Crimson Star's Sun Conures Page

Sun Conures are without doubt the most attractive members of the conure family. In fact, their rich golden- yellow bodies and pronounced red cheeks, make them a sure standout in any bird collection.

Until quite recently, these birds were very rare, very expensive and very noisy! Fortunately for parrot breeders everywhere, domestically raised Sun Conures are now usually readily available, not quite so expensive anymore and, if hand-raised, they are not objectionably noisy.

I have been breeding Sun Conures for about eight years and have found them capable of nesting at one year of age. It therefore surprises me to keep hearing from people whose birds have done nothing after several years, except for roosting in the nestbox. In most of these cases, the owners report that both of the conures are identical in appearance, as far as they can tell.

From my experience, the male and female Sun Conures can be sexed by the time they are fully feathered, at about eight weeks. At this time, the males are the ones with less red showing on the face and head; the females will appear to have more red or brighter red by comparison.

By the time the babies are between four and six months old, the colors start to change and the males suddenly acquire more red on the cheeks, head and nape. The females do not lose any of their red, it's just that the males end up with more.

The only problem with sexing Sun Conures with this method, is that you need several to compare. If you have only one, or if the ones you have are in fact all the same, then it is almost impossible to tell the sex unless you have had a lot of experience with them.

When buying Sun Conures, you should be just as choosy as you would be if buying a budgie or cockatiel. If the birds do not appear in perfect condition, do not accept any excuses and do not buy them. There are plenty around these days to select from.

As when purchasing any parrot, you should first examine the nostrils and make sure that there is no discharge or obstruction. Check the eyes for discharge or scaly tissue. Open the beak; shine a flashlight into the roof of the mouth and you will see a slit. Be sure that this slit is free of discharge, free from any obstructions, and does not appear inflamed. Also check under the tongue for signs of inflammation.

Next, locate the breastbone and run your finger along it - it should not feel bony. Gently squeeze the chest on either side of the breastbone - it should feel firm, not sunken. If the bird's chest feels like the keel of a ship, don't buy it.

Finally, check the vent for signs of discharge, obstruction or inflammation. The feathers surrounding the vent should be clean and dry; if they have been plucked away or cut off, do not buy the bird. Of course, you should also check the overall general appearance of the bird: feathers, beak, feet, etc.

Not all trouble can be spotted when you buy your birds. My first pair of Sun Conures died about a year after I bought them. One had cancer of the liver (common in conures, the vet said) while the other died during a seizure (due to hypoglycemia, the vet said). Since then, I have never had any illness among the Sun Conures and I believe that they are probably hardier than many other members of the parrot family.

If you are buying Sun Conures for breeding purposes, it is absolutely essential that the male and female be unrelated. My second pair of Sun Conures came from eastern Canada; the owner had bought them from two different pet shops at about the same time and assumed that the birds were unrelated.

The conures started breeding shortly after I obtained them (April 1977.) They had three clutches in the 1977/1978 season; three babies hatched, three were dead-in- shell. The three babies that hatched all had deformed legs. Two were removed at about six days of age for handfeeding and lived, the other was left with the parents and died when three days old.

The nestbox was removed, but by 1980 the parents were acting so unhappy that the nestbox was provided again. One baby hatched and looked normal at first, but by three days of age a leg was twisted and the baby died on the seventh day.

Recently, I was able to provide a new mate for each original bird and the results have been excellent. Conclusion: the original pair were brother and sister. All of which brings me back to my opening mandate: your breeding stock must be unrelated! Your best bet would probably be to buy each bird from a breeder living in a different state or province. Breeders in the same area tend to swap babies around and you just can't be sure about who's who. One thing is sure: if you aren't careful, you may be letting yourself in for some very heartbreaking experiences.

My Sun Conures are kept in home-made breeding cages, measuring two feet wide, two feet deep and three feet tall. I use one inch by two inch welded wire fastened together with J-clips. If you can't find a source for these materials in your area, there are several advertisers in ACBM that can supply you with everything that you will need, at prices that are less (in the U.S.) than I have to pay locally here in Vancouver.

Sun Conures do have strong beaks and they do love to chew, especially when breeding, so I think welded-wire construction is more practical than the conventional poultry- wire and wood-frame construction normally used for birds of this size. I use a wooden tray, six inches tall, that sits inside the cage. The cage must be lifted up and set aside in order to clean the tray, but I have never had a bird fly under and out while doing this and I have been doing it this way for eight years.

Make the door no less than six by nine inches but no larger than eight by ten inches. Use large cups for water and seed: I have used plastic, aluminum and galvanized types without any problems. During the non-breeding season, I use pop-bottle waters as they do not have to be cleaned every day. Any open seed or water dish must be cleaned every day to protect against mold or algae or other unpleasant organisms.

A cockatiel-size nestbox is sufficient, that is, about twelve inches on each side and twelve inches deep. Mine are made from one-half inch plywood lined with aluminum on the inside bottom to discourage chewing. The top of the nestbox should be hinged to swing up so you can inspect it easily. Hang the nestbox on the outside of the cage, after cutting a hole in the wire to match the hole in the nestbox. The hole should be about two inches in diameter -- the birds will make it larger if necessary.

In this manner you may inspect the nestbox with the least bother to the breeding conures. Just open the lid slowly, so they don't panic. Mine simply climb into the cage until I put the lid back down, then they go back inside. I have never had a bird escape from its nest, nor have any of my Sun Conures deserted their eggs or babies as a result of my (almost) daily inspections. (Do not try this with Indian Ringnecks or Double Yellow Heads!)

My Sun Conures are kept indoors in a finished but unheated basement room. The temperature may rise to more than 90F in the summer, but doesn't drop below about 50F in the winter. (The door to the birdroom is always kept closed.) For five or six year I employed a humidifier set for continuous operation but have not used it for the last three breeding seasons. The room is dustier and I sneeze more, but the birds seem just as happy and healthy and the incidence of egg-binding and dead-in-shell has not increased at all. (Actually, I have never had egg-binding except in my lovebirds and a few of my budgies!)

A bank of fluorescent lights is controlled by an automatic timer. The "on/off" cycle is changed throughout the year to keep pace with the seasons. As a result, the birds keep to a regular breeding routine. In February of this year, my two pairs of Sun Conures, one pair of Amboina Kings, one pair of Eclectus, and one pair of Splendids all laid their first clutch of the season during the same week and during the two week period that they started last year. If you think this is not too important, let me ask you this: how do you plan your holidays?

There is also a single light controlled manually by a switch outside the birdroom, so I can go inside in the middle of the night without disturbing anybody too much. I found sneaking in with a flashlight was a traumatic experience for the birds and a sure way to wake up the rest of the neighborhood (thanks to the macaws). If there is a little light on, the birds will see you and not object beyond a few muttered curses.

It is my belief that birdrooms with macaws or amazons in them do not require burglar alarms; indeed, if the macaw or amazon was left out of its cage, the room might rightly be considered burglar- proof!

Although there are several windows in my birdroom, I have covered them with black plastic to keep people and animals from looking inside. Also, I noticed that the birds would panic whenever somebody's feet trotted by before I covered the windows. No sunlight enters this room, yet the birds breed well and are in excellent health. On the other hand, I had ten pairs of cockatiels indoors for three years and they never raised one baby but as soon as they went outside things were fine!

My birds are fed and taken care of each morning, then they are left in peace for the rest of the day. Just before the lights go out at night, I look in to make sure everyone is okay. If there is any work to be done, it is done in the afternoon, when the birds seem to be in a calmer frame of mind. Of course, no work is carried out when there are eggs or babies present, although I think my Sun Conures would probably tolerate a moderate level of noise and disturbance without becoming upset.

You may not have a spare room for your Sun Conures, or you may have obtained them as pets and decided to breed them "just for fun." I feel that these birds are free breeding, excellent sitters, and medium-good parents, so you should be able to breed them in a room that people will be in regularly, provided that everyone keeps a respectful distance. Remember, visiting hours at a hospital's maternity ward are also restricted--you can't just barge in any old time (that privilege is reserved for the baby).

If your birds do appear nervous when you are around and neither of you has anywhere else to go, try hanging a curtain in front of the cage or turn the furniture so people face away from the birds. Sometimes. being rude is the same as being polite.

A good diet is important if you want your birds to stay healthy and have strong babies. I have been feeding all of my birds Toppers' mixes for about two years and I am satisfied with the results. Previously, I provided a mix made by myself using sunflower, safflower, millet, canary, niger, groats and buckwheat, supplemented with Avitron added to the drinking water. Cuttlebone is supplied, but I no longer provide grit except in special cases.

Sun Conures will destroy spray millet, but enjoy spinach, carrots, celery, peas, oranges, apples, pears, corn and a lot of bread soaked with milk and honey. I provide a treat food once or twice a week normally, but every day when babies are in the nest.

A clutch from my Sun Conures can consist of only two eggs or as many as four eggs; usually three eggs, Incubation has been as short as 25 days, is normally about 28 days, but was once 32 days. For one of my pairs, both male and female spend all of their time in the nestbox with the eggs, For the second pair, only the female looks after the eggs.

About 5% of the eggs are clear, while almost 20% of the eggs are dead-in-shell. These figures have been consistent from day one, despite changes in diet, humidity, nestbox construction, lighting or changing partners. My advice: be thankful for what you get and enjoy the babies that hatch.

If an egg hasn't hatched when it should, leave it in the nest for an extra week or ten days just to be sure. If it still hasn't hatched, remove it and discard it.

With a bit of luck, the parents will take care of the babies until they are old enough to look after themselves. This isn't always the case though; one of my pairs will raise all of the babies in one clutch, but completely ignore the babies from the next clutch.

If you have any budgies on eggs, you can place the Sun Conure babies in with them, provided the Sun Conures are only one day old. I have a pair of budgies that raised four Sun Conures last year, including two at one time. It was amazing, considering that the Sun Conures ended up about three times the size of the budgies.

In most cases though, I find it necessary to hand-raise the deserted or abandoned babies. For a brooder, I use a cardboard box about the same size as the nestbox, but only about eight inches tall. An electric heating pad is placed on top of the box and the control is adjusted to maintain a temperature in the box of about 100F.

I recently tried placing the pad under the box, thinking that would be more convenient, but lost a valuable five-day-old Amboina King Parrot baby when the brooder overheated to about 110F for about two hours.

The babies themselves should be placed in a small container, lined with paper towels, and then placed in the brooder. This keeps the babies separated from each other, preventing larger ones from injuring the smaller ones and making it easier to clean and feed them.

Change the paper towels whenever they become soiled, or the bird's droppings may cake onto the baby's toes and prevent them from growing. One of my first Eclectus babies lost a toe that way.

The subject of hand-feeding is very complex and is not recommended unless you have no other choice. Many articles have been written on the subject in the past several years, but I still stick with the baby formulas and feeding techniques used by Mrs. Velma Hart. (Parrots and Related Birds, by Bates and Busenbark.) The instructions that appear are quite straight forward, the formulas are easy to prepare and use, and Mrs. Hart describes many potential problems and treatments that you will need to know about.

I always spoon-feed my babies. I believe that this is safer and I feel that spoon-fed babies are considerably more tame than tube-fed babies. Sun Conures are very easy to spoon-feed, if you use one of those little plastic stir- spoons from McDonald's. You probably thought those spoons were for stirring coffee but they are actually just the right size to fit the beak of a one day old Sun Conure. (Maybe Ronald McDonald raises baby parrots?)

Hand-feeding a baby Sun Conure (Copyright Crimson Star. All rights reserved.)

Baby Sun Conure (Copyright Crimson Star. All rights reserved.)

A Sun Conure baby weighs about six grams when born, but grows quickly.

At about fourteen days, the eye slits start to open. By twenty days, both eyes are open and green pinfeathers start to appear on the wings with the feet and beak turning darker also.

By twenty-two days, you may notice tiny red pin-feathers around the beak and nostrils and by thirty days there will be tiny red feathers on the head.

By seven weeks of age, you should be able to start feeding the babies some soft foods, such as hard-boiled eggs (chopped up) and fine bread crumbs soaked in milk and honey.

By ten weeks you can start them on hulled seed, available from health food stores. By fifteen weeks they should be cracking and eating seeds by themselves and just about independent. (Babies left with their parents would progress much faster.)

The spoon-fed babies actually think they are people by this time and will follow you everywhere, unafraid of any dogs, cats or teenagers that may be lurking around your house. My very first spoon-fed Sun Conure learned to say "hello Sammy" by the time he was twenty weeks old. His voice was very clear, his pronunciation perfect, and he only said this when someone talked to him first, in other words, he was quiet, something that regular Sun Conures are not!

If you are looking for some small parrots to breed, but want something more exotic than the usual cockatiels, ringnecks or lovebirds, then I recommend that you try Sun Conures. They have all the characteristics that encourage success, without any of the drawbacks that the larger parrots have.

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Crimson Star, last updated on Saturday, March 01, 2014 10:21 AM