|At the Parrot Conservation and Research Centre, Roseau, Dominica|
The imperial amazon (Amazona imperialis), also known as the Sisserou, is found only on the Caribbean Island of Dominica, specifically within the 90 km2 (35 sq mi) of mountainous rainforest near the Morne Diablotins and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
Being of the family Psittacidae, the Sisserou has zygodactyl feet and a thick, hooked bill with a muscular tongue. This bill is fashioned in such a way that using its hinged mandibles and tongue, the Sisserou can easily move food around in its mouth.
Males and females have identical plumage. Adult plumage is very colorful and mostly darkly colored: the chest is a dark shade of purple, and the upper-parts and feathers are a dark shade of green, with black-edged feather tips. The eye-ring is dark brown, with the eye being a mix of orange and red. Juvenile appearance does not differ much, with a higher occurrence of green plumage and strictly brown eyes.
The call of the Sisserou resides in the higher frequencies, a loud and even “squeaky” mix between shriek, squawk, and trill. Despite their colorful plumage, the birds are shy, difficult to approach, and will often only travel in groups no larger than three. They are found in pairs or small flocks, sometimes with red-necked amazons. They are good climbers and strong flyers with powerful wings. They prefer to perch on the tops of trees. They are difficult to detect, as they are well camouflaged by their plumage, concealing them from predators while feeding.
As a monogamous bird, the Sisserou is extremely loyal to its mate; couples will remain together for the entirety of their lives. Between February and April, nesting occurs and the female will lay a clutch of two white eggs in a deep cavity inside a rainforest tree, with the same tree used year after year. For 26–28 days, the female will incubate the eggs. During fledging, which occurs between June and early September, both parents will take care of and feed the chicks until they are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest. The chicks use typical “begging calls” when hungry, to which either parent will respond with food. Usually only one chick survives to fledging and, typically, Sisserou pairs fledge a single chick every other year; however, there have been documented exceptions.
These parrots mate for life and are extremely faithful to each other. They might seek another mate only after mate dies. However, as stated, it simply grieve to death rather than find a new mate.
The Sisserou’s diet consists of fruits, nuts, and local vegetation such as epiphytic bromeliads and Anthurium arums which grow in the forest canopy. They feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, blossoms and shoots. Their favorite foods include the fruits of Dacryodes spp., Licania ternatensis, Richeria grandis, Amanoa carboea, Simarouba amara, Symphonia globulifera, Pouteria pollida, Tapuru atillan, the flowers and seeds of Chimarcis cymosa, and the nuts and young shoots of Euterpe palms. Usually, they feed in the morning and evening.
The imperial amazon’s binomial name is Amazona imperialis. As a bird, it is classified under the Aves class, more so, under the Psittaciformes order. All parrots fall under this order. Psittaciformes are divided between three superfamilies: Psittacoidea (true parrots), Cacatuoidea (cockatoos) and New Zealand Strigopoidea (true parrots, but separate from Psittacoidea). Amazona imperialis is classified as Psittacoidea, or a true parrot. The family is called Psittacidae  and it consists of two subfamilies: Psittacinae (African parrots) and Arinae (neotropical parrots). The Imperial Amazon is the latter. It also belongs to the neotropical tribe, Androglossini, which is made up of seven genera, including Amazona genus, of which Amazona imperialis is the largest member.
The hypothetical or extinct Guadeloupe amazon (A. violacea) may be the same bird as the imperial amazon, if not a close relative. Based on old descriptions alone, the information on the Gaudeloupe amazon pairs well with what is observed about the imperial amazon. A bone found on Marie-Galante (between Dominica and Gaudeloupe) has been assigned to A. violacea and suggests that A. imperialis either inhabited, or was traded between, all three islands in prehistoric times.
Distribution and habitat
The imperial amazon is endemic to the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles where it inhabits mountain forest areas above 2,100 ft. (625 m)  Only small population less than 100 birds of this parrots survived natural disasters, habitat loss and pet trade . It is stated to be island’s national bird. The species frequently occurs in the Morne Diablotin in Northern Dominica, especially the upper Picard River Valley on the northwest side of the mountain. Small amount of population has been reintroduced in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
Imperial Amazons are found primarily in mountain rainforest, sometimes in elfin forest. They are occur mostly at elevations of 600–1300 m above sea level. However, there has been may reports’ displaying that they come down 150-300 meter elevation because of the food storage or foraging preferences.
Status and conservation
The imperial amazon is an endangered species. The number of birds have increased in the past few years; however, there are still fewer than 250 individuals, which make this species endangered. There have been many efforts to help the habitat for these parrots. With the help of Dominica’s Forestry, and the Wildlife and Parks Division and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), certain areas such as the Northern Forest Reserve and the Central Forest Reserve are protected. However, even with many efforts, areas adjacent to the Northern Forest Reserve and the Central Forest Reserve remain unprotected. Efforts are trying to be made in order to help make other areas of Dominica protected. Many of the latter organizations helped create groups of people to raise awareness, give education, and conduct research. Much of the educational programs held in Dominica greatly reduced the number of trades that were going on. It is also important to note that the first successful breeding of these species by man was conducted in 2011. The captive-bred parrot developed fully in 12 weeks and resembled wild imperial amazon parrots. It was interesting to examine these parrots because no one really knew what the reproductive potential of these parrots was. It was shown that the imperial amazon has the lowest reproductive potential of any of the Amazona species. The imperial amazon lucked out when it came to extinction because of their reproductive potential and the bird trade that was going on in Dominica. The captive breeding efforts proved to be extremely helpful in the conservation of the species.
The imperial amazon is at a current world population of 250-350 birds. A major cause of population decline has been hurricanes. Hurricane David of August 1979 was one of the strongest that hit Dominica and impacted the population.
Habitat loss is caused by human disturbance in the forest, with selective logging and the deforestation for wood. Humans seem to be the biggest problem for these birds, because illegal captivity is a cause as well. Illegal animal trading is a big market, and these birds are hunted so they can be sold on the black market. There was a movement in the 1900s to ban all illegal bird captivity and trading, but foreign traders still try to hunt this bird; some are successful. Plantations cause their habitat to diminish as well, especially the growth of bananas (Snyder et al. 2000). Encroachment has been a big issue as well, and conservationist are doing many things to try and save the birds preferred habitat.
Nesting cavity competition with red-necked amazons and owls creates a tough living environment for imperial amazons. They only mate for a couple of months of the year, and the rest they spend guarding their nests. A good quality nesting site is key to the survival and upbringing of their offspring.
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- Media related to Amazona imperialis at Wikimedia Commons
- ARKive - images and movies of the Imperial Parrot (Amazona imperialis)
- BirdLife Species Factsheet