By Robbie Harris
I live in upstate New York near the Canadian border. I have approximately 50 birds that I breed and raise. In September 2000, I purchased a DNA-sexed pair of cherry-headed conures that, if I remember correctly, are about 3 years old. I have had the nest box on the cage (large breeder cage) since the day of purchase. They haven't started to show signs of breeding yet. Could you tell me if there is a particular breeding season for these birds? The lady I purchased them from told me if they didn't breed in the fall, they would in the spring. Another person informed me that they were going to purchase the same pair of birds (before I purchased them), but decided not to because the seller informed them that the birds were half brother and sister. I then called the lady I purchased them from to ask this question and was told they are not related at all. I'm concerned whether this is the truth. What do you think about this?
Also, do they need a certain size nest box or anything in particular that I am not providing? I provide cockatiel/parrot seed, fresh veggies and fruits every day. Their nest box is probably the size of a small parrot nest box. (Bigger than a cockatiel nest box ... higher).
When it comes to purchasing birds, I have had good and bad experiences. When I was first getting into birds, many years ago, I used to believe everything people told me. After all, why wouldn't they tell the truth? But as I started buying "proven" pairs, or certain sexed birds that I needed, especially those that were usually harder to find, many times I found that things I was told were not true. This still happens to me even now, on the infrequent occasions when I buy birds. (Nowadays, we mostly breed birds from are our own offspring.)
Unbelievable, But True, Stories
When I purchase birds now, I buy them by what I think the birds are and if I can use them no matter what. I do not rely on what people tell me. So what I am telling you is this, not everything you are told is always going to be true. Here is an example: I bought a "proven" pair of half-moon conures from a person who swore that the birds had many clutches of eggs a year. They even told me that they had just tossed out an egg they found on the bottom of the cage before I got there. I had the birds surgically sexed later in the year — and found that both birds were mature males. Not only were these birds not a pair, they obviously never had any eggs together!
More recently someone sold me a so-called "proven" pair of jendays, telling me they produced lots of chicks. Well, this too was not true. Both of these birds ended up being two hens, because they laid 10 eggs once in a single clutch. Two hens worked out better for me, and I split the pair of hens and gave them each their own male; I had extra males at that time.
Another time, someone at the Bird Mart in Los Angeles was selling a mature proven pair of dusky conures. I looked over the two birds. They seemed healthy, well-bonded and appeared to me to be a true pair. I asked the guy why he was selling them if they produced lots of eggs and chicks. At first he did not want to tell me the whole truth, but I explained that I raised lots of birds, and I would buy this pair if he would just please tell me any problems with the pair so I can be aware and ready to jump in. He finally told me that the pair laid lots of fertile eggs and even hatched them, but would not feed the chicks, so the chicks all died. I told him no problem, I could foster the chicks or hand-feed from Day 1, so I bought the pair. This pair worked out just fine for me. I remove the eggs and place them under other birds!
Here is a real winner of a story. I bought a male macaw that had been tattooed under his right wing, clearly marked in black. Because the seller deals a lot with birds, was a well-known dealer, and knew I was only looking for a male, I thought the bird was truly a male. I believed the dealer. In less than a year, the tattoo was gone; the black "permanent" pen marker wore off that was marked on at the time of purchase. What they had done was use a black marker on the skin web under the wing, it was never a regular tattoo. I had the bird surgically sexed, to find I had another hen.
Be Certain You Have A True Pair
So anything can happen when it comes to buying birds. Hopefully the person you purchased your birds from gave you the DNA certificate with their band numbers on the paperwork. This way if something comes up, like they turn out to be the same sex, you have paperwork in hand to go back to the seller. However, I have received DNA certificates where the people have changed the bird's band numbers. So, without you actually having the sexing done yourself, you won't know for sure. With your conures, the first thing I would do if I were you, is have them re-sexed, either by DNA or surgically sexed, just to be sure they are a true pair. This way, if by chance the birds are not a true pair, you can return them or get proper mates so you won't waste precious breeding time.
As for them being related, I would not be too concerned about that, half related is fine. The main thing is to make sure you have a pair. As for their age, 3 years old is about the time they even start thinking about going to nest. This pair could still be a bit immature to actually lay eggs and produce chicks. So they may not be interested in the nest box yet. A good diet and proper housing can stimulate birds to mature quickly and go to nest. Some birds nest early, others can wait for some time before they go to nest. I have had some birds go to nest as early as 2 years old and some that waited until they were 5 years old before they nested. Some birds need more time.
As for the time of year they would go to nest, I would normally say spring into summer. But, this year some of our pairs, which are housed outdoors, went to nest and laid fertile clutches of eggs early in January. Anytime a pair is ready to nest, they will do so. I will say here, cherry-headed conures, Aratinga erythrogenys, (red-masked conures), are not the best breeders and do not freely reproduce as readily as some other types of conures, like sun, jenday, gold-capped, blue-crowned or nanday conures. This may be the reason yours have not nested yet. When a good bonded pair is ready to set up housekeeping, they use almost anything available for nest boxes. I use both cockatiel boxes and homemade, larger boxes that are usually deeper then normal-sized cockatiel nest boxes. But again, as for a pair setting up house, they will use most any nest box. I put wood shavings inside the nest box.
I believe that if the birds you purchased are a true pair, you have not given them enough time to settle down and lay eggs. Many of these birds need more time to get settled in and get ready to nest — you haven't even had them a year. By getting them and setting them up in fall of last year, you may have just missed their breeding time and, hopefully, this year they will lay eggs and produce for you. Even if this had been a proven pair, they most likely would not reproduce until spring or summer of 2001. When breeding birds, you need to have patience, and keep your birds happy! I feel it is the happy, secure birds that nest and produce chicks. And, remember that old saying, "buyer beware".
True Pied, Aged Or Dyed?
I have seen some birds for sale that appear to be "pied," which have various yellow feathering where normally it would be green. I even have a few older birds in my breeding collection that have also developed some yellow feathering. I thought maybe they were turning into pied, but I have owned them for over 10 years. I figured that if they were really a true pied they would have turned yellow years ago. Why do you think these birds are turning yellow? How does one know for sure a bird is a true pied? And can I trust purchasing yellowing birds to be pied, even when the seller says they are true pieds?
Most pied birds have their yellow feathering when they are first feathering in, not years later. Think of cockatiels and peach-faced lovebirds that show their true pied coloring right away. There are a few species of birds that do develop more yellow as they age, this is called progressive pieds. This can be found in Senegal parrots, for example. Some Senegal parrots do not start to develop yellow feathering until their second or third molt. Usually a few yellow feathers are found on the young-feathered chicks in the first set of feathers. Some people even question if this is a true pied as well. We have some "pied" Senegal pairs, and usually the chicks have a feather or two that is yellow. Once we sold one of these babies to a pet shop, and within a year the bird molted in lots of yellow, looking very much like the parents. Usually one knows if these are pied because the parents are colored with yellow feathering.
Older Parrots And Feather Color
What you seem to be describing is coloring that occurs in some birds as they age, as when people have their hair turn gray. Not everyone grays at the same age, some sooner others much later. This seems to be the same with birds. I have had lineolated parakeets turn yellow as they age, African greys develop red feathers as they age, Amazons develop lots of yellow as they age, and I have a yellow-collared macaw that is over 20 years old and its whole chest is bright orange. As this bird gets older, more orange feathering develops in the chest area. The bird looks like a mutation, but I know it is not, because I've owned it for years.
There are other birds occasionally found in the "market place" that most of the green coloring is a yellow, or patches of yellow feathers are scattered in their green plumage. The birds I speak of here have been dyed. I have seen many half-moon conures and many Amazons with these yellow feathers, which most definitely were color-dyed. Within a year, many of these yellow feathers molt out and the bird returns to its normal coloring.
Some of these conures had their whole head dyed yellow. Most of these birds were brought over the Mexican border. This different coloring is to create sales, because the birds are more eye catching. Keep in mind purchasing birds over the border and bringing them back into the United States is highly illegal and, if purchasing a bird that had been previously dyed, there is a good chance the bird was from Mexico.
I once saw an Amazon for sale in a pet shop that was completely dyed in all kinds of bright colors: reds, yellows, orange, purple and blue. I had never seen anything like it! The owner of the pet shop tried telling me it was a very rare rainbow Amazon, but I knew it was just a lilac-crowned Amazon that had been very creatively dyed.
Just this year I had someone send me a photo of a red-masked conure that had lots of yellow. This was a wild-caught bird, but was being sold on the streets by a bird vendor in South America. Some people told the new caretakers of this bird that it was a new species. My opinion was not the same. They think maybe it is a mutation, but by not knowing the age or history on this bird, we cannot know for sure whether it is some sort of pied, mutation or yellowing from age. Only breeding this bird will prove what it is — and that couldtake a few generations until you would know for sure. I told the caretakers to watch for the first molt and see if green feathers grow back in where yellow is present now. If this happens, we will know right away that the bird was color-dyed.
Watch Those Yellows
Be careful when buying yellowing birds. If the birds are older and aging, some will be too old to breed. Improper diet or a lack of certain chemicals needed in the body can also cause a bird to feather in off-colored feathers, yellow or red. A few well-known birds that do carry a true pied gene: cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, ringnecked parakeets, some grass parakeets and green-cheeked conures.
Robbie Harris has a Web site so people can easily get in touch with her. She will post things she learns that may be of some importance to others, such as hoax e-mails. Questions for her Bird Breeder column can be sent through her Web site: www.robbieharris.com . She will answer questions that seem to be the most frequently asked and those that will help many.
Robbie Harris raises a wide variety of exotic birds at her home in Southern California. She has written two books, Breeding Conures and Grey-Cheeked Parakeets and Other Brotogeris, and owns and raises a large variety of African parrots, including greys, Jardine's, Capes, Senegals, red bellies, brown heads and Meyer's. Harris has received seven U.S. First Breeding Awards for various types of psittacines.