Half--moon Conures - Small but Mighty


H alf-moon conures are small birds with big attitudes. They are popular pets that can talk and learn some tricks. They are easy to keep as aviary and breeder birds. Handfed birds are quite adaptable to change and usually are appreciative of attention from their human caretakers.

Half-moons are one of the smallest Aratinga conure species at about 24 cm. (9 1/2 in) in length. Half-moons often are confused with Peach-fronted Conures (Aratinga aurea) which have solid black beaks and are of similar size. Half-moons also are known by the common names of Orange-fronted or Petz's Conure. The scientific name is Aratinga canicularis.

Half-moons come primarily from southwestern Mexico and range as far south as Costa Rica. There is some geographical variation divided into three races or subspecies. The nominate Aratinga c. canicularis is found in the southern-most range of the species, the subspecies or race of Aratinga c. eburnirostrum is found in the central part of the range, and the Aratinga c. clarae comes from the northern part of the range.

The two subspecies of Halfmoons are more common in aviculture than the nominate species. The nominate species has a horn-colored beak on both the upper and lower mandibles. This is the most distinguishing feature. The orange band across the forehead is wide and touches the eye rings. I have not seen a photograph of the nominate species (even the one featured in the on-line Lexicon of Parrots) that doesn't look like a young Aratinga c. eburnirostrum. I would love to see a living, mature bird of the nominate species but have yet to find one.

The description of the Aratinga c. eburnirostrum is very similar to the nominate species. It has a broad orange stripe across the forehead. Some descriptions say that this is narrower than the nomi-

nate species. The upper mandible is horn-colored and the lower mandible has dark gray stripes on each side with the middle of the beak being horn-colored. Young birds have horn-colored upper and lower mandibles. The gray stripe will begin to appear on the lower mandibles as early as 12 weeks old and is completely colored by six months of age. In my opinion, this subspecies is the one most commonly found in aviculture.

The Aratinga c. clarae has the same beak coloring as ebumirostrum. The significant difference of this subspecies is that the orange stripe on the forehead is reduced to a very narrow stripe, sometimes not much more than a large dot in the middle of the forehead. Since I have owned half-moons, I have had many discussions with others on how to distinguish the two subspecies and have discovered that the difference of stripe width can be a matter of differing opinions. To make identification more challenging, the two subspecies have most likely been crossbred and the offspring exhibit traits of both. I often hear at bird marts that the bird with the narrow stripe is the female and the one with the wide stripe is the male - NOT SO!

All Half-moons tend to exhibit similar behaviors that are noted in Parrots of the World, the Atlas of Conures and the Lexicon of Parrots. In the wild, Half-moons often travel in large flocks and are said to be nomadic in the non-breeding season. They nest in the mounds of one species of tree termites (Nasutitermes nigriceps) with the geographic range of the birds matching exactly to the geographic range of the termites in the wild. The birds only use active termite mounds for nests and usually only one pair of birds will nest in each mound. It requires about a week for a pair to dig out the nest. The birds then leave the nest for about a week to allow the termites to seal the cavity.

Then it is ready for raising the family.

Half-moons still are commonly smuggled into the U.S. especially at the California and Texas borders. The smugglers will bleach the heads of these little birds and try to sell them as baby Double-yellow-headed Amazons. Smuggled birds that are confiscated are put up for auction since they usually cannot be returned to the wild. I know of a Texas breeder who purchased several Aratinga c. clarae in an auction of confiscated birds.

I ended up with Half-moons quite by accident. My friend and bird-sitter works in a veterinarian's office. She always has people giving her their unwanted pets and she then finds them homes. A lady asked her to take a pair of Halfmoon Conures and my friend decided to do so because the birds were not being kept properly. One thing led to another and I ended up with the birds at my house. The story the lady told of these birds was that she smuggled them from Mexico in her purse while they were still tiny chicks. She then hand fed them and raised them. Common sense told me that the birds were most likely from the same clutch, so I purchased a young male and female from a friend.

Both of the Half-moons talked, the female was the more talented. She would say "I love you" and "Let's go shopping!" along with a variety of other things. The female had plucked her chest feathers all out; the male was in perfect condition. I set the birds up with their new mates but eventually lost the female to the young male from mate aggression. Another pair of birds was too close and the male kept beating up on his mate because he could not get to the other birds. Since the female plucked, I thought she was plucking again and didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. Another entry into the book on lessons learned.

In captivity, Half-moons are normally easy to keep. I have read that they are hard to breed in captivity but I have not found them difficult to breed. My pair has bred in a rather small cage, in various rooms of the house, and even shortly after moving to a friend's house for a time. Several people I know also have good success in breeding these birds in a variety of situations. My pair tends to produce two or three clutches of four babies a year, which is normal compared to others who are breeding this species. I recently removed my pair's nest box simply because I was tired of raising babies!

My Half-moons are very good parents. They like a plain square box about 8 x 10 x 8 inches. Both birds care for the babies. My hen often does not sit on her first egg much until the second egg is laid. Many clutches will have chicks hatch the same day because of this. She also is quick to leave the nest box any time someone enters the aviary. I have to be observant to notice when she is laying because she doesn't stay in the box like my other conures do when they have eggs. I usually notice her becoming even more aggressive and that is the key to watching for eggs.

In my opinion, hand-fed Halfmoons can be very aggressive birds, especially in breeding situations. Even when they are not breeding, my Halfmoon hen will fly directly out the door at feeding time and attack the first human flesh she can reach. Fortunately for my bird sitter, the attack bird normally reserves this behavior for those of us she loves and trusts the most.

The chicks develop quickly. The eyes are opening by two weeks of age and the feathers seem to develop faster than some of the larger conures. I typically leave the chicks in the nest until they are three or four weeks old. When removed at that age, they often scream at me like little banshees every time I feed them or look at them the first couple of days. After they settle down, they don't scream any more but do get very vocal at feeding time.