutrition
- Incubation Data
Species: Scientific: Amazona vittata vittata … English: Puerto Rican Amazon … Dutch: Puertoricaanse Amazone, Roodkopamazone … German: Puerto Rico Amazone … French: Amazone à front rouge, Amazone de Puerto Rico
There is no evidence that the West Indies were connected to a continent in the past, and thus the various native bird species are assumed to be descended from those that immigrated to the Caribbean at some point.
Some small species would have encountered problems traversing large bodies of water, but parrots have flight strength and various behavioral characteristics that would facilitate “over-water” dispersion.
Most Caribbean bird species originate from Central, North and South America.
The Amazona species found in the Caribbean are divided in two groups: five mid-sized species found in the Greater Antilles and seven large species in the Lesser Antilles.
All the Greater Antillean Amazons display characteristics leading to suppositions of relatedness, including predominantly green-toned color patterns and white rings around the eyes.
Russello and Amato conclude that all Greater Antillean Amazona descend from Amazona albifrons with Amazona vittata, Amazona leucocephala, and Amazona ventralis constituting a complex, a cluster of species so closely related that they intergrade.
British ornithologist David Lack considered that the Puerto Rican Amazon had evolved from the Hispaniolan Amazon (A. ventralis) found in Hispaniola, but it has since been argued that he omitted some elements in his analysis, including the similarities found between the Black-billed Amazon (A. agilis) of Jamaica and the Puerto Rican Amazon.
Subsequent studies showed that size and color patterns were not sufficient to assess evolutionary relationships, and that patterns changed with relative ease even within members of the same species.
The research concluded that the Puerto Rican Amazon may share a common ancestor with the Jamaican A. agilis.
Recent phylogenetic studies show that the Puerto Rican Amazon is more closely related to the Hispaniolan Amazon and the Cuban Amazon than to the Black-billed Amazon.
Population and distribution
The precise distribution of the Puerto Rican Amazon before the arrival of Spanish colonialists is uncertain, because of a lack of contemporary records and then the extermination of the indigenous Taíno people, but the species was apparently widespread and abundant.
There is also evidence the species may have inhabited other nearby islands, such as Antigua, Barbuda and the Virgin Islands.
Estimates of the parrot’s early numbers vary greatly. Some authorities claim that there were once more than a million individuals, while others suggest a more modest population of 100,000.
During the first 150 years of Spanish rule the human population was small, and in 1650, when the population of the island was 880 people, the species was still abundant throughout the archipelago.
After 1650, human habitation increased exponentially, and by the 18th century the Puerto Rican Amazon population started to be affected.
Heinrich Moritz Gaede, a German naturalist, declared that by 1836 the parrot population had noticeably declined.
Even so, as late as 1864, British ornithologist Edward Cavendish Taylor noted that the parrots were still common near the island’s capital, San Juan.
At first, human activity had not posed a significant threat to the Puerto Rican Amazon. The Taíno hunted the parrot but without much effect on its population. In the past two hundred years, however, many factors have led to a drastic decrease in the birds’ numbers: agricultural development, the construction of roads, hydroelectric development, and the adoption of young chicks as pets.
Especially during the latter half of the 19th century, most of Puerto Rico’s virgin forests, a historical habitat of the species, were cleared for agricultural development, primarily for the production of sugar, cotton, corn and rice.
The Amazon quickly came to rely on these crops as its main food source and so became seen as a pest; local farmers repelled or hunted the bird if possible.
As agriculture expanded, the Amazon’s habitat disappeared further and its population declined.
The species was historically found in mature or old-growth forests in Puerto Rico at all elevations, and in holes, cliffs, and other diverse habitats at lower elevations.
The species could be found at medium elevations in the Guajataca State Forest (until 1910) and the Rio Abajo State Forest (until the 1920s), and at high elevations in the Carite State Forest (until the 1930s).
Accounts from the early 1900s describe the parrots traveling away from the Luquillo forest and the Sierra de Cayey towards the main island’s coast to find food.
At the same time, the species was extirpated from Puerto Rico’s smaller islands—Culebra, Vieques and Mona—and became restricted to five locations: two in karst-limestone areas, two in high montane rain forests and one in mangrove forest at the foot of the El Yunque National Forest.
One of these karst regions, located in the northwestern part of Puerto Rico, was identified as a haven for the species.
In particular, a region named Valle de las Cotorras ( Valley of the Parrots), located between San Sebastián and Morovis, was home to a sizable population. Some Amazons survived in small pockets of degraded forest but these proved insufficient to support large colonies.
Eventually their natural habitat was reduced to the Cordillera Central and undisturbed forest areas, and by 1940 they were only to be found in primary forest at the Luquillo Mountains in the Caribbean National Forest.
The species is currently found at elevations between 396 and 823 m (1,300 and 2,700 ft). Since the species requires mature forests with open-cavity trees for reproduction, it does not occur in dwarf and second growth forests.
By the 1950s, there were only 200 parrots in the wild, and in 1975 the population reached an absolute low of 13 individuals. Numbers then recovered, and in August 1989 there were an estimated minimum of 47 individuals.
But on September 18, 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck the northeast coast of Puerto Rico inflicting heavy casualties on the remaining birds.
In the aftermath of the hurricane the population was estimated at 23 individuals. In 2004, the wild population was 30-35 individuals, and the long-term trend appears to be stable albeit with some fluctuations.
The current range of the species is 16 km² (6 sq mi), 0.2% of what it once was.
The Puerto Rican Amazon is diurnal, typically beginning its day half an hour after sunrise. It is generally secretive when inside its nest, using its green plumage as camouflage.
In contrast, it may be vocal and noisy when outside the nest. Upon taking flight, its color pattern provides some contrast to the forest.
The flight mechanism of this species is similar the one found in other Amazons, and involves strokes below the body axis, unlike most birds whose wings flow above their bodies in flight.
Amazons can fly moderately fast, reaching a top speed of approximately 30 km/h (18 mph), and are fairly agile when evading predators in mid-air. When in search of food, the parrots group in pairs.
Couples and their fledged young display a tendency to stay together. The Amazon makes two flight calls, a take-off squawk which consist of a pattern of long squawks, and a loud “bugle”, commonly used in flight and which may have several meanings depending on the circumstances when it is used.
Threats and conservation
On March 11, 1967 the Puerto Rican Amazon entered the United States Fish and Wildlife Service list of endangered species list.
At the time of inclusion the population was estimated at 70 individuals.
In 1968, recovery efforts began to increase the population in the wild.In 1972, when the estimated population was 16 individuals, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the Luquillo Aviary began efforts to breed parrots in captivity and yielded good results.
In June 2006, it was reported by the USFWS that its birds in captivity had successfully hatched 39 chicks (the yearly average is around 16).
In 2006, 22 birds were released in the Rio Abajo State Forest to initiate a second wild population, and a further 19 were released at the same site on 27 December 2008.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the Puerto Rican Amazon as a critically endangered species since 1994.
The species is regulated under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), rendering illegal international trade in specimens or parts.
Human activity is arguably the main reason for the population decline of the Puerto Rican Amazon. Early settlers of Puerto Rico, such as the Taíno, hunted it for food consumption but managed to maintain a healthy ecological balance.
Later, habitat destruction, capture of immature individuals for the pet industry, hunting and predation contributed to the sharp population decline.
The clearing of mature forests for agricultural development is the main reason for the decline of population.
Natural predators of the Puerto Rican Amazon include the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), the Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus).
The thrasher invaded Puerto Rico in the mid-20th century and has been a problem for the parrot population since 1973; to combat this, specially designed deep nests were prepared for the parrots in subsequent years to prevent competition from the invaders.
Introduced honeybees (Apis mellifera), the related Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis), Black rats (Rattus rattus) and Indian mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) may compete for nesting cavities, and the latter two may eat eggs and chicks.
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, were not a threat to the Puerto Rican Parrot population when it was more readily self-maintaining, but as a result of the fragmentation and reduction of the population these disasters are now a threat as well.
Hurricane Hugo passed through the species’ range in September 1989, and reduced the population from 47 to 23 individuals.
In response to the Puerto Rican Amazon’s low population and endangered status, a recovery plan was drafted and implemented in 1968. Its main objective was to downlist the species to threatened status by the year 2020.
Other objectives included establishing two separate viable wild populations (each of which would consist of 500 or more individuals for a period of at least five years), protecting habitat for those populations, and controlling predators, parasites and competitors.
As part of the conservation efforts, a captive population was established in the Luquillo Aviary in 1973.
Another was established in 1993 when some individuals where transferred from the Luquillo Aviary to the Rio Abajo State Forest under the administration of the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources (Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales).
The Culebra Island Amazon Parrot (Amazona vittata gracilipes) was formerly found on Culebra Island to the East of Puerto Rico, but became extinct in that area at the turn of this century. Today, this extremely endangered species is restricted to Luquillo Mountains, an area of about 44 sq. miles (114 sq. kilometres), with a wild population of only about 50 birds and 30 to 40 in captivity.
The causes of their decline are habitat destruction, hunting, trapping for the pet trade as well as natural causes, such as hurricanes.
Description: They looked like the Puerto Rican Amazon featured above, except at a length of 10 ins (25 cm) they were generally smaller and had more slender feet.
Call: Raucous, rolling screech; special alarm call when flying off.
Breeding: The breeding season starts in February and continues until about June. They nest in tree hollows; although nowadays accept artificial nest sites. The females lay 2 to 4 eggs, which she incubates for 25 to 27 days. The young fledge when they are about 65 days old. They reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years.
Aviculture: They are more susceptible than other amazon species and difficult to acclimatize. At this time, they are only kept at a breeding station of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Puerto Rico and in Patuxent Research Center, Maryland, U.S.A. Their flights are 10.3 x 5.3 x 8.3 ft (3.1 x 1.6 x 2.5 m) with an adjoining shelter of 6.6 x 9.6 x 8.3 ft (2.0 x 2.9 x 2.5 m). As they are heavy chewers, metal construction was used. Their nest boxes are 16 x 16 x 32 ins (40 x 40 x 80 cm).
Diet: Mainly fruits, berries vegetables and nuts grown on Puerto Rico; also seeds, leaves, branches, bark, flowers, and buds; especially feeds off palm fruits (Prestoea montana) during breeding season. Additionally, sunflower seeds as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. Peanuts are often offered — however, peanuts are often contaminated with aflatoxin, a fungal toxin.
Aflatoxin is carcinogenic and causes liver damage in birds, other animals, and even humans. Roasting reduces aflatoxin but does not eliminate it entirely. North American peanut producers are currently working on eliminating contaminated peanuts from their products.
Especially peanuts with dark spots on them should be considered suspect, but even those that look clean and perfect could possibly be contaminated.
Taxonomy: Species: Scientific: Amazona vittata gracilipes … English: Culebra Island Amazon … Dutch: Culebra Amazone … German: Culebra Amazone … French: Amazone de Culebra