THE RED-BROWED AMAZON Amazona rhodocorytha

By Roger G. Sweeney
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 105 No. 2
Copyright © 1999 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

The BreedingRed-browed AmazonAmazona rhodocorytha, which measures up to 36cm (approx. 14in) long and commonly weighs about 450g (approx. 1 lb), is one of the larger of the mainland species of Amazon parrots. The coloration of this species, particularly that of the head, is extremely attractive. The forehead and crown are bright red. The lores are yellow, sometimes becoming orange as the yellow merges into the red of the forehead. The front area of the cheeks and the throat are pinkish-red, with the rear of the cheeks being blue, fading out to green. The patterns of colour merge together, with those of each individual bird being slightly different. The greatest individual variation occurs in the amount of yellow, which can range from almost none to being quite extensive. In sharp contrast to the beautiful coloration of the head, the plumage of the body and wings is mainly green.

The Red-browed Amazon is endemic to a limited area along the coastal region of eastern Brazil. In the past limited numbers of birds were exported, but in recent decades no further exportations have been permitted under Brazilian legislation which prevents the exportation of this species, that has been placed on Appendix I of the CITES Convention. Despite having been in captivity for many years. only a small number of birds from the early importations have reproduced. Until recently the European population comprised these ageing adult birds. the majority of which had not reproduced. and a group of second generation birds bred by private aviculturists. all of which were closely related and already showing an inbreeding coefficient.

An EEP (European Endangered Species Breeding Programme) for this species was initiated in 1994, but a number of problems soon became clear. To begin with a number of the important ageing wild caught birds were confiscated birds held by zoos, which could not move them for the purpose of pairing. The strict conditions of membership of the EEP discouraged private aviculturists from participating, so in 1996 there was a recommendation that private aviculturists should pay an annual fee to take part in the EEP. If progress was to be made it was important that more of the founder birds which had the potential to breed, but which had not done so, were encouraged to breed in order to produce new bloodlines of first generation young, which could be moved more easily and used to form new unrelated pairs.

Loro Parque had held a large group of Red-browed Amazons for over a decade, but these had shown no interest in breeding other than to lay a few infertile eggs at irregular intervals through the years. When I took charge of these birds we began by building a large communal aviary, designed mainly with Amazon parrots in mind, with the intention of using it for the group pairing of non-breeding stock. This aviary was built in the latter part of 1994, and in the spring of 1995, we introduced a group of just over 20 non-breeding Red-browed Amazons. All were introduced at the same time and before the start of the breeding season, to help reduce the risk of aggression. In the event, very little direct aggression was observed. Within the first week though, two birds had to be removed due to their weakened condition, which we believed had been caused by intimidation. The remaining birds settled down well and soon we were able to begin moving the newly formed pairs back in to breeding cages. That season (1995) we recorded our first successful breeding of this species, with a total of five young being reared. The following season (1996) we raised a further 13. During 1997 we began moving many of the adult breeding pairs to the newly completed breeding areas away from the main parque, and due to this only one pair bred in 1997, rearing two young.

In three breeding seasons a total of 20 Red-browed Amazons were reared, but we had still not achieved the successful parent-rearing of the young. Seventeen of them were reared by foster parents, which included as Foster ParentsYellow-crowned AmazonAmazona ochrocephalas A. ochrocephala, as Foster FarentsGreen-cheeked AmazonAmazona viridigenaliss A. viridigenalis, as Foster FarentsBlue-fronted AmazonAmazona aestiva xanthopteryxs A. aestiva xanthopteryx, as Foster FarentsMaximilian's Pionus Pionus maximiliani and as Foster FarentsBlue-headed PionusPionus maximiliani P. menstruus. The remaining three were being reared by their parents as part of a brood of four chicks until at three weeks of age, one was killed and two of the three remaining chicks were found with bite wounds. The three surviving chicks were removed and successfully hand-reared, though one lost an eye due to the injuries inflicted by the parents. Although none of the offspring reared up until the time of writing have been raised by their parents, there is hope that this will change in the near future.

In 1996, when their eggs were removed, one of the breeding pairs of Red-browed Amazons was given an egg from a pair of as Foster FarentsWhite-fronted AmazonAmazona albifronss A. albifrons to see if they would hatch the egg and rear the chick. Giving the egg to a smaller species such as the White-fronted would not have been our first choice. hut it was the only species with eggs at the time and I really wanted to give the pair of Red-browed Amazons the opportunity to see if they could hatch the egg and rear the chick. This they did successfully, giving hope that in the near future Red-browed Amazons will successfully rear their own young.

The husbandry of Red-browed Amazons was during the time I was Curator at Loro Parque, similar to that of the other Amazona species. The birds receive two feeds a day. The first, at 7.00am, comprises a main dish of mixed fruit and vegetable salad, plus a smaller dish containing about 35g of a commercial dietary pellet (Prettybird Hi-protein Select). The salad mixture contains apple, pear, papaya, beetroot, carrot, alfalfa, lettuce, tomato, orange and pepper, and about 80g of this is given to each pair. At 3.00pm the remains of the morning food is removed and replaced by a clean dish containing dry seeds, cooked beans and nuts. Each pair receive about 80g of this mixture which contains sunflower and safflower seeds, hemp, canary seed, millets, niger, wheat, black-eyed and mung beans, plus very small quantities of peanuts and pine nuts. The Red-browed Amazon is one of the species of the genus Amazona which is most prone to obesity. At the end of the breeding season at Loro Parque, each bird used to be caught and subjected to a thorough veterinary examination, during which its weight was recorded and its physical condition assessed. In the case of obese birds, their diet was adjusted to help them shed the excess weight. It was very noticeable to me how birds which had been placed in the pairing flight, and had selected new partners, seemed to be significantly more active and indulged in much more courtship behaviour which I believe helped prevent them from becoming obese.

The exhibition aviaries for Amazon parrots at Loro Parque are of a basic all-wire mesh construction on a stainless steel framework. Shelter is provided only above the feeding area and the entrance to the nest-box, otherwise they are of an open design with vision breaks and shade provided by rows of dense Arecca Palms. The aviaries used to accommodate Red-browed Amazons in the off-exhibit breeding areas are of the suspended type and measure 300cm x 98cm x 98cm (approx. 9ft 10in x 3ft 2 1/2in x 3ft 2 1/2in). The floors of the aviaries are about 125cm (approx. 4ft 1in) above the floor of the service passage, to give the birds a comfortable height at which to perch, slightly above the head height of the keepers. Service access is exclusively from the fronts of the aviaries which extend back from the service access area and have the nest-boxes placed on the back panel of the aviaries, where the nesting birds are less likely to be disturbed by the daily husbandry routines. The nest-boxes are hung on the outside and a hole cut through the wire allows the birds access to them. Each aviary has horizontal perches, the food and water area, a calcium block and a regular supply of fresh wood for the birds to chew.

The nest-boxes provided for the Red-browed Amazons measure approximately 70cm high x 30cm x 30cm (about 27 1/2in high x 11 3/4in x 11 3/4in), not quite as high might be expected for a large Amazon parrot, but this is to prevent placing unnecessary weight on the structure of the suspended cages. The nest medium used is large-sized wood shavings. Clutches laid at Loro Parque between 1995 and 1997, always numbered three to five white eggs. The incubation period appears to be 25 days, but this still requires confirmation from a larger number of parent incubated eggs .. To date the majority of eggs have been incubated by foster parents. Newly hatched young have strands of yellow primary down on the back and nape, but otherwise are naked. All young parrots hatched at Loro Parque can be identified by a closed leg band fitted between the age of 14-21 days. When endangered species such as Red-browed Amazons have fledged and are independent, a second means of identification in the form of a numbered micro-chip is placed in the breast muscle.

Once fledged, all young Red-brewed Amazons are placed in a large holding aviary measuring 12m x 1.5m x 2.8m (approx. 39ft x 5ft x 8ft) and live in a small flock and get lots of flying exercise during the first year of their lives. This we thought would produce birds in a stronger physical condition and provide them with better opportunities for juvenile social interaction, an important point in view of the fact that so many of them had been reared by foster parents.

The wild population of the Red-browed Amazon remains under threat, with large areas of its restricted range not protected from future land development. In Europe the future of the captive population now looks a little brighter. In addition to the success achieved at Loro Parque, Palmitos Park on Gran Canaria has also recently succeeded in breeding this species. A number of first generation young bred at Loro Parque have been transferred to create unrelated pairings of first generation offspring and several more of the founder birds at Loro Parque are showing signs of becoming reproductively active. Outside of Europe there are small populations of Red-browed Amazons in South Africa, Asia and North America. The North American population is now the subject of a SSP (Species Survival Plan) which is being successfully coordinated by Dr Paul Riello, with breeding having been achieved on several occasions at the Rare Species Conservatory. International cooperation and continuing improvements in the breeding success of the captive populations means things now look well placed to ensure a safe future for the Red-browed Amazon, in captivity, if not in the wild.