The Blue-fronted Amazon

The Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazona aestiva) has always been a popular choice amongst pet owners and aviculturalists world wide and it's not hard to see why. As an aviary bird its character and charm is irresistible and as a pet bird it's great pet qualities, talking ability and colouration make it highly sought after. The following article is aimed at introducing the reader the this beautiful species of Amazon and looks at some aspects required to care for these birds.

The following description covers the nominate race A. a. aestiva. Measuring approximately 36-37 cm’s in length the Blue-fronted Amazon is a stocky predominately green bird with a bluish sheen to the front of the bird. The blue plumage on the forehead for which it was named meets up with yellow feathering which may vary in amounts from bird to bird (see attached photos). The speculum and bend of the wing is red and the legs and beak grey. The iris is orange in colouration and bend of wing red. Members of the sub-species A. a. xanthopteryx have more yellow colouring on the face and bend of wing. Immature birds have a brownish coloured iris with varying amounts of yellow and blue on the head and are duller in colouration.

Distribution and Habitat
The Blue-fronted Amazon is a native of South America and occurs in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. A wide and varied range of habitats such as woodland, humid forests, palm groves etc are inhabited by these birds.

Threats to wild populations
Through out its range the Blue-fronted Amazon is considered for the most part to be common but like so many other species that co-exist with man it is faced with many threats. Some of which include trapping for the pet trade and clearing of suitable habitat and breeding grounds. Locals are well known for collecting young Blue-fronted Amazons from the nest to keep as pets and for shooting birds that enter their crops for a feed.

Sub-species status in Australia
Whilst the nominate race of the Blue-fronted Amazon (A. a. aestiva) is kept in good numbers within Australian aviaries the same can not be said for A. a. xanthopteryx. It appears that although a small number of these birds are kept a number of those identified as A. a. xanthopteryx may not actually be A. a. xanthopteryx but either a mix of both the nominate race and A. a. xanthopteryx or members of the nominate race with slightly more yellow then many individuals of the nominate race. Those that do have true A. a. xanthopteryx should be doing their all to keep this sub-species true to type.

The suspended aviary has many advantages over the conventional type aviary and is perfectly suited to housing this species. One advantage for housing this species in a suspended aviary is that the birds may become aggressive during the breeding season and if the keeper does not have to enter the aviary he or she is less likely to suffer the pains of being attacked by an angry pair of Amazons or a protective father to be.

A suspended aviary made out of steel measuring a length of 4 metres long x 1.2 metres wide x 1.2 metres high is suitable for housing the Blue-fronted Amazon. 1.3mm gauge x 12.5 mm x 12.5 mm wire is suitable for the use on aviaries housing this species. Pet Amazon Parrots however require a large sturdy cage with suitable bar spacing and plenty of toys to play with. If these birds are to be housed side by side solid partitions should be installed. This will give the birds privacy during the breeding season and keep the cocks focus on the hen and not the cock next door. 

Leaving 50 % of the roof open allows the birds to gain access to rain showers and sunshine which is beneficial for their health. Amazons will hang excitedly from the roof of the aviary with wings outstretched during periods of wet weather. A safety porch should also be installed to ensure that if any bird escapes it can be re-captured and placed back into its aviary. Perches made out of natural branches such as the various Eucalypts are suitable for use with these birds however they should be replaced regularly as they get a good work out from these birds.

Flocking Blue-fronts
Through out the range of the Blue-fronted Amazon large flocks of these birds may be seen or more often heard as they come to feed or roost. This natural instinct to flock in the off (non-breeding) season means that under the right conditions a small flock of these birds may be kept together up until the breeding season when pairs can be moved to the breeding aviary. Allowing the birds to flock together not only prevents boredom but allows the birds to form stronger bonds with their respective partner. An aviary designed to house a flock of Blue-fronted Amazons must be large and have a number of perches and feed and water stations installed to ensure that all the birds are able to eat and perch. Failure to install ample food stations could result in birds being starved or continually harassed by the more dominant members of the flock. As always signs of aggression should be watched for.

The Blue-fronted Amazon is a species that is easily pleased and will eat just about anything put in front of it including a diet consisting of sunflower seed and water. This type of diet however is poor and will lead to many health problems for any Blue-fronted Amazon kept on such a diet for long periods of time. A varied diet of fruits, vegetables, seed and or pellets and a small supply of nuts on the other hand will not only prove beneficial but be stimulating to the mind. A liquid calcium supplement may also be supplied.

Fruits and vegetables that may be fed include corn on the cob, apple, pear, peas, chili, grapes and passion fruit to name a few. Sprouted and Soaked seed may also be provided and seems to be relished by these birds. When feeding nuts of any type it is suggested that they and fatty seeds such as sunflower be fed sparingly as these birds are prone to obesity. Tailoring a seed mix to suit is a good idea but it must be remembered that some form of fat is required in the diet so sunflower and other fatty seeds should either be added in small amounts or given in the running up to the breeding season.

The Blue-fronted Amazon is a species that some aviculturalists profess to be able to sex visually. It is apparent that many Blue-fronted Amazon hens have a lesser degree of blue and yellow on the face and head compared to cocks and as such some people use this as a way to sex their bird/s. Unfortunately though this is by no means a reliable way to sex these birds as although some hens have very little blue and yellow on their face and head the same can be said for a number of cocks. DNA or Surgical sexing is by far the best way to sex these birds to prevent unwanted pairings. After all hens will pair with hens and lay clutches of clear eggs and cocks will pair with cocks and mate without producing eggs.

During the breeding season the nature of the Blue-fronted Amazon changes dramatically. Cocks become extremely aggressive and protective of their hens and often have no fear of their keeper. Some hens show the same qualities but for the most part are happy to retreat to the nestbox or as far away from anyone entering their aviary as possible. Displays given off by these birds range from slight arches and bows of the head to more dramatic displays which include lifting of the wings, dilating of the pupils and tail fanning. Unusual vocalizations often accompany these displays which are given to discourage anyone from entering their aviary. It must be said that the beauty of this amazon can only truly be appreciated during the breeding season when the cock in particular gives of his range of displays.

A large vertical style nestbox is sufficient for breeding these birds and should be made of a non toxic hardwood with wooden cleats installed. Alternatively a large boot or Z style nestbox (with cleats installed) or hollow log may also be used to breed these birds. The cleats will be given a good work out during the breeding season by the hen and double as a ladder. Non-treated pine shavings or peat moss mixed with saw dust can be used as nesting material and should fill the box or log to a depth of five centremetres. 

The Blue-fronted Amazon reaches sexually mature at around two to three years of age. Eggs however may not appear until until the third year or forth year. Clutch size varies from two to four eggs with incubation taking approximately 26 days. Checking nestboxes should be done carefully as hens are tight sitters and will crush eggs or attack and kill chicks if the keeper is over zealous and continuously invading the birds space. Closed stainless steel leg rings should be placed on the bird at around 12-13 days off age.

Pet Qualities
The keeping of Amazon Parrots as pets within Australia is in its infancy but already the praises are being sung for the Blue-fronted Amazon by those who own one of these birds as a pet. The Blue-fronted Amazon is not only an intelligent species but is endearing and has the ability to learn a great deal of words, whistles etc. Pet Blue-fronted Amazons love toys and thus should be provided with a multitude of suitable toys, branches to chew on, a nutritious and varied diet and a spacious cage that is sturdy and able to with stand the beak of these birds. Over the next few years as the price comes down one can expect to see more of these birds in the average Australian household.

An intelligent species on the increase in Australia the Blue-fronted Amazon makes a great pet and aviary bird and is well worth the price it currently attracts.

Books on Amazons
Looking for a good book on Amazons? Why not visit our Rec Reading page to read up on Rosemary Low's fantastic book AMAZONS which is available from ABK Publications.

Suggested Books and Articles
Beautiful Blue-fronts Keeping and Breeding the Blue-fronted Amazon in Australia
By Jade Welch featured in the Mar-Apr 2007 edition of Australian Aviary Life Magazine 

Amazon Parrots
By Rosemary Low published by Dona Publications

NB:This article first appeared in the Mar-Apr 2007 edition of Australian Aviary Life Magazine. Copyright remains with the author Mr Jade Welch.