Saturday, 18 September 2010

Parrots part 4: The Red-Tailed Amazon

In one corner of the zoo is our Zona Brazil section, which houses various animals from one of the most highly threatened habitats in South America, the Atlantic Rainforest. This lowland coastal region has some species in common with the Amazon basin, but many are either endemic species or subspecies. Among the primates we have three of the four species of Lion Tamarin Leontopithecus here at Bristol, and I will blog about those some other time. The species I want to write about today is the other species of Amazon we hold at Bristol, our family of Red Tailed Amazons Amazona brasiliensis.

Red-Tailed Amazons are among the largest in the genus, with a length of 35cm from beak to tip of tail, and a weight of around 425g (1 pound). The plumage is almost entirely green, with the red band on the tail that gives the bird its name on the underside of the tail, and a broad yellow band at the end of the tail.

The Atlantic rainforest and its inhabitants are chiefly threatened by deforestation and other development, as the coastal regions of Brazil are the most highly populated. Their natural habitat is divided into river islands or mangrove thickets where they roost and breed, and mainland rainforest where they feed. Because of this specialised requirement, both islands and nearby forest must be preserved to conserve the species. Most of the remaining population of around 5-6,000 birds is found in Sao Paulo and Parana.

Unfortunately although the species is protected by CITES, there is still severe pressure on the population from collectors for the domestic trade in wild parrots, with nestlings been taken from any available nest. Worse, the nest site itself is often damaged or destroyed in the process, making it unusable for future nests. As a large species, the Red-Tailed needs suitably large trees, and selective logging of nest trees (usually Geriva palms) can also heavily impact this and other species.

As with the Lilacine Amazon last week, Red-tailed have a varied diet, with various fruits, buds, nuts, and some insect larvae making up the diet. This varied diet of Amazona species facilitates there survival outside their natural range, and several species have been recorded living wild or even succsefully maintaining breeding populations in the US. For information on some of the Amazona and other species on California, see here:

Although the wild population appears stable at present, and may even be increasing slightly, the small numbers and restricted range means that the IUCN classes it as Vulnerable. There is a very small zoo population, currently at 36 birds in ISIS, plus some in Brazil. Bristol has managed to breed these beautiful parrots, and so have a few other collections, but any US readers will need to travel to Brazil to see them as almost the entire captive world population is in Europe.

With breeding animals in captivity, the question of whether such animals are suitable for release into the wild often arises. There is no question but that translocation of wild-caught animals is usually better for establishing a new population of a species, as these will have a full collection of anti-predator and food-finding skills. However, as long as appropriate pre- and post-release training and support are given, even hand raised animals can be successfully released. Captive-raised Scarlet macaws have been released in several areas, and have bred successfully in the wild. The curiosity and varied diet of many parrot species means that they can often establish themselves even without such aid, as the global roster of feral parrot species shows. In the Phoenix area of Arizona there is a growing population of Peach-faced Lovebirds, and as at least some of them are colour mutations these certainly originated from domesticated birds that either escaped (parrots of all sizes are good at chewing through aviary wire) or were deliberately released.

For more information on the Atlantic Rainforest and its birds, see the Regua preserve website in the links section.

Next week, the macaws.

(image from wikipedia)

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