BREEDING BRASILIENSIS IN BRAZIL

By Rosemary Low ©

Birdkeeping is a popular pastime in Brazil but the majority of keepers have little interest in breeding from the birds in their care. An exception is an excellent aviculturist who I have known for more than a decade. Carlos Keller has had a lifelong interest in parrots and softbills and has pioneered the keeping of some rare and difficult species, such as the Sapphire-rumped Parrotlet (Touit purpurata). An avid reader of avicultural literature in several languages, he likes to keep abreast of avicultural happenings worldwide.

In 1978, he bought six young Red-tailed Amazons (Amazona brasiliensis). Little was known then about the species. In Brazil, at that time there was no concern for the environment and little or no fieldwork had been done on threatened or endangered species. Indeed the status of most parrots was unknown.

In 1984, Carlos placed one pair of the Amazons in an aviary measuring 4m (13ft) long, 2.5m (8ft 4in) wide and 2.1m (7ft) high. One third of the back was covered and the rest is open to the sun but some Carducifolia trees cover part of it. All the welded mesh exposed to the outside was covered with a finer mesh to avoid predators attacking the birds. Half of the sides are solid wall and the Amazons have a pleasant view of fields.

I visited Carlos' aviaries in 1988 and saw and photographed this pair of Red-tailed Amazons. Indeed, the face of one of them is well known to many people as it appeared on the cover of the revised edition of my book Endangered Parrots.

The pair was provided with a nest-box made of hard, thick wood; it measures 50cm(20in) high x 25cm (Win) square and has a concave bottom. The entrance was lightly larger than the recommended size but a piece of softer wood was fitted over it, so that the Amazons could make the entrance the exact size they wanted. They made an eye-shaped hole, just large enough to squeeze into. This piece of wood was changed every one or two years. There is a perch at the entrance leading to the ladder which extends downwards, and another on the top outside of the nest so that the male can guard the nest without perching on the top of it.

When they were mature the male would look inside the nest and call the female. After a few years infertile eggs were laid and abandoned. The years went by and no breeding occurred but because the pair was so well bonded, Carlos decided not to change their partners. He waited patiently.

In 1997, his patience was rewarded. The pair came into breeding condition explored the nest regularly and became aggressive towards anyone who entered the aviary. Two eggs were laid and both were fertile. By 15 April two chicks had hatched. They were parent-reared and left the nest at 60 days. They were larger than the adults with shorter tails and were later sexed as males. They remained with their parents until the pair showed signs of nesting in the following year.

Three fertile eggs were laid in July. By 14 August three chicks had hatched. After a while the growth of the youngest started to fall behind, so the two smallest were removed for hand rearing. Carlos believes that removing all the chicks is a traumatic experience for the parents. The oldest chick was successfully reared and, again the age of leaving the nest was 60 days. The other two young were reared without problems.

In 1999, three eggs were laid and three chicks hatched. They were left with their parents - then tragedy struck. Not long before the young Amazons were due to leave the nest, a swarm of bees attacked the aviaries. It was extremely difficult (and painful) to save the birds, which included large species such as curassow and pigeons. The bees centred their attention on the Amazons' aviary and entered the nest-box. It was possible to remove the parents and to save them but the young were so badly stung that all three died.

Fortunately, the five young from the two previous years were unharmed. Blood was taken from them and from their parents for DNA profiles to prove they were captive-bred. Two leading ornithologists claimed that Carlos was not breeding Red-tailed Amazons but was buying chicks stolen from the wild and ringing them. The DNA analysis proved them wrong. Carlos is one of the best aviculturists I know and deserves recognition for his success and patience!

He wrote to me recently. "The display of the male is beautiful. He erects the nape feathers like a Hawk-headed Parrot, and fans his tail to show the conspicuous red and yellow markings. The purple on the face is very noticeable at this time. He bobs his head up and down towards the female, with the nape feathers raised.

"Copulation, as in all neotropical parrots, is carried out with one foot on the female's back and the other on the perch. It lasts a long time with the characteristic moaning noise."

The Red-tailed Amazon remains rare in aviculture. A few breeding successes have occurred, some of them illegally imported birds, which have been placed with zoos. Thus the UK Rode Tropical Bird Garden has bred this Amazon in several consecutive years. Three years after the pair was acquired, in 1994 (when they had been in the UK for several years), the female laid three eggs. Two of these hatched. Favoured rearing foods were dandelions, including the flowers. One chick survived; it left the nest after at least 72 days - a very long period for an Amazon. (Length of stay in the nest can be influenced by diet.) On fledging its head colours were paler than those of an adult, with a smaller area of red. Chester Zoo has also been successful in breeding this species. This year I saw a young one bred there with one bred at Rode in the latter well-known bird park. When mature they will, hopefully, produce the first second generation Red-tailed Amazons in the UK.

This Amazon is confined to a small coastal area of Brazil, in the states of Sao Paulo and Parana. Since trappers located the breeding areas in the late 1970s, it has suffered a catastrophic decline. In 1989, there was an estimated total population of 4,000 birds; by 1992 the population had fallen to an estimated 3,000. The swampy habitat where the bird's breed would be very difficult and expensive to protect.

Brazilian ornithologist Paulo Martuscelli gave his opinion on this trade in the August 1994 issue of PsittaScene, the magazine of the World Parrot Trust. "International trafficking accounts for the larger share of poached parrots, that reach up to US$2,500, while the nest robber earns around US$30. Most parrots are smuggled to Europe, through Germany, and to the USA. All Red-tailed Amazons in the hands of aviculturists around the world were illegally exported from Brazil.

"The survival of the Red-tailed Amazon, considered the most endangered Amazon parrot in South America, can only be assured if there is a greater concern by the international authorities and all commerce in the species is banned."

Loss of habitat and even sale of these Amazons for food are other threats to the survival of what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful members of the genus. Now that the precarious situation of this Amazon (on Appendix 1 of CITES) is so well known, aviculturists should take note. Even if the offspring of birds confiscated by the authorities and placed with zoos might be considered legal, the Brazilian Government almost certainly considers that (as in the case of Spix's and Lear's macaws) all birds outside their country are illegally held since there has been no legal export of this parrot.

The temperament of the Red-tailed Amazon is more nervous than that of some of the members of the genus, which are familiar to aviculturists. Wild caught can take literally years to settle down in captivity. This is why they are among the most difficult Amazons to breed and among the least enjoyable to care for.

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