Conures are either large parakeets or small parrots that are found in the western hemisphere. They are analogous in size and way of life to the Old World's Rose-ringed Parakeets or the Australian parakeets. All living conure species are found in Central and South America; the extinct Conuropsis carolinensis or Carolina Parakeet was an exception.
Despite being large for parakeets, conures are lightly built with long tails and small (but strong) beaks. Conure beaks always have a small cere and are usually horn-colored or black. Most conure species live in flocks of 20 or more birds. Conures often eat grain, which causes them to be treated as agricultural pests in some places.
Conures are as diverse a group as African Parrots, so trying to characterize them all is difficult and inaccurate. The category conure is loosely-defined because they do not currently constitute a natural, scientific grouping. The macaws are so closely related to conures that strictly by descent, macaws could also be called "conures". The term conure is now used mostly in aviculture. Scientists and laypeople alike tend to refer to these birds as "parrots" or "parakeets." (See below under Scientific Classification for more details.)
Conures, as the term is used by aviculturists, include only the genera Aratinga and Pyrrhura, as well as several single-species genera and one double-species genus*. These other genera are listed below:
- Conuropsis: Carolina Parakeet (extinct)
- Cyanoliseus: Patagonian Conure
- Enicognathus: Austral and Slender-Billed Conures
- Guarouba: Golden or Queen Of Bavaria Conure
- Leptosittaca: Golden-Plumed Conure
- Nandayus: Nanday Conure
- Ognorhynchus: Yellow-Eared Conure
Latin for "little macaw," (ara - macaw, tinga - diminutive) the Aratinga conures generally seem to have a more mischievous personality than the real little macaws or mini macaws. The Aratinga conures are generally larger with brighter plumage and are generally the noisier, more outgoing, more demanding of the two primary conure genera. The Sun Conure and Jenday Conure are among the species of conures more commonly kept as pets.
Pyrrhura is the other large genus of conures. These generally greenish conures including the very common Green-cheeked Conure. Usually smaller, duller-colored, and quieter than the Aratinga conures, the Pyrrhura conures contain almost every conure species with a hyphen in the name, and the majority of Pyrrhura species names are hyphenated.
The Nanday conure, Nandayus nenday is the most commonly kept pet conure species outside of the two main genera. Some experts believe that Nandays should actually be grouped with the Aratinga genus, since they are cross-fertile with such species as Jendays and Suns. Nanday conures have a distinctive black head, and wings and tails tipped with dark blue feathers. They have a light-blue scarf and bright orange feathers on their legs and around their vents. The maturity of a Nanday can be told by the edges of its black hood: if the hood has a ragged edge of brown, then the bird is over a year old. Although Nandays are often said to be extremely noisy, it might be more accurate to say that they are a heavily flock-oriented species, used to making their demands known, calling out warnings for the group, and making inquiries about other members of the group who are out of sight. They are also extremely intelligent birds, capable of learning tricks, mimicking sounds, and learning a small vocabulary. At least one report suggests that they are highly adaptable to human encroachment on their territories, but the exact status of the species in the wild is unknown.
The Golden conure or Queen of Bavaria Conure, Guarouba guarouba (recently reclassified from Aratinga guarouba) is, as the name implies, covered all over with bright yellow feathers, except for the green wing-tip feathers and the greyish-horn-colored beak. Golden conures are among the most expensive conures both to purchase and to care for, although many owners feel that the benefits outweigh the cost. It is one of the rarest Conures in the wild in addition to the pet trade. Many experts believe that these birds should not be kept in captivity unless in a breeding program.
The Patagonian conure, Cyanoliseus patagonus, is a large conure found in the Patagonia region of south-central Argentina and Chile. Drab on the top, brighly colored underneath, the Patagonian conure has exploded in popularity since the 1990s, leading to an increase in illegal importation which threatens the wild populations. It is also known as the "burrowing parrot," due to its habit of nesting in holes in the ground. Unsurprisingly, Patagonians in captivity are great chewers, and have been known to munch through furniture and even walls.
The dusky red-tailed and green Austral conure and the descriptively named Slender-billed conure make up the genus Enicognathus. Although both birds in the genus are available in aviculture, neither is especially common in captivity.
The Golden-plumed conure, Leptosittaca branickii, is a small Andean conure not found in aviculture and endangered in its own habitat.
The exceedingly rare Yellow-eared conure or Ognorhynchus icterotis of Colombia and Ecuador was never common in aviculture and has not successfully bred in captivity.
Conuropsis carolinensis, the Carolina Parakeet, was the only parrot species indigenous to the United States. The Carolina parakeet was a remarkably social bird, living in vast flocks. American bird hunters reported that Carolina Parakeets would return to mourn dead members of the flock, making themselves easy targets. Considered a pest, popular in the pet trade, and bearing plumes feathers valued for hats, this species was hunted to extinction around the beginning of the 1900's.
The word conure is an old term and was originally used as a descriptive name for the members of the nolonger-used genus Conurus, which included the members of Aratinga and Pyrrhura.
The parrot order Psittaciformes is a rather confusing tangle of genera, many containing only one species. Parrots or Psittacines (order Psittaciformes) includes about 353 species of bird which are generally grouped into two families: the Cacatuidae or cockatoos, and the Psittacidae or true parrots. The term parrot is generally used for both the entire order as well as for the Psittacidae alone.
All members of the Psittaciformes order have a characteristic curved beak shape with the upper mandible having slight mobility in the joint with the skull and a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back.
The conures and all other New World parrots are often placed in a subfamily or tribe Arinae. Internal relationships of conures are poorly understood though it seems evident that, to make them a natural grouping, the Quaker parakeet1, the thick-billed parrot, and Brotogeris2 should be included, and often are. Neotropical parakeets, macaws, and other are also candidates potential for inclusion. In this scheme, "conure" would comprise members of the genera:
- Rhynchopsitta: Thick-billed parrot
- Myopsitta: Quaker parakeet
In addition the caiques and the hawk-headed parakeets have also been proposed for inclusion. Both the caiques and the Hawk-headed parakeets have a heavier build and different tail structure from traditional conures.
1The Quaker or Monk parakeet is technically a conure by almost anybody's definition, but due to its popularity in aviculture and its uniqueness, it is generally considered in a category of its own. 2Brotogeris are not only often counted as conures, but as parrotlets as well, and it is not clear precisely which one, or both, or neither, they belong to. Certainly the tail structure is different from that of the parrotlets, although the basic body structure seems to be analogous with both groups.