Protecting our endangered, unique sub-species
YELLOW- HEADED AMAZON.
Amazona oratrix belizensis
About the yellow-head
Our yellow-headed 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 a population count identified a 90% decrease in numbers 70,000 to just 7,000 individuals.
Belize Bird Conservancy repeated the count in 2016 and estimates populations in Belize at fewer than 1,600 birds throughout its 4,500km² distribution range.
At-risk chick hand-rearing for release
We began this collaborative conservation effort for yellow-headed parrots of the Payne’s Creek National Park, Toledo in 2014, and have since expanded country-wide.
We have returned 119 hand-reared chicks to the wild with a further 11 due for release April 2024
Rehabilitation of former captive parrots
Enforcement of the wildlife laws must have a 'happy ending' for the bird.
Former-captive oratrix are often extremely habituated and successful rehabilitation takes many years. As of 2021 we have successfully released 48 former captive yellow-heads back into the wild. Others are still undergoing lengthy rehabilitation at the Centre. The dramatic reduction in population numbers means that every successful reintroduction is important to the population.
Threats to the yellow-head
It is illegal to capture or keep any form of wildlife in Belize, 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 below the nest opening to access the babies and the following year parrots create a new cavity using the chopped hole for access. Over the years the nest gets progressively lower. The tree eventually dies, becoming unstable and vulnerable to fire.
Savannah fires are part of the natural cycle, however poachers deliberately set fires to facilitate illegal hunting and distract rangers from parrot nest protection duties. Illegal logging and sanctioned land clearing for agriculture removes many acres a year.
Yellow-heads are attracted to the citrus groves, damaging blossoms and destroying fruit in search of seeds Many citrus farms have been known to use lethal deterrents.
Chicks are predated by raptors, iguanas, mammals and rodents. Nest cavities can be taken over by other birds, bees or mammals. Climate change brings extreme weather patterns with hurricanes, fires and floods effecting nesting and foraging success.
Hand-Rearing At-Risk Yellow Head Chicks.
Yellow-headed Amazon nest monitoring and protection in southern Belize is carried out by rangers from TIDE with the help of Belize Bird Conservancy. They identify any chicks that, in their experience, would not survive to fledge due to poaching, predation, nest destabilization and predation. They are carefully removed and driven to Belize Bird Rescue four hours away.
March to June
Chicks can be anywhere between a week old to pre-fledging at 11 or 12 weeks.
March to August
They are hand-raised using multiple commercial formulas with some additional fresh ingredients.
September to April
Once fledged, they take another 4 to 6 weeks to wean, after which they remain in an isolated flight aviary until release the following March or April
The following April
They are transported to the soft-release enclosure in the National Park, and after 10 days of acclimatisation, released into the local flock.
All of our birds carry metal leg-bands, making them easy to identify as rehabbed releases. TIDE reports they have seen complete integration of our releases, and after 7 years many are now breeding in the wild.
The average cost of saving one yellow-headed Amazon in this programme is around $500US