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Choosing a Cuban Amazon

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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The Cuban Amazon goes by several aliases: white-headed Amazon, Cuban parrot, Bahamas parrot, Cayman Island Amazon and Isle of Pines Amazon. But these birds are beautiful no matter what they're called.

Medium-sized (10 to 12 inches) and stocky, they are very colorful with white caps, pinkish-red throats and cheek,s and patches on the belly. The undersides of the wings are blue and the tail feathers are green with red at the base.

Found in Cuba as well as several other Caribbean islands, the birds (Amazon leucocephala) inhabit pine forests, palm groves, mangroves and broadleaf woodlands. They nest in tree cavities, except on the island of Abaco, where they nest in limestone cavities in the ground.

Subspecies

  • A. l. leucocephala, found in eastern Cuba
  • A. l. palmarum, in western Cuba and Isle of Pines
  • A. l. caymanensis, from Grand Cayman Island
  • A. l. hesterna, found in Cayman Brac and formerly Little Cayman
  • A. l. bahamensis, in Abaco and Great Inagua Islands (Bahamas)

    Cuban Amazons can probably live up to 50 to 60 years, judging by the life span of similar species, however little is known about their life span in captivity.

    These are intelligent, inquisitive birds with excellent speaking ability. Mature birds, especially males, become aggressive. Due to their relative rarity in captivity and their near-threatened conservation status, Cuban Amazons are unlikely to be available for pets. They are active by nature and have a tendency toward obesity if closely confined.

    Feeding

    Amazons should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables should also be fed daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/4 cup of pelleted diet and 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Monitor food intake as overfeeding leads to pickiness, selective feeding and wasteful throwing of food. Because of their tendency to obesity, Cuban Amazons should be fed no sunflower or safflower seeds, or else seeds should only be given as treats. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds eating a formulated diet.

    Birds that are fed only seeds will need vitamin and mineral supplementation to prevent deficiency diseases. Vitamins should be added to soft food rather than water as this dilutes the vitamins, water-soluble vitamins break down rapidly and water that contains sweetened vitamins is a good growth medium for bacteria. Note: Vitamins added to the outside of seeds are usually lost when the bird shells the seeds.

    Grooming

    Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or gently dried with a blow dryer. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as Amazons often fall and injure themselves. Clip only the primary flight feathers and only enough so the bird will glide to the floor. Cubans are heavy-bodied birds and care must be taken not to cut too many feathers. Excessive wing clipping can result in injuries from falling.

    Housing

    Cuban Amazons are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. They should also be supplied with a retreat to guard against insecurity and fear responses. Ideally, a cage should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not as critical as it is for macaws and cockatoos, however locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary. Ideally, the bird should have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

    Breeding

    Cuban Amazons are difficult to breed in captivity. In North America they breed predominantly in the spring and have a limited breeding season (February or March to June or July). Clutch size is typically three to four eggs. One inch by one inch by 14 gauge welded wire is a good choice for cage construction. A suggested size is 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall by 8 feet long suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor.

    Double entrance nest boxes may be used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Grandfather-style wooden boxes can be used. Size should be approximately 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches.

    Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age. Cuban Amazons are relatively easy to hand-rear and most hand rearing formulas can be used successfully.

    Male Cuban Amazons frequently become aggressive toward their mates. Cage construction and management should take into consideration techniques to reduce mate aggression. Clipping the wings of the male prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive. Aggressive behavior may occur in compatible breeding pairs and often occurs at the time of human visitation.

    Cuban Amazons are noisy especially when in breeding condition. When breeding Amazons, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered.

    Common Diseases and Disorders

    Cuban Amazons are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following:

  • Feather-picking
  • Mate aggression
  • Psittacosis (Chlamydiosis)
  • Poor eating habits
  • Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals
  • Toe necrosis
  • Fatty tumors
  • Obesity
  • Upper respiratory infections

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