Ask The Experts

Viewers are invited to submit questions about Amazon parrots.
Questions will be reviewed by our experts and may be used in
the Amazona Quarterly publication.

 Q: How long do Amazons live?

A: With proper care and nutrition plus good genetics, Amazons can live a human lifetime and enjoy good health to a ripe old age. This picture shows Old Baldy
(a Blue-fronted Amazon) who passed away at 102 years of age on April 15th, 2002.

As with humans, 102 years is an exceptional age for any parrot.


Q: Retired Professor and TAS member Henry F. Beechhold asks the                                     $64,000.00 question:
This question concerns not only Amazons, but all of the larger parrots:
Since physical characteristics of all species of flora and fauna seem to have a rational evolutionary/survival explanation -- the various bird beak configurations, for example, are related to the food each species has adapted to eat -- what is the adaptive value of the extraordinary long life of the large parrots? My Amazon (a Blue-Fronted), for example, has a projected life span of about 70 years. Given that the parrots are as a congeries of species successful breeders (not, for example, like pandas), how can we explain so long a life -- especially given that in common with all birds, parrots have a fairly high metabolic rate, and the general rule seems to be that high metabolic rate equals relatively short life.

A: I don't know how the long life of parrots compares with the life span of
other large birds, such as eagles, hawks, vultures, and ravens. This might be the first question to look into, from the point of view of bird metabolism.

Having said that, I think that the longevity of parrots must have to do with the importance of learning in their lives. They learn from older parrots in order to find a wide range of foods in the right seasons.

Going beyond this, the work of Schindler on Amazon vocalizations suggests that Amazons form separate cultural groups. The existence of older parrots in the group may provide a reservoir of information that would be necessary for survival during times of rarely occurring danger or scarcity. The older birds may know of distant food sources that the younger birds have never visited. Amazon survival may be much more complex than we know.

Also, from what I have read, Amazon reproduction in the wild is not that easy because they depend on the existence of appropriate tree holes. Breeding is limited by how many holes there are, so reproduction may be slow.

How long is the Amazons' reproductive life? In the wild, do Amazons live beyond their time of actual fertility (as humans do)? If they do, this would support the idea that the older Amazons serve as repositories of information that helps group survival.

Edwina Williams

Q: Is it ok to pull eggs from my Blue-Front pairs for artificial incubation to try to get them to double or triple clutch? If so, when should the eggs be pulled?

A: Leaving the babies with the parents for the first few weeks gives them a better start and the babies are much calmer. The parents brood them 24 hours a day. One problem you might not be aware of is presently in many parts of the USA there is a glut of certain species on the market and you might not sell the excess babies. Prices of some species have dropped considerably in the past few years. Blue-Fronted babies used to sell for about $1200.00 five years ago. Now you can buy them for much less than that figure. The supply has exceeded the demand. There are lots of things to think about when you breed birds. If you have to pull eggs, it is recommended that they are pulled after 14 to 16 days of natural incubation to ensure the best hatch ability. Have you ever done this? Feeding a day one chick every two hours or so is extremely demanding and time consuming. You must have all the necessary equipment for successful incubation and brooding of the chicks.

Encouraging birds to double clutch can be an appropriate thing to do with rare & endangered species. It has the potential to increase the domestic population significantly in a few short years. The babies should be reserved for future breeding wherever possible and they should be parent reared or fostered to another reliable pair for at least the first 3 - 4 weeks of their life.

Q: How can I tell the sex of my Amazon?

A: All Amazon species are monomorphic (i.e. no visual differences between the) sexes) with two exceptions: In the Spectacled Amazon (A. albifrons), the male has red markings on the small upper wing coverts and the edge of the carpus; the female is usually green in this area but may have a limited amount of red. The female Yellow-Lored Amazon (A. xantholora) lacks the white on the head and the red markings of the male. It is also generally more drab appearing than the male.

All other Amazon species can be reliably sexed by two commonly available methods:

A non invasive dna sample can be taken either by collecting a few drops of blood from a clipped toe nail or by plucking a few feathers. The dna analysis method is highly accurate but errors can occur as a result of human error in taking the samples. Your Veterinarian should be consulted for further details.

Many breeders rely on the surgical sexing method to not only determine the sex of their Amazons but also to confirm the health status of the bird's internal reproductive organs. This minimally invasive procedure involves making a small incision in the birds abdomen under anesthetic, and using an endoscope to view the reproductive organs.

Q: I have a double yellow-headed amazon given to me by someone else. I think he was abused and does not want to be touched but will follow me around (on the floor). A lot of the time he sits in his cage and seems to be unhappy. I was wondering if I got him a female, would he be more content? All I can find is an orange wing female. Do these species breed with each other? If not, would he still be content with the company?

A: You didn't say how long you have had your new bird. He may need time to get used to his new home. He also may not have been taught any manners. If he follows you around he is making an attempt to be with you. You do not need to get him a mate. Any female amazon would be considered a mate to him. Our wonderful amazons especially the double yellow-heads thrive on human companionship. Remember that these birds can live up to one hundred years. Does he have toys and other stimuli? Sometimes when birds have been abused or neglected they get "stupid" from lack of stimulation. My amazons love to watch television especially cartoons. They also love music and conversation. I think the common thread here is its going to take time to bring him around. Has he had a good vet check to make sure he is healthy? You could offer him food treats to bring him out of his shell. My guys love most types of people food especially chicken and pasta. Your bird is worth the effort and with a little patience on your part he should become a wonderful pet.

Amazon behavior and training is a complex issue that space limitations prevent us from discussing in detail in this forum. As a new Amazon owner you should consider getting a subscription to the Pet Bird Report (see our links page).

I bought an Amazon that was naked because his parents plucked him. He
is now 8 months old and and his feathers are starting to grow back and look normal. The problem is that he has several ingrown feather cysts and I need to find out if the plucking is the cause of the ingrown feathers or if this is something that occurs in a few birds. I was not told that there would be any problems related to the feather plucking that the parents did to him, and I have since spent $150.00 to remove to cysts. I feel that the organization that is selling the plucked babies for half price of fully feathered babies has not taken the long term effects of the plucking into consideration. If I had known that I was
going to have problems with ingrown feathers I would have purchased a fully feathered parrot. I love him and he is now part of the family and I would appreciate any information or references that you can provide to help me. I want to also try to limit the amount of surgeries that he has to undergo. I want to try to get this organization to acknowledge the connection, if there is one, and either stop selling the plucked babies or notify its customers of the costs involved in the routine removals.

A: Baby Amazons being plucked by their parents is a very rare situation and there is no definitive answer why it happened with the baby you purchased. In fact, none of the experienced breeders we consulted have personally experienced it in their Amazon flocks. Feather cysts in Amazons also occur very rarely. However, plucking of babies in the nest is fairly common in Cockatiels and Love Birds. It can be attributed to a very strong desire to breed again and the babies in the nest become a detriment to the breeding pair.

The following quotes were taken from the book Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery by Harrison and Harrison:
"Cysts arising from primary or secondary wing feathers (the most frequent sites in the author's experience) appear to relate to prior trauma to the feather folicle." Plucking by the parent birds may cause such trauma. "A genetic factor may be related to feather cysts in specific canary birds."

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