Yellow-headed Amazon Amazona oratrix


Justification of Red List category
This species qualifies as Endangered owing to a very rapid population decline. The population is now so small that lower, but significant, rates of decline are likely in the future.

Population justification
The population was estimated at 7,000 individuals in 1994. This is roughly equivalent to 4,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species's population is estimated to be in very rapid decline, owing to habitat loss and degradation and levels of trapping and persecution. It suffered a dramatic population decline, judged at 90% between the mid-1970s and 1994. On the coast of Michoacán, Mexico, it has been calculated that the species occupies 45.6% of its estimated historic distribution (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2007). Along the entire Pacific coast of Mexico its historical range has contracted by 79% (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2010). The population at Punta de Manabique declined by 30% from 1994 to 2001 primarily because of nest poaching (Eisermann 2003, K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). However, in some areas the population may be less affected with roost numbers in Tamaulipas in 2013 being 80 ± 8.6 individuals, compared to <15 in 1992-1994, although nesting densities may be lower (Anon. 2013).

Distribution and population

Amazona oratrix has undergone a dramatic population decline, judged at 90% since the mid-1970s, to 7,000 birds in 1994. There are three subpopulations in Mexico: the nominate race from Jalisco to Oaxaca (Roberson and Carratello 1997); race magna (now considered to be part of the nominate [del Hoyo et al. 2017]) in Tamaulipas (in 13 municipalities [T. Monterrubio-Rico in litt. 2016]), San Luis Potosí, Veracruz (in 22 municipalities [T. Monterrubio-Rico in litt. 2016]), Chiapas (registered during surveys in the municipalities of La Libertad, Palenque and Reforma [T. Monterrubio-Rico in litt. 2016]), Tabasco (in 13 municipalities [T. Monterrubio-Rico in litt. 2016]) and Campeche; and the race tresmariae on the Islas Marías. The race belizensis was widespread in coastal Belize, but is now primarily restricted to central and north-west areas (Clay 1999), mostly in pine-oak forests along the coastal plains (B. Miller in litt. 2007). There are conflicting reports that tresmariae is stable (S. N. G. Howell in litt. 1998) and under considerable threat (Low 1995), with an old report and a 1993 record from Petén, Guatemala (Clay 1999). Race hondurensis (including proposed race "guatemalensis") occurs from Punta Manabique in Guatemala to extreme north-west Honduras (Lousada and Howell 1996). 

Extensive surveys, and the use of MaxEnt algorithm, have calculated that the area with suitable ecological conditions, primary habitat, and the confirmed presence of the species may include 65,737 km2, fragmented into five areas. Its Mexican coastal Pacific range may now cover 18,957 km2  fragmented into three potential metapopulations, with the broader distribution in the Gulf Coast estimated at 46,780km2 (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2010, Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2016). On the coast of Michoacán, Mexico, it has been calculated that the species occupies 45.6% of its estimated historic distribution (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2007), yet only 39% (3,432 km2) of this occupied range was modelled to constitute suitable habitat conditions for the species, and just 6.6% (587 km2) comprised its preferred tropical semi-deciduous forest habitat (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2014, 2016). Amazona oratrix abundance was evidenced to be 6 times greater in areas of preserved forest rather than in the fragmented, human-disturbed, and intensively cattle ranched areas of the region (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2015). Based on intensive field surveys during 2001-2007, it was verified that the species's range has contracted in Colima state, and it has been extirpated in 11 municipalities in coastal Guerrero state (from Tecpan de Galeana to Marquelia) (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007). The combined range decline for Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero is estimated at 3,990 km2  (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007). The population at Punta de Manabique declined by 30% to 70 individuals from 1994 to 2001 primarily because of nest poaching (Eisermann 2003, K. Eisermann in litt. 2007).


It inhabits dense thorn-forest, savanna, tall deciduous forest and humid riverine woodland, occasionally up to 500 m (with a report of up to 1,377 m at Totula, Veracruz, Mexico [Monterrubio-Rico 2013]). Birds favour semi-arid regions in the northern Atlantic lowlands, but more humid savannas further south. In Belize, it inhabits pine savannas and adjacent evergreen forest patches, and "guatemalensis" occurs in coastal scrub, palm savanna and mangroves (Lousada and Howell 1996, Eisermann 2003). Food privation and fire cause occasional wanderings. Breeding typically occurs in February-June, although it occurs earlier in the Michoacán region between January-May, in the snags of Roystonea palms or in nests in tree cavities (Eisermann 2003). The species exhibits a narrow niche breadth for nest-trees, utilising just 11 species with 81% of nests found in Astronium graveolens, Brosimum alicastrum, and Enterolobium cyclocarpum; nests are typically built 1439 m ± 995 from human settlement with 62% at distances >1 km (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2014; Téllez-García 2008). Nesting success is only 0.5 fledglings per nest (E. C. Enkerlin-Hoeflich in litt. 1994). The species consumes seeds from the forest's semi-deciduous species, such as Astronium graveolens, Crataeva tapia, and Sideroxylon capiri, as well as fruit from Ficus insípida and other tropical dry deciduous forest species (Renton 2002, Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2014).


Habitat loss has been extensive, with 77.4% of primary habitat within the species's potential historical distribution and 80% of the Tamaulipas lowlands cleared for agriculture and pasture, and increasing settlement along the Western Highway in Belize (Somerville 1997, Monterrubio et al. 2016). Forest loss throughout the species's full range remains extreme, totaling ~22.5% across three generations (Tracewski et al. 2016). In Belize, where much of the suitable habitat lies outside the national protected area system, the regions occupied by the species remain under heavy pressure from development and illegal fires (B. Miller in litt. 2007). Palm savannahs at the only known breeding site in Guatemala are used for non-intensive cattle-grazing (Eisermann 2003), which continues to be a threat here (Fundary et al. 2006).

Many thousands of individuals of this species are illegally exported from Mexico and some from Belize each year, and it is popular in domestic markets (Low 1995, Miller and Miller 1997, Somerville 1997). Illegal domestic traffic is intense in Mexico and may account for 38% of the species's recent distributional loss (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007). In the Mexican states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca, it is mainly nestlings that are taken for the pet trade (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007), with 76% of 13 active nests monitored in 2012 being poached (T. Monterrubio-Rico in litt. 2016). In Guatemala, it is reported that local military authorities are complicit in the illegal trade of this species, and nest poachers are reported to frequent the species's nesting site (Eisermann 2003, K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). In addition, hunting for food by local fishermen has been reported from Guatemala (Eisermann 2003, K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). In Belize, it is hunted and persecuted for damaging crops (S. N. G. Howell in litt. 1998) and is still a victim of the illicit pet trade, capture for which involves the cutting down of nesting trees (B. Miller in litt. 2007). Its range around coastal Michoacán is estimated to have declined by 1,507 km2, of which 576 km2 can not be attributed to habitat loss and thus may be due to poaching for trade (Monterrubio-Rico et al. 2007).

Additional threats to isolated populations of the species may occur from the increased impact of high intensity hurricanes. In October 2018, the category 3 Hurricane Willa passed directly over the Islas Marias on the Pacific coast of Nayarit, which maintains the island endemic subspecies of Amazona oratrix tresmariae. It is unknown how this endemic population may have been affected by the hurricane impact.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. In Mexico it occurs in nine protected areas (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007). The race magna occurs in El Cielo, Los Tuxtlas, Pantanos de Centla and Laguna de Terminos Biosphere Reserves. The race tresmarieae is protected in the Islas Marias Biosphere Reserve. The race oratrix occurs in Chamela-Cuixmala Reserve, on the Lagunas de Chacahua, Huatulco National Park, and on the recently created Zicuiran-Infiernillo Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan (T. Monterrubio-Rico et al. in litt. 2007), as well as seven protected areas in Belize (E. C. Enkerlin-Hoeflich in litt. 1994, Miller and Miller 1997, Snyder et al. 2000). The only breeding population known in Guatemala was declared a wildlife refuge in 2005, but effective protection is difficult due to organised crime in the area (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). There are several country-wide awareness campaigns in Mexico (Roberson and Carratello 1997). It is bred in captivity, but the reintroduction of captive-bred birds is unfeasible (Low 1995). Introduced artificial nests have been quickly occupied, suggesting this is an effective method of mitigating for the loss of suitable natural nesting cavities (Anon. 2016). The 'Scarlet Six Bio-monitoring Team' are working to evaluate the wild population size, nesting success in protected and unprotected areas, threats to nesting pairs and develop protocols for a coordinated national monitoring effort in Belize (Anon. 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to obtain an up-to-date estimate of the population size. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Monitor levels of hunting, capture and trade. Enforce trade restrictions. Effectively protect key sites such as Las Colorados Ranch, Soto La Marina/La Pesca, (Tamaulipas), río Naranjo, centred on Las Abritas, and Tamasopo (San Luis Potosí), Jonuta (Tabasco), the indigenous communities of Coire-Pomaro, Aquila on the Michoacán coast, and Punta de Manabique. Survey to identify additional important sites. Research habitat use and local movements. Continue to expand awareness campaigns. Develop structured captive-breeding programmes and research the possibility of future release.


35-38 cm. Nominate race green with yellow head, thighs and carpal area. White orbital ring. Red bend of wing and speculum. Dark blue tips to flight feathers. Yellow tips to tail with red marks on base of outer feathers (tresmariae subspecies has yellow extending on to chest and glucose wash to underparts). Immature has yellow restricted to crown, lores, ear-coverts and throat. Subspecies belizensis and "guatemalensis" resemble immature nominate but have greyish orbital ring and lack yellow on throat. Yellow can be only forecrown patch and flecking on nape. Voice Raucous, rolled screams.


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Benstead, P., Capper, D., Eisermann, K., Enkerlin-Hoeflich, E.C., Howell, S., Marín Togo, M., Miller, B., Monterrubio-Rico, T., Renton, K., Sharpe, C.J., Taylor, J., Téllez García, L. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Amazona oratrix. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/yellow-headed-amazon-amazona-oratrix on 26/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 26/09/2023.