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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

The Sun Conure (Aratinga solstitialis) and its Relatives – Praise and Warnings

Sun Conure ExhibitI was recently involved in designing an exhibit for sun conures, and was inspired once again to consider their suitability as pets and as birds for public exhibit. In their latter role, they are unparalleled – splashed in bright orange and yellow, and possessed of boundless energy, they never fail to delight zoo and aviary visitors. I furnished the exhibit mentioned with dead tree limbs and grapevine, and the new inhabitants lost no time in amusing themselves for hours on end.Pet conures, however, are often not so fortunate as those housed in public exhibits, since not everyone can deal with their loud voices and need for attention and exercise. People are often lured by the group’s spectacular plumage, and may not consider all that is involved in owning such a bird – they can be wonderful pets, but only in the right situations.

Of course, not all conures are noisy – although none of the 42 species, all native to Central and South America, can be termed “quiet”. The smaller ones, such as the green-cheeked, black-capped and maroon-bellied conures, are good choices if you are looking for a quieter, (but not quite “quiet”!) pet. The Patagonian, nanday, mitred, red-fronted and other medium to large conures tend to cause a racket. That being said, I must admit that a group of Patagonian conures I worked with at the Bronx Zoo were among the friendliest and most interesting birds I have ever run across.

Jenday ConureVocal tendencies aside, there can be no doubt that the sun conure makes a charming pet. In addition to its brilliant coloration, it is very playful and has a friendly, curious demeanor. The jenday conure, perhaps even more outgoing, is also a great companion bird – but is among the most vocal of the group.


You can see a sun conure’s playful nature in action at:

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