In my more than 30 years of working with companion parrots, I have met hundreds of Amazon parrots. Most have been blue fronts, double yellowheads and yellow napes. While these remain the most popular companion Amazons, there are several lesser-known Amazon species that I believe should be just as popular. Perhaps they are less flashy and might not have a reputation for being great talkers, but they can be excellent human companions.
Red-lored Amazon (Amazona autumnalis)
Throughout my years of working with parrots, I have been lucky enough to meet all four of the red-lored Amazon parrot subspecies. The rarer three were imported birds and lacked the yellow cheeks of the more familiar red lore. There were very few Salvin’s Amazon parrots imported, and I feel lucky to have known a very tame one that lived with an elderly woman. He was brought into the country long before anyone kept track of the importation of parrots. When I met Diadema, I was quite surprised by his size compared to the red-lored Amazon parrots I had known. The nominate species, the red lore (often called the yellow-cheeked Amazon) is the one that is most common in the pet trade.
We often read about “the hot three” in regard to the blue-front Amazon, double yellow-headed Amazon and the yellow-naped Amazon. Lumping these three Amazon parrots in this manner is a massive generalization. However, if we are lumping in this manner, I don’t know why the red lore isn’t mentioned with this group. From my experience, red lores are one of the more excitable of the Amazon parrots. They communicate quite visibly through body language, such as strutting, head swaying and eye pinning. Like the other raucous Amazon parrots, their excitability can translate into overload behavior, but red lores can be quite predictable due to their easy-to-read body language.
Red-lored Amazon parrots are usually dedicated and loving to their owners. They can sometimes be aggressive toward strangers unless they have been patterned to accept new people. They are one of the flashier Amazons, with beautiful coloration on the head and face. These mid-sized Amazons are playful, acrobatic parrots that love their playgyms. The more opportunity they have for swinging, climbing and hanging upside down, the happier they are.
I have known red lores that had decent vocabularies and others that were quite content to communicate in household noises and “Amazonish.” Although I have read that red lores are one of the less noisy Amazon parrots, many of the ones I have known have been quite verbal. As with most parrots, their noisiness can usually be redirected into more pleasant sounds by knowledgeable caregivers. Most are intrigued with the noises in their environment and love to imitate the sounds they hear frequently, particularly the whistles and beeps from appliances.
After I moved to California, I worked with many more red lores, and they became one of my favorite species of Amazon parrots. With few exceptions, they were enthusiastic students, learning their lessons quickly and ready to go on to the next step. Unfortunately these wonderful Amazons are getting more difficult to find and are rarely available in even the largest bird shops.
Festive Amazon (Amazona festiva festiva) & Bodinis Amazon (Amazona festiva bodini)
These Amazon parrots were one of the most common imported parrots in Europe during the 1800s, but festive and Bodinis Amazons are still uncommon in the United States. About 14 inches in length, they are stocky birds with a wide postural stance. They are considered to be one of the best talkers, but are not well-known in aviculture.
Festive and Bodinis’ caregivers brag about their Amazon parrot’s talking ability, both in number of words, cognition and talking in front of people. Several people I talked with describe these Amazon parrots as being determined and stubborn, although the ones I’ve met have not been aggressive, except in rare situations. Although one was not the best talking parrot, he certainly was the most amusing with exclamations like, “You’re a bad duck” (sometimes he would add multiples of both the words “duck” and “bad”) and “Wanna fight?”
When young festive and Bodinis parrots are fed a nutritious diet, their coloration is stunning. I have seen rough-looking babies at bird fairs that didn’t have the sheen of babies on a good diet. I think people just don’t know about these Amazon parrots and how wonderful they can be.
Green-cheeked Amazon (Amazona viridigenalis)
I don’t see the green-cheeked, or Mexican red-headed, Amazon parrot nearly as often as I used to. While many Amazon species have a stocky body, the green cheek is a slim-bodied bird. I met my first one more than 30 years ago, and he was a very sweet, wild-caught bird. They were commonly imported and also commonly smuggled in from Mexico.
Well-socialized green cheeks are generally mellow compared to other Amazon parrots and less likely to show a great deal of territorial aggression. I tamed several of these imported Amazon parrots, and all were pretty easy as far as winning their trust. I don’t recall ever being bitten by any of the green cheeks I worked with. I have found these Amazon parrots to be friendly, cuddly, loyal, playful and acrobatic. The hens seemed to be less adventurous, but I doubt if that is always true. Some green cheeks have a slight attitude, but they are not usually overbearing or aggressive. They are not known as great talkers, yet I have known individuals with decent vocabularies.
My favorite green cheek is Sophia, which lives at Avalon Aviaries in Colorado. She is very loquacious and perhaps a bit narcissistic. She continually tells herself how “beau-TI-ful” she is. With her bright red, violet-blue and various shades of vibrant green colors, she is indeed a beauty. Her only problem is that she is generally loyal to just one person and can be aggressive to anyone else. I don’t think that this is a particular trait of green cheeks, especially hens, but more a condition of her early life with a single caregiver.
Lilac-crowned Amazon (Amazona finschi)
The second Amazon that lived with me was a very handsome lilac crown. My friends had a breeding pair, but the hen got out and flew away so they sold me the male, whose name was Chiquitin. They also sold me one of their male double yellowheads. The two of them, Chiqui and Payaso, formed a very strong bond. Because they were my first parrots and were wild-caught, I had no idea how to work with them. I tamed them enough so that I could pick them up, but they never cared much about my company.
Chiqui was strikingly beautiful with a lush forehead of plum-maroon and lilac-lavender crown and nape. Chiqui’s cheeks were an almost iridescent green, and he had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen on a parrot. Lilac crowns are a medium to small slim-bodied sleek Amazon. They are generally more excitable and noisier than the green cheek, with which they are often confused. Unfortunately they are not as popular as they once were.
Most have a more mellow personality than the more commonly known Amazon parrots. They can have a flashy personality with lots of “bark” but not much bite. Lilac crowns can put on a very good show, with fluffed head feathers and pinning eyes, but I believe they are less likely to be aggressive. They are usually very playful and acrobatic and need lots of exercise opportunities.
Well-socialized, well-nurtured, hand-fed, baby lilac-crowned Amazon parrots can stay very gentle with consistent handling and can make a good family companion if the children are taught how to handle them correctly. I think Lilac-crowned Amazon parrots have become one of the under-appreciated gems in the world of companion parrots.
Mealy Amazon & Blue-crowned Mealy (Amazona farinosa)
The mealy Amazon is the largest of companion Amazons. It is a solid, robust parrot. Its most incredible physical feature is its huge, soft eyes that can easily make you fall in love; especially with the babies. Some people are afraid of their size, perhaps equating size with aggression. Actually, they tend to be the calmest and steadiest of all of the Amazon parrots. These often gentle Amazons are declining as companions, most likely because their beauty is more subtle. They might not be as flashy, but when they are on a good diet and bathed regularly, their feathers have a gorgeous sheen.
I have worked mostly with the blue-crowned mealy Amazons (A.f.guatemalea) but have known a few of the other subspecies. Years ago, I had a friend with an older imported A.f. farinosa that had an incredible amount of yellow and red on the top of his head. I have never seen a mealy with so much color since. He was one of the most charming and agreeable Amazon parrots I have ever known. His name was Chauncey, and I thought of him as being my friend’s English butler, although his accent was more from Wichita than London. He was also quite a gentleman and would greet you with the words, “So nice to know you.” When you left, he’d wave good-bye with his left foot and exclaim, “It’s been a pleasure!”
Although there are probably exceptions with mealies that haven’t received proper care and guidance, I have always found them to be the most gentle and responsive Amazon parrot that I have worked with. The very first Amazon I ever tamed was a mealy, and it was so easy that I mistakenly thought all Amazon parrots would be as easy to tame. Hand-feds have a generally steady personality for an Amazon, and these large Amazon parrots are extremely loyal to the people in their lives.
Mealies can be accomplished talkers, whistlers and mimics. They tend to be a bit less active than some of the more excitable Amazon parrots, but they can be playful, acrobatic and curious when interacted with. They are certainly not the sedentary parrot often presented by the stereotype. The downside is that they have a potential for loud and raucous noises. Some compare their call with the loud braying of a donkey. Their noise can often be channeled into talking, whistling and mimicking sounds.
Orange-winged Amazon (Amazona amazonica):
Orange-winged Amazon parrots are not as common as other Amazon parrots and seem to be becoming even less common. Yet they have many of the traits of the more popular Amazon parrots with a few added advantages. They can be excellent talkers if the people in their lives take the time to teach them words and phrases in a social context. As far as flashy is concerned, they rank right up there with the blue fronts and yellow heads. Because of the blue and yellow-orange color on its head, novices often confuse the orange-winged Amazon parrot with the blue-fronted Amazon parrot. To their advantage, the orange wing can be a bit mellower.
One of the first parrots I ever worked with was a wild-caught, semi-tame orange wing. Early imports did not usually seem to adjust as well to captivity as other imported birds and often looked scruffy when they were on bad diets. When I saw my first domestically raised orange-winged Amazon, I was surprised that it was the same species. On a good diet, orange wings have gorgeous feathering.
These medium-sized Amazon parrots can have delightful outgoing personalities, and many are decent talkers. Compared to Amazon parrots of comparable size, these birds seem to exhibit less excitability, and their body language certainly provides predictable pre-aggression signals. Like most Amazon parrots, the orange wing really likes to be a part of its human flock and will not react well to living in a room where it can’t share in the daily interactions of the people in its life.
They are highly food-motivated and don’t like it when people eat in front of them without sharing. However, junk food will make them a porcine Psittacine, so if you are eating potato chips, have a more parrot-healthy treat on hand. An orange-winged Amazon parrot that I worked with screamed bloody murder when his family ate. To stop the noise all they had to do was put him on a T-stand near the table and share some nutritious food with him; then the only noises he made were the pleasure noises of a happy Amazon parrot enjoying a meal.
Tucuman Amazon (Amazona tucumana):
The Tucuman Amazon parrot is quite different from many of the other Amazon parrot species. Males can often be distinguished from females because they have six or more red feathers on their coverts, and females have five or less. Males are more common as companions because of their endangered status; most breeders keep the rarer hens for breeding.
The Tucuman has a very small beak for an Amazon parrot and, at about a foot long, these slim-bodied parrots are one of the smaller Amazon parrots. Its head and upper body feathers are scalloped in black, which makes it quite unique. The chicks hatch out with long, white down. Again, this makes them quite unusual for Amazon parrots, which usually hatch naked. For awhile, it seemed as if they were becoming more popular, but I rarely hear about them now and information on them is quite incomplete.
Because they are relatively uncommon, I have only met a half a dozen or so Tucumans, and they have all been young birds that were very busy and sweet. Although the ones I have known were delightful little birds, I have not had enough experience with Tucumans to write in depth about their personality.
One of my clients told me that her Tucuman can become readily overexcited by different situations in her household, especially with the dog barking. She said all she has to do is to walk over to him and take a few slow deep breaths, and he calms right down with her.
Despite their size, some describe them as being opinionated and in need of a caregiver who is as determined as they are. I’ve also heard that they can have the cuddle ratio of a small cockatoo. Another caregiver says her “Tukie” doesn’t like to be cuddled at all. They can have a high-pitched shriek, but people can work to reduce that using distractions. In terms of talking ability, they usually learn some words with a caregiver who takes the time to provide associations and labels for objects and situations.
White-fronted Amazons (Amazona albifrons):
Far too many of the white-fronted Amazon parrots that came into the United States were smuggled in from Mexico and Central America. A few years ago, I met a woman who brought a young white front across the border in her purse. She didn’t understand why buying the bird in a street market in Nogales and bringing it into the United States was a problem. She kept the bird for a year and then sold it to a bird shop.
The white front is often mistakenly referred to as the spectacled Amazon because the red coloration on the face usually circles the eyes. The actual red-spectacled Amazon (Amazona pretrei) is from southern Brazil and is listed as CITES Appendix 1 endangered. White fronts are sexually dimorphic, which means that females and males can be visually identified. Females are usually not as colorful and lack red on the wing and are generally be a bit mellower than the males.
Yellow-fronted Amazon, Yellow-crowned Amazon (Amazona ochrocephala):
I have met a few dozen yellow-fronted Amazon parrots, and no one who has one has ever said anything bad about them. I recently met another mellow yellow front at an event called Avian Appreciation Day at a plant nursery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Amazon was on the woman’s shoulder for most of the day and, even though he was an 11-year-old bird and this was the first time she had brought him to an event with so many people, he was incredibly relaxed and not the least bit threatened; talk about adaptability.
I met a sweet yellow front hen that sang several songs and had quite an impressive vocabulary. Mostly she loved to tell herself how pretty she was. This is often a minor problem with talkative parrots. We tell them how pretty and handsome they are, so they learn to repeat their names with our compliments. However, if we just teach them to say, “You’re so pretty,” we can pretend they are complimenting us.
These parrots have a similar personality to the Panama Amazon parrots. They are, after all, the same species. Of both Amazon parrots, the yellow front is a bit more spirited, but it probably depends on the individual. Those who live with these parrots declare them to be the absolute sweetest, most easygoing Amazon parrot companion. They have a tendency to be less aggressive and more predictable than some of the other Amazon parrots.
Some individuals don’t seem to play as hard as some of the other Amazon parrots, and caregivers report that they tend to remain a bit more sedentary. Yellow fronts tend to be very social and less likely to form an exclusive bond with one person.
One woman told me that she bought a yellow front from a pet shop despite the fact that the owner told her that the bird was vicious and hated men. It was most likely that the bird hated that bird store owner and the woman bought the bird anyway. The bird had no trouble with her husband who understood how to calmly win her trust.
Yellow-shoulder Amazon (Amazona barbadensis):
The yellow-shoulder Amazon parrot is one of the smaller Amazons. They have been rare in aviculture because concerned aviculturists have been holding their babies back for breeding, but they are becoming available again as companion parrots. Yellow shoulders in the wild are considered to be endangered, and the primary threats to their population numbers are destruction of habitat and capture for the pet trade. As with most Amazon parrots, yellow-shouldered Amazons are social eaters and have been observed foraging in flocks of up to 80 birds. Their habitat includes arid rocky areas, and their nests can be found in both tree cavities and rocky cliffs.
Up until a couple of years ago, the only yellow-shoulder Amazon I had seen was a very bad example of taxidermy. When I finally saw a live yellow shoulder, I was extremely impressed. I had no idea that they would be such beautiful little birds. When I visited to do a seminar, there were two velvety youngsters in Denise’s Parrot Place on Mercer Island near Seattle. They were right near the door, and I was immediately enamored with them. Not only did they have the glossiest feathers, they both emanated personality. Since that time I have talked with several people who have raved about the companion quality of these diminutive Amazons.
In the summer of 2003, I visited with Susanne Cochran of Avalon Aviary in Colorado. She has started to raise yellow-shoulder Amazons and describes them as being curious, energetic and enthusiastic birds that engage life with gusto. She had a delightful youngster that had been with her awhile because no one had purchased him. Why? Because no one knew yet how incredible these little Amazon parrots are. All of the birds I have met have been under 5 years old, but I’ve been assured that these Amazon parrots keep their charming personalities. These Amazon parrots must still be a very well-kept secret, but perhaps they won’t be a secret much longer; everyone I talk to loves theirs.
It’s almost impossible to write about any parrot without making some generalizations. For every Amazon parrot that is a “classic” representative of a given species, it seems there are an equal number that dance to a different drummer.