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Drama in Central American Rainforests: The Half Moon, Orange-Fronted or Petz’s Conure (Aratinga canicularis) and the False Vampire Bat (Vampyrum spectrum)


Aratinga canicularis in gardenLast time we took a look at the unusual nesting behavior of this popular little parrot (please see The Half Moon, Orange-Fronted or Petz’s Conure and its Relationship with the Arboreal Black-Headed Termite.) But, as if breeding in termite mounds were not enough to distinguish it from other parrots, the half moon conure also changes the usual parrot “roosting rules” as well. And with good reason…

Giant Bats and Conures…Avoiding a Nightmarish Predator
The half moon conure exhibits a few odd behaviors as regards predator avoidance. Researchers in Guancastle, Costa Rica, have noted that resident half moon conures change roosting sites nightly. It seems that they are the favored prey of a truly unique predator, the huge false vampire bat, Vampyrum spectrum (I’d certainly move around allot if it helped to outwit a giant, flesh-eating bat!).

False vampires are spectacular and unusual bats. Although I have yet to see one in the wild, I was shown a roosting hollow in Costa Rica (they roost singly or in small groups, unlike most bats). The floor below the tree cavity in which the beast spent the day was littered with parrot feathers and the skulls of rodents, frogs and other bats.

A Quiet Group of Parrots?
Another unusual half moon trait is their habit of becoming very quiet upon first sighting a predator. The quiet – rather than, as with most parrots, the noise – spreads to adjacent groups of conures very quickly. If the predator advances, the conures begin to scream in true parrot fashion and fly off.

Further Reading
A false vampire bat may have been an incident involving a parrot that I came to know while working in Costa Rica. Please see my article Parrots and the Perils of the Tropical Night.

The following article contains a wealth of information on false vampire bats in the wild and captivity. Bats are not birds…but this one is well-worth reading about!


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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.

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