The breeding of Pyrrhura's can be quite straight forward . However, some species tend to be more ready to breed that others. In our experience the medium sized Green-cheeked, Maroon-bellied, Rose-crowned and Crimson-bellied conures have become more domesticated over the years and make for ready breeders. The smaller species such as White-eared, Emma's and Painted, we have found to be more difficult to breed due to their more timid natures.
During the non-breeding season we separate the males from the hens into individual flights. We have found that unless we want to specifically pair the same birds back together, they will readily accept whichever mate is offered to them. Also we have found that by keeping the same sexes together we do not get them fighting each other.
Dependant on the weather, we usually pair our birds into separate breeding cages in our birdroom, the week after Christmas. We provide extra light within the birdroom which comes on at 4pm and goes dim at 9pm. We have found a greater chick mortality during very cold weather, where the parents have not kept their babies warm enough. We will add a little artificial heat to the bird-room to prevent any drinking water from freezing. If the weather is very cold we would delay the pairing until it warms up a little. Generally we pair all pairs at the same time, giving a fair chance of eggs and chicks being produced at the same time. This allows us to be able to move chicks around if a pair has difficulty rearing their own.
There are a number of enclosures suitable for Conure breeding. Some breeders use a stackable cage system indoors and some use outdoor flights, both have proved to be very successful. We use indoor stackable cages to breed from our pairs. The cages are homemade 6ft x 2ft x 2ft double breeders, which can be split into two with a wooden divider. The cages are semi-all-wire cages, made from sheets of 1/2" best ply. The sides top and floor are cut out, this waste wood is used to make the nest boxes. The sides and top are then covered in wire mesh. The bottom is left with no wire, as a slide out 3/4" mesh false floor and waste tray covers this aperture. There are several reasons for using this type of cage:-
- Conures love to climb and play. They can forever be seen hanging upside-down from the mesh roof.
- The cages are still strong enough to be stacked 3 high.
- The cages are a lot lighter and can be moved around easily on castors.
- They allow a lot more light into the cage.
- They keep air circulation high.
- They are easier to keep clean with less painted surfaces.
All surfaces are painted with non-yellowing white gloss. The fronts and drawer sides are made from white uPVC. Small details which make for easy maintenance.
We use 36" x 15" cage fronts from www.wadescagefronts.co.uk. These are the budgie deluxe type with the larger up/down slide door. The size of the door allows for larger stainless-steel food dishes or ice-cream containers to be placed inside the cage. These cage fronts also have a removable nest box door, in one top corner, we specify left/right hand fronts for either side of the double cage. To each side of the main door are front removable cups. We use one for mineralised grit and the other for the fruit/vegetable/softfood mix. All our dishes and drinkers are permanently marked with the cage number, ensuring the same ones go back to the original cage to prevent any cross-contamination from one cage to the next.
Nest box design.
Our nest boxes are home-made from 1/2" best ply wood. The overall dimensions are 18" tall by 10" wide and 10" deep. All boxes are made the same, and are screwed together. Spare pieces are kept for easy replacement of chewed sections. We sometimes use nest box cameras, usually with first time or difficult to breed parents. A cover at the top of the nest box is rotatable to reveal a hole for the nest box camera to be positioned. We use wireless cameras to transmit the picture to a television screen. Only local power supplies are required for each camera.
Each nest box front section is made up of 3 pieces of ply wood. The bottom section is 8" tall and fixed. The middle section door is 5" tall and hinged to the 8" section. The top piece is 5" tall and fixed. The door is hinged at the bottom, which allows nest box inspections, without the chicks being able to fall out. The 8" section allows for an initial 3" deep nest of wood chip, we use Dry-Bird, and allows for fresh Dry-Bird to be layed onto the soiled layer below as the birds grow. This keeps the nest fresh and the chick clean. To the 8"section we also screw a large paper-clip to hold the nest breeding record in place.
At the rear of the nest box is the hole for the birds to enter. The hole is created with a 2 1/4" to 2 1/2" hole saw. To allow the birds to get out of the nest box easily, a 12" x 3" piece of 1/2" square mesh is nailed to thje inside of the box, which leads up from the wood-chip to the hole. We screw a picture hanger to the top of the box to attach the box to a screw on the front of the breeding cages.
All our breeding pairs are housed in separate flights when not breeding, males in one flight and hens in another. The flights are normally next to each other. We find this stimulates both sexes to breed and limits any squabbling. We have found that some birds, especially green-cheeks can breed from 9 months of age, while most of the other species begin from 18 months old. We try to pair all our birds the week after Christmas, providing it is not too cold and that the pairs are fit and well.
We only breed the same species with the same species. We feel that there should be no Hybridization between species i.e. Emmas x White-eared, as the pure form of the Pyrrhura is in decline within the UK since the ban on imported wild birds, with some species becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. However, Colour Mutation of the Pyrrhura (particularly within the Green-cheeked species) has in recent years led to a large rise in the number of birds being bred. The colours being bred give an added interest to the hobby and helps to keep an enthusiastic outlook.
All the necessary preparations are made prior to the breeding season. All cages, nest boxes, feeders and drinkers are cleaned, repaired or renewed. Fresh layers of old news papers are put in the cage floor trays and 3" of wood chip is put in each nest box. We put all the hens into the cages on their own first to get acclimatized to the surroundings and two days later, early in the morning, introduce the males. A close eye is kept on all pairs to ensure that there is no serious fighting, generally all pairs readily accept the new mate with little issue.
Copulation is witnessed rarely on the perches. More often while we are around feeding them this can be heard from within the nest box. It is difficult to describe what this sounds like, but when you have heard this happen on the perch it is a distinctive sound. Egg laying normally begins in February with hatching 23 days later during March. Oval white eggs are layed every other day, normally 4 to 7 eggs are layed. We check the nest box on a weekly basis, to see if eggs have been layed. We record on a nest box card when the egg is layed. Two weeks after the first egg is layed we will inspect to see how many eggs in the clutch have been layed. Also we will check to see how many in the clutch are fertile. We do this by placing a torch, in our case a Maglight, next to the egg in the nest. Where the inside of the egg can be seen to be coloured in red, this indicates that the egg is fertile. If by this time the inside of the egg is not red, this egg can be assumed to have not been fertilised or not brooded by the hen.
The chicks on hatching are pink in colour and around the size of a ten pence piece. It is critical that the newly hatched chicks are fed with the mother's milky food within the first 24 hours. At this time a careful check is kept on the young to ensure they are being fed. It is not normally necessary to inspect the nest box internally if when you hear the newly hatched chick crying, they can be heard to interrupt the cry with a pause for being fed, until finally they go quiet from having had a good crop full of food. When you hear the chick crying for long uninterrupted periods, it is time to check on their welfare. Generally we try to stay out of the nest box during hatching time to prevent spooking the adults. We do use cameras if we feel there may be an issue.
Nest of 7 Blue-Cinnamon green-cheeks.
When fed correctly, the young babies grow rapidly with a 3 day old chick already double the size of a newly hatched chick. The chicks become covered in a thick down, the colour of which depends on the visual feather colour the bird will have. Depending on the rate of growth, the chicks are fitted with a coloured anodised aluminium leg ring between 10 and 14 days of age.
The ring is fitted to the leg by directing the three longest toes forward. The ring is then fed over these toes and up as far as the knee joint. We then use a cocktail stick to bring the rear toe through the ring. Most of the Pyrrhura are fitted with a size N ring, while the larger species are fitted with a size P. We purchase our rings from Avian ID. The rings are colour coded for the year. We also include out initials, ring number, year, size and PSUK (to indicate we are Parrot Society UK members) on the ring.
Sometimes it may be benificial to move chicks from one nest to another, for instance to balance the number of chicks in a nest. We normally try to do this once the chick has been rung to ensure we know who their parents were. Where we know we can only produce one colour in a specific nest, chicks of another colour may be introduced if needed when unrung.
2 to 3 week old youngsters, one showing leg band fitted.
Around four weeks the feather colour becomes apparent. This can be an exciting time when breeding mutations to see what the colours turn out to be.
4 week old Pineapple chicks with mum. 6 week old Black-capped chick with parents.
Nest full of Misty Green cheeks 6 weeks Rose-crowned chicks(one showing extra red)
6 week old Yellowside Conure with lots of red.
To keep the nest clean we will top up the nest wood chip with 1" of material every week from 3 weeks until the chicks leave the parents, between 8 and 9 weeks. Care must be taken to ensure the youngsters have been fully weaned and are eating and drinking independently of the adults. The chicks will then be transferred to a 6ft nursery flight cage, all at the same time.
Normally there is no sure fire way of telling what the sex of the chick is visually. The way the chicks behave can often be an indicator, with the boldest chicks normally being males. However to 99.9% gaurantee the sex we take a DNA blood sample fromt the chick. We obtain kits comprising of a sample tube, pricking needle and sampling paper from MDS in Africa. The pricking needle is used to put a small prick into one of the toes of the chick, closed to the nail. A very small amount of blood should appear (if you have done this correctly), and the sample paper collect this blood for analysis at the MDS lab. Once you get used to the sampling procedure, it becomes an easy process. The more kits you send the cheaper the rate for each kit. The current cost for 20 samples or more is £8.50 per DNA test, plus 50p for each sample kit.
Green cheek conures can be bred so that the chicks will be males of one colour and hens of another colour. For instance if a Pineapple male is paired to a Blue-yellowside hen, then the chicks can only be Yellowside split Pineapple split Blue males and Pineapple split blue hens. In this case the breeder can prepare sex-linked certificates to show the gender of the young and their parentage.
As we keep quite a number of pairs, we tend to try to allow our pairs to only produce one round of young per season. This keeps the breeding season and all the chores to around 4 or 5 months, and keeps the adults birds in tip-top condition. If we take a clutch for hand rearing, then a second clutch will normally be produced. We find that if a pair has raised a satisfactory round (in the birds eyes), they are reluctant to produce the second round. If the pair produce chicks that carry the characteristics that we would like to produce more of for the following season, we will also leave the adults to try to produce the second round.