Wish They All Could be Amazona
By Layne David Dicker

"Hello..... This is he...... Uh-huh....... I see..... Okay. I think I know what you should do, Ready?..... Get an amazon. Bye."

No sooner does he finish with this then the phone rings again.

"Hello..... Yep, I'm the bird behaviorist...... Sure .... Lots of them do that..... You don't? Then next time get an amazon."

Again and again, throughout the day, the same thing. Finally, sick of repeating himself, he puts the machine on. Now when the phone rings, they hear, "Hello. You've reached Layne Dicker. To leave a personal message, please press 1. To leave a message regarding writing or lecturing, please press 2. If you're interested in the Toyota truck for sale, please press 3. And if you're calling about a parrot behavior problem, next time get an amazon. Good-bye."

Beep.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit. But, as is the case with most humor, there's a little bit of the truth buried in there somewhere. And I think we can find it without digging too far.

Between private consultations and as staff avian behaviorist at a very busy animal hospital, I see about 20 birds a week, a representative portion of which are amazons. Further, during a 3 year period I fostered, behaviorally rehabilitated and adopted out probably 35 amazons. Wait, make that 34; I kept one for myself. There are amazons all over the place and, from my perspective anyway, I think I've figured out why

  1. Amazons usually talk. Some better than others, both on an individual and a species level but, generally, they'll chat some. At the other end of the spectrum, SOME WON'T SHUT THE HECK UP! (Sorry. I let a personal issue creep into my writing. Won't happen again

    Amazons and Greys, more than most other parrots, seem to use talking as their calling card probably because, while they are gorgeous birds, they don't have the flash of many cockatoos or macaws. However, once in the home, bonded, comfortable and appreciated for who they are, most people don't really care if their 'Zon ever speaks. Some of the sweetest Napes and Redheads I've ever known never said a thing. Not anything that I understood, anyway. Which leads nicely to:

  2. Amazons communicate clearly. This has absolutely nothing to do with talking but, rather, deals with the birds' way of letting you know what she wants, doesn't want, what she's thinking or feeling. Amazons, slightly more than macaws and MUCH more than cockatoos, are clear and direct in their messages. Amazons are very straight-ahead birds. Which, in turn, leads to

  3. They are a behaviorist's dream. This isn't because they don't have problems. Oh, no. We as owners, breeders and whomever can and do turn our amazons into screamers, biters, pluckers and spouse haters all the time, but there's a difference in working with the greenies

    First, as mentioned, they're easy to read. When you're working with them and you happen upon a stimuli that causes a reaction, that reaction is direct, immediate and consistent. I only wish that were the case with more parrots.

    Second, their resilience and adaptability is nothing short amazing. They have a much higher threshold of our "blunders" that they will endure before having a serious reaction which is why, I am certain, we see so fewer cases of purely behavioral plucking in amazons. As for their ability to adjust to new situations, of all the birds that came in for adoption, they were always the best. Many cockatoos never really calmed down until they were placed in a new home, most macaws, conures and the like took a short while to get used to the busy surroundings of the placement center but amazons boiled it down to, "Where am I? Okay. Who are you? Okay. Where's the food?!", and maybe not even in that order

    Finally, as would be expected of a bird as above described, they take to corrections very rapidly. It's no coincidence that many of the parrots you see in shows are amazons.

    As a behaviorist, the most common amazon call I get is the springtime-six-year-old-biter call. This is the bird that always loved the owner, was really sweet and then, all of a sudden, BANG, Amazona vampira. Although there are a few variables in what I find when I visit/speak with them (some are unclipped, some on a bad diet, some never "Up" trained, some uncaged, etc.), one pattern is present in 100% of these cases, and this is "the downward spiral of amazon sociability", which is almost always the same.

    Basically, the fairly sweet bird got a little hormonal (but this can even start with a bird just in a bad mood, or frightened, etc.) so he bit. But now the owner is hesitant and socializes the bird less and/or becomes nervous around the bird, which makes the bird less secure and, you guessed it, more biting, even less socializing and more hesitation, and so on, and so on up to the point where the whole relationship is trashed. I get the call that the bird has become vicious, show up and, to the amazement of the stunned owner, go over and "Up" the bird. No mystery, no trick, no special ability, no Pushme-Pullyou out in the truck; its just that the bird hasn't gradually learned that I'm not safe as he has with his owner. A little restructuring and amazon and owner will live happily ever after.

    In essence, the bird that bites needs to be handled more, and not less.

    Back to the list.

  4. Nothing is funnier than an amazon taking a bath. No hyperbole here; I'm dead serious. I've made a study of humor. I love it, I use it and I try to understand it to the greatest extent possible. There was a time in my life when I could dictate from memory, verbatim, the entire script of "Blazing Saddles". Okay, so it was a very lonely time in my life

    Nonetheless, not even Jack Benny, Steve Martin and the you-know-what episode of Seinfeld can hold a candle to a Blue fronted amazon in the shower. I also happen to believe that they're pretty cute, too, so I ask fans of Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Benji to please lend their expertise to this discussion.

  5. Amazons are unpretentious. I once wrote, "When an amazon is hungry, he goes and gets some food. When he is playful, he plays. When he is happy, he expresses his joy. No games, no tricks, no lies. They are utterly and completely honest, more so than any of my former clients. An amazon would never wear Gucci loafers." I still stand by those words

    A part of this simplicity has to be their directness. I've never seen an amazon "go around" anything; they either go over it, through it or they don't go at all. My favorite example of this is how many of them climb around their cages. They climb up one side, across the top and down the other side. None of that cockatoo stopping to pose or that macaw hanging by one toe stuff and never would they bother to stop at the corner and back down the last side. No way. For amazons it's head first and straight ahead, all the way.

  6. Amazons are not afraid of commitment. No Peter Pan complexes

    When an amazon moves in, you can get the stainless steel cage, buy supplies in bulk and have the towels monogrammed. They're perfectly happy to stay put, thank you very much.

  7. Amazons are intelligent

    Duh!

  8. Amazons are pigs. I am constantly discussing diet conversion methods, tricks and techniques. Every "expert" has their secret and, basically, I try to gather as many as possible so that I can present my friends, clients and acquaintances with a wide range of options. When a call comes in about an amazon, however, I divulge my own little secret developed through years of careful, methodical, scientific research. Ready?>

    Here we go

    1. Take an empty bowl
    2. Fill it with chopped veggies and fruit
    3. Put it in front of the amazon

    Tough, huh? Nine times out of ten you now have a bird that eats fresh foods. Okay, he eats and wears fresh foods; amazons are not delicate eaters and I have the pictures to prove it.

In all seriousness, I find that the more I learn about amazons the more I see the entire range of psittacine behavior within the microcosm of the genus Amazona. From the sweet little White fronted to the majestic Blue crowned mealy, your desires as an avicultural hobbyist can easily be fulfilled by an intelligent, loyal, interactive, stable, beautiful and, more or less, green package. But do I really wish every parrot was an amazon? No way! I'd be out of business faster than you can say, "Good bird!"

1997, Layne David Dicker. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the author

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