Article by Tony Silva
With parrots, appearances often mislead. The Bare-eyed Cockatoo or Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea has been described as homely. To some this may be a fitting description, but what this species lacks in terms of gaudiness it more than makes up for in personality. The same can be said for a small green conure (28 cm, 11 inches; about 110 grams body weight) with a grey head and large, white periorbital ring—the Dusky, Dusky-headed or Weddell’s Conure Aratinga weddellii. This species is to me the most underrated small parrot, being quiet, gentle, intelligent, calm and beautiful. It pales next to the bright colors of the Sun Conure Aratinga solstitialis – but it lacks the Sun Conure’s loud screeching. It is not as hyperactive as the Green-cheeked Conure Pyrrhura molinae, probably one of the most popular pet species, and it is calm and gentle compared to the Half-moon Conure Eupsittula canicularis, whose personality is akin to a large macaw: strong willed, independent and short tempered. In my opinion no other small parrot compares to the Dusky Conure. It is invariably the species I recommend for a person wanting a parrot.
Gentle is a word coined for the Dusky-headed Conure. When properly trained, they respond very well to commands. As adults, they allow far more fussing and handling than most similar sized birds. I often handle the adults I handfed and never have they attempted to bite. They sit in my hand quietly while I move them or look them over. They are not articulate mimics, but they can learn a few words. Many of mine say “hello” or something similarly simple in a soft, metallic voice. I have only heard a few that spoke very clearly and were capable of producing more than a few words. This lack of speaking ability is not a detriment to the species in my opinion.
The Dusky Conure became freely available in the 1980s, when Bolivia allowed export of parrots; its range extends across five countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil) in the western Amazon basin, where it is found primarily in open areas. On first reaching aviculture, they were inexpensive and tended to be overlooked for more valuable, colorful species. This resulted in few breeders paying attention to them. When one takes into consideration the numbers imported, this species should be commonly produced, but alas this is not the case. It was shunned and today it can be described as uncommon. My hope is that this situation will slowly change in time because as an aviary bird it is quiet, undemanding and breeds well—all the attributes breeders seek.
Dusky Conures produce clutches containing 3-4 eggs, which are incubated for between 23-25 days. The chicks are born with white down. The secondary down is grey colored. Pairs can produce multiple clutches yearly if the chicks are removed for hand-rearing. When being hand-reared, the breeder will immediately notice their placid manner. They do not bite like hungry Green-cheeks, which can latch on in their desperation to be the first fed, or screech like most other conures. They may call briefly to let you know that they exist but then they wait for their feed. Of all the conures I have hand-fed (and this list includes most of the species and genera), they are my favorite.
Dusky Conures can be fed a seed mix diet (small sunflower, safflower, buckwheat, milo, small popcorn, assorted millets, oats, etc) or pellets. These should comprise no more than 70% of the diet, though they can be fed a ration that includes both pellets and seeds, preferably offered separately and on alternate days to insure that they do not favor one over the other. In addition, they should be offered greens (kale, escarole, endive, chicory, spinach), beta carotene rich vegetables (steamed carrot, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and squash) and other vegetables (corn, peas, blanched broccoli, partly cooked beets, zucchini, hot peppers, etc). I do not recommend feeding fruits in all but extreme moderation because wild parrots have not evolved for feeding on the sugar packets that have come most fruits sold today in stores. In the wild they eat fruits especially when they are green, when the sugar content is low in order to avoid conflicts with other birds and mammals, which prefer them ripe. The fruits that I use tend to be tropical, as they are much more nutritious than temperate fruits. These include guava, mango and papaya. In addition they can be given sprouting seeds, sprouted lentils, cooked garbanzo and pinto beans, whole grain bread, and a broad array of natural foods (the branches, leaves and seed pods of Moringa, which they will readily eat; the seeds of Melia, offered either green or ripening; drupes of commercial palms, etc.) I do not give them sugarcane because of the sugar content, nor items that are nutritionally poor like cucumber. I try to provide good quality, nutritious and wholesome food to my birds.
Breeding is stimulated by offering a solely seed or pelleted diet for 8 weeks in the fall. The first day of spring, the diet is changed dramatically. That day they receive sprouting seeds, vegetables, fruits and cooked whole grain pasta daily. The week that follows their nesting boxes are filled with soft wood, which they can chew; the darkness of the nest and chewing by the pair in order to be able to enter the nest strengthens the pair bond and induces gonadal development. This process invariably induces nesting.
The willingness of this species to breed and its tremendous potential as a pet makes it worthy of reconsideration from those that have passed this little gem aside.