Saturday, 11 September 2010

Parrots of Bristol 3: The Lilacine Amazon

Rather tucked away in a corner of the zoo is an aviary containing our family of Lilacine Amazons, Amazona autumnalis lilacina. Currently composed of the breeding pair and three of their offspring, we have bred this species on several occasions. Incidentally, the young from previous years have been left with the parents and this did not interfere with the successful fledging of youngsters.

Lilacine Amazons are a subspecies of the Red-Lored Amazon, which ranges from southern mexico through northern South America, being confined like most Amazons to rainforest. There range overlaps with several other species, and how these different species compete for resources has not been studied – in captivity at least Lilacines are fairly shy and retiring birds, whereas the Yellow-headed Amazons that share their range are often quite aggressive, especially in the breeding season. The diet of wild parrots has not been much studied, but the main diet is quite varied in Amazons, comprising fruits, buds, flowers, and probably some insects.

The prevalence of many species of parrots in zoos and private ownership disguises the true diversity of species, especially in South America. The ones seen most often in captivity are all dietary generalists who can survive and breed on a diet available in temperate climates, whereas many species are specialists, especially on wild figs and probably stranger diets – at least one small New Guinea species seems to feed heavily on fungi for example. Most of the South American parrots seen commonly in captivity can be divided into a group composed of Amazona, Pionus, Brotogeris, and Myopsitta, plus a few relatives, and another group composed of the Macaws,Conures and their relatives.

Like almost all parrots, Lilacine Amazons are hole nesting birds, using either natural or created holes in trees. As a small species, they can use smaller trees than those required by their larger relatives, which probably helps to avoid competition. The 2-4 eggs are incubated by both parents and the young fledge at a few months old. The youngster will then spend several years with their parents learning survival skills, before setting up as breeding adults. How this process occurs is still not known, but mate choice in the larger parrots is certainly a lengthy process and highly dependent on the personalities, likes, and dislikes of the individual birds.

The complexity of parrot lives and social interactions is as complex as higher primates, but the fact that at lost of this interactions takes the form of subtle changes in feathers, body postures, and calls which people are not good at interpreting means that they are greatly underestimated. This is the main reason that parrots do not make good pets, especially by themselves – the work involved is more like caring for a monkey, an ape, or even a small child than like looking after a canary, something that all too many people do not understand. In addition, the long life expectancy of parrots means that providing proper care for a lifespan that in the case of some cockatoos and macaws at least can approach a century is a task for multiple generations of a family, not just the current owners. For example, here are some typical lifespans for various parrots:

African Grey – 50-70 years

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo – 80 years or more

Blue and Gold Macaw – 80 years

Yellow-naped Amazon – 50 years

Although they would not reach such great ages in the wild, even a wild parrot could be expected to live to 30-40 years if it survives the first year of life when it is at its most inexperienced and vulnerable to predators. This has implications for parrot conservation – the fact that large numbers of parrots can be seen in an area does not necessarily mean they are not locally threatened – they may all be aged adults who have not raised any chicks for decades. If logging removed breeding trees, the population will simply wither away even if the birds themselves are protected. Next week, I will examine this for the other species of Amazon we have at Bristol, the Red[Tailed Amazon

(image from wikipedia)

No comments:

Post a Comment