Red-crowned Parrot

Amazona viridigenalis

(c) John Cassady
  • PSITTACIDAE
  • Parrots
  • Psittaciformes
  • Loro Tamaulipeco
  • Amazone à joues vertes
Introduction

This highly conspicuous Mexican parrot is decreasing in its original range but increasing elsewhere because of its popularity as a cage bird. Escaped and released individuals have adapted to woody areas of major cities in the USA and Mexico, creating populations far outside their natural range. Populations in southern Texas' Rio Grande Valley may include at least some naturally occurring vagrants from Mexico, but the topic is subject to debate.

Appearance Description
Rapid, shallow wing-beats and quick flight are typical of this medium-sized Amazona parrot, which is nearly always seen flying in pairs – or in distinguishable pairs within larger flocks. Plumage is the typical green of Amazona parrots, but the bright red forehead and violet-blue streak behind the eye separate this parrot from similar species. In flight, a brilliant patch of red is visible on the upper side of its 25-inch wings. Variations are common in wild populations and can include yellow feathers, especially on the head and neck, and red on the bend of the wing. Inexperienced observers may confuse it with the Red-lored Parrot.
Range Distribution
Remaining wild populations are restricted to intact habitat in northeastern Mexico within the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, northern Veracruz, and northwestern San Luis Potosi, with small populations in upper northeastern Queretaro.

The global range of the Red-crowned Parrot has taken an unnatural turn as feral populations of birds have now established themselves in many major cities throughout the southern United States and Mexico. Hundreds of birds can be locally common in Rio Grande Valley cities such as Brownsville, San Benito, Harlingen, Weslaco, and McAllen. The Red-crowned Parrot has been added to the official Texas state bird list as a species of "uncertain origin." It is included on California's official list as an "introduced" species of non-native origin.
Habitat
This parrot tends to select areas of tropical deciduous forest, palm forest, and occasionally open pine-oak woodland in the lowlands. It is also found in riparian areas, sometimes in ravines. It requires large, old trees with suitable cavities for nesting sites. Feral populations that reside in cities select areas with large trees like arboretums, which supply both nesting sites and food.
Feeding
Red-crowned Parrots are often found foraging in large, noisy flocks, especially outside of the breeding season. Tropical fruits are the favored food. Ebony, strangler fig, coma, and anacua trees provide plenty of fruit across much of its native habitat. Other items are chosen as well, particularly seeds, nuts, buds, leaves, berries, and even insects. Feral populations are particularly capable of adapting to whatever food source is most abundant within a given area. Water needs are met exclusively via its fruit-based diet.
Reproduction
The Red-crowned Parrot is a very pair-oriented species. Pairs form shortly following the breeding season – even among immature birds – and many pairs come together to form large flocks in winter. Once mated, pairs seem to stay together for life. Flocks break up in early spring, and individual pairs begin to search for nest cavities. Most nesting sites are in large, old trees with suitable cavities, such as old woodpecker nest sites or naturally decayed tree cavities. The female lays 2-5 white eggs, which she incubates for up to 31 days. Chicks are helpless and blind at hatching, and require constant care. After about 7 weeks, the parents deliberately cease feeding their young so as to coax them from the nest, after which they are led to communal "nursery areas" where they come into contact with birds of similar age.
Migration
In the non-breeding season Red-crowned flocks are nomadic, often moving to higher elevations, or to areas with abundant fruit crops.
  • 5,000 within natural range
  • 5,000
  • Endangered
Population Status Trends
In riparian zones where they were once considered a pest, wild populations are now gone due to human interference. The species is declining rapidly within its natural range. A strange irony of its worrisome decline in the wild are the feral populations well-established far outside its original range. Populations have been increasing steadily since the 1970s in areas such as southern Texas, Florida, California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and various parts of Mexico including Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Genetic inbreeding should not be ruled out as a future problem for feral populations.
Conservation Issues
Humans are the most serious predators of this species, both directly by extraction of individuals for the pet trade and indirectly via destruction of habitat. Over 80% of the lowlands in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas have been cleared, eliminating gallery forests and resulting in major habitat fragmentation. Trapping pressure is greatest in the remaining patchy habitat found on large cattle ranches. The lucrative pet trade provides strong financial motivation for bird trappers, who take thousands of chicks each year. The worst offenders not only raid the nests, but also fell nesting trees in the process, thus eliminating important future nesting sites. Unfortunately, many birds die before they even reach the marketplace, especially during illegal smuggling operations. Many populations remain unmonitored, and the extent of their decline is unknown. This parrot is very rarely taken by raptors, but snakes are known to prey on the nestlings. Human interference seems to be the only factor repressing the recuperation of this would-be robust and abundant species.

Internationally, this species is listed under CITES Appendix I, which protects it from wild harvest by law. In Mexico it is listed as Endangered under the Threatened Species List "Nom 059." It occurs in low numbers in Mexico's "Sierra Gorda" Biosphere Reserve and in unmonitored populations in the "El Cielo" Biosphere Reserve. Although there is growing awareness among ranchers about the importance of maintaining large trees, very few are taking conservation measures to promote tree regeneration in their pastures as habitat for this and other species. Public education, especially among ranchers and landowners, is crucial to the survival of this species within its natural range. 

Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.
What You Can Do
Do not purchase wild caught birds. Report any illegal wildlife trafficking activities to USFWS Law Enforcement Division or to US Customs.

The World Parrot Trust is a good source of information.

Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources.
More Information
To read more about the illegal parrot trade and of its effects on wild populations, visit the World Wildlife Fund's webpage.
Natural History References
BirdLife International (2007) Species factsheet: Amazona viridigenalis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org. Accessed August 2007.

Enkerlin-Hoeflich, Ernesto and Kelly Hogan, M.A. 1997. Red-crowned Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis). The Birds of North America, No. 292 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Stattersfield, A.J., and D.R. Capper (Eds). 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Editions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
Conservation Status References
Enkerlin-Hoeflich, Ernesto and Kelly Hogan, M.A. 1997. Red-crowned Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis). The Birds of North America, No. 292 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press.

Macias Caballero, C., E. E. I igo Elias, E. C. Enkerlin Hoeflich. 2000. Proyecto para la Conservacion, Manejo y Aprovechamiento Sustentable de los Psitacidos de Mexico. INE-SEMARNAT, Mexico D.F.

Stattersfield, A.J., and D.R. Capper (Eds). 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Editions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.