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Amazon Parrots

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Georgetown, Guyana's Botanical Gardens were, hands down, the best place to observe multiple parrot species doing their respective things. Botanic gardens in general are incredibly rich in bird life, because the same trees we plant for their flowers and fruits are the ones birds like to exploit.

At daybreak, the Botanical Garden was ascream with wild parrots of six different species: orange-winged Amazon, yellow-crowned Amazon, festive Amazon, red-shouldered (Hahn's) macaw, mealy Amazon, and green-rumped parrotlet. A couple of blue and yellow macaws were hollering, too, but these deep-forest birds certainly didn't get there under their own steam. I had my doubts about this festive Amazon, a rare bird in Guyana. What was it doing in a botanical garden/zoo, all by itself?Having seen festive Amazons by the bushel in Brazil, I didn't need to worry about whether to add it to my life list. As if I worried about that stuff in the first place. It was a glorious bird, its colors dampened only by the fact that my camera had spent the night in air conditioning and, along with almost everyone else's optics, was violently objecting to being brought out in the steamy morning heat.I was frantically wiping the fog off the lens every few seconds, trying to get an acceptable image. I wish I'd been able to show you his scarlet rump, source of his "festive" handle. Lovely blue face, too.Tropical travel tip from Leica's Terry Moore: Leave your camera in the hotel bathroom and shut the door, and try to keep it close to outside temperature and humidity conditions, or you'll get a nasty surprise on your first morning out. The air will be blue with fog and words.

While befogged, I witnessed a battle between two orange-winged Amazons that looked like something out of one of Liam's dinosaur books. There's always squabbling amongst parrots, even (and especially) mated pairs. The bird with its back to us temporarily has the upper hand, forcing its sparring partner to hang precariously from the perch.Not so fast! Awk! Awk! Screech! They flash the amazing colors of their wings and tail in battle. Orange-winged Amazons were the most common parrots we encountered. When I say "parrots," I mean here the square-tailed Amazon parrots. The most common psittacine (a group which includes parrots, macaws, parakeets and parrotlets) we encountered in Guyana was the red-shouldered macaw, a small cousin to my beloved Charles (a chestnut-fronted macaw), and subject of two posts to come.

Identifying parrots in flight is great fun for me, though a lot of birders throw up their hands. You can do a lot of it by voice--the screeches differ by species. Here is a nice shot showing two species in flight--an orange-winged Amazon on the left, and a yellow-crowned Amazon on the right. See the orange wing speculum on the left hand bird, and the bright red one on the right bird?The yellow-crowned Amazon is the Guyanan race of the famous yellow-naped Amazon and "double yellow-headed" Amazon, both stalwarts of the caged bird trade, and famed for their talking ability. The only difference in the three, all members of the superspecies Amazona ochrocephala, is the distribution of the yellow on head, nape, or cheek. Throughout Latin America, A. ochrocephala is referred to as "Loro real," meaning "The real parrot," because it's the best talker and most coveted.There's a bright surprise of red at the shoulder when the yellow-crowned Amazon takes wing.You can tell their calls from those of other parrots because they have a tremolo or yodeling quality, which predisposes them to singing operatic arias to while away their boredom as caged birds. It was wonderful to see parrots self-actualizing with friends and family in the wild. Here's another yellow-crowned Amazon taking off. If you look closely at the extreme left border of the picture, you can see a red-shouldered macaw's red wrist patches and white face as it takes off, too.An orange-winged Amazon struts in the sun. My lens has finally cleared enough to make good use of these cooperative parrots.A pair of orange-wingeds discusses their next nesting venture. Looks like his tail's afire!Taking off for the wild blue. Good bye, beautiful free parrot. As I write, Charles is rummaging around behind the laptop screen, trying to see if he'll fit beneath my computer. Yesterday he opened my Birds of Venezuela guide to the macaw plate and ran his bill over the images, chuckling. And just now--dammit!!-- bit a notch out of the page. Book damage, some comic relief, a rubbery tongue in my ear, and some warm kisses on his doeskin cheek are about all a macaw is good for in the studio.


Julie, I was hoping you would have some pictures of parrots. Seeing the photos of them free and flying put a big lump in my throat. I have never seen one fly before and it's simply beautiful.


WoooHoooo! I can only imagine the all the joyous squawks, shrieks, and cackling a forest of parrots make! You didn't take a recorder did you?

I love amazon wings! My blue front will sometimes spread his wings and tuck his head back and forth from elbow to elbow when I squeal, "Silly, silly, silly!" I'm not sure who is the silly one.

Thanks for the wonderful pictures! Were there some trees that look a bit trimmed up? I've always suspected a forest full of parrots could do major logging.

My Hahns' want to know if you have more macaw pictures since macaws rule (well at least in our house).

Well, Pam, you have a giant treat coming up because I will have at least two and perhaps three posts devoted to those boisterous little red-shouldered (Hahn's) macaws. I fell in love with them and they were common on the coastal plain.

Having lived with Charlie for 22 years, Kallen, and seeing parrots in the wild makes me realize that most of captive psittacines' mental problems could arise from being deprived of the power of flight. Not to mention being deprived of the society of other parrots. Flying and partying are essential elements of parrotude.

ahhh yes, "flying and partying," life just doesn't get much better than that! :-) Looking forward to more posts brimming with parrotude.

BTW, I've always noticed that my pet birds don't recognize or pay any attention to pics of parrots on the computer screen, but they immediately respond to the squawks/shrieks of the birds if there is audio accompaniment.

Brilliant. I am loving this series of posts, Julie!

I think you are right about some of the problems caged birds have. My white front has never had a wing trim and his attitude is very different from my timneh who's wings were trimmed for a couple of years. After I stopped trimming wings and allowed the birds to be flighted, my timneh was keeping out of reach at bed time. I was frustrated and just blurted out that if he didn't step up I'd trim his wings! I didn't mean it, but he took me seriously and would not allow me to touch him for several months!They value their flightedness. My green swarm and I await your hahns photos! For folks who have never met a Hahns macaw they are the smallest macaws on the outside, but they are the largest macaws on the inside.

After the fuss of foggy lenses, you sure delivered great photos, Julie. After seeing all of those beautiful birds in flight, Charlie still wins my heart... Let him do book damage. He's worth it.

Charlie has his own stack of phone books and magazines he is free to destroy at any time. The book biting he does while on my drawing table is pure devilment, just to see if I'm paying attention. That's one of the huge differences between parrots and dogs that I've found--complete lack of conscience and moral oversight in the bird!

I can't even imagine seeing all those beautiful birds flying around and interacting socially. We are so used to just seeing them captive. Stunning photos Julie, steam or not! :c)

Love the wild macaw pix! You are a master at sorting them out in the wild.

As for Charles, when adding up all the things he brings to the equation, don't forget, he's also really good at adding festive/artistic streaks of white down the back of your sweater or shirt.

Assuming one has air conditioning (not) and a bathroom (not).

Parroting by call seems to be the way to go. For the big macaws I had to learn to identify between a number of Jurassic roars and screams. What dinosaur was that??? Nothing like a trip to the jungle to discover where all those dinosaurs went!

Yeah, temperature control, it's sooo nice. Hurry home, or at least back to Blogger, Tim. I can't wait to see the photos you bring back. Fogged lenses, rotten light and all, I'll bet you still have some dandies.

Macaw screams raise the hair on your neck, don't they?

The pictures are beautiful, I like the last one, flying away.

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