Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A few months back, the folks from the blog City Parrots shared these beautiful photos with me of a wild parrot population (red-masked parakeets and Amazon parrots) in Ocean Beach, far from their native home in Mexico and South America. One of them (under the fold to preserve the mirage of decency on this blog) caught two amorous birds in the act of mating. So, if you ever wondered how parrots “did it,” now you say can you know.

i-a3c88ebc01cc1c26d3fe55d311e7635c-2 red-masked parakeets small.JPG
Two red-masked parakeets in Ocean Beach, California

The story of the wild Amazon parrots of Ocean Beach is quite interesting, as two separate species were discovered: the red-crowned Amazon and the lilac-crowned Amazon. The two species are identifiable by the coloring of a patch of feathers on their head (red or purple). The red-crowned species is much more numerous, and can breed with the lilac-crowned species (creating a hybridized parrot more resembling the red-crowned variety).This probably will result in the absorption of the lilac-crowned species and the disappearance of that phenotype in a couple more generations. The naughty photo below the fold is actually a picture of the two species interbreeding, throwing care for their species to the wind!


i-ad2565b1c6066920dd1e973fb47504ca-two parrot species.JPG

On the left is an example of the lilac-crowned amazon and on the right is the red-crowned amazon.

i-bdb80b4f0e6204562d87b772fb25cdbc-3 amazons.JPG

Three red-masked parakeets

i-8d3648c4e042f1c7a354cc3186c7e342-mating far.JPG

The two species inter-breeding, right out there in the open! Well I never!

Shall we take a closer look?

i-7d27b3fa9405c410c07f499efb8d04d5-mating close.JPG

What? Is she smiling?


  1. #1 J-Dog
    September 6, 2007

    Yes, I believe that IS a smile! They must not be Michigan fans. Sorry. That was sooo mean!

  2. #2 6EQUJ5
    September 6, 2007

    I’m in Los Angeles County and at the moment there are a couple of parrots a few hundred yards away chatting up a storm. I’ve gotten used to their raucous calls and actually like watching them fly.

  3. #3 pough
    September 6, 2007

    I doubt she smiled for long. He’s got that “oops” look on his face.

  4. #4 Warren
    September 6, 2007

    So are you going to start a pay site, or just keep givin’ away these red-hot action shots for free?

  5. #5 Alex Dodge
    September 6, 2007

    Are the resulting hybrids fertile? If so, why are they considered two different species?

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    September 6, 2007

    Hi Alex. Yes the offspring are fertile, and resemble the red-crowned Amazons more. The red-crowned species’ name is Amazona viridigenalis and the lilac-crowned specie’ name is Amazona finschi, and as to why they are designated as different species, I’m not sure. There are more differences than just the coloring, for example, the lilac-crowned species is smaller.

  7. #7 Rabbit
    September 7, 2007

    I don’t know anything about wild populations of red and lilac crowned Amazons (and I’m too lazy to get up and get my Parrots of the World book) but it’s possible that their ranges don’t normally (i.e., not Ocean Beach) overlap.

    Because the whole idea of “species” is a bit hard to pin down, what with trying to break up a continuum of biological diversity into discrete units, this would still fall into the category of “not interbreeeding” for A. viridigenalis and A. finschi.

    And if their ranges do partially overlap in the wild and they do regularly interbreed… well that’s the magic of the zoological discipline. And why I work with viruses.

  8. #8 Bob Ramsey
    September 9, 2007

    Species boundaries are an interesting discussion. Dogs and wolves are “definitely” different species but interbreed and have fertile offspring. Even mules are, very, very, very, rarely, fertile. And then there are the crossings that only show up in artificial environments like Ligers, Tigons, and Zorses. I couldn’t find anything definitive on whether those 3 crosses are fertile, but it looks like at least the Liger/Tigon crosses may be.

    And then there are Ring Species:

    As a non-biologist, my suspicion is that some species designations are as much a result of history and politics as the designations of separate languages in closely related countries(think Norway/Sweden as a good example).

  9. #9 Robster, FCD
    September 10, 2007

    Teaching where to draw the lines between species is one of the harder things I have to do. More than anything, it is science by definition.

    One important part to include is that if two populations would never normally interact, you can safely call them separate species. Here you have one “species” absorbing the population of another “species.” You can argue that if they don’t normally interact, they are different species. At the same time, you can claim that they are now interacting, producing live, fertile offspring, they are a single species.

    Male lion x female tiger = liger. Male tiger x female lion = tigon. The difference comes from how each species silences maternal vs paternal genes. Neat stuff, well worthy of a lesson (hmmmm, I teach cell/molecular next semester…). Male ligers are infertile, while female ligers are fertile, but as far as I know, only one cub has been recorded (female liger crossed with male lion). From that one example, the offspring’s health was poor. Since ligers are so rare in the first place, we don’t know much more than what happens in zoos.

    Tigons share the same fertility pattern, males sterile, females fertile. I think there have been a couple of zoos to maintain cubs of a female tigon, but don’t think they took it to a third generation.

    Because only the females are fertile, a pure liger/tigon strain can’t be established, holding the species line, even if it does get a little fuzzy.

  10. #10 John S
    June 18, 2009

    Is this still an active site? Last postings appear to all be in 2007.

New comments have been disabled.