At one time Patagonian Conures were imported in their hundreds. The result was that the prices rapidly fell to make them one of the cheapest of the large conures. They are easily as big as the biggest of the so-called “Mini Macaws” and unfortunately they have equally loud voices. It might be my imagination, but to me they seemed to vocalise more than the mini macaws. An unusual feature of these conures is that they nest in burrows in colonies in sandstone or limestone cliffs in their area of distribution.
Their size and unusual colour make them desirable in a collection of South American parrots. As we see in the photographs, they are basically olive-browns, yellow and red with a touch of white. The brown is unusual in South American parrots, the vast majority of which are various shades of green along with yellows, whites, reds and blue.
There are three subspecies: the Greater Patagonian Conure (which is confined to Chile), the Lesser, which is also the nominate subspecies found in central to southern Argentina, and the Andean subspecies found only in north-western Argentina. The Greater Patagonian Conure (Cyanoliseus patagonus byroni also called bloxami in recent literature) is bigger and with brighter red and yellow than the other two subspecies. This subspecies had been reduced to 2,800 birds as counted in a census in 1983 and is now a protected species in Chile. This was as a result of hunting for the pot and trapping. The nominate subspecies, Cyanoliseus patagonus patagonus, is still common in its range in Argentina but is being persecuted by poisoning, shooting and trapping because of flocks raiding cultivated crops. In spite of this the biggest parrot colony in the world (reported to be 35,000 birds) occurs in the cliffs of Patagonia province in Argentina.
I wonder whether any of the Greater subspecies were ever imported in the 1990’s when the Austral and Slender-bill Conures were being imported, especially as the Slender-bill Conure shares more or less the same range in Chile.
Fortunately, Patagonian Conures are easy to feed as they will take the usual seeds used by most South African aviculturists. Sunflower seed, wheat, oats, canary seed, millet and no doubt sorghum are eaten, as well as the cooked mixture of maize and peas or beans. To these can be added the usual supplements, such as Avi-Plus Parrot/Parakeet, Avi-Plus Twinpack vitamin, minerals and trace elements that one would add to the feed for the rest of the parrot collection. One would have to experiment with greens and fruit as it is said that they don’t take greens readily. This could have applied largely to the original wild caught birds but not necessarily to the captive birds we have available today.
Hand rearing is easy using Avi-Plus handrearing formula. An overseas breeder says that the babies behave just like Yellow-collared Macaws when being hand reared. It is said that the babies make delightful pets when hand reared and are very intelligent, but there is always the noise factor to deal with!
Patagonian Conures are big birds and therefore are not suited to very small aviaries. If you can afford the space, an aviary 3.6m long x 900mm wide x 900mm or 1200mm high for a suspended cage or 2m high for a walk in aviary is a good size. Remember they are strong flying birds and are designed in nature to cover large distances every day.
They also have robust beaks and can easily demolish wooden nest boxes and thin welded mesh, so make sure the nest box is of hard wood, e.g. a hard hollow tree trunk or something they cannot easily destroy. They are colony breeders in nature so many people keep them in colonies for breeding. I personally never had enough pairs to attempt true colony breeding and even the other breeders that I have spoken to are not agreed whether colony breeding yields better results than breeding with single pairs.
I personally favour allowing the birds to select their own partners in a colony and then moving the bonded pairs to single cages close to each other for breeding. This prevents fledglings from being bitten by other adults before they can look after themselves. In nature the fledglings can get away from other adults, but no colony cage is ever big enough for them to get away from all the other adults. This can lead to them being bitten and consequently stressed.
In captivity they will breed in normal nest boxes. Nevertheless I favour a horizontal nest box as this is closest to the tunnel nest they would excavate in the sandstone cliff face.
I am not sure how many breeding pairs of Patagonian conures we have in South Africa. I believe it is not too many! These birds are no longer readily available and will never be imported in large numbers again. This means that unless someone breeds them scarcity will push the price up, so someone who doesn’t have close neighbours needs to breed them to keep the species going in South Africa.
In spite of all the good reasons for breeding them they are not a bird for everyone because of their loud raucous call. They are certainly not suitable for suburban backyards.