By Colin Scott, UK.
The Petz's Conure (Aratinga canicularis) at 9.5 inches (24 cm) is the smallest of the New World Aratinga Conures. Proportionately, they are also the quietest and least destructive of this group. Petz's or Orange-fronted as they are also known, inhabit open areas and prefer forest edges and river banks. Their range in the wild covers the western or Pacific side of Central America, from Mexico in the north, to Costa Rica in the south. They are described as common to very common in the wild, despite large numbers having been exported in the past, mainly to the USA, where the "Half-moon" Conure proved very popular as a household pet. Although fairly regularly imported into this country in the past, numbers are now limited mainly to aviary bred stock, although a few have appeared recently.
These small birds are one of the least prolific of the Aratinga clan in captivity, probably due to their highly specialised nesting requirements. In the wild they burrow a tunnel upwards into the nest of an arboreal termite, and then excavate a nesting chamber at the end. They then leave the nest for a few days to let the termites seal the inner walls before returning to lay their clutch of three to five eggs. Breeding may be encouraged by the provision of a nest box with a long tunnel attached or possibly experiment in making an artificial termite nest using a mixture of sand, cement and wood shavings or replace the cement with diluted PVA glue. Nest boxes should be left in position all year as they may be used for roosting.
A suitable diet in captivity will include a good selection of smaller seeds, plus as wide a variety as possible of fresh fruit and vegetables. Soaked seed and an egg and biscuit based rearing food can also be offered. It is well worth offering a few mealworms especially when breeding.
Petz's are generally green in colour, with the throat and upper chest olive. The belly is lighter and more yellow. The forehead is orange and crown pale blue. The bare skin around the eye, or periophthalmic ring, is creamy white. Sexes can sometimes be distinguished in that the hen has a smaller, finer bill and also carries less orange on the forehead.
There are three sub-species described, the nominate race, A. c. canicularis, has the entire mandible light horn coloured. A. c. eburnirostrum has the same horn coloured upper mandible, but the lower mandible is blackish grey. It is birds of this race which are most commonly encountered in the UK. The third race A. c. clarae also has the dark lower mandible, is greener on the belly and sports a smaller orange frontal band. Petz's Conures can also be easily confused with the Peach-fronted Conure (A. aurea), but in this slightly larger species, the bill is entirely black.
It was a letter from a Parrot Society member, questioning the availability of the nominate form, which prompted this article. The lady stated that she owned a hen and was searching for a mate. This made me recall the experiences of Richard Nicholls with this sub-species, who, ten years ago, was then area organiser of Taunton branch of the Society. He acquired a pair from a dealer at our Stafford Show, they proved to be a true pair and bred four fine chicks the following year. The hen unfortunately died, the chicks were then sexed and all four birds were cocks. Despite extensive advertising hens could not be found, and what could have been the start of a domestic strain was lost.
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