Scientific name: Cyanoliseus patagonus patagonus
Common name: Burrowing Parrot
Adult weight: 240-310g.
Expected lifespan: 30 years.
Adult length: of Lesser Patagonian 45cm (18in). This is the largest of the Conures (and only the Queen of Bavaria’s equals its weight).
Distribution: Much of Argentina except the far south and southern Uruguay; isolated population (bloxami) in Chile.
Distinguishing a young bird
Look at the beak! In adult birds it is black. In young ones the centre part of the upper mandible and the entire lower mandible is whitish horn-coloured. Only the sides of the upper mandible are black. By the age of about six months the beak colour is changing.
The eye colour is much slower to change. It is grey in young birds and greyish-white in adults. I made a note regarding one young Greater Patagonian that the iris was still grey when it was ten months old. The plumage is alike except for the shorter tail on fledging.
The Greater Patagonian (C.p.bloxami) is rare and unlikely to be encountered in aviculture. It is distinguished by its larger size (53cm) and weighs between 315g and 390g. It also has a prominent white band on the breast whereas this is only faintly indicated in the Lesser. Note that female Greaters weigh less than males so there is almost an overlap in weight of the two sub-species.
Suitability as a pet
As a great lover of Patagonian Conures, I would be prepared to put up with the noise inconvenience in return for their sweet nature. If hand-reared they are adorable and less noisy than the wild-caught birds that gave the species a bad reputation. But, of course, they need plenty of company, stimulation and affection to prevent their loud calls from becoming frequent.
These Conures can learn to mimic speech. I found them to be amazingly gentle birds and that even wild-caught birds did not attempt to bite when handled. When an adult Patagonian was brought to a meeting of the Parrot club that I run, it flew around, visiting different people and landing on them. I was confident that it would not bite anyone -- and it did not. Few Parrots are totally trustworthy but in my opinion Patagonians are!
Status in Wild
Threatened and declining yet still classified as “Least Concern” by IUCN. In December 2009 El Cóndor, the main breeding colony in Patagonia, was made a Nature Reserve (Estuary of the Rio Negro River and nearby areas).
Why is it endangered?
Trapping for the live bird trade, persecution as a crop pest and conversion of grasslands for agriculture. Its habit of breeding in large and conspicuous colonies has made it extremely vulnerable to persecution and to thefts of chicks from nests.
As a highly social nesting species, once it has become locally extinct, it is unlikely ever to re-colonise the area. Its distribution has been shrinking since the start of the 19th century; it is now extinct in the provinces of Córdoba and Buenos Aires and has declined everywhere throughout its range.
The tradition of persecuting these Conures is a long one. In 1963 they were declared agricultural pests under an Argentine national law. Some damage to fruit and cereal crops occurs but this is not intense. The law has now been overturned.
In the recent past a scandalous number of Patagonian Conures were exported to Europe. As an example, in 1997 and 1998 the shocking total of 10,140 Lesser Patagonians was exported to Spain. Thousands more went to other countries.
This was a tragedy for individual birds that had never been separated from their own species and called incessantly to be reunited with them when kept alone as “pets”. Few Parrots have suffered more than these beautiful birds. Fortunately, today, all young birds available are captive-bred.
Because of the docile character, this species will breed on the colony system if the aviary is large enough -- or two pairs will breed in an aviary only 4.5m (15ft) long and 1.5m (5ft) wide. More than one zoo that exhibits this species has constructed an aviary with a “cliff face” (with nest-boxes behind) to mimic the cliffs which they burrow into in the wild.
The incubation period is 24 to 25 days. The interval between egg-laying is two or three days. Young fledge after about eight weeks. Chicks should be ringed at about 15 days with 8.5mm rings (9mm for Greaters).
In 2003 I was fortunate to go to Patagonia to visit the main colony of this species. On arrival at the nesting cliffs, dozens and dozens took to the air, hovering above, against the deep blue of the sky. Patagonian Conures are so beautiful! I was to discover that their true beauty can be savoured only when they are in the air. Others remained perched on the cliff ledges. The noise and numbers were wonderfully overwhelming.
It was such a contrast to the general rule of Parrot-watching in the neotropics where Parrots are seen fleetingly as they pass overhead or seek shelter in the crown of a tree. With swept-back wings, revealing the glowing yellow rump, pairs swerved out to sea, then turned and headed towards the cliffs. Inside their burrows, their chicks were waiting to be fed.
A whole chapter is devoted to this experience in Rosemary’s book Go West for Parrots!
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