Amazon Articles

Understanding Amazon Behavior

HarleyBird - A Treasured Blue-Fronted Amazon
Interpretation of Body and Feather Language


 Understanding Amazon Behavior
By Dennis Saydak
Having kept and bred several of the larger popular talking parrot species since 1986, I can state unequivocally that members of the genus Amazona make absolutely outstanding pet and companion birds. They are very much more than just great talkers. This article is written to further a better understanding of this genus and to dispel some of the inaccurate information that is unfortunately still being perpetuated by those who do not understand the behavior realities of this species. Some of this inaccurate information

Blue-Fronted Breeding Pair

Don't you come near our eggs!

is certainly rooted in past history. Not that many years ago, our knowledge and experience with Amazons was based primarily on wild-caught adult birds, or at best, with chicks removed from the wild and passed through a "mechanical" quarantine and weaning process for the pet trade. This experience did little for the eventual pet quality of the birds involved. Proper socialization was non-existent and most birds suffered considerable stress during all phases of the process. Thankfully, those days are gone for the most part. Amazons have since been domestically bred and kept for multiple generations by caring and competent aviculturists. Consequently we have a much better and certainly more accurate understanding of their behavior than ever before.

The Amazona Persona

Properly raised, properly socialized and properly cared for Amazons are wonderfully gregarious and entertaining parrots. In fact they are one of the true extroverts and show- offs of the parrot world. They adapt beautifully to a busy household situation and can cope relatively easily compared to some other species (e.g. African Greys or Cockatoos), with changes or disruptions in their daily routine. Most individuals actually thrive on new daily adventures. For example, one of my Blue-Fronted Amazons resides in a senior's care home. It rides around on the service cart visiting and entertaining the residents and their guests on a daily basis and thoroughly enjoys all the action. Amazons are also very self-confident birds and you won't have to worry about coming home to a parrot that has instantly denuded itself while under the temporary care of a "babysitter". In short, Amazons are one of the least prone of all the parrot species to developing neurotic behaviors as a result of errors in their care and keeping. They are highly resilient in that regard.

Amazons certainly enjoy and thrive on attention from their humans. However, their need for attention is neither overly demanding nor insatiable as it often is with other species. They are very capable of happily entertaining themselves while their human companion is busy or temporarily away at work. Naturally, they should have as large an enclosure as possible and a number of safe toys to play with and challenge their inquisitive minds.

What more could one ask for in a pet parrot? Well, many of the popular Amazon species such as the Blue-Fronted and various members of the Ochrocephala group have exceptional talking ability. Their vocabularies can easily rival that of a talented African Grey. Double-Yellowheaded and Yellow-Naped Amazons are also know for their singing ability. They love listening to and mimicking opera music in particular.

Aggressiveness In Amazons

As a breeder, I am often asked to address one common concern from individuals considering the purchase of a pet Amazon:

Is it true that all Amazons (especially the males) become mean and vicious, and unsuitable as companions once they reach sexual maturity?

This is a very misunderstood subject that requires some explanation. It is essentially a myth. All too often, breeders of other parrot species who have had little experience or success with Amazons repeat it in the hope that they will convince people to purchase an alternate species they have available rather than the Amazon they really want. Here's what Layne David Dicker a well-respected author and lecturer on parrots has to say about this myth, "Garbage, garbage, garbage" (Bird Talk Magazine).

The truth is, none of the larger parrot species will stay sexually immature forever. They grow up all too quickly and will show signs of sexual maturity within a few short years. Any species is capable of becoming aggressive under certain circumstances and Amazons are certainly no exception. However, they display middle of the road behavior in this area of concern compared to many other species.

During the breeding season (springtime for Amazons) the instinct for species survival takes over. Nature has programmed them over the centuries to protect their territory, mate (including their favorite human), nest, eggs and chicks from all perceived intruders. This comes automatically as an integral part of the package with any large parrot species. If a person cannot accept this, they should definitely consider a pet other than a parrot. In the future if breeders selectively breed for gentleness, it may be possible to mellow this behavior over time.

A springtime hormone rush occurs in Amazons (and other species) as a result of the days getting progressively longer. Individual birds react differently and some males may react more strongly to hormone changes than others. This is a temporary situation, which peaks at around 14-hours of daylight. It is almost 100% controllable in a pet Amazon through sound socialization and behavior techniques. For the odd difficult bird, reducing the photoperiod to less than 14 hours of daylight can help (cover the cage appropriately). Once the days begin to get shorter, the hormone rush naturally subsides and the bird reverts back to being it's well behaved old self. This time period can be very entertaining for the Amazon owner because birds will display certain behaviors not seen during the rest of the year. It is an event to be enjoyed rather than feared. Males will display by flaring their tails, flashing their eyes, holding their wings away from their bodies and doing "the Amazon strut". This is really neat to witness. Their normally hidden colors are shown to good advantage and their beauty is absolutely astounding. They may attempt to protect their owner by chasing "enemies" away and biting. Owners should obviously use common sense when handling their bird during this period. Observe the bird's body language to avoid getting bitten unnecessarily. Remember, their hormones are in control. Females may squat down low on the perch, raise their tails and quiver their wings. They will also flash their eyes as a sign they are excited. Most Amazons begin to show decreased reaction to hormonal changes at about 10 years of age. So, they can naturally become mellower with age.

Another situation to be aware of which promotes aggressiveness is keeping several mature males in close proximity to each other. During the spring they will spend considerable time and effort vocalizing and threatening each other. They have lots of time to use their hormones to full advantage. In this case, the environment is the major contributing factor to overly aggressive behavior.

Amazon Basic Training:

Just like human children and other companion animals, baby Amazons will not automatically grow up to become well-behaved companions without receiving proper training, socialization and nurturing from their owners. Also, people must understand that parrots are at best only a few generations removed from their wild caught counterparts. They are by no means fully domesticated creatures like dogs or cats, which have been bred in captivity for centuries. Even dogs and cats can become dangerous to people under certain conditions.

A knowledgeable, informed and observant owner should be able to handle any behavior problem that arises with their pet bird. The key to achieving this is proper education and information.

The first thing every new Amazon owner should do is become knowledgeable with the basic principles of parrot behavior and training. A subscription to Sally Blanchard's Pet Bird Report publication ( is an excellent investment in that regard. It will provide the information necessary to prevent critical mistakes from being made that cause or contribute to bad bird behavior. An informed pet owner won't be one of the individuals who complain about how mean their bird is down the road because they will always be in control of the situation. Additionally, parrot owners must establish a bond of trust with their bird for training to be truly effective. This comes as a result of working properly with the bird. Young parrots are eager to please their owner and they enjoy verbal or special treats as a reward when they do things right.

Training sessions are best done away from the bird's cage to avoid territorial problems, which can arise. Another room is best. Sessions should be kept relatively short in duration based on the bird's actual attention span (typically 5-10 minutes). The Up, Down and No commands should be taught and reinforced continuously. Reward positive behavior and never reward or reinforce negative behavior or the parrot will receive mixed messages which it will undoubtedly use to surprise you at the wrong time. Consistency and discipline on the part of the trainer is an absolutely must. Amazons can be very strong willed and if the trainer is inconsistent with the bird, it will soon learn that it can rule the roost. For example, if the bird is allowed to ignore the up command periodically, it will soon learn that it that it can get away with not obeying whenever it wants. It will become progressively more difficult to pick up the bird consistently. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to be flawless with training in order to achieve the desired optimal results.

Good Luck with your Amazon.




A Treasured Blue-fronted Amazon
(Amazona aestiva xanthopteryx)

 If you noticed the similarity between the gorgeous bird in this picture and the one on our web page wallpaper background you are absolutely correct. They happen to be one and the same bird. Harley lives with our web master and his better half in Canada, and as you can see she had the run of the house. She hovered like a helicopter and could maneuver around corners and through doorways with ease. However, that was not always the case. If one of us happened to be going through the doorway while she was coming through, Harley would land on our head unless we ducked.

 Harley was acquired in a severely malnourished state against the advice of a Veterinarian. Both nostrils were running like a tap and she was very weak. The Vet didn't think she would live beyond a few days at the most. Little did he know what Harley Bird was capable of. She was previously the pet companion of an invalid who personally was unable to care for her. Her surrogate care giver was a nursing assistant who basically knew very little about parrots. Consequently, Harley became a victim of the proverbial seed-only diet. Although initially her health status was a touch and go situation, she made a full recovery to excellent health over a period of a year and a half. Not only did her physical health recover, she made a phenomenal emotional recovery as well. She went from shivering in her feathers to the confident flyer you see in the picture. She also bonded very strongly and affectionately to her new companion humans.

 Subsequently a buddy for Harley was found. When they were introduced to each other it was literally love at first sight. From the moment they saw each other they were inseparable. It was not a requirement for us that the birds were opposite sexes. However as it turned out, they were a true pair. In the spring of 1989 Harley presented us with two beautiful chicks. She has bred successfully each year since then and has double clutched on occasion. In 1999 Harley was the mom of six beautiful babies. Some of Harley's offspring have won first place awards at the Canadian National and other major shows in eastern Canada.

 Each year when we hang Harley's nest box we can literally see and feel the joy in her heart. Her vocalizations and body language tell us great deal about how happy she is. When the babies arrive, Harley is very proud to show them off to us in the nest. She is not disturbed in the least when we check on them or service the box. The bond of trust that has been established transcends throughout the breeding season.

 Harley has brought much joy into our lives over the years and we treasure her immensely. She is largely responsible for fostering our interest in aviculture.

Interpretation of Body and Feather Language
By the late James J. Murphy

The science of interpreting human body language has finally come out of the academic closet and into the professional psychology laboratories and literature. Neurolinguistics is the study of subtle involuntary human body postures, eye movements, and minute facial changes that reveal our inner emotional tones. These subtle movements are now considered innate to our species. We all recognize some of them on a conscious level and perhaps all of them on the unconscious level of our perception.

Birds also have inborn body language and feather posturing that is innate to their kind. These postures and movements also reflect the bird's inner emotional tone. Each avian species has its own variations on an overall avian theme, but there is enough similarity between the species to make valuable statements about the meaning of these stereotypic behaviors.

Knowledge of the bird's body language and feather posturing enables the observer to better understand the often rapidly changing emotional state of an avian field subject or pet bird on his perch in your living room. A bird's background mental tone is continuously projected to the observer (usually another bird) as a form of usable non-venal social information or cues. The observing bird (or pet owner) uses these social clues to interact with the observed bird.

Learning to translate these often-subtle clues will greatly enhance your relationship with your feather pet as you learn to read his emotional tone written with his body language and feather postures. Listed below are a few of the most obvious posturing common to pet birds. [Editor's Note: Doctor Desmond Morris did a TV series on human behavior (The Learning Channel) and has published much information on the meaning of body language of birds. These older works are still available at well-stocked public or university libraries.]

The Rouse: This term is borrowed from the vocabulary used in the ancient art of falconry and refers to the vigorous shaking of virtually the body feathers in a manner resembling a dog shaking water off his coat This action typically lasts about 1 or 2 seconds. The translation of this action is that of well-being or happiness. This action is often seen when a favorite person enters the room or when the bird finally reaches a place/perch where it feel is the most comfortable. The rouse is not to be mistaken for a sure sign of good health. Even a very sick bird will rouse its feathers when seeing its loved one approach. The rouse is perhaps the single most fundamental movement that the new bird owner should learn to recognize - for it is the key to recognizing how well your relationship is developing with your bird. A bird that sits with its feathers sleeked and never rouses in your presence is sending a very strong message of distrust to you. It does not go unnoticed that this most basic stereotypic behavior is not even mentioned in pet bird literature

Tail Wag: This action is very often used in conjunction with the rouse. The sequence is usually seen as a rapid fluffing of the feathers (rouse) and ending with a tail wag. This extra action adds emphasis to the feeling of well-being. Dogs are not the only species that express happiness by wagging their tails. Both the rouse and the tail-wag can be exercised independently.

Eye-blaze: Amazon parrots are very much an eye contact species. To this end, they (and other psittacids) have evolved the ability to constrict their irises momentarily. This ability is more associated with adults than juveniles. This action is apparently designed to call the observer's attention to the eyes of the bird and, thus, to the bird itself. Eye blazing is associated with heightened emotional /mental activity - be it positive or negative. When eye-blazing activity occurs, it tends to modify or enhance the main message in the rest of the body language and feather posturing that features slightly outstretched wings and slow deliberate strutting on the perch.

Intention Movements: Flight - the take-off leap of a bird before flying consists of a crouching phase, in which the bird bends its legs, forwards its head and raises its tail, followed by the leap into space. The first phase of the take-off leap may appear alone, as an intention movement, and may be repeated a number of times if the bird is excited to go somewhere but undecided where to go. These intention flight movements are common with pet Amazons with clipped wings. Wing clipping, as you might imagine, exaggerates the intensity and frequency of this movement. This intention movement is often accompanies by a vocal twittering of excitement. My Panama Amazon would use flight intention movements whenever he wanted to go somewhere. For example, if he wanted to be returned to his cage, he would point his beak directly at his cage, crouch and quiver the bends of his wings rapidly, and utter small twittering sounds.

Preening: The need to attend and maintain their feathered apparel is a basic avian necessity, yet preening also is a major component of a social cue to the observer. Breast feather cleaning and maintenance is perhaps the most commonly observed preening activity and signals a relaxed, non-frightened and non-aggressive bird. However, when the bird turns its attention to cleaning and separating its tail feathers, it is at its most unstressed and comfortable state of being. A prey species (and all parrots are a prey species) will never take its eyes off its surrounds long enough to preen its tail feathers if there is any chance of a surprise attack from a predator.

Wing-Over-Leg Stretch: Although this action may be seen as a simple stretching exercise, the acting bird signals comfort to the observers). The set of stretching relieves the muscles of stress while simultaneously signaling to the observer that the stretcher is in a very relaxed calm (non-aggressive) state of mind. Only a calm and relaxed bird will do a wing-over-leg stretch in the presence of an observer.

Beak Grinding: The overt action here is to grind the lower mandible against the inside to upper mandible to ensure a nice sharp fit and thus keep the beak in good condition. Again, the social signal projected to the observer is relaxation and an elevated level of drowsiness. This action commonly occurs immediately prior to sleep.

One-Foot Perching: This is the normal perching position in a bird that is sleeping or in deep relaxation. Often the bird's head is turned over on its shoulder and its beak is buried in the scapular leathers on its back. This is a normal sleeping position in nearly all perching birds

Tail Fan: The fanning of the tail is widespread in avian behavioral patterns. The peacock's tail fan is one of nature's most obvious examples of its use in courtship displays. But, as in most ritualized, stereotypic behavioral patterns, the display begins to change meaning through evolutionary time. The banner tail feather coloration of the Amazon parrots is mostly apparent to the observer when spread out and held in that position. We are referring here to the widest of the graduated tail fans. This type of tail fanning action at the nest site is an aggressive warning to stay away. In the habitat of your living room, it means much the same.


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