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The Cactus Conure – Little Known Parrot of Brazil’s Arid Scrublands

Zebra Tailed LizardParrots are an amazingly diverse group of birds, and today I’d like to highlight one which is given little attention by hobbyists or zoos – the unique Cactus Conure or Caatinga Parakeet (Aratinga cactorum).  Unlike the rainforest denizens that usually spring to mind when mention is made of Brazil’s parrots, this enterprising bird makes it’s living in a unique cactus-studded habitat known as the Caatinga Scrub (please see photo).


Cactus Conures average 10-11 inches in length, and sport green plumage above and a rusty-orange breast.  The head, face and throat areas are brown, shading gradually to olive.  Two subspecies have been described, neither of which has been well-studied.

Range and Natural History

The Cactus Conure is limited in distribution to Northeastern Brazil, where the majority of its range is contained within Bahia State.  It is adapted to a dry habitat (the Caatinga Scrub) that is dominated by cactus, succulents, thorn scrub, low trees and sturdy grasses; “semi-desert” has been used to describe some portions of this region.  Cactus Conures sometimes venture into pastures and farms, where they may be hunted as crop pests.

Field studies of this bird are scarce, which is puzzling since it is so unique among South America’s Psittacines.  The few published natural history accounts that are available indicate that it feeds upon cactus fruits and flowers, seeds, sprouts and buds.  Small groups of 8-20 individuals have been observed, but little is known of its social behavior.

Conservation Status

The Cactus Conure’s status in the wild is also something of a mystery, and reports vary widely as regards population estimates.  For now, it is listed on Appendix II of CITES and considered Near Threatened by the IUCN; detailed studies are needed.  Because it is adapted to a very specific environment, and occupies a limited range, habitat loss would likely impact the Cactus Conure severely.

Captive Care

CaatingaCactus Conures are rarely kept in either private or public collections.  They are reportedly slow to accept human companionship, but once acclimated become as trusting (and remain as loud!) as most of their relatives.

Suggested diets contain more fruit, buds and vegetables than is typically recommended for other conures.  Captive breeding is not common but occurs regularly among established pairs.  The 4-6 eggs hatch in 25-30 days and the chicks fledge at age 7-8 weeks.

Parrot oddities abound – from seashore dwellers to those that nest under rocks, surprises are everywhere.  I’ll cover others from time to time, and would be happy to hear about your favorites.  

Further Reading

Cactus Conure fact sheet

Video of wild Cactus Conures.
Cactus Parakeet images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Phillipe and Snowmanradio
Caatinga images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Allan Patrick


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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