Yellow Headed Amazon
(Amazona oratrix belizensis)
About the yellow-head
The Yellow-head parrot is a subspecies unique to Belize. Their startling ability to mimic has made them a highly sought-after victim of the illegal pet trade.
It is a CITES listed Endangered Species. In 1994 the last accurate population count identified a 90% decrease in numbers over the 2 decades from 70,000 to just 7,000 individuals.
A transect count by Belize Bird Conservancy in 2016 estimates populations in Belize at around 1,200 birds throughout its 4,500km² distribution range.
Rehabilitation of former captive parrots
We used to believe that former captive oratrix were too habituated for successful release into the wild. We now know that is not true, although rehabilitation has taken up to 9 years. Since 2014 we have successfully released 46 former captive yellow-heads back into the wild. Others are still undergoing lengthy rehabilitation at the Centre.
At-risk chick hand-rearing for release
We began a collaborative conservation effort for yellow-head parrots of the Payne’s Creek National Park, Toledo in 2014, and additionally with Programme for Belize (at Rio Bravo) in 2015.
Chicks that are unlikely to fledge due to poaching, predation, nest destabilisation and overcrowding are carefully removed and transported to BBR to be hand-raised.
Since starting the programme, we have returned 102 hand-reared chicks to the wild with a further 17 due for release May 2021
By kind permission, Melanie Sorenson, Minnesota Zoo
Threats to yellow head parrots
It is illegal to capture or keep any form of wildlife in Belize, and both demand and supply of illegal wildlife is diminishing annually. However poaching still remains a major issue, especially for the iconic yellow-head.
Yellow-heads nest in deep cavities in pine trees. The savannahs are sparse and the nests highly visible. Poachers chop a new hole below the nest opening to access the babies, the following year parrots create a new cavity using the chopped hole for access. Repeated over the years the nest gets progressively lower and more accessible to man and other predators. This also eventually kills the tree making it unstable and vulnerable to fire.
The pine savanna nesting grounds are prone to fires in the dry season and dead trees from repeated poaching damage accelerate the burning. Fires are often set deliberately to facilitate illegal hunting. Trees are harvested illegally and savanna destroyed for agriculture and highways.
Yellow-heads are attracted to the citrus groves. They eat the blossoms and destroy the fruit in search of seeds Citrus is one of the largest agriculture industries in Belize, and many farms have been known to use lethal deterrents.
Chicks are predated by raptors, mammals and rodents. Key yellow-head nests are often occupied by other birds and even mammals. Hurricanes, fires and floods effect nesting success.