Guadeloupe amazon

Guadeloupe amazon
A sepia line drawing showing five birds sitting on a tree, a black bird in flight and a tortoise or turtle on the ground underneath.
Du Tertre's 1667 illustration showing three Guadeloupe amazons (8) and one Lesser Antillean macaw (7) on a tree at the left

Extinct  (Ca. 1779) (IUCN 3.1)[1]
Scientific classification
A. violacea
Binomial name
Amazona violacea
(Gmelin, 1789)
Guadeloupe in its region.svg
Location of Guadeloupe

The Guadeloupe amazon or Guadeloupe parrot (Amazona violacea) is a hypothetical extinct species of parrot that was endemic to Guadeloupe. It was hunted, and by 1779 was already rare. Today it is extinct.


The imperial amazon, which may be related

The Guadeloupe amazon was first described by the French botanist Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre in his 1664 Histoire Générale des Isles des Christophie, de la Guadeloupe, de la Martinique, et autres dans l'Amérique, who also wrote about it and illustrated it in 1667. The French clergyman Jean-Baptiste Labat described the bird in 1742, and it was mentioned by later natural history writers such as Mathurin Jacques Brisson, Comte de Buffon, and John Latham, the latter which gave it the name "ruff-necked parrot". The German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin coined the scientific name Psittacus violaceus for the bird in his 1789 edition of Systema Naturae, based on the writings of Du Tertre, Brisson, and Buffon.[2][3][4]

In 1891, the Italian zoologist Tommaso Salvadori included Psittacus violaceus in a list of synonyms of the red-fan parrots (Deroptyus accipitrinus), a continental species. In 1905, the American zoologist Austin Hobart Clark pointed out that the colouration of the two species was dissimilar (their main similarity being a frill on the neck), and that Buffon stated the Guadeloupe bird did was not found in Cayenne, where the red-fan parrot lives. Clark instead suggested that the Guadeloupe species was most closely related to the similarly coloured imperial amazon (Amazona imperialis) of Dominica. He therefore placed the Guadeloupe bird in the same genus, as Amazona violacea, and referred to it by the common name "Guadeloupe parrot".[2][5] In 1967, the American ornithologist James Greenway suggested that the parrot of Guadeloupe may have formed a superspecies with the imperial amazon and the extinct Martinique amazon (Amazona martinicana), and was perhaps a subspecies of the former.[6]

In 2001, the ornithologists Matthew Williams and David Steadman supported the idea that the early accounts were a solid basis for believing the Guadeloupe amazon existed. They also reported a tibiotarsus bone found on the Folle Anse archaeological site on Marie-Galante, an island in the Guadeloupe region. They found it similar to that of the imperial amazon, but slightly shorter, and due to the fact that Maria Galante shares many modern bird species with Guadeloupe, they found it likely that the bone belonged to the Guadeloupe amazon, and assigned it to A. cf. violacea (which implies the classification is uncertain).[7] In 2004, Patricia Ottens-Wainright and colleagues pointed out that the early descriptions of the Guadeloupe amazon did not clearly determine whether it was a unique species or the same as the imperial amazon.[8] In 2008 the ornithologists Storrs Olson and Edgar Maíz suggested that the Guadeloupe amazon was probably the same as the imperial amazon.[9] In 2012 the English ornithologist Julian P. Hume stated that though the amazons of Guadelouope and Martinique were based on accounts rather than physical remains, he found it likely they once existed, due to having been mentioned by trusted observers, and on zoogeographical grounds.[4]

1907 illustration of the "Violet macaw" by Keulemans

In 1905, the British banker and zoologist Walter Rothschild named Anodorhynchus purpurascens, based on an old description of a deep violet parrot seen on Guadeloupe. He interpreted as an Anodorhynchus macaw due to its entirely blue colouration, and stated that the native Caribs called it "onécouli".[10][11][12] Greenway suggested this "mythical macaw" may have been based on a careless description of the Guadeloupe amazon, or possibly an imported Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) from South America, but he was unable to check the reference given by Rothschild.[6] In 2000, the English writer Errol Fuller suggested the bird may have been an imported hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus).[13] In 2001, Williams and Steadman were also unable to find the reference listed by Rothschild, and concluded that the supposed species required further corroboration.[7] James W. Wiley and Guy M. Kirwan were unable to find the reference to the violet macaw too in 2013, but pointed out an account that described how Ferdinand Columbus took parrots that were mainly purple from Guadeloupe.[14]

In 2015, the French ecologist Arnaud Lenoble reviewed overlooked historical Spanish and French texts, and identified the sources Rothschild had based the violet macaw on. The French missionary Raymond Breton (who was on Guadeloupe from 1635 to 1654) wrote a Carib-French dictionary which included terms for parrots, and stated that "onicoali is the Guadeloupe variety, which differs from the others being larger and violet, with red-lined wings." Lenoble concluded that this referred to the Guadeloupe amazon, since Breton appears to have reserved the word parrot for birds smaller than macaws, and due to the consistent plumage pattern mentioned. Lenoble recognised all the elements of Rothschild's description in Breton's text, but suggested that Rothschild must have relied on a secondary source, since he spelled the name differently ("onécouli"). This source appears to have been a footnote in an 1866 article, which quoted Breton, but gave an incorrect citation. It used a francisised version of the bird's name, and implied it could have been a macaw. Lenoble therefore concluded that the supposed "violet macaw" was based on misidentified references to the Guadeloupe amazon, and that the extinct Lesser Antillean macaw (Ara guadeloupensis) was the only macaw species on Guadeloupe.[15][16]


Hypothetical illustration of the Guadeloupe amazon by Keulemans, 1907

Du Tertre described the Guadeloupe amazon as follows in 1654:

The Parrot of Guadeloupe is almost as large as a fowl. The beak and the eye are bordered with carnation. All the feathers of the head, neck, and underparts are of a violet color, mixed with a little green and black, and changeable like the throat of a pigeon. All the upper part of the back is brownish green. The long quills are black, the others yellow, green, and red, and it has on the wing-coverts two rosettes of rose color.[2]

Labat described the bird as follows in 1742:

The Parrots of these islands are distinguishable from those of the mainland of Guinea (? Guiana) by their different plumage; those of Guadeloupe are a little smaller than the Macaws. The head, neck, and underparts are slaty, with a few green and black feathers; the back is wholly green, the wings green, yellow, and red.[2]

Rothschild featured an illustration of the Guadeloupe amazon in his 1907 book Extinct Birds by the Dutch artist John Gerrard Keulemans, based on the early descriptions.[12] In 1916, the American ornithologist Robert Ridgway criticised the illustration for differing from Du Tertre's description in some details.[17]

Behaviour and ecology

A sepia line drawing showing three macaws sitting on the branches of a tree; they are labelled "Papagay", "Perique Papagay" and "Aras".
Labat's 1722 illustration of a Guadeloupe amazon and Guadeloupe parakeet above, and a Lesser Antillean macaw

In 1664 Du Tertre described some behavioural traits of the Guadeloupe amazon, and listed items among its diet:

When it erects the feathers of its neck, it makes a beautiful ruff about its head, which it seems to admire, as a peacock its tail. It has a strong voice, talks very distinctly, and learns quickly if taken young. It lives on the wild fruits which grow in the forests, except that it does not eat the manchioneel. Cotton seed intoxicates it, and affects it as wine does a man; and for that reason they eat it with great eagerness... The flavor of its flesh is excellent, but changeable, according to the kind of food. If it eats cashew nuts, the flesh has an agreeable flavor of garlic; if 'bois des inde' it has a flavor of cloves and cinnamon; if on bitter fruits, it becomes bitter like gall. If it feeds on genips, the flesh becomes wholly black, but that does not prevent its having a very fine flavor. When it feeds on guavas it is at its best, and then the French commit great havoc among them.[2]

Clark noted that freshly killed amazon species also have iridescent feathers to a greater or lesser degree, especially the Saint Vincent amazon (Amazona guildingii). Likewise, this and other amazon species can raise a "ruff" around their neck when excited.[2]

In 1667, Du Tetre repeated his description of the Guadeloupe amazon, and added some details about its breeding behaviour:

We had two which built their nest a hundred paces from our house in a large tree. The male and the female sat alternately, and came one after the other to feed at the house, where they brought their young when they were large enough to leave the nest.[2]


In 1779, Buffon stated the Guadeloupe amazon had become very rare, and listed causes that may explain its extinction:[4]

We have never seen this parrot, and it is not found in Cayenne. It is even very rare in Guadeloupe today, for none of the inhabitants of that island have given us any information concerning it; but that is not extraordinary, for since the islands have been inhabited, the number of parrots has greatly diminished, and Dutertre remarks in particular of this one that the French colonists wage a terrible war on it in the season when it is especially fat and succulent.[2]

Hume pointed out that supposedly related imperial amazon survives in the steep mountain forests of Dominica, whereas Guadeloupe is less mountanous, has a larger population of humans, and that there would therefore have been a greater pressure on the birds there. The Guadeloupe amazon appears to have gone extinct by the end of the 18th century. The amazon parrots still surviving on the West Indian islands are all endangered, since they are trapped for the pet-trade, overhunted for food, and because of destruction of their habitat.[4]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Amazona violacea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Clark, A. H. (1905). "The West Indian Parrots". The Auk. 22 (4): 337–344. doi:10.2307/4069996. JSTOR 4069996.
  3. ^ Latham, J.; Chanler, R. W. (1821). "A General History of Birds". 4: 217. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.62572. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d Hume, J. P.; Walters, M. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: A & C Black. pp. 338–339, 399. ISBN 1-4081-5725-X.
  5. ^ "Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum". 1891. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.8233. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ a b Greenway, J. C. (1967). Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World. New York: American Committee for International Wild Life Protection 13. pp. 320, 328–330. ISBN 0-486-21869-4.
  7. ^ a b Williams, M. I.; D. W. Steadman (2001). "The historic and prehistoric distribution of parrots (Psittacidae) in the West Indies". In Woods, Charles A.; Florence E. Sergile (eds.). Biogeography of the West Indies: Patterns and Perspectives (pdf) (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. pp. 175–189. ISBN 0-8493-2001-1.
  8. ^ Ottens-Wainright P, Kenneth MH, Eberhard JR, Burke RI, Wiley JW, et al. (2004) Independent geographic origin of the genus Amazona in the West Indies. Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 17: 23–49
  9. ^ Olson, S. L.; E. J. Máiz López (2008). "New evidence of Ara autochthones from an archeological site in Puerto Rico: a valid species of West Indian macaw of unknown geographical origin (Aves: Psittacidae)" (pdf). Caribbean Journal of Science. 44 (2): 215–222.
  10. ^ Rothschild, W. (1905). "Notes on extinct parrots from the West Indies". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 16: 13–15.
  11. ^ Rothschild, W. (1905). "On extinct and vanishing birds". Ornis (Proceedings of the 4th International Ornithological Congress, London). 14: 191–217.
  12. ^ a b Rothschild, W. (1907). Extinct Birds. London: Hutchinson & Co. pp. 55–57.
  13. ^ Fuller, E. (2000). Extinct Birds. Oxford University Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-670-81787-2.
  14. ^ Wiley, J. W.; Kirwan, G. M. (2013). "The extinct macaws of the West Indies, with special reference to Cuban Macaw Ara tricolor". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 133: 125–156.
  15. ^ Lenoble, A. (2015). "The Violet Macaw (Anodorhynchus purpurascens Rothschild, 1905) did not exist". Journal of Caribbean Ornithology. 28: 17–21.
  16. ^ Breton, R. (1978). Relations de l’île de la Guadeloupe. Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe: Société d’Histoire de la Guadeloupe. p. 34. ISBN 978-2-900339-13-8.
  17. ^ Ridgway, R.; Friedmann, Herbert (1916). The Birds of North and Middle America. Washington, DC, US: Smithsonian Institution. p. 224. LCCN 11035036.