The Dusky-headed or Weddell's Conure

by Colin Scott, UK.

The Dusky-headed or Weddell's Conure (Aratinga weddellii) is one of the less well-known members of the South American parakeet family. At 11 inches (28cm) in length, it is slightly smaller than the better-known Sun Conure (A. solstitialis). Although basically green with a grey head, various shades of blue and yellow mixed into the green make them attractive birds none the less. I have not found them to be excessively noisy, or destructive to the aviary framework, and aviaries for the smaller conures need not be that large, 6 feet x 3 feet x 6 feet high (2m x 1m x 2m) is quite adequate. Well-shaded or covered flights giving lots of privacy are high on the agenda for breeding success. A stout nest box if placed in a well-sheltered position will always be used for roosting and so removes the need for an enclosed shelter. Although I would not use wire netting for these birds, although 19 gauge weld mesh is quite suitable. As already stated nest boxes should be very well made, as they are usually the focus of any destructive tendencies. My original pair used to use a nest box 6 inches square by 18 inches high, this box was built on a 45 degree angle and had an 8 inch long tunnel about 3 inches square fitted for access. A young pair last year used an ordinary upright box 7 inches square by 20 inches high, with just the usual hole for entry.

I feed my conures on a mixture of soaked sunflower, chopped fruit such as apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes, chopped raw carrots, celery, and beetroot, plus peas and sweetcorn. Also offered is an egg softfood , mynah pellets, bread moistened with milk and a small amount of budgie mix with added safflower. My conures are also offered livefood in the form of mealworms and wax moth larvae. Although the Dusky-heads never took any, it is surprising which species will accept them, Golden-wing, Tovi, and Plain Parakeets, plus Peach-fronted Conures, and African Greys.

Clutch size varies from 2-5, but usually 3-4 eggs, and incubation lasts 23-24 days. As with most parrots incubation starts when the first egg is laid, as each egg is laid every other day, so the eggs will hatch likewise, thus if you have a clutch of five, eggs the last egg could hatch up to ten days after the first. The young usually leave the box after seven weeks, but return to roost, often with their mother incubating the next round of eggs. The parents seem very tolerant of their chicks, even when they are independent. Dusky-heads will go to nest at any time of the year.

These birds are said to be common throughout their range in the wild, but are uncommon in captivity, however, at the Parrot Society show at Stafford last October, a dealer had a small shipment of captive bred birds imported from South Africa for sale.

The Parrot Society Breeding Register for 1993 records 9 birds being bred by 3 contributors, in 1998, just 7 birds were bred. This lack of interest in this enchanting parakeet is no doubt due to their sober colouring, for if you compare the above figures with those of it's spectacular cousin, the Sun Conure, you will find 145 birds bred in 1993 and 164 in 1998. The Parrot Society is running a breeding register again, for birds bred during the year 2002, and I would urge all members to keep records of what they have bred so they can contribute (anonymously if necessary) to this important publication.

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