The charismatic Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (Amazona barbadensis), or lora as it is locally known in Papiamentu, is considered vulnerable to the threat of extinction.
There are only around 1,000 parrots remaining on Bonaire. Populations exist on the Venezuelan coast as well as on the country’s islands of La Banquilla and Margarita. Historically, the parrots also lived on the island of Aruba but they became extinct there in the 1940s. Bonaire is home to the only surviving native population outside of Venezuela.
Bonaire’s Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot population is under threat from poaching as well as habitat loss and degradation. Poachers take chicks from their nests to sell into the illegal local and international pet parrot trade, sometimes permanently damaging nests in the process. Bonaire has never recovered from the historic felling of its trees (most of which took place in the early 1800s). Although much of Bonaire is forested, invasive goats and donkeys damage or destroy the trees that do survive, reducing the biodiversity of plant and tree species. In addition to these pressures, the parrots’ habitat is under continual threat from commercial and residential development.
Measuring 33 to 35 centimeters (12 to 13 inches) in length and weighing between 270 to 320 grams, Yellow-shouldered Amazons are chunky birds with a strong head, rounded wings, and a short tail that they fan to show wonderful colours during excited or aggressive displays. Their bodies are bright green with a yellow face and crown. Their wings have yellow “shoulders” with red and blue feathers on the lower wing. They are usually seen in pairs and can be identified from a distance by their rapid wing-beat. There is no visible difference between males and females.
The lifespan of wild Yellow-shouldered Amazons is not known, but we estimate it to be approximately 40 years on Bonaire. The Yellow-shouldered Amazon lives in the dry forest. Pairs nest in cavities found in trees or in the cliffs that are dotted around the island. They like perching on top of the spiny cacti that are common on the island. They feed on leaves, seeds, fruit from a wide variety of trees, and farmed crops. One of their favourite fruits is the hard-shelled, green calabash, a small gourd that they dislodge from trees with their sharp beaks. The hard shell of the calabash often cracks when it hits the ground, revealing the messy, seeded flesh on the inside.
Mating season for the parrots occurs between May and August. They do not build their own nests but rather must find a pre-existing cavity in a tree or cliff. Most pairs will remain together throughout their lifetime and will use the same nest cavity each year. The female will lay, on average, three eggs that will be incubated for 28 days. During incubation and while she cares for the young chicks, the female relies totally on the male to provide her and their chicks with food. When the chicks first hatch, they are tiny and helpless. Within two months, they will have grown dramatically and look almost like adult birds. Even after they leave the nest, young birds are dependent upon their parents and will stay in family groups for several months.