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Yellow-naped parrot. © Ondrej Prosicky / Adobe Stock

Yellow-naped parrot. © Ondrej Prosicky / Adobe Stock

Yellow-naped amazon

Heavily poached parrot


The visually stunning and vocally versatile yellow-naped amazon is a prime example of the heavy price that parrots pay for their beauty, brain power and ability to talk.

Although less well-known than other members of the parrot family such as the budgerigar, African grey, scarlet macaw or sulphur-crested cockatoo, the yellow-naped amazon is one of the most highly coveted species in the Central American pet trade. As a result, its wild population has been devastated by poaching and trafficking.

Fascinating facts about the yellow-naped amazon 

    Vocal range

    Yellow-naped amazons are excellent mimics and have an incredibly complex system of calls.

    Parrot nest hole in treetops.

    Parrot nest hole in treetops. © Osmar Sandino / Fauna & Flora

    Head for heights

    Yellow-naped amazon nests are located in tree holes as high as 30m above ground level. 

    Long life

    The lifespan of a yellow-naped amazon is up to 90 years. 

    Yellow-naped amazon chicks in the nest.

    Yellow-naped amazon chicks in the nest. © Biometepe Team / Fauna & Flora

    No entry

    While the female parrot is incubating her eggs and tending the chicks, the male will bring back food but will not enter the nest hole. 

    Who are you?

    Yellow-naped amazons have their own local dialects – their calls vary according to where they live. 

Yellow-naped amazon characteristics 

Yellow-naped amazons have exquisite emerald-green plumage and a distinctive yellow sunburst on the back of their neck that gives them their name. There are splashes of red and blue on their wings and tail feathers. 

These parrots are monogamous – meaning that they pair for life. Breeding pairs are territorial, and tend to keep to their own areas. Outside the breeding season, they prefer to rest and sleep in larger groups, which offers greater protection. Their favoured roosting spots are sometimes occupied by several hundred individuals, creating a glittering green-and-yellow mass among the branches.

What do yellow-naped amazons eat? 

Yellow-naped amazons feed on a wide variety of fruit, nuts and seeds. Their beaks are powerful enough to crack open the toughest nuts. Yellow-naped amazons are absolutely vital for the health of their forest home. They play a critical role in seed dispersal, helping to ensure that a broad range of tree species can regenerate. As long-distance flyers, they can also help the forest to grow beyond its existing reaches, expanding it over time.

Yellow naped parrot. © Petr Dolejsek / Adobe Stock

Yellow naped parrot. © Petr Dolejsek / Adobe Stock

Yellow-naped amazons play a crucial role in spreading the seeds of fruiting trees, helping their forest home to regenerate.

Where do yellow-naped amazons live? 

Despite their name, these parrots are found not in the Amazon, but in Central America. Their range extends from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica, but yellow-naped amazons are now extremely rare in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. The island of Ometepe – a wildlife haven in the middle of Nicaragua’s largest freshwater lake – harbours an estimated 1,800-2,000 yellow-naped amazons. This represents the largest remaining population not just in Nicaragua but throughout the entire range of this threatened parrot.

Yellow-naped parrots in their nest. © Fauna & Flora

Yellow-naped parrots in their nest. © Fauna & Flora

Yellow-naped amazon chicks showing the first signs of their striking green plumage.

How many yellow-naped parrots are left in the wild? 

The yellow-naped amazon population has plummeted by more than 92% in the last three generations. Even in the parrot’s main strongholds, numbers are thought to have halved in the past decade. The entire global population is now estimated to be around 2,500 birds. In 2021, the status of the yellow-naped amazon on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was upgraded to Critically Endangered, due to a dramatic decline across its entire range. 

Why are yellow-naped parrots endangered? 

The number one threat to the survival of the yellow-naped amazon is poaching for the illegal trade in wild parrots, but it is also under pressure from habitat destruction and, increasingly, from climate change. 

The yellow-naped amazon is a protected species, listed under Appendix I of CITES, which permits trade only in exceptional circumstances. It is illegal to take yellow-naped amazons – eggs, nestlings or adult birds – from the wild, but in many parts of their range law enforcement is weak. 

The parrot’s preference for nest holes in mature trees and its tendency to return to the same site year after year mean that breeding sites are easy for would-be poachers to pinpoint and stake out. Rather than targeting the adults, they go for the more vulnerable eggs and chicks – which are then sold into the domestic and international pet trade. 

The level of predation by pet hunters is completely unsustainable. Tragically, at least 50% of nestlings taken from the wild die in transit. In some locations, up to 100% of nests have been poached, with disastrous results for the local population.  

Local demand is at least partly responsible for the decline of the yellow-naped amazon. For example, a staggering 25% of households in Ometepe keep parrots as pets – but national and regional demand are also to blame. There are also disturbing reports of an increase in transcontinental trade in the yellow-naped amazon, which could spell disaster for the species. Trafficking methods are also becoming more sophisticated, with portable incubators used to smuggle the parrots abroad before they have hatched. Clutches of eggs are harder to detect and easier to transport, as they don’t make noise or require feeding in transit. 

Habitat loss as a result of forest clearance for agricultural expansion is exacerbating the crisis for the plummeting yellow-naped amazon population. 

Temperature extremes and extended periods of drought caused by climate change are also likely to affect this parrot’s habitat and food supply. 

Furthermore, there are concerns that parasites could be affecting the parrots’ health, damaging their chances of survival even further.

Do yellow-naped amazons make good pets? 

Yellow-naped amazons are a popular pet among parrot enthusiasts, but they are paying a terrible price for that popularity, both individually and as a species. Like most parrots, yellow-naped amazons are highly intelligent and very sociable. In the wild, they are powerful flyers and long-distance travellers. Many people would argue that keeping such a bird in captivity throughout a lifespan of many decades is selfish at best, and cruel at worst. 

The mental and physical impact on a caged yellow-naped amazon can be immense. They may suffer from depression, pluck out their own feathers and, in the worst cases, literally go insane. Beyond the issue of individual animal welfare, the demand for yellow-naped amazons has driven the entire species to the brink of extinction, as more and more birds are illegally seized from the wild.

Yellow-naped parrots in flight. © Osmar Sandino / Fauna & Flora

Yellow-naped parrots in flight. © Osmar Sandino / Fauna & Flora

A pair of yellow-naped amazons in flight.

How can we help save the yellow-naped amazon? 

In Nicaragua, Fauna & Flora is working with local conservation group Biometepe on the island of Ometepe to monitor the yellow-naped amazon population, ensuring that the parrots are safe and that numbers remain stable. In the process we are discovering more about the birds’ behaviour, enabling us to protect them more effectively. 

Fauna & Flora’s ultimate aim is to establish Ometepe as a safe haven for these precious birds, where they are protected by the people who live closest to them. With this in mind, we have engaged with the local community, encouraging and incentivising them to act as parrot guardians. 

At the same time, we are working to reduce the local demand for parrots as pets, raising wider awareness of the yellow-naped amazon’s plight, and instilling local pride in this charismatic bird.

“Fauna & Flora believes that the conservation of the species depends on increased environmental awareness among residents and effective law enforcement to deter those who are taking part in the illegal trade of parrots.”

Angelica Valdivia

Country Director, Nicaragua

“Fauna & Flora believes that the conservation of the species depends on increased environmental awareness among residents and effective law enforcement to deter those who are taking part in the illegal trade of parrots.”

Angelica Valdivia

Country Director, Nicaragua

Yellow-naped parrot. © Richard Schuerger

Plundered for the pet trade

Yellow-naped parrot numbers are plummeting as a result of illegal trade.

Please support our efforts to protect the remaining population of this spectacular bird from nest-robbers and habitat destruction.

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Yellow-naped parrot. © Richard Schuerger