By Matthew Block
The Genus Amazona contains the very rare and endangered Amazona leucocephala and its four subspecies.
Amazona l. leucocephala, known as the Cuban Amazon, is found on the eastern and central part of Cuba. Its current status in the wild is unknown, although volume 17 of the International Zoo Yearbook has forty-four Cuban Amazon recorded in captivity. Of the forty-four recorded, twenty-five are in the Soviet Union, eighteen are in Europe and the remaining one bird is in the United States. I believe a more accurate count would be closer to ten to fifteen birds in the United States.
A. l. palmarum, also known as the Cuban Amazon, is restricted to western Cuba and the Isle of Pines. The difference between the two species is that the general plumage of palmarum is a darker green, the red abdominal patch is darker and the throat is a deeper red. The status is also unknown.
A. l. caymanensis, known as the Cayman Amazon, is found on Grand Cayman Island. The estimated population of the species is two hundred individuals. It may have been as low as seventy-five at one time. There are about forty-five birds in captivity, mostly in the United States. However, there are some birds in Europe. On a visit to Grand Cayman two years ago, a local enthusiast showed me a newspaper article which reported that one resident had shot one hundred of these beautiful parrots in a three month period. There is a law that makes it illegal to shoot the parrots, but when I contacted the Ministry of Agriculture, they had a definite “don’t give a damn” attitude. The Cayman Amazon is the best established in captivity of any endangered Caribbean Parrot, with young being raised every breeding season. There have been approximately fourteen Cayman Parrots raised in Florida since 1974. The breeding birds are kept in aviaries which measure one meter high by four meters in length. A nest box which measures 30 x 30 x 50 cm, in depth is attached to the outside of the aviary. These aviaries are suspended about 1 1/2 meters above the ground. They are situated in a simulated rain forest. Some of the advantages of the suspended aviaries are that the birds do not have access to their droppings or discarded food which might become sour within a few hours. Predators such as rats and mice find it impossible to gain access to such aviaries. At no point in the aviaries’ construction is the parrot’s view obstructed, and with the rain forest being so similar to the bird’s native habitat, it is doubtful that they are aware they are contained. This undoubtedly contributes to their breeding success. The Cayman Parrot is prone to obesity in captivity. Therefore, it must be supplied with large amounts of green food daily and sunflower seeds must be kept at a minimum.
A. l. hesterna, known as the Cayman Brac Amazon is the smallest of the four subspecies. Its population is estimated to be thirty birds left in the wild. There are approximately eight in captivity. Because of the limited habitat, the Cayman Islands, the two subspecies are the most endangered of the four representatives of leucocephala. This is especially true of the Cayman Brac Parrot,for the island of Cayman Brac is less than 20 kilometers in length and not more than four in width. There are no specimens to be found on Little Cayman. This makes Cayman Brac undoubtedly the smallest inhabited area of any Amazon species or subspecies. The island is so small that if one is dedicated enough to face the rough terrain which forms the “Bluff”, he may know precisely where the majority of these parrots will be at any given time. They usually forage in a group of about fifty birds up and down the length of the island. Stragglers can be found almost anywhere. These concentrations begin to thin out when the nesting season begins in March. Unlike Grand Cayman with its lush vegetation, Cayman Brac receives little rainfall which causes most of the terrain to be dry, and the tree growth to be stunted. Only in areas where rain falls did I see trees large enough for a parrot nest. Due to the many holes in the rock bluff, one might think hesterna would resort to using the “bluff” for nesting as bahamensia has done on Abaco Island. There have been no captive breeding results as yet because the captive birds are too young.
A. l. bahamensis, known as the Bahamas Parrot, is found on Abaco and Great Inagua Island. Its population on Abaco is approximately four hundred and on Great Inagua its population may be as high as seven hundred. There are none known to be in captivity. The breeding season in the wild lasts between April and July. Nesting takes place in crevices on the sides of limestone rock ridges or in natural holes in the limestone on level ground. This is an unusual nesting site for a parrot of the genus Amazona, for all other species of this genus nest in cavities in trees. There is one exception, and that is the Yellow Shouldered Amazon, Amazona barbadensis rothschildi which nests in cavities or clefts in rocky escarpments on Bonaire and apparently in tree cavities on the South American continent. There is good evidence that at one time the range of the Bahamas Parrot was more extensive. On Crooked Island, bones of this parrot have been found in a cave shown to have been used by Arawaks between 1500 and 3000 years ago. More recently the Bahamas Parrot occurred on Acklins Island, at least into the 1940’s.
The Cuban and Cayman Island Birds are not the only Caribbean Parrots in danger of extinction. Of the two parrot species found on Dominica Island, there are only three hundred and fifty individuals of the Arausiaca Amazon remaining in the wild, and one hundred and fifty individuals of the Imperial Amazon remaining in the wild. There are only one hundred and twenty-five individuals of the St. Lucia Amazon on St. Lucia Island remaining in the wild. There are approximately five hundred and twenty-five individuals of the St. Vincent Amazon remaining in the wild on St. Vincent Island.
But, without a doubt, the Amazon Parrot whose population is in the worst shape is the Puerto Rican Amazon with only thirty-nine birds left in existence worldwide.