August 2000

THE TUCUMAN AMAZON (Amazona tucumana)
by William Horsfield

Introduction & Description
The Tucuman is one of the smaller and less immediately striking of the Amazona genus. However when observed more closely, it radiates a subtle charm. The individual black edging around the border of the green feathers, which give the bird a distinctive scalloped appearance, makes an appealing contrast with the red fore-head and red primary coverts. The wing primaries are tipped with dark blue, lower thighs are orange-yellow and the periopthalmic ring is white. Iris is orange-yellow (dark brown in immature) bill light horn-coloured and feet are greyish. Sexual dimorphism is noticed with the males having about 8 red coverts in each wing; females have from none to six but usually about five, however there is no reliable way of determining the sex of juveniles from their wing-pattern. DNA or surgical sexing is required.
Adult length is 31cm and adult mass is 250-280g.

Distribution, Status, Conservation and Habitat
Tucumans come from North West Argentina including Tucuman province and South East Bolivia. They are listed on CITES APP1. These birds are generally uncommon but common locally. (This could well have changed). Present in winter in several protected areas in Argentina including El Rey National Park. Causes some damage to fruit crops during winter and is vulnerable to trapping at that season, when entire local populations concentrate at roosts. 18 641 birds were exported 1985-1989 after which no trade was permitted under CITES. Fully protected including prohibition of export in Bolivia since 1984 though no records in wild since 1938.

Habitat is mostly open mountain woodland in Andean yungus forest dominated by pure stands of Alnus acuminata or Podocarpus parlatorei between 1000m-2200m in autumn and winter. Also found in forests at lower altitude to 300m.

Despite being a smaller Amazon and having been successfully bred in cages that can only be described as very small, the Tucuman is a strong flier and an active member of the genus and should therefore not be kept in anything less than 3m long flights. My birds breed well in our standard 3,6 x 1,2 x 1,2 m suspended aviaries and I feel that this provides adequate exercise for them. They are not a particularly destructive species. We keep them in 2mm welded mesh (25mm x 25mm) suspended aviaries, which they will never chew through but which we have found is necessary for the cage to retain its shape without collapsing on itself. They have been described as not being as hardy as some of the larger species but I have not found this to be the case. As with all species, they will need protection from the elements and basic common-sense avicultural practices apply.

I consider overhead micro-sprayers an essential component of the aviary design and these should be used daily in warm weather. The commercial garden irrigation variety have a number of models with a spray range from 45-360 degrees that can be incorporated depending on the cage design. Ensure that the water from the sprayers does not reach the food bowls. Also ensure that the system used is not placed directly onto the aviary but raised, so as to be out of reach of chewing. There is evidence linking stagnant water trapped in sprayer systems to bacterial contamination in the flock, so ideally the water source should be disconnected after use and the water allowed to drain out of the pipes. Water purifiers are a possible answer to this problem but cost factors are possibly prohibitive to the average hobbyist.

I always try and encourage the use of environmental enrichment in aviary design and daily management. There can be no argument that those birds which are provided with additional stimuli have an advantage over those that aren't. These small attention to details, invariably pay large dividends in terms of breeding success and should never be underestimated. Boredom, due to a lack of mental stimulation is one of the most overlooked causes of what can simply be described as "failure to breed" in otherwise relatively healthy adult pairs. There are thousands of parrots that should otherwise be productive in this country, that simply sit and stare at one another like a bunch of space-cadets. I honestly feel that with a little bit of imagination and effort, these birds can be coerced into a state of contentment and reproductive fulfillment.

The Tucuman matures fast and pairs can breed from 3 years. As is often the case, an older proven bird may chase on a younger bird to breed even earlier. Established pairs are very territorial and must be kept singly. Some cock birds have an exceptionally aggressive breeding drive and have even been known to kill their hen. However this aggression should be timeously noted by the keeper and nipped in the bud before such a disaster strikes. Slowing the over-eager male down by clipping alternate primaries in one wing is usually sufficient to subdue his assertiveness until the hen is ready for his advances.

Unopened sheaths of new pin-feathers on the head and neck area are a telltale sign of incompatibility in any stongly bonded species. These inac cessible areas are preened by the mate. This is obviously also seen in moulting birds housed individually.

The Tucuman is one of the last Amazons to breed in the season in SA. In KwaZulu-Natal they usually go down from mid-November, well after first eggs have hatched with the earlier species. For this reason there is the danger of chicks over-heating in the nests in the hot summer weather. Being a high altitude species in the wild, may explain their apparent susceptibility to heat stress prior to fledging in captivity. I have lost fully feathered chicks being fostered with other Amazon chicks, for no accountable reason other than overheating. Nest boxes should therefore have a wide inspection hatch that can be opened in hot weather. A small section of shaped welded mesh can be used to cover the opening, so as to prevent any escape. I use a vertically placed L-shaped (boot-shaped) pine wooden nest-box with a securely fitted internal ladder. As these are cheap, we remove them after the breeding season and burn them. This eliminates the possible harbouring of parasites or pathogens in the off-season. Tucumans do not sleep in the nest out of the breeding season. Wood chips are used as a nesting substrate. Ladders into the nests must be securely attached so they cannot be chewed loose and trap the adults inside.

Cocks display to the hen by blazing the iris and dropping the wings to display the red speculum as well as fanning the tail while strutting up and down the perch. The cock will feed the hen after a series of short fast regurgitation movements and copulation will take place on a number of occasions before the 1st egg is laid. Excited, continuous calling by both birds occurs at regular intervals during this time in the typical Amazon fashion.

The clutch size is 3-4 laid at 2-3 day intervals, although my own youngsters have gone on to produce 5 eggs in a single clutch. Incubation period is 26-27 days by the hen alone and the cock usually stands guard close to the nest entrance. He enters the nest to feed the hen during incubation and the chicks right from hatching. Chicks fledge at approximately
9 weeks. If 1st clutch eggs are removed the hen will certainly double clutch. I have found Tucumans to be attentive and industrious parents and they have also fostered other species of Amazon. Interestingly, I also annually foster Tucuman chicks under an infertile pair of Green-cheeked Amazons.

Artificial Incubation and Hand-raising
Tucuman Amazon eggs are artificially incubated at 37.5°C at sea level. This temperature can be reduced to 37.2°C on the Reef due to the altitude. Average %RH is 55% in a forced air incubator. We use Ara and Grumbach machines with excellent results. When the chick pips internally (or at the latest 1st external chip in shell) turning is stopped so that the chick can orientate itself properly. %RH is increased to 65%-70% once there is external chip. Most incubators have a marked temperature gradient from the back to the front and from the top to the bottom of the machine. This must always be taken into consideration and the machine should be temperature calibrated with the thermometer right in the centre of the machine where the eggs are going to be placed. There is no use using the temperature reading on a machine as a guide when the temperature probe is situated in the roof of the machine! You need to know what the temperature is where the eggs are. Use dummy eggs as spacers (these can be made up by a dental technician using an infertile egg) which will stop the eggs moving to the front or back of the machine during turning. Mark the fresh egg with a non-toxic felt-tip pen on one side to be able to monitor turning and candle it to ensure that there are no tiny cracks. These can be carefully patched with nail varnish. Egg info should be written on the pointed end so as not to lose it when the chick breaks out of the broad end and damages the shell. The tiny trace of blood left in the shell after hatching can be used for DNA analysis and can immediately be sent to Molecular Diagnostic Services in Westville for sex determination or viral tests.

Do not candle more than once per day and limit candling to no more than 4-5 seconds. Always remember to wash your hands with an antibacterial soap prior to handling eggs as this dramatically reduces the chance of any contamination of the developing embryo. When removing eggs for artificial incubation, remember that they are very sensitive to vibration and particularly so during the first 12 days. A friend of mine arrived after having travelled 45mins in a Mercedes convertible with 3 Leadbeater eggs bouncing around in his shirt pocket! A safe method of transport is to lie the eggs on their horizontal plane, slightly embedded in a deep layer of canary seed slightly warmed in the microwave. This can be placed in an insulated container like a hep-cooler.

If incubation skills are doubtful then remember that hatchability will be higher if eggs are removed only after 14 days of natural incubation, as the critical stage is then over.

Handraising Tucumans is straightforward and provided the temperature is carefully monitored initially and the routine two-hourly feeds are given using a proven hand-raising formula there should be no problems. We use Kaytee and Avi-Plus Handrearing Premium.

I feed the Tucumans their daily ration divided into two feeds. The early morning feed consists of a comprehensive variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. Favourites are beetroot, spinach, sweet-potato (cooked) broccoli and certain individuals even love chilli. Many of my Amazons do not like very wet or watery produce and soft pawpaw, melons etc are rather mixed into a crumbly commercial soft-food preparation and fed in that way. I use Avi-Plus Parrot.

To this mixture is added a small amount of soaked sunflower, wheat, barley, oats, and a boiled racing pigeon ration of peas, beans and whole yellow maize.

The Avi-Product range including Vitamin and Mineral Twin-pack, Avi-Pro and Avi-Cal are used according to lable instruction.

The second feed consists solely of Kaytee extruded pellets which vary between maintenance and breeding formulae depending on the time of year.

Seasonal flowers, berries, grasses etc are also offered depending on availability. When the aviaries are locked up in the late afternoon, the daily consumption is noted and pairs which have totally finished their ration will receive an additional small item. This early evening portion is usually in the form of a treat and the Tucumans are fond of cooked pasta, scrambled egg, wholegrain bread soaked in milk or a tiny cube of cheese. These treats while nutritive, are primarily used to reinforce the keeper-bird relationship and form the daily bribe-foundation that balances the precarious scales of egg-thief and nest-robber (a.k.a. carrier of the net and painful needles) in favour of trusted keeper! Parrots are very forgiving if this method of winning affections is used but there are some individuals that never forgive the actions of the nest-robber and take any available opportunity to exact revenge.

Trade is restricted to breeders only as this is a CITES APP 1 species and Tucumans should not be sold as pets. They have already been bred to 3 generations that I know of in South Africa and these F1 and F2 progeny may be exported overseas. Unfortunately there is an excess of cock birds at the moment but hopefully this will balance itself out in the next couple of seasons. Prices have dropped slightly due to this imbalance and pairs are currently available at approximately R8000pp. This is a delightful and very underrated species of Amazon. Their numbers have no doubt declined in the wild since literature cited was published and so this is definitely a species that needs attention from both the novice and the specialist. They are not as noisy as the larger Amazons and can therefore easily be kept in urban areas without much disturbance to the neighbours. All in all an inquisitive, intelligent and charming little parrot that could well do with some more attention!

References cited and suggested reading
Arndt,T. (1996) Lexicon of Parrots. Vol 4
del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. ( 1997). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 4 Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Low,R . Parrots in Aviculture (1992)

World Parrot Trust Cape Parrot Working Group South African Crane Working Group
COPYRIGHT © 2006 Amazona
| Disclaimer
homepage  |  contact amazona  |  the amazona facility  |  the birds  |  conservation  |  articles/research  |  food  |  gallery  |  links