Home | Bird Breeding | The Half Moon, Orange-Fronted or Petz’s Conure (Aratinga canicularis) and its Relationship with the Arboreal Black-Headed Termite (Nasutitermes nigriceps): The Uncommon Nesting Habits of a Common Pet

The Half Moon, Orange-Fronted or Petz’s Conure (Aratinga canicularis) and its Relationship with the Arboreal Black-Headed Termite (Nasutitermes nigriceps): The Uncommon Nesting Habits of a Common Pet


Clad in green plumage, with blue and orange crescents topping the head, the 9-inch-long half moon conure brings to mind a small, feisty Amazon parrot.  These boisterous little birds breed well in captivity and, when acquired young, make delightful pets.  Combined with a relatively low price, these qualities have rendered the half moon one of the most commonly-kept of the conures. Its breeding biology in the wild, however, is anything but common.

An Unusual Limit on Range

The range of the half moon conure extends in a narrow band along the west coast of Mexico and Central America, from Sinaloa to Costa Rica.  The oddly-shaped area it occupies coincides precisely with the northern range of the arboreal black-headed termiteThe conure sometimes forages in areas where the termite does not occur, but it only nests within the termite’s range.

It seems that the half moon builds its nest exclusively within the nests, or termitaria, of this particular species of termite (rarely, conures appropriate abandoned woodpecker nests).

Constructing the Unique Nest

The entrance holes to half moon conure nests are always situated at the base of the mound-like termitaria.  A tunnel is excavated through the hard outer layer of the mound, after which it turns sharply downward into termiterium’s the soft core.  There a small chamber is constructed to house the female conure and her young.

Digging with their bills, the conure pair takes approximately one week to complete their unusual nest.  Both sexes participate in the process, with the male doing most of the “grunt work” during the initial tunnel construction phase.

The Benefits of Nesting with Termites

Interestingly, conures desert the nest for a period of 7-10 days immediately following its construction.  During this time, the resident termites seal off the area, leaving the birds with an insect-free retreat that offers the heat and humidity control for which termite nests are so well-known.

Upon the pair’s return, 3-5 eggs are laid and brooded solely by the female for a period of 30-35 days.  Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge at 6 weeks of age.

An Unhappy Ending for the Termite Colony

It seems that the conures are the only beneficiaries of this arrangement.  Field research indicates that, perhaps due to a loss of structural stability, conure-occupied termitaria usually disintegrate after the birds depart.  The termites seem unable to effectively seal the cracks that eventually appear, and the nest is nearly always overrun by predatory ants.

A Surprisingly Adaptable Parrot

Birds with strict nesting requirements are generally very sensitive to human intrusion and habitat change.  Surprisingly, however, the half moon conure remains fairly common throughout much of its range.

The termites upon which it depends adjust readily to disturbed habitats, so reproduction can continue if the birds are not harassed.  Studies in western Mexico show that termites in agricultural areas tend to build their nests at lower elevations in trees than do termites in pristine habitats, but it is not known if this affects conure nesting success.

Also contributing to the conure’s continued survival is its adaptability.  Half moons seem equally at home in swamps, forests, overgrown fields, arid scrub or montane woodlands, and often frequent plantations and town parks.

Further Reading

I’ll cover conure care in the future…until then, if you wish to read about general parrot husbandry, please see Avian Nutrition: PelletBased Diets and related articles on this blog.


A popular pet finch, the cordon bleu, also nests in association with social insects (wasps).  Please see my article Nesting Associations of the Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu


An interesting World Parrot Trust article on the natural history of half moon and other conures, which features a photo of a conure-occupied termitarium,

is posted at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/our_publications/psittascene/2006/06Aug68.pdf



Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons and originally posted by snowmanradio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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