The beautiful Lilac-crowned Amazon is endemic to the Pacific slopes of Mexico, from southeastern Sonora and southwest Chihuahua to southern Oaxaca, where they mostly inhabit humid pine-oak forests up to about 1,800 meters elevation.
Lilac-crowns are on the small side, compared to other Amazon parrots, averaging 30.5 – 34.5 cm from head to the tip of the tail. They weigh about 325g. The plumage is mostly green, except for yellow-green face, the red / maroon band across the forehead and the extensive wash of violet-blue on the top of the head (crown) and collar. The feet are bluish. In flight, a red patch can be seen in the wings. The outer tail feathers are yellowish-green, except for the central tail feathers that are entirely green. The Lilac-crowned Amazon can be expected to live 40 to 60 years.
Males and females look alike. For gender identification DNA / Feather or surgical sexing is recommended. Juveniles resemble the adults but have dark brown eyes and white-eye rings and ceres (fleshy skin above the beak).
They resemble the Red-crowned Amazon (Amazona viridigenalis), however, can be differentiated by the following:
• The Red-crowned Amazon has a bright red forehead and forecrown and blue markings that are restricted to the sides of the crown.
• The Lilac-crowned Amazon has a dusky or dark grey cere (fleshy skin above the upper beak); while this area is flesh-coloured in the Red-crowned Amazon.
• The plumage of the Lilac-crowned Amazon is less vibrant.
• The Lilac-crowned Amazon has a longer tail.
• Their vocalizations are similar, except for the distinctive squeaky upslurred whistle of the Lilac-crowned Amazon and the downslurred whistle of the Red-crowned Amazon (Hardy, 1973).
The Lilac-crowned Amazon has one sub-species, Amazona finschi woodi, which is a poorly differentiated sub-species confined to north-west Mexico from extreme south-eastern Sonora and south Western Chihuahua south to central-eastern Sinaloa and Durango. The adult birds are slightly larger in size. The plumage is somewhat duller and it has a narrower forehead.
Within its natural range, this Amazon is considered vulnerable due to an estimated population decline of 30-49% over ten years due to habitat loss and degradation; and illegal capturing. A decline in its natural range has been documented. This species has disappeared from parts of its previous range.
The Lilac-crowned Amazon is readily available in the United States, although not so common in European and South African aviculture. We recently spoke to Daya Vallabh from Port Elizabeth who has been working with this species and its rarer sub-species and he has success in breeding these birds. His notes are appended at the end of this article.
I personally believe that captive bred Lilac-crowned Amazons should be kept in unrelated pairs for breeding projects rather than as pets, since breeding this species successfully in captivity will ensure healthy, captive bred stock to secure this species’ future in aviculture.
The Lilac-crowned Amazon, like other Amazons, will breed in a variety of cage sizes and configurations. There are cases of two pet birds breeding in a small pet cage, ranging to birds breeding in very large flights. Since Amazons tend towards obesity in captivity, providing a large enclosure where flight is possible and encouraged will result in better-conditioned and healthier birds. Many aviculturists use suspended flights for Amazon breeding. A suspended flight with dimensions of 3m long x 2m high x 2m wide is sufficient for most Amazons. The suspended cage should be as high off the ground as is possible as the birds are less nervous and more likely to breed if perches are above human eye level. Whatever the cage size, I feel one of the most important aspects of caging is to separate Amazon pairs from sight of other Amazon pairs. Pairs became very vocal during breeding season and these calls might serve to bring other pairs into breeding condition, so within hearing distance is probably beneficial. Pairs housed side by side without sight barriers will often become overly aggressive and could cause fighting in the pairs. Aluminum sheeting is ideal for separating adjoining cages.
I recommend that nest boxes be constructed of wood. I do not like metal nest boxes as they are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. I think chewing of the wooden box prompts the birds to breed. Although the nestbox will have to be replaced periodically, I still prefer to use wood. Using thick plywood to construct the box will somewhat reduce the frequency that the nest box will be to be replaced. A box with dimensions of 30cm by 30cm and 60-90cm tall is appropriate. An entry hole should be located high on the box and should 10cm in diameter. Pine shavings several centimetres deep should be placed inside the box. An inspection hole on the nestbox rear should be located a few inches above the top of the shavings. The nestbox should be hung as high as is possible in the flight. If hung on the outside of the cage, the box will last longer as the pair will chew the box less.
Lilac-crowned Amazons usually lays clutches of 3 eggs, and incubation time is around 26 days. Fledgling age is 54-60 days with hatch weight being 11grams, peak weight 309-370grams and weaning weight 270-280grams.
Sources of Breeding Stock
Choosing birds that will become the best breeders continues to be a challenging task. Birds to be used for breeding are available from pet owners (long term captives which are mostly imports but now increasingly could also be domestic), breeders (babies, proven pairs or unpaired stock) and pet shops (a combination of many sources).
In the long term, captive-bred birds that are later pair bonded will be the main source of breeding stock and hopefully the most efficient breeders. Parent raised birds would of course be better than hand-raised but in Amazons I don’t think it makes too much of a difference (Cockatoos are a different story). If babies are to be used for future breeding, minimize human contact during hand-rearing, other than that required for care, and have several babies of the same species in the same container.
Hand-reared birds make better breeders and parents because they are less stressed by confinement and contact with people than wild-caught birds. Captive raised birds acclimatize much easier and sooner to new flight cages. Pairs are more likely to be compatible if they grow up together. Captive bred birds are usually not sub-clinical carriers of pathogenic organisms, especially Pacheco’s disease which is a major problem with imported birds. An obvious disadvantage of obtaining young birds is that the purchaser will have to wait three to five years for the birds to become sexually mature and old enough to breed.
When buying young birds their age is known but once a parrot is mature and is in full adult plumage there is no way of determining its age. Young birds are also better value because it can seldom be certain that adult birds have not been sold because they failed to pair up and breed or are very old. Unsatisfactory breeding in Amazons may be corrected with by re-pairing or changing the environmental conditions, whereas a Cockatoo that has killed its mate or destroys eggs is a more difficult and potentially permanent problem.
Another good source of breeding stock is to buy surplus long-term captives from other breeders, pet owners or pet shops. The extra cost of an egg laying or proven pair is well worth the expense. About a dozen species of Amazons have been imported in large enough numbers in the past that a pool of long term captives exists from which breeding stock can be obtained.
In my opinion, the diet fed to breeding Amazons is the most important factor in their management. Amazons in the wild do a great deal of flying, usually in large flocks over great distances. In captivity, not only do we bird keepers deliver the food to the birds’ door, we often provide a diet that is much richer and that contains more fat than the natural diet of the species. This results in an obese bird with markedly reduced chances for breeding. In their native habitats, Amazon Parrots not only raid farmers’ fields but also eat a large variety of seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, leaf buds, flower blossoms, and other natural foods in great variety. Of course we cannot duplicate a natural diet, but we can provide a diet that is rich in variety and full of fresh foodstuffs that are as natural as possible.
Many people feed their Amazons a dry pellet diet with some additional vegetables or fruits and feel this is sufficient. In my opinion it is far better to feed a diet based on grains, vegetables, and sprouts. Breeders use a variety of grains and pulses including red wheat, brown rice, lentils, corn and several types of beans and peas. These are boiled for about thirty minutes and then allowed to cool. To this we add a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. These include corn on the cob, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans and peas in their hulls, squash, kale and other leafy greens, apples, oranges, melons, papaya, grapes, and plums. We boil root vegetables such as carrots, beet root, and sweet potatoes and add these chopped after they are cooled. Another important addition to the Amazon diet is sprouted seeds. A powdered vitamin/mineral additive that contains minerals and trace elements can be added. Amazons need to be monitored so that they do not become obese, as this will lessen chances for breeding success.
If eggs are pulled, I recommend leaving them a full two weeks under the hen if possible and putting the eggs into a quality incubator. This gives you the best odds of success in hatching the eggs. Of course some pairs will not sit well or will break or eat eggs so these should be pulled immediately after laying. We often foster freshly laid eggs under reliable hens for two weeks before removing them for artificial incubation. If eggs are set in an incubator at day one, I recommend hand-turning them for the first few days as vibrations from artificial turning devices can kill very young embryos. All eggs are turned five times a day and incubated at 37°C. Incubation is twenty-six days. Chicks are relatively easy to hand-feed and grow quickly, fledging at about eight weeks and weaning at thirteen to sixteen weeks of age. I do not believe in pushing chicks into weaning and offer three hand-feedings a day to weaning chicks. Fresh corn on the cob, apple slices, cooked grains, sprouted seeds, pellets, and spray millet are offered to the weaning chicks.
Management of the collection is a big factor in long-term success. If a pair of birds just does not seem to be compatible, consider re-pairing them. Many successful Amazon breeders flock a group of prospective breeders, allowing the birds to naturally choose a partner. If you do not have the time or patience for this, try switching partners from two non-producing pairs. Be careful of aggression when re-pairing Amazons! It is best to remove them all from the breeding cages for a while and then introduce the new pair to their breeding cage together. Do not be too hasty to separate a pair that do not produce the first breeding season. If there is one thing I have learned working with birds, it is patience. Pairs often take a while to settle down and pair bond. Clear eggs are common with new or young pairs. Give a new pair two or more breeding seasons together before considering re-pairing them.
Daya Vallabh’s notes:
“I breed the Lilac-crowned Amazon in a conventional aviary. The size is 4.5m long, of which 1.5m is under cover. The height is 2.1m and the width is 1.2m. The nest box is a normal straight box. The size is 500mm high by 300 X 300 mm. The feeding and the inspection of the nest boxes is done from the passage at the back of the aviary which is under cover.
The following seeds are permanently available in the aviaries: sunflower, canary seed, oats, wheat, barley, buckwheat, white sorghum, babala, hemp, safflower, white millet, jap millet and black tape.
The sunflower seed is in a 5 litre tin which is made into a hopper. The rest of the other seeds are mixed together and put into a small flat square container for them to eat from. The soft food is mixed with veggies which I feed from July to March. I find that after March, the birds waste a lot of the soft food. There are times when they do not even touch their food. They would rather eat the dry seeds instead. This goes on until after winter is over. From July onwards I start feeding soft food and sprouts. To the normal soft food, I add grated carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, sweet corn and peppers. Amazon parrots are prone to deficiency in vitamin A and calcium. To make sure that the birds get enough of the vitamins and calcium, I add the following to the soft food: Aminovit H, Vitaton 34, calcium powder and spirulina.
1) I sprout sunflower seeds separately from the other seeds.
2) Sprout mix consists of the following seeds: chick peas, rondo peas, buckwheat, wheat, barley, oats, mung beans, lentils and white sorghum.
I alternate my sprout feeding. Day one, I just feed sprouted sunflower. The second day they get the other mixed sprouts. The third day they get the soft food mixed with veggies. Then it is back to sunflower sprouts and so on. Weekends I feed boiled mix: rondo peas, chick peas, oats, barley, white sorghum, crushed yellow mielies and brown rice. Most afternoons they get whatever fruit is in season.
Lilac-crowned Amazons mature at about four years and will start laying eggs from then onwards. These birds are very quiet, placid and very friendly.
In our area the breeding season for the Lilac Crowned Amazon starts from September onwards. Once the eggs are laid the hen will incubate the eggs for a period of 26 days. The chicks are rung at between 12 to 14 days. The ring size is 9 mm. These birds are excellent parents as far as raising the chicks is concerned.”
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