July 2002
 

YELLOW NAPED AMAZONS - THEIR CARE AND BREEDING
by William Horsfield

Classification
The Yellow Naped Amazon has traditionally been grouped together with the Yellow Headed (oratrix) and Yellow Crowned (ochrocephala) Amazons of which there are several subspecies. The word ochrocephala that was included in the entire species name has recently been dropped. The Yellow Naped Amazons are therefore no longer categorized with either the oratrix or ochrocephala. However the Yellow Naped subspecies differentiation is still a matter of opinion with the Honduras Napes being potentially validated into a single category. Considerable variation and overlap in characters exist in populations in and adjacent to Honduras.

Traditional classification recognizes 10 subspecies and this is still the norm in differentiating the birds.
Yellow Headed A.o. oratrix
A.o. belizensis
A.o. tresmariae

Yellow Naped A.o. auropalliata
A.o. parvipes
A.o. caribaea

Yellow Crowned A.o. ochrocephala
A.o. panamensis
A.o. xantholaema
A.o. nattereri

The current stand taken is therefore that there are the two chief Yellow Napes viz. Amazona auropalliata and Amazona parvipes. The information provided in the differentiation chart included in this article is therefore essentially to be used as a guideline only.
Habitat
Tropical deciduous woodland, tall thorn scrub, humid gallery forest, seasonally flooded (vareza) forest and secondary riverine growth, mangroves, pine savanna. Mauritia palm stands in wetter open areas, Ilanos, cultivated land with remnant groves and woodlots, and even some suburban areas, always in the lowlands.

Natural Foods and feeding
Fruit and/or seeds and flowers of trees such as Pithecellobiumm (whose beans are a staple in NE Mexico), Acacia, Macuna, Zuelania, Bumelia, Solanum, Tabebuia, Erythrina, Ficus, Cochlospermum, Curatella, Terminalia, and Euterpe and other Palms. Flocks also take cultivated crops such as maize, green bananas, mangoes, lemons, avocados (do not try this on your birds!!) and Lucerne (this last implying feeding on ground)

Management
Yellow Naped Amazons are large members of the genus and weigh between 450-550 grams. They range from 34-38cm's in length. They should ideally be accommodated in a spacious aviary measuring not less than 3-4 meters in length. Suspended aviaries should not be less than 1.2 meters wide and high. Conventional flights should be at least two meters high. If housed in smaller aviaries they tend to become obese through lack of exercise and climb along the wire instead of flying. If the aviary is too narrow they will also resort to climbing and this is certainly not ideal.

They are an excitable family of Amazons and are inclined to gets themselves all worked up when the keepers are in the vicinity. Tamer birds compete for attention at the wire and this can lead to bickering and fighting between birds. It is not advisable to stand and talk to Yellow Napes as entertaining as they can be. This often leads to a situation developing over time where one birds becomes jealous over the attention it perceives the other bird to be getting and fights are often the result of such interactions. There is no harm in having "a quick chat " or in "saying a few words" to them as you walk by but keep it brief. This is often hard to do because they are such wonderful entertainers and offer such hilarity at times. I have a friend whose birds mimic her yelling across her farm for the stable grooms. When they come panting up from the paddocks having run a mile, the lady of the house is nowhere to be seen and the parrots are chuckling to themselves!

As with all adult amazons they can only be kept in pairs in the breeding season in the size cages described above. During the off-season many amazons can be flocked together if the aviaries have considerable size but the Yellow Naped, Crowned and Headed need to be very carefully monitored in such a situation as there may be domination and aggression. Many breeders are now discovering the benefits of housing their birds in large non-breeding aviaries out of the breeding season and returning them to their breeding flights only shortly before the next season. In this way they can interact in a semi-flock environment and exercise to the maximum capacity, shedding any excess weight they may have accumulated in the smaller cages.

During the breeding season tempers flare more than usual and visual barriers between Yellow Naped pairs is recommended. This is certainly necessary if the pairs start to become aggressive to the point where one bird gets knocked off the perch and feathers fly. A displaying pair of Amazons in an adjacent aviary is enough to get the male Yellow Nape into a frenzy and he can seriously injure his hen in a fit of pique. Clipping one wing of overly aggressive males helps to slow the culprit down and makes him less likely to resort to wife battering. Less often but occasionally there are females that hammer the males. Well bonded and balanced pairs exhibit more tolerance and are less likely to be intimidated by each other.

Handraised Napes are more likely to show aggression if they have initially been kept as pets or "mollycoddled" when it comes to breeding season and they find their endocrine system kick-starting the sex hormones into action. These birds have absolutely no fear of humans and will fly and attack the keeper if housed in conventional aviaries with little or no hesitation. It is fairly easy to accidentally injure a bird that is attacking you purely through trying to fend it off. For this reason the nests in conventional aviaries must be positioned so as to be able to inspect them from outside the flight. Suspended aviaries are far easier when it comes to Amazon management and the Yellow Napes are no exception. There is no need to go into the aviary and there is far less disturbance all round.

Most tame-ish Napes have an extensive vocabulary and an excited bird is no pissy African Grey introvert. An entire repertoire can come spewing forth from an agitated bird and amusingly some of them do this with even more gusto when they are caught up by the keeper in a net for whatever reason. One of my own birds starts shrieking and laughing in a wild, mad Spanish/Mexican dialect at the very sight of the net. The more he is sure he is going to be caught the louder he yells and laughs! If he is caught then he alternates his foreign mumblings with a very clear and impeccably pronounced and extended " Helllllloooooo'!" If you have two pairs of Yellow Naped Amazons chances are your neighbours will think you are a rather weird and happy lot. If you have more than three pairs they are guaranteed to think you are running a brothel. Beware!

Breeding
It is my experience that most Yellow Naped Amazons take some years to mature. It is unlikely that birds will breed before they are 6 years old unless one bird in a pair is a proven breeder or substantially older than the younger bird. Young birds that are allowed to become well socialized with others of their own species in a group or small flock and that are later housed in visual proximity to proven Amazon pairs, preferably other Napes, will definitely be at a breeding advantage. Parent raised birds have a slight edge over handraised birds but not for long and certainly not if the above socializing technique is used immediately the handraised birds are weaned. In other words, once handraised birds are independent, put them into a large aviary with other youngsters and let them interact and play and fight the junior games that all Amazons love. They can stay in these groups for a number of years and it would be ideal if they could see adult pairs at this stage. They will watch and learn from the breeding birds and when their own time comes there will be none left standing in the starting blocks wondering where to put it and what to do with it!

Yellow Napes kept as pet birds for many years that are introduced into breeding programmes take a while to settle into their new lifestyles but can, and in many cases certainly do go on to become good parents. Amazons and macaws are far more likely to succeed as far as breeding goes if initially kept in isolation as pets than cockatoos who become behaviorally dysfunctional. It is a sad reality that most cockatoos bred in South Africa are sold as single pets and that is basically the end of the road as far as future breeding with them is concerned. They become human fixated and imprinted and very few of them are ever able to exhibit normal behaviours as far as breeding goes.

Well socialized Yellow Naped Amazons can be paired up at 3 years of age.
Often the male will start to enter the nest first as breeding time approaches. He will be extremely defensive over his breeding territory.

I prefer to use horizontal nest boxes for the Yellow Napes as this gives me more room to maneuver the hen in the box if I need to look at eggs or remove chicks etc. It is easiest if you can close off the entrance of the nest when the parents have exited so as to do nest inspection without any fuss. Try to do this as fast as possible because some pairs will dash into a nest they have been locked out of and attack the chicks immediately. If there is minimal fuss at this point and the birds have not been worked up into an excitable frenzy then this is not likely to happen. The nests I use have in internal partition making two compartments inside. The nest measures 60 x 35 x 35cm. The entrance hole is made small with only 5cm diameter opening and the birds soon chew this wider which further stimulates them.

Wood chips from untreated pine or eucalyptus are used as nesting substrate and they pair will chew this up into fine pieces while they prepare the nesting chamber.

Bye-bye bee is always sprayed onto the nests to deter swarms of bees and it must be remember that this product does not last longer than a few months and should ideally be applied once per month.

Fendona is used as an insecticide spray for the nests and it does have a better residual action than Grenade.

The hen may disappear into the nest for as long 10 days before she lays the first egg. 3-4 pure white eggs are laid and incubated 28 days. Egg sizes for two auropalliata eggs are 32mmx 46,5 mm and 31mmx 46mm. If the first clutch is removed the hen will lay again and some will even lay a 3rd clutch. It is essential to ensure that the Calcium: Phosphorous ratio is correct in the diet if eggs are to be pulled for artificial incubation. The "twisting-head" and 'unbalanced and uncoordinated" symptoms of calcium deficiency often seen in breeding Amazons in this country may remain as a permanent reminder of an incorrect diet. This shaking is due to brain damage from tiny haemorrhages and may also be due to calcium absorption problems in certain birds.

Initially the hen only feeds the chicks with the cock feeding the hen while she is in the nest. When they require more food than the cock can provide, the hen will start to leave the nest and the cock will also start to feed the chicks. Chicks fledge at 10 weeks and are eating on their own within two weeks. They have no or very little colour on the head (just above the beak) and none on the nape as youngsters. This appears as the birds get older and may take as long as 5-6 years to appear in its entirely.

Diet
Yellow Naped Amazons are greedy eaters like the rest of the genus. They are inclined to become obese if overfed. Traditional diets with many fresh vegetables and some fruits with sprouted seeds such as wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, sunflower etc are enjoyed and prove to be successful if fed with a wide variety of peas and beans. I have used such a diet for many years.
I am however of the opinion that unless organically grown produce is used, the fresh produce in this country has become increasingly dangerous to feed to our parrots because of the high incidence of pesticide and herbicide levels. These toxins build up in the systems of the birds and eventually lead to a multitude of metabolic problems.

For this reason I have changed my thinking on traditional feeding techniques and will be feeding my own birds on the organically pellets from Harrison's from the USA. See the Amazona back page advert on this magazine for more details on this unparalelled diet.

Pet Potential
As I have already mentioned, the Yellow Napes are fantastic mimics. Handraised companion birds will talk all the legs, ears and tail off a donkey and then some. They are used as the star attractions in many of the bird shows around the World. They have an incredible ability to learn to sing and many perform opera sequences with aplomb. They can be taught to say whole nursery rhymes and are without any doubt, truly one of the most wonderful pets. They can become quite a handful when they mature and they need to be well trained as youngsters so as to prevent problems later on with as far as dicipline goes. Prices of these birds has skyrocketed in the last year and young pairs are currently fetching between R 14 000- R18000 on the local SA market.

Conclusion
A collection of large parrots is not complete is if does not have any Yellow Naped Amazons. They are magnificent specimens of birds and are proud and regal entertainers who bring smiles and laughs to many people who encounter them.
Their status in the wild has been severely damaged by trapping for the pet trade. They are not a particularly difficult species to breed in spite of their few challenging personality traits and I encourage breeders to keep pairs back for breeding and not to sell all progeny into the pet trade.

References:
del Hoyo, J.,Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. eds (1997) Handbook of the birds of the World. Vol 4 Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

The USA Amazona Society - dholloway@saa.net subspecies update.
Meiring. pers. comm.

 
 
     
 
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