Popular Conures and Their Breeding Habits© Howard Voren. Click here to use this content.
Conures are colorful, clever, charismatic clowns that can be a never-ending source of enjoyment for their owners. All of this, combined with the fact that they are reasonably priced, creates a large demand by pct shops nationwide.
This demand must be met by captive-breeding in the United States. Private aviculturists have fared quite well in this area. Since a flight cage of only 3 to 4 feet in length will make most conure pairs happy, they are a bird that most people can find the room to breed, if they should so choose.
Almost all of the conures can be divided into one of four groups that differ from one another in some major way concerning breeding habits. There are a few “outsiders” that do not fit clearly into any of the four groups, but these are the exception to the rule and can usually be placed as intermediates between two of the major groups. What follows is a rundown of the conures most commonly available.
Green Conure Group
The first group, and the largest in body size of those commonly available, is the green conure group. These are classified scientifically under the genus name Aratinga. (The macaws are classified under the name Ara, and these large green conures are, as the name implies, very closely related to the macaws. This relationship has been demonstrated by the fact that hybrid offspring from a cross between a noble macaw and a mitred conure have produced fertile eggs.) This group consists of the blue-crowned, mitred, cherry-headed, red-fronted, white-eyed, Finch’s, green and red-throated conures. The blue crown is a bit afield of this group (toward the macaws), but its breeding habits and seasons are very close to the rest of this group.
These birds, as a whole, are only moderately prolific and can take quite some time before they begin to produce regularly. It is not uncommon for wild-caught stock to take three to five years before they settle down to breed, even if fully mature when set up. Even when they do begin to produce regularly, they are extremely seasonal in their behavior. Unless they are fooled into misreading the seasons by artificial conditions, they hold off until the middle to late summer.
The chances of this group double-clutching is somewhat less than 50 percent if the babies are pulled early (7 to 14 days) for hand-rearing. If the offspring are left with the parents for three weeks or more, the chances of two clutches is very slim indeed. If, however, you choose to pull the eggs for incubation after the hen has set for two weeks, then the chances of double-clutching increases to about 75 percent. Pulling the eggs as they are laid will probably result in the greatest quantity of eggs. In fact, this is true of all the conures, regardless of from which group they belong. Some pairs will lay 10 to 12 eggs under these conditions, but inaccurate incubation will often result in less of a total yield than if the hen were permitted to sit for two weeks on her two clutches of three eggs each.
The red front is the most difficult of the Aratinga group. This is due to the fact that in its natural habitat it seeks out nesting holes in rocks on cliff sides. The two easiest-to-breed conures of this group are the white-eyed and red-throated (orange-throated) conures. These often will give two clutches per season if the babies are taken from the nest for hand-rearing.
Red throats are the smallest of the group, but they make up for their lack of size with one of the best personalities in conuredom. I found them highly prized as pets in the areas of Honduras, where they are common. In these areas, they nest in holes in pine trees, and each year the people harvest some babies to hand-raise for the local pet trade.
Nest boxes for the large conures are usually about 12 inches square and 18 inches deep. I recommend this depth because the birds don’t seem to settle in as well and sit tight unless the box has a depth greater than 12 inches. They need to be far enough below the entrance hole to lose interest in what’s going on outside.
Gold-Capped, Jenday, Sun and Dusky Conures
The second conure group is made up of what are usually referred to as the medium- sized conures. These are the gold-capped, jenday, sun and dusky conures. These are also classified under the genus Aratinga, but most aviculturists who have worked with them for an extended time believe they should be grouped separately. Although they are still related to the macaws, these conures are certainly a giant step further away than the green conure group. Their behavior differs from their larger cousins in every way.
These behavioral differences are most drastic when it comes to breeding. These birds, under captive conditions, have no breeding season in the real sense of the word. Once they begin to produce, they often will lay four clutches in one year, only to rest for a few months and start all over again. Even though these parrots are one size smaller than the previous group, I recommend the same size nest box as used for the larger conures (12 inches square and 18 inches deep). This depth is necessary because of the groups’ propensity to completely empty shallower boxes of nesting material. With the last bit of material 18 inches down, they will usually have some left by the time they finish laying their eggs. Once they begin to sit, they will stop throwing the material out of their box.
Their desire to empty nest boxes is instinctive and is done for the purpose of cleaning out the nesting chambers from whatever raised babies there previously. In the wild, everything from woodpeckers to tree-nesting mice will use the hollows to raise babies. Many of these other tenants nest at different times of the year. Each new occupant cleans out the nest before use. It just so happens that this group is overzealous about house cleaning.
Intermediate to the previous two groups is the nanday conure. Like the green conure group, it is highly seasonal about beginning nesting activities, but like the gold cap group, it is free-breeding, once it decides that the season is at hand. If they don’t give you at least two clutches a year, they are probably sick. You can usually count on three clutches, and if they can at all manage four (with early baby-pulling), they are happy to oblige.
The nanday is not classified as Aratinga by most taxonomists (it stands alone as the sole member of the Nandayus genus), but it is closely related to the gold cap group. This has been proven by the fact that hybrid offspring produced by the crossing of nandays with jendays are fertile and do reproduce successfully. Nandays also enjoy emptying nest boxes of material, and an 18-inch depth is recommended. The interior nest box material that is most commonly used for all conures is pine shavings.
Brown-Throated, Aztec and Halfmoon Conures
The third major group consists of the brown-throated, the Aztec and the half- moon conures. Although they are still members of the Aratinga genus, they are another step further away from the macaws. This group starts breeding earlier in the year than the green conure group (early to middle summer), but like that group, they often take three to five years before they start producing on a regular basis. At that point, some pairs will only produce a few babies a year, while others will become prolific producers like those of the gold cap group. Some pairs never produce at all.
This problem is due to the fact that they show a strong reluctance about entering the standard nesting boxes usually provided in captive-breeding setups. In their natural habitats, they excavate arboreal termite nests to make nesting cavities. These large termite nests are made of a material that is similar in consistency to spongy paper-board. The conures will chew a hole in the side of one of these mounds, excavate an internal cavity and lay their eggs. The termites close off all openings that lead from the conures’ nesting chambers to the rest of the termite nest. This separates them from the invading pair of conures. When they sense that the conures are gone, they fill back in the cavity. This requires the conures to excavate a new nest every time they wish to reproduce.
Because they have evolved in such a manner, this group has trouble relating to a nest box as a permanent structure. All the other conures use their nest boxes as a permanent dormitory either all year long or at least during the entire breeding season. They will play in them during the day, hide in them if frightened and, most importantly, sleep in them at night. Not so with this group, however. The moment that the youngsters are old enough to stay outside at night, the conures no longer return to the nest to sleep. Nature intends for them to move out. This is necessary so the termites can make permanent repairs. Cavities like this can fill up with rain during the rainy season and cause extensive damage to the mound. This is strongly instinctive behavior and is not in any way learned from the parents, nor is it caused by the parents “putting them out.”
I have fostered clutches of halfmoons under both pearly and maroon-bellied conures. They were weaned by their surrogate parents. Every chick turned its back on Mom and Dad, and left the nest for good upon weaning. Maroon bellies and pearlies will allow babies to stay with them almost indefinitely after weaning.
Brown throats, Aztecs and halfmoons that do eventually develop the habit of sleeping in their nest boxes, regardless of season, will become prolific producers. Those that do not will at best produce a baby or two once in a while. (In fact, you can safely say of all conures that if they do not sleep in their nest boxes, you will not sec any eggs. Sleeping in them at night always far precedes the laying of the first egg.)
Filling the inside of the nest box with cork in order to allow excavation to take place might be a step in the right direction for some reluctant pairs. It does not, however, necessarily create the desire to excavate. These conures can be given a nest box that is a 12-inch cube. Since their habits are so different, most will leave a reasonable amount of nesting material in the box.
A few years ago, I had the great luck to acquire a blue-mutation halfmoon conure. The bird was fully mature and given every chance to breed by its previous owners. Years went by without so much as an egg.
It was at that point that I acquired this blue female with her normal-colored mate. Once they settled into my aviary, I noticed that they did not sleep in their nest box. Since she was so important to me, I decided to take drastic measures. First, I separated her from her mate. Next, I took a beautiful proven male that had developed the permanent habit of sleeping in his nest box at night, and removed him from his mate. I left both the blue female and the proven male alone for about a week, and then I put him into her breeding flight. I lucked out: She was star struck in love. He thought that she was pretty cute, too. It was a match made in heaven, and they were inseparable.
That is, of course, until it was time to bed down for the night. He slept in the box, and she slept on the food dish. Within a week, she was sleeping on the perch at the entrance to the box. In two weeks, she was sleeping in the box with her new flame. Within one month of entering the box, she was sitting on three fertile eggs. She now has (because of him) developed the habit of sleeping in the box year round, and they produce regularly every season.
Next is another conure that does not fit clearly into any group. It is best classified as intermediate to the gold cap and brown throat groups. This bird is the peach-fronted conure.
Most people would automatically consider the peach front to belong to the same group as the halfmoon, since they look so much alike. The fact is that the peach front’s breeding habits are nothing at all like any of the conures in the brown throat group.
Peach fronts do not start to breed until late spring or early summer, like the brown throat and its group; but once they get rolling, they are prolific producers, like the gold cap group.
Since they get a late start, they usually only yield two clutches a year, but they will reliably give you three to four babies in each clutch, year after year. In the wild, they nest in tree hollows.
The last major group is the genus Pyrrhura. These ornate little conures comprise a large family of which only a handful are available with any frequency. Of those that are available, some are extremely prolific, and some are downright stingy about producing.
This group, as a whole, appears to produce better in the humid climate of south Florida than in the arid areas of California and Arizona. Their box requirements are small, with 10 inches square and 12 inches in depth being sufficient. Their breeding season in Florida begins in mid spring. They are multiple-clutch birds, and some of the more prolific types will have up to three or four clutches of babies in one season. That is, of course, if you pull the babies early enough so that the parents have the time to finish before the August heat wave. They will not reinitiate nesting activities if it is too hot. The most prolific members of the group are the maroon-bellied and green-cheeked conures. Next comes the black-capped, maroon-tailed and pearly conures. The rest of the group has a record of only marginal success. This is probably due to the minimal numbers of specimens that aviculturist have to work with.
In some cases, though, they are just very reluctant to produce. An example of this is the painted conure. This bird has been imported in sufficient quantities to allow for a domestic population boom. Most pairs, however, are very reluctant to produce. There are aviculturists who are lucky enough to have one or two very prolific pairs, but on the whole, the painted has not been established in captivity.
There is obviously something we must do differently to “turn on” all the pairs that are sitting around doing nothing but eating. One possibility we can try is colony-breeding. This has failed to increase production with anything else in the conure family, but in this case it might be worth trying. On a trip to Suriname, South America, I met with someone who had claimed to have successfully bred them for several years. He claimed that the secret to his success was colony-breeding them. He did, in fact, have a flight cage with four pairs in it, and several juveniles were flying with them.
A discussion of the different breeding habits of conures cannot be complete without mention of the Quaker parakeet (also called the monk parakeet). This bird is not classified as a conure, but it is part of many conure breeding operations. It has the strangest breeding habits of all the parrots; they build nests by weaving together dry sticks. They build these nests into large “condominiums,” and each breeding pair or family group has its own entrance hole and internal chamber.
In captivity, Quakers will use any standard nest box. These birds never empty the box of shavings, so a 12-inch cube for a box is fine. These are the most prolific birds in the entire parrot family. This has caused them to be banned in several states. The wildlife authorities in these states believe that if enough of them escape, they might harm the native birds by out-competing them for food. Authorities also have speculated that Quakers could become a menace to crops.
Quakers usually begin to produce in mid-spring and continue well into the summer months. They are usually good for three or four clutches a year. Although many pairs will lay up to seven fertile eggs per clutch, they seldom will raise more than three babies. They often will hatch all the eggs but will only raise the three of their choice.
All the conures kept in captivity can suffer from obesity. The conure diet must consist of enough nutritious low-fat foods to keep the fat buildup to a minimum. Fat birds get lazy and stop producing.
The age at which physical maturity is reached is directly proportional to the size of the conure. The Pyrrhura conures mature at 8 to 12 months of age. The gold cap and brown throat groups mature at 12 to 18 months, and the green conure group at about 2 years.
Physical maturity doesn’t usually translate instantly into babies. Mental maturity to an extent is also necessary. This can add anywhere from six months to two years to the age at which a conure will start producing. These statistics are for domestic-bred, hand-raised birds. Babies raised and weaned by their parents will mature in about half the time. It is not known what causes this phenomenon. It certainly would be an interesting mystery to try to unlock.