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Home » 2010 - Issue 1, Aviculture, Companion Parrots, Issue

Blue-throated Conures - How Carl solved the problem of egg-eating

By Pauline James

Photographs © Pauline James

The Blue-throated Conure

Carl Miller, an experienced bird breeder from South Wales, tells me:  “The Blue-throated Conure used to be rare in captivity, but now they are fairly well established, even though, as a species, they are well known for either destroying or even eating their eggs”.

Unfortunately, the Blue-throated Conure in its natural habitat - in the forested regions of eastern Brazil - is now an endangered species, due to the massive land-clearance that has occurred in the area over the last 20 years.  It is therefore essential that they are given every encouragement to breed in captivity.

At 30cm (12in) in length, the Blue-throated is the largest of the Pyrrhura genus and probably one of the most stunning.  These conures are predominantly green, apart from two dark red areas of feathering on their lower back and abdomen, and bright scarlet colouring on the bend of the wing, but their heads are a riot of colour.

The feathers on the forehead are a chestnut-brown and those on the nape and the back of the crown are brown, edged with a creamy-yellow.  On each side of the neck it has bright yellowy-orange markings, with brownish-red feathering surrounding the eyes, lores and ear coverts.  Its cheeks are green, with its throat, upper breast and back of its neck an intense bright blue.

Carl has kept and bred this species for 15-16 years, along with many of the other small and medium-sized conures, but he says: “Blue-throated are quite different from the other members of the Pyrrhura genus.  They are much noisier and aggressive during the breeding season.  They lay considerably smaller clutches than the other species and generally do not make good parents.”

Carl’s first pair of Blue-throated was sold to him as an English-bred, unrelated, but sexed pairing.  They had come from a large outside flight and were quite nervous.

It is essential that Blue-throated Conures are given every encouragement to breed in captivity

They were housed in a 2.75m x 1m x 1.85m (9ft x 3ft x 6ft) high outside flight with adjoining inside quarters - where they were fed.  No heat or artificial lighting was provided.  The first 1.85m (6ft) of the outside flight was covered, and just under a metre (3ft) of the remaining length was left open to the elements, to allow the conures to enjoy a natural shower in the rain.  The floor was concreted after problems with vermin.

The pair was offered a 22cm sq x 0.75m (9in sq x 30in) high sloping nest-box, which was hung in the outside flight and used for roosting each night.  It was thought prudent to use this design, knowing that this species did not always treat their eggs with the greatest of respect.  As they were a little nervous too, Carl thought that the pair might be prone to dropping heavily into an upright box.

Wood shavings and rotted wood were placed in the bottom of the box for the pair to work.  This was largely ignored for the first year, but the conures eventually went to nest the following year and laid their first clutch.

But, true to form for this species, each of the eggs was eaten as it was laid.  The only evidence left remaining - that the pair had begun laying - were a few tiny pieces of scattered eggshell in the bottom of the nest-box.

Even when an egg was observed shortly after being laid, Carl said, “By the time I had got an incubator set up and running, and gone back to retrieve the egg, it was too late.”  When the egg-eating problem carried on the following year, Carl realised that he would have to intervene rather more promptly, if he was to save any of the eggs.

It was decided to take the box down for modifications.  The bottom was removed and a concave-shaped false floor was inserted.  In the centre a hole was drilled, just large enough to allow the egg to drop through to a second layer beneath.  The bottom layer was positioned 10-12cm (4-5in) lower, which left enough room for around 7-8cm (3in) of ‘cushioning’, in the form of wood-shavings, to be placed on top.

The false bottom was designed so that the eggs dropped only around 5cm (2in) at the most, but was far enough from the hole to be just out of the parent birds’ reach.  No nesting material was placed on the concave floor, as this would have hampered the egg rolling and then dropping down to the lower level.

The hole was reinforced with a large metal washer to stop the pair enlarging it, but even so, at one stage, they managed to gain entry to the bottom layer by gnawing away at the back of the false bottom, and reached an egg or two before Carl did.

It is an endangered species in its natural habitat

Once this problem was rectified though, the nest-box design was deemed a great success, with all the eggs being taken successfully for artificial incubation, and the chicks hand-reared.

On average 5-6 chicks a year are reared, from two clutches of around four eggs each.  The first clutch is generally laid in March, and the incubation period lasts for around 24-26 days.

Carl made up a second pairing with one of his own-bred youngsters and an unrelated Blue-throated conure that he bought in.  Having been told that the youngsters would not breed until they were 3-4 years old, he was delighted when they produced their first clutch of fertile eggs at two years old.

This pair successfully incubated their eggs full-term, but on hatching, disappointingly refused to feed the chicks.  After two nests of chicks were lost, it was decided to leave each clutch with the parents until a day or two before the eggs are due to begin pipping and then remove them.  They are then placed in an incubator, where they are closely monitored, in readiness for hand-rearing.

The Blue-throated conures are fed a diet which consists of two-thirds seed, and one-third fresh foods.  At first Carl used to feed a seed mix consisting mainly of sunflower seed and a Budgerigar mix, but after a while he stopped feeding them dry sunflower seed, as he felt that their low-nutritional levels and high fat-content weren’t of much benefit to the birds.

It was decided that sprouted sunflower seed was much more nutritious.  A small black Bulgarian variety was selected for this purpose as it always sprouted the quickest and was therefore thought to be the best quality available.

In the autumn, groats and hemp are offered once a week, to increase the fat-content in the conures’ diet, to help sustain them through the winter, and after Christmas eggfood is offered 2-3 times a week in readiness for the breeding season.  A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as orange, apple, banana, grapes, dandelion leaves and chickweed, or a grassy turf, complete with earth, are offered daily.

How Carl efficiently manages willow twigs in the flight

These conures are enthusiastic chewers and are provided with a regular supply of fresh willow branches.  But instead of just leaving a few twigs on the floor of the flight - where they are largely ignored - Carl pushes them through a 3cm (1.5in) diameter offcut from a PVC overflow pipe.

The piping is trimmed to about 22cm (9in) in length and both ends cut off at a 45 degree angle to allow a screw to be placed at each end, to provide a firm horizontal fixing to the woodwork of the roof.  From here the conures chew the branches to their hearts’ content.

Pauline James has been writing for the bird press in the UK, USA and Australia for the last 15 years.  Her special interests are lovebirds, cockatiels and parrots.  During the 1990s she collected all eight species of lovebirds kept in captivity, and enjoyed breeding most of the mutations that were available at that time.  She also kept a much loved mixed colony of cockatiels for many years too.

Much of Pauline’s recent leisure-time has been spent travelling, and she has enjoyed observing parrots and parrot-like birds in the wild, in India, Costa Rica, Kenya and Australia.

Pauline has now published her first book - Pauline James’s Compilation of Amazing, Hilarious and Poignant True Parrot Stories.’

This exceptional assortment of fully illustrated stories - including ‘African greys celebrate the full moon,’ ‘Brown-headed parrot grows a new beak,’ ‘A Dusky parrot’s amazing ingenuity,’ and ‘Macaws breeding at liberty in Surrey’ - is presented in a striking and colourful book that will entertain you from the first page to the last.

The book usually sells for  GBP£23.95 + p&p, but Pauline would like to offer it to readers of Parrots International Magazine for the discounted price of GBP£19.95 including packaging and postage, within the UK, (GBP£4.95 extra - to cover the postage - for readers in Europe and GBP£6.95 for the rest of the world.)

Please send your order and cheque, made out directly to Pauline James at:  La Granja, Calle Malaga 42, El Burgo, Malaga 29420, Spain or email Pauline at: [email protected] - with the option of paying by credit card via Paypal.

Pauline James’s Compilation of Amazing, Hilarious and Poignant True Parrot Stories (Trafford Publishing)
£23.95 - ISBN 1-4251-5696-7
42 full-colour photos (32 black and white)
Superb laminated cover131 pages - quality paper

10.75in x 8.25in

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