Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of the Golden Conure

February 25th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of the Golden Conure
Tony Silva NEWS

That morning I went to the Ver-o-Peso, the market sitting on the mouth of the mighty Amazon River, in the Brazilian city of Belém do Pará. I had gone there to buy fruits, as I do in every city across the globe. That day I bought extra, so that I could take some to a man I had barely met. The fruit would be payment for sitting with me and discussing a subject he had mentioned casually, almost fleeting several days earlier.

The information seemed incredible. The man was known locally as Nascimento—a short, slightly overweight and irascible figure whose personality metamorphosed when he spoke about birds. He had told me that the birds I was asking about nested in group, selecting an emergent typically in a cleared area or agricultural field and reared the young as a family. This seemed incredible.

No conure was known to nest in such a manner; indeed the perception was that they were highly territorial when Golden conures are breeding, aggressively chasing any pair some distance from the immediate vicinity of their nest. Nascimento argued vehemently against that concept. I was writing at the time my A Monograph of Endangered Parrots and wanted to learn much more. The bird involved was the Golden Conure (Guaruba guarouba), the ararajuba or yellow macaw in the indigenous language.



One of the Golden Conure comming from collection of the author. (c) Tony Silva


Nascimento was a bird trapper but also a keen observer. Every detail he described in our many discussions over the years were confirmed by researchers years or decades later. He told me that the Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazona aestiva) nested in some areas in terrestrial termitaria (at the time the only ground nesting Amazon was the Bahamas race of Amazona leucocephala), that the “Sun Conures” (Aratinga solstitialis) in the Brazilian range were a different form from the type found further north (ie. in the Guianas and Venezuela), sporting a perpetual immature plumage (the form is now called Sulphur-breasted Conure Aratinga maculate) and that the Spix´s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) would vanish, as the population was small and facing multiple pressures—habitat modification by goats, Africanized bees and excess trapping. He was right in every instance. He was also correct in his claim about the Golden Conures nesting in groups. Multiple females will lay in a cavity and then then entire clan will rear the young.

Golden Conures are stunning birds. Georg Marcgraf, who apparently knew the species as a cage bird, described it for the first time in 1638. He mentioned it and other species then known in Dutch Brazil. No writer since then has failed to be impressed by its beauty.

The Golden Conure are to me the epitome of Brazil, sporting the green and yellow colors of the flag. They are a large conure, are typically noisy and when tame extremely gentle. If I ever catch any of my adults and move them away from the their cage, they quickly revert to their tameness and will readily step up on my hand. They are only aggressive when nesting, when they would not hesitate to attack any introding hand.


golden conure facility

metal nestboxes intended for breeding of this species. (c) Tony Silva


Golden Conures are very sociable. In groups, they play excitedly and are constantly interacting. In such a setting, the feathers seem to often suffer from the excess attention, with the flights and tail feathers being chewed. Only if they receive continuous enrichment will they leave the feathers alone. The effort is in my opinion justified as the interaction of the group will provide hours of observation. Pairs tend to be less vulnerable to feather chewing, though also need to be kept occupied.

To satisfy the energy level, we provide our birds with three forms of enrichment continuously: sections of decomposing wood, which they chew; pods and palm nuts (including split coconuts), which provide a source of food for which they must expand considerable time to reach; and green branches, preferably containing flowers or flower buds. Within each category, there is tremendous variation. For example, we provide branches of guava, carambola (starfruit), royal poinciana, hibiscus and many others, palm fronds, and even banana leaves. The birds will often consume the bark, fresh tips and flowers and then they spend hours chewing the remainder.

The sociable nature of the Golden Conure (Guaruba guarouba) allows it to be bred in groups or in trios; in Brazil many several collections breed two females to one male. I breed mine in pairs but house them collaterally, which has a stimulating effect. Indeed, over the decades I have also found that pairs housed in a group tend to nest successfully earlier (average 31.9 months, 18 pairs) compared to pairs kept in an isolated manner (average 42.3 months, 11 pairs). Interestingly I have also found that the pairs housed in groups collaterally will nest much more prolifically (average 2.9 clutches per annum) than those housed singly (1.7 clutches per annum).


golden conure chick

Chick of the Golden Conure bred by the author. (c) Tony Silva


In terms of diet for Golden Conures, we treat them like miniature macaws. They receive fruits, vegetables, cooked whole grain pasta and brown rice, pellets, sprouted grains and seeds, and wheat bread liberally smeared with almond or peanut butter, some cracked walnuts or almonds, or a bit of sunflower seed. The fatty component to the diet is varied. We can grow a number of items that they find in the wild and these, even in birds that are generations from their wild ancestors, are preferred above other fruit. They will, for example, eat the astringent cashew fruit (note fruit, not the nut) and also the seeds of guava over temperate fruits or vegetables.

The diet is made austere in our Florida winter, and consists primarily of pellets, vegetables and a fat component, but starting in February (the approach of spring) they receive sprouted seeds, pasta or rice, fruits and much more fat. Their nests are filled with rotted wood and sprinklers are placed over the cages to allow daily bathing for a period of about 10 minutes. The birds typically nest a month later. They do not stop nesting during the heart of summer like many other parrots in the collection, but seem impervious to the heat.

Why do we augment the fat in the diet for nesting? Many years ago I collected the crop contents of wild youngsters being parent reared, as well as of adults which Nascimento had trapped. There was a distinct increase in the fat content of foods being fed to the young. This observation has also been made in macaws.


golden conures chicks2

Older youngers. (c) Tony Silva


Enclosure and nest size seem to be less important than diet in this species. I have had pairs nest successfully in cages 1.8 m (6 ft) long and aviaries 4.5 m (15 ft) long. Rarely will the pairs utilize the flight space; instead they will quickly crawl from one end to the other. Mine nest in boxes 40 cm (16 in) deep and 30 cm (12 in) square or in L-shaped nests made for medium sized parrots. They do not seem to be very demanding in terms of the nest and once a pair laid in a log placed on their enclosure floor for chewing.

Golden Conures lay clutches of 3-5 eggs, with 4 being average. Incubation in my birds oscillates around 26 days. Young are born with a white down with a yellow hint. The bill is large and is shovel like. They develop a scant secondary down, being rather naked. The chicks from a young age recognize their feeder and people they see regularly and are extremely alert; I often see them following me as I move around the hand-rearing room. They are adorable as they feather out and this results in them receiving far more attention than the other young. Like macaws, they can flip on their backs when startled. Weaning can be a problem, with some calling constantly with wings outstretched and others weaning relatively easily. I have found that young that tend to cry for food and are slow to wean often have slight bacterial or fungal infections.



The Golden Conure was once rare, but as more and more are produced in aviculture, this species is becoming readily available. Indeed, in Brazil there are collections that focus on producing young for the pet trade. As aviary birds they would be one species I would never be without. They still mesmerize me like that hot morning decades ago when Nascimento took me to the Gurupí area and showed me as bird after bird left the nesting site to forage. That day I was struck by its unique nesting habits but above all by the brilliant yellow birds as they flew into the forest to feed. If you ever have the opportunity, do not hesitate and add this conure to your collection.


Title photo: (c) Derek Ramsey. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license and GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.



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