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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


Green-Cheeked Conures – Captive Care and Natural History

Uroko viviThe decision to purchase or adopt a parrot requires careful consideration. For all their wonderful qualities, these intelligent, social birds are very demanding of one’s time and finances, and not suited to all homes. One species, however, stands out as an “almost” safe bet.  The Green-Cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) adapts well to many different situations, and is less likely to display the behaviors that frustrate so many parrot owners. Although not trouble-free, it may well be the best choice for many parrot enthusiasts.

Pet Qualities

The word “fun” invariably arises when Green-Cheeked Conure owners speak about their pets. Even by parrot standards, they are curious and playful. Their affectionate nature and willingness to be coddled is often compared to that of a well-socialized cockatoo. These qualities, along with their small size, have skyrocketed Green-Cheeks into prominence in the pet trade. When I first began working for NYC bird importers in the 1970’s, they were unknown, and were uncommon as recently as 20 years ago. Read More »

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. Read More »

Wild and Pet Conures – Natural History and Captive Care – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for general information and a discussion of the very unique Patagonian Conure or Burrowing Parrot (Cyanoliseus patagonus).

General Considerations

Aratinga Jandaya Conures in the genus Aratinga are often suggested as birds to purchase for those who wish to keep macaws but lack experience (Aratinga means “little macaw”).  Brilliantly colored but quite loud and with an indomitable spirit, conures do indeed resemble their larger cousins in many ways.  Most do best in outdoor aviaries, although they can be acclimated to large indoor cages as well.

The 17 species classified genus Pyrrhura are, in general, quieter and easier to manage than the Aratinga conures.

Green Cheeked Conure, Pyrrhura molinae

An affectionate personality, quiet voice and small size (10 inches) render this one of the most favored of the conures.  Hailing from western Brazil, northwestern Argentina and Paraguay, green cheeks enjoy being held and will even “wrestle” on their backs with those they trust.

Fresh fruit is, as with all conures, an important part of their diet, and should always be available.  A number of stunning color strains, including pineapple and turquoise, have been produced.

White Eared or Maroon Fronted Conure, P. leucotis

The White-ear is, at 8.5 inches, one of the smaller conures, and also among the quietest and most confiding.  It tames readily and is known for its trick-learning abilities, but like all related birds requires a great deal of attention if kept singly.

White-eared Conures are limited in range to eastern Brazil, and generally stay high in the forest canopy.

Blue Crowned Conure, Aratinga acuticaudata

This first of the larger conures that we will cover is also one of the most popular, and with good reason.  Although as rambunctious as its relatives, the Blue Crown has a very affectionate side as well, and is particularly quick to bond its owner.  Those I cared for at a nature center years age were crowd favorites – always in motion and eager for attention.  Two of the birds picked up several words on their own.

Jenday Conure, A. jandaya

Gorgeous golden yellow and deep red plumage keeps this bird on the “most wanted” list of parrot fanciers worldwide, but the jenday is best reserved for experienced aviculturists.  While many become wonderful companions, these natives of northeastern Brazil tend to be high strung, especially when kept alone.

Red Masked Conure, A. erythrogenys

A striking red head and face set this 13 inch beauty apart from other conures. Ranging from western Ecuador to northwestern Peru, where it is sometimes kept as a free-ranging pet, the red masked conure frequents arid habitats.

Free-ranging may be the ideal (but illegal outside of its native habitat) situation for this robust bird – extremely noisy and active, it is suited only for large, outdoor enclosures.

White Eyed Conure, A. leucopthalmus

Often described as “watchful”, this large, thick-billed conure is not a bird for the inexperienced aviculturist.  Nesting pairs are known for their habit of attacking anyone, even well-liked individuals, who approaches their aviary during the breeding season.

Further Reading

Two of the world’s most beautiful parrots are conures, and both are regularly bred in captivity.  For further information, please see The Golden Conure and The Sun Conure.


Wild and Pet Conures – Natural History and Captive Care – Part 1

The term “conure” includes a number of small to medium-sized parrots (i.e. genera Aratinga, Pyrrhura, Cyanoliseus and Nandayus) found from Mexico to southern South America.  While not necessarily closely related, aviculturists lump them together for convenience sake.  North America’s Carolina parakeet, closely related to Aratinga, would likely have been considered a “conure” had it not been hunted to extinction in the early 1900’s.

Nearly all accounts of conures include the word “clown”.  Having observed flocks of conures in the wild and worked with others in huge outdoor exhibits, I can vouch that this description is most appropriate…they are among the most active and engaging of all parrots.

Popular Conures

Burrowing ParakeetMany popular pet conures belong to the genus Aratinga, which means “little macaw”.  Certainly they have outsized personalities, and “act” as though they are as large as macaws – if anything, they are even more boisterous.

The genus Pyrrhura is comprised of conures that, while more somberly colored than their relatives, are never-the-less quite beautiful.  Their personalities are also subdued, exhibiting the intelligence of the Aratinga without the noise.  Many make wonderful, affectionate pets.

Other parrot genera contain species that are usually referred to as conures as well.  Of these, the Nanday Conure (Nandayus nanday) and the Patagonian Cconure (Cyanoliseus patagonus) are popularly kept as pets.

Patagonian Conure or Burrowing Parrot, Cyanoliseus patagonus

This largest of all conures is also one of the most unusual.  It excavates nesting burrows of 6-9 feet in length in the sides of limestone or sandstone cliffs, usually overlooking the sea or a river.  Patagonian Conures nest colonially, and the burrows may interconnect with each another, reminding one more of a rabbit warren than a parrot-nesting area!  As there is usually no “landing area” in front of the cliff-side nests, Patagonian Conures fold their wings as they near and enter directly from the air, running as they hit the ground.

Patagonian Conures are now rare over much of their range (south-central Argentina and Chile; possibly Uruguay), but they rebound rapidly when protected; despite laying only 2-3 eggs, their inaccessible nest sites and communal breeding system assures that most nestlings survive.

Working with a Flock

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a flock of Patagonian Conures in a huge outdoor exhibit, complete with nesting burrows, at the Bronx Zoo.  I must say that these birds were perhaps the most interesting of any I have ever worked with – they literally do not stop interacting all day.

Seeing parrots like this, or in the wild, really helps to give one a sense of their true natures, and to explain some of the problems they face as captives.  I also helped to hand-rear 6 chicks, all of which became quite popular in outreach and educational programs.

Suitability as Pets

Patagonian Conures are quite a handful in the home, vocalizing often and at high volume.  They are highly social, even by parrot standards, and remain in a close-knit flock even during the breeding season.  Pets therefore require a great deal of attention and stimulation.

That being said, their popularity is increasing…exceptionally responsive and entertaining, they are wonderful pets for those with appropriate time, experience and space.


Further Reading

Please see my article on Half Moon Conures and False Vampire Bats for a peek at an odd bit of conure natural history.


Burrowing Conure image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hedwig Storch

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