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Version 1.0

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Yellow-headed Parrot Amazona oratrix

Janet M. Ruth
Version: 1.0 — Published August 21, 2015


Geographic Variation

Amazona oratrix exhibits geographic variation in size, and, more conspicuously, in the extent of yellow on the head and neck. There are two major groups of taxa, a monotypic group confined to the Tres Marías Islands (tresmariae), and a polytypic mainland group (oratrix Group):

tresmariae, described as Amazona oratrix tresmariae Nelson 1900; type locality Maria Madre Island

Restricted to the Islas Marías (Tres Marías Islands), Mexico.

Differs from other subspecies most conspicuously by the more extensive yellow of the head and neck, the yellow extending onto the throad and upper breast. Also averages larger in size with longer tail and wing (male), slightly paler green or light grass-green back, and more bluish green underparts. Underparts with glaucous cast or slightly tinged with blue, dark scalloping reduced. Odd red feathers on head, and more frequent yellow tips to upperwing covers, inner secondaries, and tail feathers (Forshaw 1977, Howell and Webb 1995, Juniper and Parr 1998).

Mainland group (oratrix Group):
oratrix, described as Amazona oratrix Ridgway 1887; type locality Petapa, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Occurs in mainland Mexico on both Pacific and Atlantic slope. Includes magna Monroe and Howell 1966 of the Atlantic slope of Mexico, which is recognized by some authors (e.g. Dickinson and Remsen 2013); magna reportedly differs from oratrix "in decidedly larger size in all dimensions" (Monroe and Howell 1966).

See Detailed Description

belizensis, described as Amazona ochrocephala belizensis Monroe and Howell 1966; type locality Hill Bank, Orange Walk District, Belize

Occurs in Belize, northeastern Guatemala, and northwestern Honduras.

Subspecies belizensis is similar to nominate oratrix, but has less yellow on the head and no yellow on throat; may show a few yellow feathers on nape. Otherwise described as yellow faced with relatively extensive yellow on crown, forehead, lores, periophthalmic region, auriculars, and upper cheeks; some birds with scattered yellow feathers on throat and hind crown (Forshaw 1977, Lousada and Howell 1996). Cheeks green, pale bills, ceres/bristles pale to pale horn-flesh to dusky, and pale claws. Orbital ring grayish-white and smaller on average, pale eyelids indistinguishable from orbital ring. Birds from Guatemala to northwest Honduras sometimes show yellow on head as broad patch on forecrown and around eyes (this population may represent as yet undescribed subspecies referred to as "guatemalensis"), and a significant number of adults show yellow nape feathers as flecks and patches. The "guatemalensis" group shows dark gray streaks or tips on mandibles, dusky ceres/bristles, and most commonly dark claws (Howell and Webb 1995, Lousada and Howell 1996, Juniper and Parr 1998).

hondurensis, described by Lousada and Howell 1997; type locality ca 12 miles northeast of La Lima, along the Toloa canal at Urraco, Depto. Cortes, Honduras

Occurs in the Sula Valley, Honduras.

Crown yellow, frequently in a broad, rounded or triangular shape that covers most of forehead; about 67% have full yellow napes as well, but 20% have either no yellow nape or a few yellow flecks. Shoulders have red patches with occasional yellow flecks, and thighs frequently have a little yellow. Bill pale or pale horn-flesh and pale to dusky ceres; on most at least portion of bristles are pale and difficult to see (Howell and Webb 1995; Lousada and Howell 1997; Juniper and Parr 1998). Although usually considered to be a subspecies of Amazona oratrix, some authors (e.g. AOU 1998) classify hondurensis as a subspecies of Yellow-crowned Parrot (Amazona ochrocephala).

Related Species

Yellow-headed Parrot is considered part of an Amazona ochrocephala species complex that is distributed from Mexico to the Amazon basin. Formerly this complex was considered to represent a single species, A. ochrocephala (e.g. Monroe and Howell 1966, Forshaw 1989), but most recent authors divide the complex into three polytypic species: Yellow-headed Parrot, Yellow-naped Parrot (A. auropalliata) of Central America, and Yellow-crowned Parrot (Amazona ochrocephala) of Panama and South America (AOU 1998, Juniper and Parr 1998). The taxonomic status of these three species remains the subject of debate, however. Little sequence divergence in nuclear genes has been detected to date among these taxa, and so phylogenetic inferences stem from mitochondrial DNA sequence data. All studies to date (Eberhard and Bermingham 2004, Ribas et al. 2007, Urantowka et al. 2014) find Amazona auropalliata to be embedded within Amazona oratrix. Furthermore, the taxon panamensis, usually classified as a subspecies of ochrocephala, is more closely related to the oratrix/auropalliata complex than it is to "true" ochrocephala from east of the Andes. As a result, one could include all Central American taxa (including panamensis) in a single species; or, if oratrix and auropalliata are recognized as species, then tresmariae and panamensis each should be as well.

Recommended Citation

Ruth, J. M. (2015). Yellow-headed Parrot (Amazona oratrix), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.yehpar.01