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A Rose-crowned Conure

October 2, 2016 Leave a comment

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.”

patrick-perry

Dip, the Rose-crowned Conure

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).

 

dipper

Dip at a parrot show. This picture shows his white primary covers (at the top of the wing). It also shows his three white primary flight feathers, which are supposed to be blue. I’m not sure why he has those white feathers, as he’s healthy and eats a healthful diet.

 

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.

rosecrown

The range of the Rose-crowned Conure (shown in orange). Image from: http://www.iucnredlist.org

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!

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Pyrrhura rhodocephala. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22685877A39028964. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22685877A39028964.en. 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 Parrots of the Rio Grande Valley

November 17, 2014 3 comments

I recently traveled to Harlingen in south Texas to attend the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. One of the highlights of the festival (for me) was getting to see wild parrots, both with one of the festival tours and on my own.

The red marker shows the location of Harlingen.

The red marker shows the location of Harlingen.

People attending the festival could sign up for a ‘parrot tour’ of Harlingen. There are Mexican Red-headed Amazons (AKA Red-crowned Parrots, Amazona viridigenalis) and Green Conures (AKA Green Parakeets, Aratinga holochlora) living right in the city. During the parrot tours, three vans would head out in search of the parrots and the first van to find the parrots would let the other two know where they were.  The festival occurs outside of the parrot breeding season, which means the roosting flocks would be quite large.  When parrots are breeding, they will roost in or around their nests; thus they won’t form these huge flocks.

The tours started at 4 pm, which is when the parrots begin forming large roosting flocks. The parrots often forage and rest in smaller groups during the day but before nightfall they congregate in large groups. This is a very noisy process – the parrots will start calling noisily, and once a flock is assembled, they would all fly around, calling, until it was dark and they had found a suitable spot to sleep for the night. The parrot flocks would roost in slightly different locations each night so a bit of searching was needed to find them. The searching was done with the windows of the vans open, as conures and Amazons are very noisy, which makes them easier to find. The conures and the Amazons stayed in separate flocks.

The groups first went out in search of the Green Conures. The tour group I was with located a flock of them quite quickly. Most of the conures were perched on power lines, although a few were up in palm trees. Most were calling to each other and a few pairs were busy preening each other.  Even though it was outside of the breeding season, mated pairs would stay close to each other.

A pair of Green Conures preening each other. The other bird in the picture is a European Starling.

A pair of Green Conures preening each other. The other bird in the picture is a European Starling.

Green conures 2

Green Conures perched on power lines.

green conures 3

Green Conures

A few of the Green Conures had some red feathers on their heads, but that is normal for the species. Green Conures do breed in the Rio Grande Valley so the population is self sustaining. They begin breeding in March. It is unclear whether the population was established from birds who dispersed in naturally from Mexico or from pet birds who escaped or were released (or both).  As Green Conures do occur in northern Mexico, it is certainly plausible that they occur naturally in the Rio Grande Valley.  The same is true for the Mexican Red-headed Amazons.

After locating the Green Conures, the groups went in search of the Amazons.  When I did the tour, the group of Amazons was located along power lines and in trees in a residential neighbourhood.  Their loud calls helped us find them.  Tour leaders brought out spotting scopes so we could get better looks at the birds, and many people took photos, including me (although mine did not turn out very well).  At one point, the entire flock of birds (about eighty or so) flew away as though something had startled them.  We did later find the flock perched on power lines next to a church.

I later headed out to the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco (about a 20 minute drive west of Harlingen), as I read that parrots can be found in that area.  I looked through the nature center and took a walk on the trails. I asked one of the staff if parrots frequent the area and she told me to stick around the park by the nature center at 5:00 pm or so because a large flock of Amazons generally roosts in the area.  At about 5, I drove around the area (with the car windows open) and found a very large flock of Amazons about a block away from the nature center.  This flock was composed primarily of Mexican Red-headed Amazons, but I did count about five Red-lored Amazons in the bunch.  There was also a Double Yellow-headed Amazon with them.

Mexican Red-headed Amazons

Mexican Red-headed Amazons

Red-lored Amazon

Red-lored Amazon

Double Yellow-headed Amazon

Double Yellow-headed Amazon

The flock was incredibly noisy and more and more birds kept arriving from all directions.  The birds would call, preen themselves, preen their partners, or squabble over positions in trees or on the wires. They were very amusing to watch.

At one point they got up and flew to another location about a block away.  They settled there for a bit and then the entire flock circled around the neighbourhood before settling to roost in some large trees in someone’s front yard.

I enjoyed watching them so much that I returned to Weslaco a second time to seek out the flock.  Again, I had no trouble finding them – I just drove around the neighbourhood until I heard the flock.  I also stopped at the Frontera Audubon Center and did some birdwatching on their trails. Several turkey vultures were circling above the trails and I managed to get the below picture of one:

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I also got a few more pictures of the Amazons:

Mexican Red-headed Amazons

Mexican Red-headed Amazons

Amazons on a Wire

Amazons on a Wire

Stay tuned for more blog posts about my birding trip to south Texas. I got to see some extremely rare birds and I will be sharing pictures of them!

Extinct Parrots Part I: The Western Hemisphere

August 31, 2012 Leave a comment

While a few parrot species are quite abundant, many are endangered due to habitat destruction or capture for the pet trade. Additionally, several island species (like the Ultramarine Lorikeet or Kakapo) are endangered because they have been preyed upon extensively by introduced predators, such as cats or rats. Many parrot species exist in the wild today only because of intense efforts by conservationists to protect them.

Unfortunately, it is too late to save some parrot species. This series of articles will introduce the extinct species, starting with those from the Western Hemisphere. The majority of extinct parrots from that area are species that occurred in the Caribbean. Unless otherwise noted, the paintings with this article were done by the Dutch bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans. They appeared in the book Extinct Birds by Walter Rothschild. The below chart lists the extinct parrot species from the Caribbean, and North and South America.

Two of the extinct parrots of the Caribbean were Amazons. The Martinique Amazon occurred on the island of Martinique, and it disappeared in 1722. The likely cause of extinction was deforestation, and possibly hunting.

Martinique Amazon.

The Martinique Amazon was a  green bird, with some red on the wings, throat and tail. The head was apparently slate coloured.

The Guadeloupe Amazon occurred on the island of Guadeloupe, and the last records of it are from 1779, although it is unclear exactly when it went extinct. A combination of hunting and deforestation likely lead to its demise.

Guadeloupe Amazon

The Guadeloupe Amazon was, like most Amazons, a primarily green bird. However, the neck, head and belly were violet mixed with black, and they had yellow and red on the wings. These birds looked much like Imperial Amazons, which still occur on the island of Dominica.

There are no specimens left of either of the Martinique or the Guadeloupe Amazon, and they are known only from traveler’s accounts.

There are six possible extinct macaws from the Western Hemisphere and five of these are from the Caribbean. I say six “possible” macaws, as some of the species listed below may be subspecies of each other.

The Dominican Green-and-Yellow Macaw occurred on Dominica and was described in 1791. It is known from the writings of only one person, and there are no archaeological remains of it. It was apparently green and yellow with some red on the head. It is unclear when it went extinct, but it was likely during the late 18th or early 19th century. The birds were hunted as a source of food and were sometimes kept as pets.

The Jamaican Green-and-Yellow Macaw, much like the other extinct parrots described thus far, is known only from written descriptions. It was described in 1847, and likely disappeared in the 19th century.

The written description of this bird, by a Mr. Gosse, is as follows:

“:—” Head red; neck, shoulders, and underparts of a light and lively green; the greater wing coverts and quills, blue; and the tail scarlet and blue on the upper surface, with the under plumage, both of wings and tail, a mass of intense orange yellow. The specimen here described was procured in the mountains of Trelawny and St. Anne’s by Mr. White, proprietor of the Oxford estate.”

Jamaican Green and Yellow Macaw. The “yellow” on this bird was under the wings and tail.

Mr. Gosse also noted that a Reverend had seen two of the birds flying at the foot of the mountains.

The extinct Jamaican Red Macaw appears to have resembled the extinct Cuban Macaw, and the two may have been of the same species. Unlike the Cuban Macaw, of which there are specimens left, the Jamaican Red Macaw is known only from descriptions. The last known specimen was taken in 1765.

Mr. Gosse described it as follows:

Basal half of upper mandible black ; apical half, ash coloured ; lower mandible, black, tip only ash coloured ; forehead, crown, and back of neck, bright yellow ; sides of face, around eyes, anterior and lateral parts of the neck, and back, a fine scarlet ; wing coverts and breast deep sanguine red ; winglet and primaries an elegant light blue. The legs and feet are said to have been black ; the tail, red and yellow intermixed (Rob.)

Jamaican Red Macaw

The Lesser Antillean Macaw is another primarily red, Caribbean Macaw that is known only from descriptions. This bird was described by multiple authors and appeared to be rare by 1760. It occurred on Guadeloupe and Martinique.

The Cuban Macaw occurred on Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines), which is just off the coast of western Cuba. It is much better known that the other extinct Caribbean Parrots, as several skins exist in museums.

Cuban Macaws were widely hunted for meat and for the pet trade, and they also experienced a major loss of habitat due to deforestation. The last documented specimen was shot in 1864, though the species may have held on until 1885.

Cuban Macaws were primarily red, with blue on the wings and tail. They were a little smaller than other members of the genus Ara, at about 40-50 cm long.

Cuban Macaw

There was one conure species that occurred on Guadeloupe, the Guadeloupe Parakeet. These were green conures with pale beaks. They also had a bit of red on the head. Apparently, they were kept as pets and could be taught to speak easily. The species may have occurred on Martinique and Barbados as well, although due to a lack of clear descriptions of the conures that occurred on those islands, they have not been given taxonomic names. The conures on those islands may have been imports from the mainland. Guadeloupe Parakeets appeared to have gone extinct in the second half of the 18th century.

Guadeloupe Conure

Rothschild also lists a species of “purple macaw” (Anodorhynchus purpurascens) that is proposed to have existed on Guadeloupe.

Purple Macaw of Guadeloupe?

The above illustration shows a Purple Macaw. It does look suspiciously like a Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthicus) and the Purple Macaws may have simply been hyacinths (or perhaps Lear’s Macaws) from the mainland. However, hyacinths are more of a cobalt blue than violet, and some travelers did report seeing violet parrots on Guadeloupe. However, those may have been Guadeloupe Amazons.  Since the descriptions of the various Caribbean parrots from the 1600-1800s were so vague, very little is known about the ones that went extinct.

There are other paintings of extinct macaw species in Rothschild’s book and they are interesting to say the least. The paintings are based on collections of vague descriptions of macaws and since these birds look so much like hybrids of hyacinths and scarlet or blue and gold macaws, I wonder if they were based on separate descriptions of completely different macaws brought from the mainland. The bird labelled “Ara erythrura” looks like it has a hyacinth head on a blue and gold’s body (with a scarlet macaw tail) and the bird labelled “Ara martinicus” looks like a hyacinth mixed with a blue and gold.

Macaw (“Ara erythrura”)

Macaw (“Ara martinicus“)

Speaking of Hyacinth Macaws, there is one potentially extinct blue macaw from mainland South America that most certainly did exist. I am referring to the Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), formerly of northern Argentina, southern Paraguay, northeastern Uruguay and adjacent parts of Brazil. It probably went extinct during the 1960s. However, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists the species as “critically endangered,” since there is a small possibility that a few birds exist in very isolated areas.

Glaucous Macaw painting by Bourjot Saint-Hilaire

The most recent parrot extinction in the Western Hemisphere involved the Carolina Parakeet. This bird – a close relative of the Aratinga conures – occurred in woodlands in the eastern United States. This is the only parrot species that occurred in the eastern US in historic times. The last documented wild specimen was killed in 1908 and the last captive individual died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

Several factors contributed to the demise of the Carolina Parakeet. Much of their habitat was destroyed by European settlers, and introduced honeybees competed with the birds for nesting holes. The birds were also shot for their plumage, which was used to decorate women’s hats, and  for being agricultural pests. Unfortunately, the birds’ habit of gathering around fallen flock members made them an easy target for hunters.

DNA obtained from museum specimens of Carolina Parakeets has been compared to that of several extant South and Central American species. The Carolina Parakeet’s closest living relatives include Aratinga auricapillus (Gold-capped Conure), Aratinga solstitialis (Sun Conure), and Nandayus nenday (Nanday Conure). The Jenday Conure (Aratinga jandaya) is also likely a close relative but was not included in the study.

Carolina Parakeets. Painting by John James Audubon.

The next post in this series will describe the recently extinct parrot species of the Eastern Hemisphere. As is the case with the Western Hemisphere, most of these species were from islands.

Major References

Kirchman, J. J., Schirtzinger , E. E., and Wright, T. F. 2012. Phylogenetic relationships of the extinct Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) inferred from DNA sequence data. Auk, 129, 197-294.

IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. http://www.iucnredlist.org

Rothschild, LW. 1907. Extinct birds : an attempt to unite in one volume a short account of those birds which have become extinct in historical times : that is, within the last six or seven hundred years: to which are added a few which still exist, but are on the verge of extinction. Hutchinson and Co., London. Online Version.

Pyrrhura Conures

April 22, 2012 5 comments

The Personable Pyrrhura Conures: at Home and in the Wild

The description of Chiku on the rescue group’s website said he needed “someone with experience because he is definitely dynamite in a small package.” Chiku is a hybrid Pyrrhura conure I had offered to foster for a rescue until he could be adopted. However, I later decided to adopt him. He’s a firecracker, but he endeared himself to me anyway. Of course, that’s not difficult for a Pyrrhura conure to do, as these long-tailed, little green birds are among my favourite parrots. They can make engaging companions and display some very intriguing behaviour in the wild.

I wasn’t sure what Chiku would look like when I agreed to take him in. He’s apparently a mix of Green-cheeked Conure, Maroon-bellied Conure, and Crimson-bellied Conure. He turned out to look just like a Green-cheeked Conure, albeit with a few patches of crimson under his wings and some olive shading on his tail. Chiku loves to say his name over and over again in a very excited voice. I was warned that Chiku dislikes men and had even stalked one victim by trying to squeeze under a door. True to form, Chiku flew at my husband and bit his ear upon first seeing him.

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Chiku

I cannot say why Chiku dislikes men so. Perhaps he’s more used to women and sees men as rivals that need to be driven away. However, as a result of patience and many offerings of sunflower seeds, my husband can now hold Chiku without ending up with a bird as an earring. Chiku turned out to be a great companion to me, especially when I got a temporary sessional teaching job at a university an hour and a half away from where I live. Chiku was allowed to stay with me in the room I rented there during weekdays so I brought him along. He seemed to enjoy the weekly car trips, especially going through drive thrus. He likes to receive small pieces of American biscuits as a treat, along with drinks of juice. During car trips, I kept him in a small travel cage secured to the passenger seat for his safety.

Chiku’s personality is very different from that of my thirteen-year-old Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy. Lucy is mellow and a bit shy at times. Before getting Lucy, I had decided to look for a Pyrrhura conure in need of a home, because they are typically quiet, small, smart, and easy-to-handle. However, as Chiku shows, some individuals are little firecrackers and need careful handling.

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Lucy, a Maroon-bellied Conure

Pyrrhura Conure Species

“Conures” are actually a large group of small or medium long-tailed parrots from Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Note that some bird guides will refer to conures as “parakeets.” There are dozens of conure species in several genera, although the genera Aratinga and Pyrrhura are the two largest. There are 30 species in the genus Pyrrhura (see sidebar), and they are generally smaller and quieter than the larger conure species in the genus Aratinga, which include Sun, Jenday, Blue-crowned and Cherry-headed conures. Pyrrhura conures are primarily green, and range from 21-30 cm long, which makes them about cockatiel sized or smaller. The majority of species have a scaly pattern on their chest feathers and some maroon on their tails, with many species having completely maroon-coloured tails. Most also have white eye rings that contrast strongly with their dark faces and deep blue fight feathers.

The vast majority of Pyrrhura conures occur in the northern half of South America. However, the Sulphur-winged Conure (Pyrrhura hoffmanni) occurs in southern Costa Rica and western Panama and the Azuero Conure (P. eisenmanni) occurs on the Azuero Peninsula, in southern Panama. Maroon-bellied (P. frontalis) and Green-cheeked Conures (P. molinae) occur the farthest south, into northern Argentina.

Popular Pyrrhuras

The two most common species of Pyrrhura in captivity are the Green-cheeked and Maroon-bellied Conures. These two species are similar in appearance, although green cheeks have darker feathers on the tops of their heads and solid maroon-coloured tails, while maroon bellies have green feathers on the tops of their heads and olive and maroon-coloured tails. Chiku, having ancestors of both species, has the dark “cap” of a Green-cheeked Conure and the maroon and olive tail of the Maroon-bellied Conure.

Black-capped (P. rupicola), Fiery-shouldered (P. egregia), and Crimson-bellied Conures (P. perlata) are also frequently bred in captivity and their names give useful clues in identifying them. Black-capped Conures do indeed have black caps (along with dark upper chest feathers edged with white) and Fiery-shouldered Conures have orange on the bends of their wings. Adult Crimson-bellied Conures are hard to mistake for any other species, as they have bright, crimson-red bellies. However, juvenile crimson bellies will only have a few crimson feathers on their bellies. Pearly Conures (P. lepida) are also common in avicultural collections and have some blue suffusion on their chests (and sometimes throats) and lack the red on the belly that green cheeks and maroon bellies possess. They also have red on the bend of their wings. Blaze-winged Conures (P. devillei, not to be confused with Fiery-shouldered Conures) are also sometimes seen in captivity and they look very much like maroon-bellies but have red on the bend of their wings. In fact, some ornithological references treat the Fiery-shouldered Conure as a subspecies of the Maroon-bellied Conure.

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A Firey-shouldered Conure

Blue-throated (P. cruentata), Rose-crowned (P. rhodocephala), Painted (P. picta), Maroon-tailed (P. melanura), Sulphur-winged (P. hoffmanni), Grey-breasted (P. griseipectus), Emma’s (P. emma) and White-eared Conures (P. leucotis) are rare in captivity but have been bred by some aviculturalists. The remaining Pyrrhura species are either extremely rare or non-existent in captivity.

Most Pyrrhura species can likely be bred together to produce hybrids, although this is not commonly done and is a very controversial practice. I personally would not breed hybrid parrots, although I think that ones like Chiku who are already here certainly deserve good homes as pets.

Cryptic Conures

Most Pyrrhura conures are forest-dwelling birds that live in small or medium flocks, with up to about forty birds. Flock sizes for most species will vary during the year, with large flocks breaking into smaller ones during the dry season (when food is scarcer) or during the breeding season.

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Wild Green-cheeked Conure

 Pyrrhura conures can sometimes be difficult to view in the wild. This is because they blend in with foliage quite well, may forage in trees tens of meters high, and are usually quiet while foraging. However, they often vocalize right before taking flight and thus are often seen while flying away. When I saw Green-cheeked Conures in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, it was usually a view of their backs and tails as they flew through the trees. They were amazingly fast and agile in flight, due to their long and streamlined shapes. One bird did stand on a tree branch out in the open eating a fruit just long enough for me to take her picture. She and her flock mates appeared to be waiting their chance to grab a meal at a bird feeder that some very noisy Peach-fronted Conures (Aratinga aurea) had monopolized.

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Wild Peach-fronted Conures

Compared with other parrot species, few formal studies have been done on wild Pyrrhura conures, although based on what we know, they display many intriguing behaviours that are actually quite odd for parrots. For example, in an article in Bird Talk, biologist Donald Brightsmith reported on some very interesting behaviour in a group of four Painted Conures. First, all four conures – at least one of which was a juvenile – were tending to the same nest. This is unusual, because in most parrot species, only two birds will tend to a nest. However, many other bird species, such as Florida scrub jays, will breed cooperatively. In such species, juveniles may stay with their parents or another pair for a time and help them raise young. Perhaps the group of four painted conures included two parents and two young “helpers”.

The Painted Conures also did something clever when a group of potential nest predators (brown capuchin monkeys, Cebus apella) started to approach their nesting hole. When one of the monkeys started to climb down a vine that would lead it close to the nest, one of the conures flew to a spot above the nest, hung upside down and started to call loudly, perhaps to lead the monkeys away from the nest. One monkey then tried to grab the conure, who flew off just in time. The conure was then joined by its other three flockmates, who flew off through the trees, followed by the monkeys.

El Oro Conures (P. orcesi) may also breed cooperatively, as more than two birds of this species have been seen tending to single nests. The El Oro Conure, which is from Ecuador, is considered endangered because it is found only within an area about 100 km long and 5-10 km wide and deforestation is further reducing the amount of available habitat for it. Conservationists have set up artificial nest boxes for P. orcesi to help boost the population. Like most other parrot species, Pyrrhura conures nest in tree cavities, which means that extensive deforestation can leave them with few suitable nesting spots.

In Colombia, conservationists with the group ProAves (with funding from the Loro Parque Fundación) have also set up artificial nest boxes for Perijá Conures (P. caeruleiceps) and Santa Marta Conures (P. viridicata). The provisioning of artificial nest boxes is a common strategy to increase the populations of endangered parrots and has also been used to increase numbers of wild Blue-throated Macaws (Ara glaucogularis) and Hyacinth Macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthicus).

Continuous conservation efforts are going to be necessary to preserve the diversity of Pyrrhura conures. Out of twenty Pyrrhura species evaluated, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists one as critically endangered, three as endangered, three as vulnerable, three as near threatened, and ten as least concern (see sidebar for details). Habitat destruction remains the biggest threat to the persistence of endangered Pyrrhura species, with illegal capture for the pet trade also representing a threat to some populations. Many captured conures are sold in local markets, as parrots are often kept as pets in South and Central America.

Fortunately, some Pyrrhura species are still abundant in the wild and actually appear to be quite tolerant of human disturbance. For example, Maroon-bellied Conures can be found in parks and gardens in the sprawling cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Wild Pyrrhura conures are flexible in their dietary habits and will eat a variety of seeds, fruit pulps, sprouts, grains, nectar, and flowers. In regions where figs are available, conures may consume large numbers of them. For instance, in western Brazil, biologists found that figs made up 70% of the diet of a population of Green-cheeked Conures. Some Pyrrhura conures will also eat insect larvae and will dig them out of plant galls. A plant gall is a large outgrowth in a plant produced in response to insect activity or bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Many galls have insect larvae growing in them.

Maroon-bellied Conures have been reported to eat leaves, which is unusual since leaves can be difficult to digest and parrots generally do not eat them. However, the birds may have been eating larvae from leaf galls. Pyrrhura conures have also been seen at clay licks and will consume some clay, possibly for the minerals it contains.

Foraging flocks of Maroon-bellied Conures may contain one or two birds acting as sentinels. These birds will perch on branches above the rest of the flock and will vocalize if a threat (such as a predator) is seen. No one individual will act as the sentinel at all times; rather, birds appear to take turns being on watch duty.

Pet Pyrrhuras

Like wild Pyrrhura conures, captive ones will generally eat a variety of food. I feed Lucy and Chiku! a diet of pellets, supplemented with cooked whole grains and beans, seeds, sprouts, nuts, vegetables and fruit. Both birds also like to sample my herbal teas and they love fruit juice. They will eat most things I offer them.

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Chiku drinking herbal tea.

One of the frequently cited advantages of keeping Pyrrhura conures is that they are quiet. This is, of course, relative to other popular parrot types, such as cockatoos, Amazons and some larger Aratinga conures. Any Pyrrhura conure will make some noise, including a bit of squawking. Additionally, the noise a Pyrrhura makes may not include talking, as Pyrrhura conures are not known for exceptional talking ability. Lucy does not talk at all, and Chiku! can say his name and does whistle a bit. However, some individuals may learn to say a dozen or so words.

Pyrrhura conures can be quite active and playful, and should be given large cages relative to their sizes, plenty of out-of-cage time and a variety of safe items to chew on. Pyrrhura personalities seem to be all over the map, ranging from shy and gentle to fiery and possessive. Most are fun, agreeable birds, and I recommend that people interested in a conure spend time with any bird they are considering taking in to be sure that its personality will be compatible with theirs.

I have found that Pyrrhura conures are easy to train and will enjoy training sessions that are kept fun and positive. I have done some clicker training with Lucy and Chiku and both picked up target training very rapidly. Target training involves teaching a bird to touch the end of a stick on cue. Lucy actually learned to target, turn around, lift a foot and ring a bell in about a week with short daily training sessions.

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Lucy and Chiku

I often call Pyrrhura conures “macaws compressed down into a handful of bird,” since they are small but have big personalities. In fact, genetic studies suggest that they actually are more closely related to macaws than any other bird type! Pyrrhura conures can also be very interesting to watch in the wild, and for those able to give one the time and attention he needs (which is a lot!), a conure can make a terrific companion.

Chiku! the Pyrrhura Conure

August 14, 2010 1 comment

Last year, in December, I took on a new foster bird named Chiku! He’s apparently a hybrid of yellow-sided Green-cheeked Conure and Crimson-bellied Conure, possibly with other Pyrrhura species in there. I can’t help but wonder if someone was trying to create a very wildly-coloured orange conure by trying that cross. Of course, it didn’t work since the yellow-sided trait in green cheeks is recessive. Chiku! doesn’t have the bright crimson on him from the Crimson-bellied Conure either. That’s okay – he’s still an attractive little bird.

Chiku! hanging out in the paper holder.

I first described Chiku! in my post about hybrid parrots, which is one of the more popular posts on this site. Chiku’s not too unusual looking, since he’s a cross of two very similar species, and he looks very much like a Green-cheek conure with a bit of extra blue shading and extra red under the wings. He’s one hell of a guy so I’m going to write a little more about him. This post isn’t meant to be all that educational, but Chiku!’s such an interesting bird that I have to write more about his personality. I think he’s a boy, but I can’t be 100% sure. I’m getting him DNA sexed at the end of the month.

Chiku! is such a fun bird that I recently applied to permanently adopt him. I really enjoy the Pyrrhura conures, and Chiku! will be my second one, as I already have a Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy, who I wrote about Here: Living with a Maroon-bellied conure.

Chiku! is a lot different from Lucy. He’s quite a bit younger (he’s a little over a year now) and is about twenty times more energetic. While Lucy is calm and docile, Chiku! is a complete firecracker. When he’s out of his cage, he’s on a non-stop spree of crazy.  Destruction is his favorite activity and I have to make sure he doesn’t go on  my laptop as he removed several of the keys and I had to replace the keyboard. He loves shredding anything – especially books – and throwing the debris around.  I’ve had to work at trying to convince him that when he eats messy food that produces crumbs or juice (such as crackers or berries), that it’s not necessary for him to eat them while standing on top of my head. The top of my head is his favorite perch, and he likes to hang over my face, clinging to my hair, and preen my eyelashes and eye brows. He loves to go down my shirt as well, and stick his head out over the top. He hates my husband and wants to rip his ears off.  Chiku! will even try to walk downstairs if my husband’s there in order to find him and bite his ears. We are working on that behavior and my husband can now at least pick up Chiku! without winding up with a bird as an earring. Biting men’s ears is one of Chiku!’s little vices (passions, even) as he badly bit the man at the last place he stayed at. His nickname is “Man-seeking Dart.” I can handle Chiku! just fine and he’ll even lie on his back on my hand. I don’t know much about Chiku!’s past so I’m not sure how his dislike of men developed, although I do what I can to prevent him from nipping anyone. I’ve been doing a bit of clicker training with him and he’s a very fast learner, as is Lucy the Maroon-bellied Conure.

Chiku! gets a drink of water.

Chiku! likes to say his name over and over again, quite loudly, in several different tones of voice. I have no idea if he was named after his vocalization or if he was named “Chiku” and then learned to say his name. I spell his name with an exclamation point because it just seems to suit him.

He has learned how to imitate Peggy, my Jenday Conure, and can say, “Whaaaaaat??” in this surprisingly indignant and sarcastic-sounding tone of voice. Peggy sounds like a Blue Jay, only more shrill, and Chiku!’s imitation of that is even shriller still.  He insists on sharing anything I may be eating or drinking in front of him which is fine almost all of the time, since most of the food I eat is okay for birds. However, he can’t have coffee, and if I have coffee while Chiku!’s out, he’ll violently protest by pecking on the lid of the coffee cup and making these angry mumbling noises. He’ll simmer down if I get him a little cup of juice to drink out of. He can only have pure juice that doesn’t have any extra sugars added, and the juice I usually give him is carrot-blueberry.

Chiku! shares my herbal tea.

Chiku! shares my herbal tea.

I kind of wanted to keep Chiku! very early on in his foster period with us. But, if a better home applied to adopt him, I decided I’d let him go. However, most adopters were a bit turned off by his biting-men’s-ears-and-faces habit. Go figure. The parrot rescue that Chiku! was surrendered to held an adoption day at the local Humane Society in June and I figured that I’d take him and that if no one adopted him, I’d keep him.

Chiku! didn’t behave too badly at the adoption day and mainly stayed in his cage. When I took him out, he mostly stayed under my hair on my shoulders and basically clung to me. He wasn’t adopted, so I decided to keep him and just submitted my formal application to adopt him.

Chiku! on his play gym, with Ripley in the background.

I’ve noticed that, often, small birds are seen as being “starter birds”  – the ones that people should get to gain “experience” before getting a bigger bird. However, as Chiku! demonstrates, the small conures are just as smart and interesting as the larger parrot species. I have a couple bigger parrots (a Red-lored Amazon and a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo) and still decided to get another small conure because I just enjoy these little birds so much. Chiku! needs as much attention as the bigger birds.

New foster parrot (Hybrid Parrots)

December 3, 2009 2 comments

I recently took in a new foster parrot for a local parrot rescue. She’s a cute little Pyrrhura conure named “Chiku!”  Chiku!’s (supposedly) a cross between a Crimson-bellied Conure and a Green-cheeked Conure and she may have Maroon-bellied Conure in her background.  She very busy and quite “puppyish” in that she’s playful, curious, and nippy. She also loves to chew on things, just like a young puppy.  She looks  like a Green-cheeked Conure but has more orange under her wings.

Chiku, a hybrid conure.

Chiku, a hybrid conure.

A parrot hybrid is a cross between two different parrot species.  Parrot species that are very closely related (in an evolutionary sense) are usually capable of hybridizing to produce viable offspring.  Since a Green-cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) and a Crimson-bellied Conure (Pyrrhura perlata) are both in the same genus (Pyrrhura), they are related and can produce offspring.  Any of the Pyrrhura species can probably interbreed with another Pyrrhura species in captivity.  This would be far less likely to occur in the wild, for a variety of reasons.  Many of the Pyrrhura species do not have overlapping ranges, or when they do, one species may prefer a different habitat, so the two species may never or rarely meet.  Additionally, most birds will naturally prefer a member of their own species when given a choice.  This is because most bird species will have distinctive courtship calls, colours, and behaviors that are most attractive to members of their own species.  However, in captivity, if closely related but different species are placed together and given no opportunity to mate with a member of their own species, they may end up mating with each other.

A hybrid bird is different from a bird that has a color mutation. For example, in the photograph below, both birds are of the same species (Lineolated Parakeets), but the blue (cobalt) bird carries two different mutations that affect her color.  At the gene for feather color, she has two “blue” alleles (variants of a gene), and at another gene that affects feather color, she has a “dark factor” allele, which is an allele that makes her color appear darker.  Lineolated Parakeets that have two blue alleles but no dark factor allele are a sky blue color.

The cobalt linnie is not a different species than the green (“wild type”) bird.  She’s just a color variant of the same species.  Note that “wild type” simply refers to a genetic variation that is the most common type in a species.  In Lineolated Parakeets, “green” is the wild type color because in the wild, almost all Lineolated Parakeets are green.  This is likely because green birds are better camouflaged against the tree tops than blue ones are. A blue bird would stand out more to predators and would be less likely to survive. However, in captivity, the blue birds have no disadvantage, and breeders can select blue birds to breed.

Lineolated Parakeets taking a shower.

In captivity, the most common types of hybrids seem to be ones involving the large macaws.  I suppose this is because crossing the variously colored macaws can produce birds with very different and variable color patterns. Breeders have given different names to the various hybrid macaws.  For example, a Blue and Gold Macaw crossed with a Greenwing Macaw is often referred to as a “Harlequin Macaw” and a Greenwing Macaw crossed with a Military Macaw is called a “Calico Macaw.”  Macaws in the genus Ara (Scarlet, Green-winged, Blue and Gold, Military, Buffon’s, Blue-throated, Red-fronted and Chestnut-fronted Macaws) can often be hybridized and the offspring are often fertile, so hybrid macaws can be crossed to other hybrid macaws.

Hyacinth Macaws (genus Anodorhynchus) can also be crossed with other large Ara macaws.  I’ve seen photos of Hyacinth/Blue and Gold, Hyacinth/Scarlet and Hyacinth/Military Macaw crosses.  Some end up looking rather beautiful, but some look a little like birds that were put together out of spare parrot parts. Some Blue and Gold Macaw/Hyacinth Macaw hybrids look like Blue and Gold Macaws with Hyacinth Macaw heads.

Blue and Gold Macaw X Hyacinth Macaw

Aratinga conure mixes aren’t uncommon either.  Nanday/Sun conure crosses are sometimes produced and are called “Nansun” conures.  Sun/Jenday crosses are typically referred to as “Sunday” conures.

Controversy

Needless to say, the practice of breeding hybrid parrots is quite controversial among aviculturalists.  Arguments against it (simply put) are that many parrot species are endangered and should only be bred with members of their own species, and that hybrid parrots are not natural and that many hybrids bred in captivity would not occur naturally in the wild.

Arguments for hybridizing parrots tend to be that most birds produced in captivity are destined to be pets, not used in a conservation program, that not all parrot species are endangered, and that hybrid parrots can be very unique and beautiful. Additionally, parrots of a different species sometimes form a bond and a person may not want to separate the two. The counter-argument is that the birds could be allowed to live together but not be given a nest box.

Personally, I don’t see the point in purposely breeding hybrid parrots. It’s hard to improve on the beauty of any of the parrot species in their natural form and rare species are best bred only with their own species.  However, hybrid birds that are here certainly deserve to have good homes and can make fine companions.

On occasion, hybrid parrots are unintentionally produced.  Such was the case with the unique and  unusual cockatiel/Galah hybrid, pictured below:

Cockatiel/Galah hybrid

You can read more about this bird here: World First: Galah breeds with Cockatiel

Feral parrots (that occur outside of their natural range) sometimes hybridize with other species.  For example, there are feral Cherry-headed and Mitred Conures living in San Fransisco.  They are the descendants of wild-caught birds imported from South America that escaped from captivity.  The Mitred and Cherry-headed Conures have interbred and produced mixed-species conures.  The same is true of Amazon parrots in California. Feral Amazons outside their natural range may mate with Amazons of a different species.  There are Lilac-crowned/Double Yellow-headed Amazon hybrids living near the Santa Barbara Bird Farm in southern California. You can read more about these interesting birds, and their possible origins here: Wild Parrots of Santa Barbara.

On occasion, hybrids are produced in the wild in the natural range of two species. There have, for example, been recorded cases of wild cockatoo hybrids, involving Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos (Cacatua leadbeateri).  The situation that leads to the hybridization of these two species is quite interesting.  Both species nest in the same types of tree hollows at the same time of the year.  On occasion, a Galah and a Major end up laying eggs in the same nest hole, each unbeknown to the other.  This can happen because neither species starts incubating until at least three eggs have been laid, so each species often leave early eggs unattended for very long periods of time.  Typically, once the Major and the Galah meet, the Galah will be evicted from the nest by the Major.  The Major will then start incubating the eggs and may raise a Galah chick along with its own chicks.  These Major-raised Galahs (M-Galahs) display many traits of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, which demonstrates that a lot of parrot behavior is learned.  M-Galahs often associate with Majors once grown and may choose a Major as a mate, rather than a Galah.  The result can be Galah-Major hybrid chicks.

A mixed brood of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos with a Galah.

A Galah raised by Major Mitchell's Cockatoos (lower left) who prefers to associate with Major Mitchell's Cockatoos.

The above pictures are from: Rowley, I and Chapman, G.  1985.  Cross-fostering, imprinting, and learning in two species of Cockatoo. Behavior, 96, 1-16.

There have also been Galah/Little Corella crosses seen in the wild:

 

Brazil Trip Part Two: Blue-fronted Amazons and Nanday Conures

July 10, 2009 4 comments

As noted in my previous post, I been in Brazil recently. I just spent several days in the Pantanal, which is the world’s largest wetland and is in the Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso du Sol provinces of western Brazil. It’s currently the dry season, so it’s very easy to travel around, but during the wet season, about 80% of the region (which is 140 000 km square) is submerged.

It is incredibly rich in wildlife, and not only that, but much of the wildlife is very conspicuous. I saw well over 100 different bird species while I was there and for mammals, I was able to see capybara, agouti, three species of deer, giant river otters, coatimundis, crab-eating foxes, giant anteaters, and white-lipped peccaries. Caimans – a relative of the crocodile – are very visible during the dry season as they all have to crowd around the little water that is left. There are throngs of caiman around nearly every river and lake in the region.  They are also not as fearsome as they look, as their eye sight and hearing is poor. They ignore humans and birds, as they only eat fish.

Yacare Caiman

Yacare Caiman

Nanday Conures were among the first parrot species I saw in the Pantanal. They are common and are very conspicuous in flight, as groups will fly together in perfect synchrony. They are also very noisy.  Once they’ve landed, they can be hard to get good pictures of, because they tend to perch among dense foliage at the tops of tall trees. I did get some pictures of a couple that would rest in a tree just outside my room at the lodge I was staying at in the Pantanal (at Pousada Xaraes, which I’d highly recommend to birdwatchers and other wildlife enthusiasts).

Nanday Conure

Nanday Conure

A pair of Nanday Conures preen each other.

A pair of Nanday Conures preen each other.

Nanday Conures preening

Nanday Conures preening

Nanday Conures are also referred to as “Black-hooded Parakeets.”  A lot of ornithologists and field guides refer to conures as “parakeets.” Thus, Peach-fronted Conures will be called Peach-fronted Parakeets.  Pet owners and aviculturalists are more likely to use the word “conure,” although the parrot guides written by ornithologist Joseph Forshaw uses the word “conure” as well.  I personally prefer to call them conures because that word differentiates them from the Australian and Asian parakeets. The South American conures are actually more closely related to macaws than they are to any of the Australian birds referred to as parakeets.

Blue-fronted Amazons are also plentiful in the Pantanal region. They are quite noisy in the morning and evening.  They are very distinctive in flight and are difficult to mistake for any other bird.  Bonded pairs will fly together side-by-side using short, rapid wingbeats.

A pair of Blue-fronted Amazons

A pair of Blue-fronted Amazons

BlueFrontedAmazon2

BlueFrontedAmazon3

BluefrontedAmazon4

Next up: Quaker Parakeets!

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