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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

Parakeets, Cockatiels, Parrots and Cockatoos – Feather Plucking

Feather plucking (and other forms of self-mutation) is one of the most common concerns raised by parrot owners.  I’ve encountered the problem among zoo birds as well.  Despite being well-studied, feather plucking remains difficult to both prevent and cure.  Our understanding is complicated by the fact that feather plucking can be caused by widely-differing physical or emotional ailments.  But some general rules and patterns have emerged.  I’ll review these below…please be sure to post your own observations, as we still have much to learn.

Golden Conures

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Benny Mazur

Different yet Related Causes

Feather-plucking may be a reaction to a physical or emotional problem.  Sometimes, the reason is clearly physical…as when a bird plagued by mites picks at its feathers and skin.  Or the reason may be purely environmental…as when a bored parrot kept in a tiny cage adopts self-destructive behaviors.

But there are many areas of overlap.  In the example above, when the mites are eliminated, the bird will usually cease feather-picking. However, just like human infants, parrots quickly learn how to get our attention.  Let’s suppose the bird in question is housed alone and with minimal human contact.  It may very well make an association between feather plucking and attention – when it pulled at its feathers, people came; in some cases, solitary birds may even seek negative attention (i.e. yelling) if none other is provided. Read More »

Healthy Parrot Foods – New Study Compares Pellets, Seed and Produce

When I first began work as a Bird Keeper at the Bronx Zoo, much of my time was spent cooking eggs and horsemeat, rearing and capturing insects, chopping produce and otherwise preparing the diets for thousands of birds (please see the article linked below for more information on feeding zoo birds).  The introduction of nutritionally-sound pellets and chows for birds ranging from parrots to cassowaries forever changed how birds in both zoos and private homes are fed.  A recent study of Parrot foods and nutrition has shed some new light on caring for these exotic pets.

But while it may be convenient to know exactly what nutrients our pets are consuming, many parrots look upon commercial pellets with disdain.  And because pellets can be consumed far more quickly that seeds, parrots that do accept them are left with extra “free time” to fill; boredom becomes a problem unless additional enrichment opportunities are provided.  Much of the research concerning standardized bird diets has focused on species typically kept in zoos.  However, one recent study examined diets commonly fed to Amazon Parrots.  Its results, I believe, have important implications for owners of all types of parrots. Read More »

Breeding and Keeping the Nonpareil Finch or Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch

Nonpareil FinchWhen translated to English, the French language name for this little finch – Nonpareil – means “without equal”.  The name suits the gorgeous bird perfectly…so much so that aviculturists of all nationalities have adopted it.  Also known as the Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch (Erythrura prasina), the brilliantly-colored Nonpareil has long been among the most desired of all Southeast Asian finches.

My first experience with these beauties came while working for a bird importer.  I was captivated by their colors, but despaired over the stress caused them by shipment and confinement to quarantine facilities.  Fortunately, an experienced private breeder helped me to learn the keys to keeping them alive and well.


The 5.5 inch-long male Nonpareils are clad in “grass green”, bright red and brilliant blue, and sport elongated central tail feathers.  Females have shorter tails and are not as gaudy, but are also quite colorful.  While most related parrot finches are attractive (please see photos), none are as spectacular as the Nonpareil.

Yellow-bellied individuals are found in some wild populations, but are not common in captivity.  Birds originating from Borneo have more blue in the plumage, and are considered by most to be a subspecies.  Although few aviculturists see any need to experiment with color mutations, largely-green and pied strains have been established. Read More »

Blue-Crowned Conures in the Wild – the Natural History of a Popular Pet

Blue Crowned ConureThe Blue-Crowned Conure (a/k/a Blue-Crowned Parakeet, Sharp-Tailed Conure, Aratinga acuticaudata) has always had fans among parrot enthusiasts, but its popularity exploded in 1998 with the release of Paulie, a movie that featured one as the main “actor”.  More recently, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a documentary, also highlighted this species. Unfortunately, this type of publicity is not always ideal, as pets are often purchased for the wrong reasons (owl sales soared in some places after Harry Potter was released!).  Blue-Crowned Conures are little studied in the wild.  I’ve had the good fortune of observing both free-living and captive individuals, and today will focus on their natural history, and summarize their care needs.


At 14.5 inches in length, the Blue-Crowned Conure is one of the largest species in the genus Aratinga.  In common with other conures, it sports a heavy bill and long, tapered tail, but the sky to dark blue coloration on the crown and cheeks is unique.  Various shades of green color the body plumage, while the undersides of the tail feathers are reddish-brown and tipped with yellow.  All-in-all, it is a very attractive parrot.


The range extends from northern Venezuela and eastern Columbia south through Paraguay and Uruguay to northern Argentina.

Five subspecies, differing somewhat in coloration and size, have been described.  While working in Venezuela, I had a chance to observe A. a. neoxina in riverside thickets and even well out into the llanos.  On nearby Margarita Island, I caught a glimpse of several of the few individuals that manage to survive there.

Feral populations are established in Florida and southern California, USA.


The Blue-Crowned Conure is adapted to arid habitats, and may travel extensively when pressured by the lack of food and water.  It is most often associated with deciduous forests, but also frequents riverside scrub, wooded grasslands, farms and city outskirts. In Bolivia, desert fringes are occupied (a relative, the Cactus Conure, A. cactorum, is a true desert bird; please see article below).


The Margarita Island population, threatened by rat predation, habitat loss and collection, is believed to number less than 200 individuals.  Other populations have not been well-studied.

In some regions, Blue-Crowned Conures are considered to be crop pests, while elsewhere they are valued for consuming weed seeds.  The species is listed on Appendix II of Cites.


Adaptability has likely assisted the Blue-Crowned Conure in surviving where related parrots have disappeared.  It forages on the ground or in trees, taking a wide variety of seeds, tree and cactus fruits, berries, and some insects.  Where roosting trees are scarce, Blue-Crowns pass the night in shallow caves.

Outside of the breeding season, flocks of up to 200 individuals form, sometimes in association with White-Eyed, Mitred and other Conures.


The breeding season extends from September to February. The 2-3 eggs are deposited in a tree hollow and incubated for 22-25 days.  The chicks fledge in approximately 8 weeks, and are fed by the male alone for some time thereafter.  Two (rarely three) clutches are produced annually.


Blue Crowned ConureField studies (please see article below) have revealed that this species utilizes 8 distinct vocalizations, and variations of each, to communicate with others.

The two alarm calls provide flock members with information concerning predators’ location and distance, and may also identify the type of threat (i.e. hawk vs. snake).  Other vocalizations call the group together, with variations being utilized when flock-mates are in or out of view.  Coordination of flight direction and mate-contact are also accomplished via unique calls.  I’m sure that further research will reveal an even more sophisticated communication system.

Blue-Crowned Conures as Pets

Most conures have great pet potential, and the Blue Crowned is no exception; please see this article for a description of popular species.  Many conure specialists consider the Blue Crown to be the friendliest and most intelligent of all.  It is also a better mimic than its relatives, but cannot be considered especially “gifted” in this regard.  Hybrids with other species, such as the Golden-Crowned Conure, have been produced.

Prospective owners should bear in mind that, despite their small size, Blue-Crowned Conures have very loud voices, are extremely active, and can reduce furniture to wood chips in no time flat.  Like all parrots, conures need a mate or near-constant association with a favored person if they are to thrive.  Please see the articles below and write in for specific care information.


Further Reading

Video: wild Blue-Crowned Conures

Field Study: Conure Vocalizations

The Cactus Conure

The Green Cheeked Conure

The International Conure Association 


Blue Crowned Conure image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hakan Sandin
Blue Crowned Conure image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Bram Cymet


Red-Billed Quelea – Captive Care of the World’s Most Numerous Bird

Red billed QueleaAlthough attracting less attention than European Starlings and other common birds, Red-Billed Queleas (Quelea quelea) outnumber them all.  Yet despite being dubbed the “Locust Bird” for its habit of moving in flocks containing millions of individuals, this attractive African weaver is surprisingly difficult to breed in captivity.


Population size is not the Red-Billed Quelea’s sole unique characteristic. It is also the only bird in which males exhibit highly variable color patterns that are not designed to advertise their value as mates.  In all other colorful, sexually-dimorphic species (those where males and females differ in appearance), color is used to express desirability to females (please see this Gouldian Finch article).

Some male Red-Billed Queleas vary so much from others that they appear to be of different species. The black or white facial mask is surrounded by feathers that may be colored red, orange, pink or various shades of each; the breast is often splashed with similar colors. Please see the article below for photos of several males…the effect of all this variation in a huge flock must be spectacular! Read More »

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