As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I got a new parrot in December, 2015. He’s a four-year-old Rose-crowned Conure, a species that is somewhat uncommon in North America. His name is Patrick Perry, although my husband and I usually call him by his nickname “Dip.”
Rose-crowned Conures are in the genus Pyrrhura (Pyrrhura rhodocephala), and are thus closely related to Green-cheeked and Maroon-bellied Conures. Rose crowns differ in appearance from the most common Pyrrhuras found as pets as they don’t have any tan or grey feathers on the breast and they have white beaks. They are largely green with a red cap on the head, red cheeks, a red tail, and some red feathers on the chest and belly. Their flight feathers are blue (although Dip has a few white primary flight feathers) and they have white primary coverts, which can be seen on the bend of the wing when the bird is at rest (see picture below).
Juvenile Rose-crowned Conures frequently have less red on the head than adults. Some books on wild birds state that juveniles lack red on the head or have very little of it there (e.g. Forshaw 2010); however, many captive-bred juveniles have quite a bit of red on the head. Juveniles may also have some bluish feathers on the crown and blue (instead of white) primary coverts.
Because Rose-crowned Conures are uncommon in captivity in Canada, Dip is often mistaken for other species. He is most frequently thought to be a Cherry-headed Conure (Psittacara erythrogenys), as both species are red and green with white beaks. However, the Rose-crowned Conure is smaller and has some red on the chest that the cherry heads lack.
The Rose-crowned Conure (AKA Rose-crowned Parakeet) has a rather small range in the wild and is the only Pyrrhura species found in its range. They occur in forested montane areas of northwestern Venezuela (see map below) at elevations of 800 – 3400 m (although they are most common at 1500 – 2500 m). Because they appear to be common in their range, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists them as a species of “Least Concern,” meaning that they do not appear to be endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. However, there is little data available on this species’ population status or behavior in the wild.
In the wild and outside of the breeding season, Rose-crowned Conures occur in flocks of approximately 10 to 30 birds, although many small flocks may congregate together at sleeping roosts during the evening. Most breeding parrots stay in pairs during the breeding season; however, one species of Pyrrhura (the El Oro Conure, Pyrrhua orcesi) has a cooperative breeding system, where a breeding pairs’ relatives (or occasionally unrelated birds) may help them with raising young. The ‘helper’ birds in El Oro Conures will feed the breeding pair’s chicks. However, there is little information available on the breeding behavior of Rose-crowned Conures in the wild so I cannot say if they breed as pairs or if pairs receive help from other birds.
Pyrrhuras are often said to be among the more quiet parrot types. Certainly, Dip is nowhere near as loud as my Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Blue and Gold Macaw, or Red-lored Amazon. He does make some noise though. He gives off a lot of typical parrot squawks, and he is a very talented whistler. He is also quite talented at mimicking the other parrots. For example, Chiku, my Green-cheeked Conure mix, often says his name and Dip can mimic that perfectly. If I hear “Chiku! Chiku!” sounds from the bird room, I generally cannot tell if it’s Dip or Chiku (or both) making them. Dip can also mimic some of the quieter sounds that Ripley (my Red-lored Amazon) makes.
Dip eats Tropican pellets supplemented with some fresh foods. He particularly enjoys corn, peas, berries, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. I got to pick a lot of wild blueberries this summer and he particularly enjoyed those.
Dip is a very active parrot who loves to climb and chew on wood and cardboard. He lacked a tail when I got him, and his flight feathers were quite short. However, his tail grew back and his flight feathers have molted out and grown back. He likes to fly and his favourite landing spot appears to be the top of my head.
*Do you have a Rose-crowned Conure? Tell me about him/her in the comments!
BirdLife International. 2012. Pyrrhura rhodocephala. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22685877A39028964.Downloaded on 02 October 2016.
Forshaw, J. M. 1977. Parrots of the World. T. F. H. Publications: Neptune, NJ.
Forshaw, J. M. 2010. Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Juniper, T., and Parr, M. 1998. Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press: New Haven, CT.
Klauke, N., Segelbacher, G., and Schaefer, H. M. 2013. Reproductive success depends on the quality of helpers in the endangered, cooperative El Oro Parakeet (Pyrrhura orcesi). Molecular Ecology 22:2011-2027.
Low, R. 2013. Pyrrhura Parakeets (Conures): Aviculture, Natural History, Conservation. INSiGNIS Publications: Mansfield, Notts, UK.
The World Parrot Refuge was a parrot shelter located on Vancouver Island, which is off of Canada’s west coast. It was always intended as the final ‘home for life’ for parrots taken there, as no parrots were ever adopted out of the facility. Approximately 900 parrots of all sizes lived at the refuge at one point.
This way of running a parrot refuge was quite controversial. I’d never been there, but some people I know who had been there felt bad for the parrots who seemed to crave human attention. Leaving mixed species together in a flock (as was done at the refuge) can also result in some birds being picked on or attacked by others. Personally, I don’t doubt the good intentions of the Refuge founder, but the whole enterprise seemed unsustainable to me.
The founder of the facility unfortunately passed away in February, 2016 and the refuge ran into serious financial problems. Shortly after that, the landlord of the facility gave them a date of August 1 to find a new place.
A recent article in the Parksville-Qualicum News (click the link to go to the article) notes that there are no longer any birds at the World Parrot Refuge and that they are at various facilities in British Columbia. The Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary played a large role in rescuing the parrots and finding them somewhere to go.
If you would like to help with this rescue effort, please check out ways you can help by going to the Greyhaven Website. They are caring for almost 600 of the World Parrot Refuge birds and it is a very expensive undertaking! I’m sure any amount of money you could donate would be appreciated.
LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION:
Back to blogging again! My life has been very crazy during the past couple of months. I was offered a new job working as a biologist specializing in birds that required me to move to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The job started in May and my husband and I decided that I would move up first with five of the parrots and Micro the Maltese, while he stayed behind with the rest of the pets to prepare our house for sale.
The five parrots to come with me were Pteri (Blue and Gold Macaw), Mitri (Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo), Ripley (Red-lored Amazon), Chiku (Green-cheeked Conure mix), and Dip (Rose-crowned Conure). Sadly, Peggy, my Jenday Conure (who I named this blog after), had passed away in November, 2015. Otherwise, she would have come with me as well. Dip is a new bird I got in December 2015.
I moved up April 30 and during the evening of May 1, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke coming up from the south of the city. I later found out that a forest fire had started there, and that it had started to spread very quickly.
Most of the city was extremely smoky on May 2 and a few communities in the southern part of the city were ordered to evacuate but I wasn’t affected. On the morning of May 3, everything looked quite clear but the city fire chief noted that this was deceptive, as the smoke from the fire was staying near the ground due to the weather conditions. He warned people that the fire was not under control.
By the afternoon, I could see heavy smoke coming from two different directions, and bits of burned debris (including conifer needles) were falling from the sky. More parts of the city were ordered to evacuate, and I was starting to think that I would have to evacuate as well.
Unfortunately, my car was very low on gas, and by the time I was able to try to fill it up, gas stations in the area of the city I lived in had run out of gas. Luckily, I was able to get out of town with a co-worker and we were able to take a work truck.
Once the part of town I lived in was ordered to evacuate, I had to gather up my parrots and dog, and decide what to bring with us. I had no idea how long this evacuation would go on or where we would end up. I did have five carriers handy – one for each bird – but Micro would have to leave with just his harness and leash. When packing supplies, the first thing I thought of were the parrots, and I packed bags of parrot pellets, small bowls, several towels, newspaper, and several bottles of water. I also prepared a big Ziploc bag of dog food, which I ended up forgetting. This meant that Micro got to eat a lot of people food during his adventure. For me, I brought some toiletries (toothpaste, soap, etc), socks, underwear, my laptop, and a book. My co-worker picked us up in a truck and we headed out.
Getting out of town took a long time as there are only two roads out of the city – Highway 63 going north or Highway 63 going south. We were in the northern part of the city so we went north. All of the radio stations in Fort McMurray had stopped broadcasting so we listened to CBC (the national radio station) for updates.
There is only one hamlet north of Fort McMurray that can be reached by road, which is the First Nations community of Fort MacKay. The town did generously house many evacuees but there was no way it could handle the tens of thousands of people who had to flee north. This left various work lodges as potential evacuee destinations. There are many oil extraction operations north of Fort McMurray and there are a lot of lodges there that house workers at these operations. Some of them are huge and can house a few thousand people.
Numerous work lodges opened their doors to evacuees and a lot of the larger oil operations sent workers home to make room for evacuees. After several hours of driving north, we saw a person holding a sign saying that the Shell Albian Sands camp was open and had room for evacuees so we headed there.
It took us about eight hours to arrive at the camp. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 45 minutes to make the same drive. Because of the fuel shortage, some people had to abandon their vehicles at the side of the road. However, the police were patrolling the roads to help people who had run out of fuel. I also saw people heading north riding on ATVs.
Once we got to the Shell camp, we had to park the truck in a lot and wait in a line outside for a bus to shuttle us to the camp. The parrots were surprisingly calm given the circumstances and they attracted a lot of attention. Pteri in particular generated a lot of interest as she would say “Hi!” to people. I did have to warn people not to put their hands in the bird cages, as all the birds were tired and probably cranky. Micro, however, was happy to have attention and a lot of kids petted him. There were also a lot of other dogs waiting in the line, and even a few cats. As far as I know, all of the lodges taking evacuees were allowing pets of all types.
The shuttle bus arrived and luckily I had a lot of help getting the five birds onto the bus. They had never really ridden on buses before but they were very quiet. Once we arrived, we had to stay in a common area as the camp was saving rooms for people with small children or health problems. We were given a bunch of blankets and pillows by the staff.
I stacked the parrots by a wall and made sure they all had food and water. It was about 2 am by the time I got everyone settled. I also covered Pteri’s cage with a towel as she would screech when she saw people get too close to her cage. Having the towel over her cage seem to calm her down.
I tried sleeping on the floor. Admittedly I did not get much sleep as my dog was, understandably, rather agitated so he whined a lot. He was in a room with other dogs, a few cats, and many stressed and upset people. Many of these people had lost their homes and those who hadn’t were worried that they would. I had to take Micro outside a few times for bathroom breaks. At one point, I tied him to my heavy bag and tried to rest, but he backed out of his harness and wandered around the lodge. Someone found him and called my cell number (which was on Micro’s collar tags).
The next day, we were able to get a little room, which relieved me as I think the parrots were getting a stressed at this point. I was able to give each bird some time out of their cages to stretch their wings. We had a luggage cart they were able to perch on as well. They all seemed quite content once we got into a room. They were fairly quiet, and spent their time napping, preening, or eating.
The birds had enough pellets to eat, but I was able to get them some vegetables and fruit from the cafeteria. Evacuees were able to eat for free at the large cafeteria that is normally used by the workers who stay at the lodge.
We stayed at the lodge for a few days, but then they started to fly people out to either the Calgary or Edmonton airports. People and animals were being flown out at no cost from the oil sands aerodromes. A few of the oil sands mines have their own private aerodromes that they use to fly workers in and out and Shell is one of them. I signed up to fly back to Edmonton. All of my birds except Chiku (whose carrier would fit under the plane set) would have to fly in the cargo part of the plane but I was assured that they would be safe. I have to admit I was worried about them. I wrote each birds’ name, my name, and my cell phone number somewhere on each carrier.
To get onto a flight, I had to wait in a long line with the birds’ (in their carriers) on a luggage cart. Of course, they attracted a huge amount of attention. Pteri even delighted a group of people by saying “Good Morning” to them. Most of the time, though, I kept her cage covered with a towel, which seemed to reduce her stress levels. The other parrots were surprisingly calm.
We had to take another bus ride to get to the aerodrome but that went smoothly. Micro and Chiku rode in the passenger section of the plane and the other birds went to cargo.
All of the birds and Micro were fine after the flight and they got to ride in a taxi to get back to my place in Edmonton. I had a few spare cages there that my husband and I had intended to sell but hadn’t done so yet. The birds had to stay in these cages.
For a little while, I wasn’t really sure if all the things I had moved to Fort McMurray survived the fire. I saw on the news that several homes a couple blocks from my place had burned to the ground. However, I saw on a later report that my place was okay.
I wasn’t able to go back to Fort McMurray until June 3. There was no major damage to my place and I was able to move the five parrots back up there to their bigger cages. I was also able to retain my job up there. Sadly, many other people were not so lucky, as about 2500 homes were destroyed.
I had a place to keep my parrots while I was in Edmonton but not all evacuees had a place for their pets. One local parrot supply store, Meika’s Birdhouse, generously offered to look after parrots belonging to evacuees. There is a news story about this here:
I never really thought I would have to evacuate during an emergency. I’m glad I had enough carriers for my birds and that I was able to get them out safely.
First, a link to an interesting article about the problem-solving abilities of cockatoos:
Goffin’s Cockatoos living at the University of Vienna were able to manipulate a complex lock to retrieve a nut. What’s extraordinary about this is that they were not trained to do that.
The fact that the cockatoos often explore their environment using their sense of touch seemed to help them solve the task. They would feel the nuts and bolts of the lock and learn how they worked by manipulating them with their tongues and feet.
My own Lesser Sulphur-crested cockatoo, Mitri, likes to play with nuts and bolts. He actually started to take his cage apart by removing nuts from bolts.
My husband had to replace the regular nuts with lock nuts (that Mitri cannot unscrew). Mitri is also good at escaping from cages.
The same research group at the University of Vienna also found that the Goffin’s Cockatoos could make their own tools to retrieve a nut out of their reach. Click the below link to find out more:
Mitri also uses tools, but not to retrieve nuts. He uses popsicle sticks to scratch himself.
One species of cockatoo, the Black Palm Cockatoo, uses tools as part of a courtship display.
Cockatoos are amazing birds.
On another note, I noted in my last post that I’m working in Waterton Lakes National Park this summer. I’ve been posting some of the photos I’ve taken there on flickr. Click the below link to see the album:
Back to blogging! I have been too busy to do much writing during this last semester because I was teaching three classes and two labs at two different university campuses in two different cities. I barely had time to breathe. However, one of the classes was a fourth-year ornithology class I particularly enjoy teaching and had done before (the other two were new ones). I took Peggy to the first lecture and Ripley to the last lecture and they were quite popular.
I am going to continue to blog about parrots, but am going to start to write about the native birds of North America as well, since I really enjoy bird watching and photographing the wild birds of Alberta (where I live).
On the subject of parrots, my Green-cheek Conure mix, Chiku, was featured on the cover of Parrots magazine. I wrote an article for that issue on Pyrrhura conures.
I lifted the above image from the magazine publisher’s website. I plan to write a few more articles for Parrots this summer.
Unfortunately, a lot of specialty magazines for bird owners have quit publishing recently. Bird Talk stopped publishing a few months ago, and Good Bird stopped publishing this month. Good Bird had been an ‘online only’ magazine for a couple of years, but Bird Talk was always a printed magazine. I had been noticing that Bird Talk was progressively shrinking during its last few years of publication (which I didn’t like) but I’m still disappointed that it went under.
So, what’s left for parrot magazines? There’s Parrots magazine (www.parrotmag.com), which is based out of the UK, and a new one called In Your Flock (https://www.inyourflock.com/), which is based out of the US. I subscribed to the online version of In Your Flock since the publisher hadn’t specified a price for shipping to Canada. However, I recently received a paper copy of the latest issue, so that was a nice surprise.
There’s also Australian Bird Keeper (http://www.birdkeeper.com.au/), which is based out of Australia. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive for people outside of Australia due to shipping charges.
There are a few free online bird publications too. Copies of Parrot Life magazine can be downloaded at http://www.hagen.com/hari/welcome.html . There’s also the Winged Things newsletter – click HERE to download April’s issue. There are instructions in the .pdf on how to subscribe and access past issues.
I’m sure I’ve missed things, so if anyone would like to add a link to a parrot-related publication, use the comments section (click the comments link at the top of the post) to let me know. Please do note that I have sporadic internet access this summer, which means it can take me time to approve comments.
Edit: Oh yeah, there’s also “Companion Parrot Online” (www.companionparrotonline) published by Sally Blanchard. It’s online now, but if you like paper magazines, you can order back issues.
To end this post, I am going to share a nice photo of a Mountain Bluebird I took last week. I’m working as an interpreter at Waterton Lakes National Park this summer and have been doing a lot of birding and hiking during my ‘off time.’
Back to blogging! I’ve been extremely busy at work so I haven’t been able to post much during the past three months. However, I should be able to write a few new posts during the winter break.
For this post, I am going to outline what I put in the home-made bird food mix I feed to my birds. My birds do eat a base diet of either pellets (for the parrots), seeds (for the finches and grass parakeets), or game bird mix (quail) but I do feed them all a mix of cooked grain and fresh vegetables a few times per week. I usually make a large batch and freeze little batches in zip-lock baggies. That way, I only have to prepare the mix every few weeks.
The ‘chop’ I tend to make usually contains a base of grains and pseudograins. ‘Pseudograins’ include amaranth and quinoa. I call them pseudograins, since they are technically not grains (they are not from plants in the grass family), but they are prepared in a similar way. Amaranth was used as a staple food by the Aztecs, and it is still grown in limited quantities in Mexico. It is also grown in India. Quinoa was domesticated in the Andes and today, most quinoa is grown in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Quinoa is starting to become easier to find and most large grocery stores carry it, in their bulk sections or with the rice. Amaranth can be trickier to find but many health-food stores carry it.
I use amaranth and/or quinoa because they contain all of the essential amino acids that birds need. Amaranth in particular contains a good amount of lysine and methionine, which are the two amino acids that are likely to be lacking in a seed diet. Methionine is needed for proper feather formation. Birds can convert it to the amino acid cysteine, which is a large component of the proteins found in feathers. I have found that finches and grass parakeets will eat quinoa or amaranth.
The grains I use vary with each batch but can include quick-cook barley, brown rice, millet, whole wheat couscous, or bulgur. I don’t use white rice, as it doesn’t have much in the way of vitamins, minerals or protein. I cook all grains and pseudograins.
I also add finely-chopped, raw leafy greens to the mix. Other than the society finches, my birds in general won’t eat greens on their own. If I grind them up and add them to a mix containing other foods, they will consume them. The two greens I use most are dandelion greens and kale. Both are very high in vitamin A and calcium. Kale in particular is not only high in calcium, but the calcium it contains can be absorbed by the body quite easily. I don’t use spinach, since the calcium in spinach is not well-absorbed (by humans or animals).
I usually include hulled sesame seeds in the mix, because they contain calcium, and chia and flax seeds, because they are a good source of essential fatty acids. The birds also seem to like them.
Other items I may add include peas, shredded carrot, green beans, cooked lentils, corn, and chopped pepper. Birds will eat hot peppers, so I often use jalapeno peppers.
The mix will vary a bit each time I make it, so the birds do eat a good variety of food. All of my birds do eat this mix, including the finches. I used to leave the larger bits, like corn, peas, green beans and carrot pieces out of the version I made for the finches, but when I gave the finches some mix that had those items, they would eat them by placing them under their feet and pecking at them.
This mix does not comprise the entire diet for my birds. The parrots eat pellets and the finches eat seeds. However, I do give them some of this mix a few times per week and they seem to enjoy it. There are other foods I feed them as well, including nuts, bananas, sprouted seeds, plain seeds, mango, muffins, cooked beans, and berries. The macaw in particular (I have a Blue and Gold Macaw now) receives more nuts than the other birds. I will also feed laying finches or molting birds cooked egg white.
I’ll end this post with a picture of my Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy, eating. Birds are very messy eaters.