Pyrrhura Conures - Two of the More Unusual Subspecies
By Garry Steptowe
There are 16 recognised species of Pyrrhura Conures with at least 29 subspecies, and of these probably the best known is the Green-Cheeked P. molinae australis. P. molinae restricta, is one of 5 subspecies of Green-Cheeked and is commonly referred to as Restricta's or Santa Cruz Conure. Of the birds seen in aviculture, the nominate race P. molinae molinae is the largest approximately 10.5 inches, closely followed by restricta then australis, which is the most commonly available.
Emma's Conure is a subspecies of the White-eared P. leucotis leucotis and is rare in aviculture. Although it has been available within the UK and is occasionally advertised for sale on the Continent, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (formally the DETR) have in the past questioned the validity of birds in this country. The latest information on this subspecies is that as an Annex B (Appendix II) listed bird it needs no special license within the EU. Existing owners or those considering obtaining Emma's Conure must have documentation proving the birds have been captive bred within the EU or legally imported into the EU.
Restricta's Conure is found only in a small region of Bolivia, South America. It has never been imported in large numbers and although once fairly commonly available, it is now somewhat scarce in the UK. Emma's Conure comes from northern Venezuela, and has never been widely available.
Restricta is a beautiful bird and one full of character. Similar to P. m. molinae but with a less prominently marked maroon patch on the belly, it's most distinctive features are the very pale grey throat markings, the blue vent and nape areas and the 'blue wash' over most of the body and flights. Cock birds are often slightly larger than hens. However as with the rest of the genus, there is no obvious difference between the sexes, so DNA or surgical sexing is recommended to establish pairs.
Although I have never kept Emma's Conure it is similar in size, just over 8", and colour to the more commonly kept White-eared. It has a pronounced blue crown and nape, white eye ring and white throat markings which change to yellow on the lower breast.
All my Pyrrhura Conures are housed in a brick built birdhouse; with each pair having its own enclosure. Access to external flights greatly benefits the birds and is to be recommended, if only for part of the year. Flights need not be large, 6-8ft long, 3ft wide and 6ft high are sufficient, although if space permits the larger the better!
I prefer to use 16 gauge "A" galvanized wire, although the more widely available 19 gauge 1" x 72" mesh is sufficient. Pyrrhura's are not in my experience destructive chewers, however, all exposed woodwork will benefit from being covered. Another consideration is that of noise, although theses birds are generally quiet compared to some of the Aratinga species, when many pairs are housed in close proximity their calls can be a bit piercing.
I prefer to have all feed pots and nest boxes in their internal enclosures, which allows me to feed and inspect the birds from my service corridor. I also use artificial lighting; particularly during our long dark winter months and have a combination of fluorescent tubes on a timer, and tungsten bulbs on a dimmer system. During the winter the lights stay on full until 8.30pm in the evening, slowly dim, and go out at 9.00pm.
Restricta's and Emma's, like all Pyrrhura Conures are very hardy birds, and providing a frost proof shelter is available, no additional heating is required. However, more for my comfort than the birds, my birdhouse is fitted with tubular heaters controlled by a frost thermostat and these prevent it from dropping below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pyrrhura's are very adventurous when it comes to food, so in addition to a good quality small parakeet mix, at least 40% of their diet should be a mixture of fruit and vegetables. I offer apple, pear, orange, celery, carrot, peas and sweet corn daily and most other fruits and vegetables on an occasional basis. I feed lots more soft fruit in the summer and my birds particularly enjoy the Victoria plums, which grow in the garden.
When young are being reared, I sprinkle the fruit and vegetables with a generous amount of egg food and provide soaked millet sprays, pieces of corncobs and bread and milk. Cuttlefish and grit are available all year round, however, my birds only consume it when they are breeding.
I do use a vitamin/mineral supplement and I sprinkle this on the fruit most days. In addition, during the breeding season I add the same calcium supplement to the fruit 3-4 times a week. Although not cheap, the extra cost of these supplements has in my opinion been offset by good breeding results and the reduction in health problems, particularly in breeding hens.
Restricta cock birds tend to be very dominant over hens, and in my experience need to be watched carefully, particularly during the breeding season. Restricta's and White-eared like most of the Genus will breed throughout the year, but my pairs have always had a preference for the spring. Pairs will breed from 10 months of age, but this should not be encouraged and holding birds back until they are between 15 and 24 months old has many advantages.
Some species of Pyrrhura are far more prolific than others, however looking back over breeding records for the last 10 years, my Restricta's have averaged 2 nests per year with 5 eggs per clutch. Generally, incubation starts from the second egg and lasts for 23 days, with the young fledging at approximately 6/7 weeks. White-eared tend to have larger clutches and frequently lay between 6-8 eggs.
Young hatch with a good covering of yellowish white down and grow quickly in the first week. I use closed rings on all my youngsters, size N being suitable for both the species. Again, looking back at my records 10-12 days seems the average age to apply a ring, for a snug fit. Having fledged, I prefer to leave my youngsters with their parents for between two and four weeks.
Nest boxes should be available all year round, as Pyrrhura's use them for roosting. I provide my birds with boxes measuring 20" x 8" x 8" (external measurements), made from 3/4" thick plywood or block board. Each has a 2.5" entrance hole, an inspection door and fitted with a wire ladder. Softwood battens are fixed internally to the 4 corners of the box and are screwed into place from the outside. This chewing media provides an excellent stimulus for breeding and also supplements the 3" layer of clean dry wood shavings I place in the base of the box.
Boxes are taken down following a successful breeding or at the very least once a year and are cleaned, disinfected, new battens fitted and provided with new wood shavings.
Both subspecies are beautiful birds and have a great deal to offer anyone interested in keeping small South American parrots. However, a combination of limited availability and wrong identification has resulted in the production of hybrid birds, particularly Restricta's.
If you own or are considering purchasing either subspecies, make sure you only breed from pure specimens of the same species. That way the future of both species will be secured for others to enjoy.
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