Text by Tony Silva, photos by Simon Degenhard.
Parrots can be separated into two categories. There are species that are highly adaptable. Initially the birds may decline as their habitat is modified but they quickly adapt and then they seize the modified habitat to expand their range and increase their numbers. There are countless species that fall into this category. Many have established feral populations. A clear example is the Quaker Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus, which is found surviving in New York, Barcelona, Madrid and many other metropolises and in conditions far removed from those they normally experience in the wild.
The other group is made up of species that seem completely intolerant of habitat changes. The Puerto Rican Amazon Amazona vittata is a classic case. Their numbers shrank exponentially and today the bird survives in vestiges of its original range and then in habitat that is fairly undisturbed.
Adaptable species are normally very suited for captivity. They breed, often very prolifically, and can survive in conditions that are far from optimum. The only cases that I know of extremely successful species not adapting involves the Canary-winged and White-winged Parakeets Brotogeris chiriri and Brotogeris versicolurus. I have seen as many as 10,000 gather in a park in the center of town in Leticia, Colombia and also in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There are feral, thriving populations in Miami, Florida, and Belém do Pará, Brazil, to mention just two localities where I have personally seen them. Yet in captivity they are hesitant to nest. After many years, I managed to have breeding groups of both but eventually gave up because the necessary effort to keep them breeding was not justified. Besides, no one wanted the young and at the time I had my birds in our house in Miami Beach, Florida. The noise of the ever-growing flocks could be heard throughout the neighborhood. No one complained but it was unfair to our neighbors.
Another adaptable species is the Jenday Conure Aratinga solstitialis jandaya. The Jenday is either regarded as a subspecies of the Sun Conure Aratinga solstitialis or as a distinctly different theme. I believe the two (along with the Golden-capped Conure Aratinga solstitialis auricapilla) are best treated as subspecies. They are very similar in their behavior; only the color changes.
Aratinga solstitialis jandaya is an imposing conure with green wings, yellowish head and reddish under parts. The bill is black, and the orbital ring turns very dark grey in birds exposed to the sun; birds kept away from sunlight have a lighter orbital ring. The sexes are alike.
Jenday Conures were imported into the US during the 1970s and I believe the very early 1980s. The species is native to Brazil but was exported through Paraguay. It was easily trapped and was hardy enough to survive the rigors of being sent mainly via bus to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, where the birds were crossed into Paraguay and then exported; Brazil has had an export ban since 1967 and thus the bird trade relied primarily on buses to transport the birds, moving them at night and stopping when the heat of the day would prove troublesome.
When first subjected to trapping, Jenday Conures began to decline. They disappeared from many areas of their range. Concomitant to the trapping, the habitat was being modified for agricultural purposes. I remember being unsuccessful in finding them in areas where trappers suggested I could see them in the wild and where they had collected birds. Then something started to happen. The more open habitat, which is preferred by this conure, gave it an opportunity to expand its range. Today Jendays are found in areas that were never part of their traditional range, including the areas surrounding the city of Belém do Pará.
I have long liked this conure. I acquired my first two from Erling Kjelland of Sedgewick Studios, an all bird store at a time when birds were beginning to gain popularity. The ‘pair’ was selected through ‘witching’— holding a ball suspended from a string on top of the head. If the ball moved in a circular form, the bird was of one gender; if it moved pendulum style, the bird was of the opposite sex.
Erling believed in this method. It (along with appearance, behaviour and the separation of the pelvic bones) was the means of sexing birds at the time. Surgical sexing was not widely available; it was around that time that Dr Raymong Kray was developing the use of a laparoscope to sex birds. Early successes were more attributable to luck (i.e., having a true male and female) than to avicultural acumen.
The two birds acquired from Erling were eventually taken to Bill Wilson, who bred many parrots (including Red-faced Lovebirds Agapornis pullaria and Golden Conures Guaruba guarouba, both rarely bred at the time) and he felt that they were males. He sold me a third bird, a feminine looking individual with a small head and beak. Eventually the two ‘males’ proved to be hens and the ‘hen’ a male. This was a fitting tribute, I thought, to parrot breeding at the time: guesswork was the best means of identifying gender and guesswork failed more often than it proved successful!
The young that were bred started nesting when they were between 24-29 months. I kept and inbred them for years, supplementing at one time with birds bred by Ramon Noegel and Greg Moss. I have since reared 21 generations. They now nest as early as 12 months and by 24 months 87% of the birds have nested and reared young. One year alone I reared 167 young. Nowadays I rear a couple of dozen a year and then remove the nests from the pairs.
The average clutch is 4 eggs. They hatch after 23-24 days. Newly hatched young are covered in white down, which is rather long. The nails are grey and the bill pinkish. The feet and bill soon start turning dark. The young soon become covered in a secondary down, which is white colored. By around 65 days the young are fully feathered and weaning follows in 1-2 weeks.
Jenday Conures will breed in any type of enclosure. I reared 7 generations in enclosures only 2 feet (60cm) square to prove that cage size was not a factor controlling fertility. On the other hand, 4 generations of pairs kept in 12 ft (3.6m) cages and fed a diet of only pellets slowly became unproductive; by the fourth generation, the most a pair would rear in a clutch was 1 or 2 young, as the other eggs were typically infertile. Based on generations of experimentation, I can state that a cage 6 feet (1.8m) long, 2 feet (60cm) wide and 3 feet (90cm) high is perfect.
I offer my Jendays nest boxes that are 10-12 inches (25-30cm) square and 24 inches (60cm) deep or alternatively small “L”-shaped nests that are 8-10 inches (20-25cm) square, 18 inches (45cm) deep and 16-18 (40-45cm) long along the horizontal axis. Providing wood for them to chew is a clear stimulant for breeding. Adding only shavings to a nest retards breeding by several weeks when a pair is first offered a nest. The darkness of the nest and filling it with wood chunks that they have to chew into slivers seems to stimulate gonad development. In turn, the pair comes into breeding condition much faster.
I feed my Jendays a diet that consists of seeds, pellets, fruits (primarily guava, papaya and mango), and a soft food mix that varies and which can contain par-boiled carrot, squash, sweet potato, zucchini, beet and jalapeño peppers, frozen thawed peas and corn, soaked and par-boiled garbanzo or pinto beans, sprouted lentils and popcorn, and cooked brown rice or pasta. The food is mixed, sprinkled with vitamins and calcium and fed preferably warm. I sometimes add canned tuna or ground chicken. Everyone eats this mix — from the Hyacinth Macaws to the Jenday Conures.
Jenday Conures are noisy but make wonderful pets. They are bright, cheeky and intelligent. As an aviary bird, they are hardy, can be very prolific and have long reproductive lives — I have had a hen lay fertile eggs at over 30 years of age. If you like colour and personality and can acquire this species, look no further. They are a gem!
Jenday Conures - father on left and fledglings
Jendays - mother on left and fledglings
Jenday on left and Sun Conure for comparison
Jenday on left and Sun Conures for comparison