A Dusky Conure as a Pet Bird: An Affectionate and Clever Parrot
A Lovely Pet
Dusky conures can make lovely pets and companions. They are small and attractive parrots and are clever birds. My dusky conure is called Cece. She has been a member of my family for about ten years. I got her from a breeder when she was a youngster. She's an affectionate bird and has become a great friend, but she does have her feisty moments.
Wild dusky conures live in South America. Pet birds breed well in captivity. They are mainly green in colour but have a grey or blue-grey head. The abdomen and part of the wings may be yellow and the edges of the wings and tip of the tail may be a beautiful blue colour. The birds have a white ring around the eyes and their beak is black. Adult dusky conures are about eleven inches long.
Dusky conures are also known as Weddell's conures, dusky-headed conures, and dusky-headed parakeets. Their scientific name is Aratinga weddellii.
Cece, My Dusky Conure
Cece is the only conure that I have ever owned. Many sources say that dusky conures are sweet, clever, calm, and relatively quiet compared to other conures, who are generally noisy birds. Cece is clever and is often very sweet too—when she’s in the mood—but she is sometimes the opposite of calm and quiet! She is strong willed and is very assertive at times. She has a loud call, but she also makes gentle chirping sounds when she is happy and relaxed.
Cece loves to perch on me and walk over my clothes. She likes to investigate everything that I do. (Since she tries to help herself to my food, I have to put her on a perch attached to her cage while I'm eating.) Sometimes she decides to relax and preen her feathers while she's perched on me. At other times she decides to nestle under my clothes. She often becomes silent and motionless when she has settled under my sweater or shirt. I have to remember that I'm carrying an invisible bird around so that she doesn't get hurt by my movements.
Sometimes Cece turns upside down on my lap for a stroke. These moments are lovely. It's wonderful to have the trust of a bird. Some owners recommend that only the head and neck of a bird should be petted and that the rest of the body should be avoided. They say that stroking in certain places may be stimulating for the bird. If it becomes sexually frustrated, it may develop behaviour problems. This is something that a person should investigate and consider before they bring a new bird into their home.
Cece often behaves like the bird in the video above. She must be in the right mood, however. She lets me know if she isn't with an irritated vocalization and by putting firm pressure on one of my fingers with her beak. She's an affectionate but assertive bird.
Gender of a Conure
I don’t know Cece’s gender. Male and female conures look identical externally. I suspect that Cece is a male, based on certain aspects of “her” behavior, but when I first got her I referred to her as “she” and I’ve got used to doing this. Her gender could be determined by looking at DNA from a blood test, but I don’t want to put her through this. I don’t intend to breed her so it really doesn’t matter whether she’s a male or a female.
Food for a Pet Bird
The main food for a dusky conure should be bird pellets with good ingredients. The diet needs to be supplemented with pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. Although some seeds in a conure's diet are okay, perhaps as part of the pellets, many pet experts recommend avoiding an all-seed diet. They say that seeds don't provide all the nutrients that birds need. Observers know that conures in the wild feed on more than just seeds.
Cece and Petra, my moustache parakeet, love cooked sweet potatoes and corn in addition to their pellets. Some other suitable foods for conures are carrots, peas, green beans, broccoli, spinach, apples without the seeds, pears, oranges and cooked grains such as millet and rice. Sugary, fatty, or salty junk food shouldn't be given to dusky conures. Avocado and chocolate must be avoided, since they contain compounds that are poisonous for pet birds. Caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided.
A cage needs to be big enough and interesting enough to keep a conure happy. (No matter how interesting the cage, the bird shouldn't be left in it all day.) My cage is thirty inches tall and twenty-four inches wide. Another factor to consider is that the bars of a cage should not be so far apart that a bird can get a head stuck between them.
Cece spends the night in her cage but is free flying for most of the day, provided someone is home and nearby. Cece sleeps in a "hut" that hangs from the upper bars of the cage. The hut is a triangular enclosure that is open at both ends. Huts can be bought at pet stores.
Petra usually spends the night on a perch attached to the top of Cece's cage. Both birds are in an enclosed area at night. Petra and Cece do sometimes get into the same cage when the door is open, but I've never tried closing the door of a cage when both birds are inside.
If your conure is free flying at any time, you need to plan where the bird is allowed to travel in order to keep him or her—and your furniture—safe. All escape routes must be blocked. Even if your bird can't fly, you need to decide where he is allowed to explore. You also need to keep your eye on him, especially if there are other pets or young children in the house. Even adults need to be careful if a bird decides to travel over the floor or a sofa where they may get accidentally hurt.
I heard a horrible story from one of my former students, which will hopefully act as a warning to other bird owners. He had two lovebirds, which he was very fond of. One of them got onto the seat of the sofa. My student didn't notice this and sat on the bird, killing it.
Games and Baths for Pet Birds
Conures need toys and activities to keep them physically and mentally happy. The toys need to be made of safe materials. The activities need to be changed regularly so that the bird doesn't get bored.
Conures like to take showers or baths occasionally. My birds love bathing in a dog food bowl and always get very excited during this activity. Some birds enjoy being sprayed with a fine mist. It's important that the water in the bath isn't too hot or too cold. If you decide to let your bird bathe under running water, it's also important that the flow isn't too strong. Although the bird in the video above is obviously enjoying the bath, I would personally prefer a gentler flow of water for Cece. A bird mustn't get cold after a bath when he or she has wet feathers.
A Conure in the Family: Some Drawbacks
In my experience—and in the experiences of many other dusky conure owners—it's definitely worthwhile getting one of these birds as a pet. Their advantages far outweigh their drawbacks as far as I am concerned. However, you should be aware of these drawbacks. They may be more important to you than they are to me.
Cage Maintenance and Veterinary Care
As is true for any pet, looking after a dusky conure requires time and money. The cage must be an adequate size for your bird and needs to be cleaned regularly. The bird's beak and claws need to be kept in good condition. Special perches, cuttlebones, and mineral blocks help to do this. You will need to visit the vet if necessary, carrying the bird in a safe container. An avian vet is the best kind to visit because he or she specializes in treating birds.
Personal attention to a pet can be time consuming, especially when there are multiple pets in a family, but it's essential for the animal's well-being. In the wild, dusky conures live in pairs, small groups, and large flocks. They are social birds. As pets, they need company, even if their companion is a human instead of another bird.
Based on the video above, Rocky seems to enjoy helping himself to human food, just like Cece. Be careful what your pet bird eats. He or she may pick up something unhealthy or even dangerous.
The Price of Good Food
Another possible drawback for a dusky conure owner is the price of food. Good food is needed to keep your bird in top condition. You should probably try to avoid the bird food that most supermarkets sell. Pet store food may be more expensive and the store may be located further from your house than your local supermarket. A good diet helps to keep the bird's immune system working properly, however, so it's worth searching for healthy food. You will also need to buy fruits and vegetables for your conure.
I have to travel quite a long way to buy my favourite food. Luckily, the specialty bird store that I visit sells the food in bulk, so I freeze some of it when I get home. I also appreciate the owner's extensive knowledge of birds. The store is associated with an avian vet. The vet's clinic used to be located right next to the bird store but is now found a short distance away. If you own a pet, make sure that you know the location, route, and open hours to your nearest emergency vet in case a visit is ever necessary.
Anything that enters a dusky conure's mouth—including his or her toys—must be safe for the bird to chew.
Dusky conures are chewers and complete their damage rapidly. I’ve got small holes in several items of clothing, since Cece spends a lot of time perched on me. I’ve learned to wear old clothes in the house because I’m not going to stop carrying her around. Cece does sometimes nip me when she is in one of her feisty moods, but she's never bitten hard enough to make me bleed.
It’s definitely not a good plan to wear anything valuable around a dusky conure, including jewelry such as earrings. Be very careful if you wear hearing aids and have a pet bird who perches on your shoulder, especially if the hearing aid has any visible parts that the bird could damage.
Cece can be noisy when she's excited, such as when she sees someone coming down the driveway or when she's interacting with Petra. I live in a house, not an apartment, but even so I can hear Cece and Petra shrieking together from outside the house. Luckily the calls don't last for long. Cece may be noisier than she would normally be because she's copying Petra. I'm glad that Cece has Petra's companionship as well as mine. She enjoys his company even though he belongs to a different species.
Training a Conure
Conures aren't great talkers, which may be a disadvantage for some people. When the birds do produce words they are often indistinct—or so I've read. I've never tried to teach Cece to speak. Conures can be taught to perform tricks, however, although once again I've never tried this with Cece. She creates interesting behaviours on her own.
Like other pet birds, dusky conures can be messy, dropping food when it's only half eaten and pooping whenever they feel the urge. Newspaper or another covering below a popular perch can make clean-up easier. Some people say that they have been able to potty train their dusky conure, getting the bird to poop on command in a suitable place.
Pet birds should be bought from a reputable breeder. They should never be wild-caught birds.
Should You Get a Dusky Conure?
One thing to be aware of is that conures can live for as long as twenty-five years. You need to think about the future. Is the bird likely to outlive you? If so, is there someone that you trust who will take of your bird when you are no longer able to?
If you're prepared for the work involved in looking after a pet bird and for the other possible drawbacks, a dusky conure makes a great pet. I'm very fond of Cece. Her occasional bad moods are annoying when they happen, but her good moods are wonderful. It's lovely to have a close relationship with a parrot.
References and Resources
© 2012 Linda Crampton