There are more than 100 species and subspecies of conures, comprising five genera: Aratinga, Enicognathus, Pyrrhura and Cyanoliseus. Only a fraction of these species are commonly kept as pets in the United States. These include:
- Jenday conure
- Sun conure
- Mitred conure
- Blue-crowned conure
- Dusky-headed conure
- Orange-fronted conure
- Peach-fronted conure
- Nanday conure
- Slender-billed conure
- Austral conure
Many bird breeders are quick to note the “family potential” of conures. One is Anna Kasho of California. She doesn’t call them great pets for just any family though. Rather, “for those willing to deal with the noise, mess, more noise and a few occasional nips, conures can be fantastic,” she said. “They are more challenging than a budgie or a cockatiel, but even at their worst, they are not big enough to inflict permanent damage like a larger psittacine. They have close social bonds in the flock, and this carries over to their human family.”
A pet conure will typically adopt the family of people and pets in the household as members of its flock, and will join right in with the laughter, play and activities in the household.
Some conures, like Jennifer Skaptason’s sun conure, TJ, are happy not only interacting in an average-sized household of two to five people, but a whole classroom of children. Skaptason is a teacher for a Montessori school in Minnesota. Each year, she has an average of 20 children in her classroom, ranging in age from 2- and 6- years old. TJ comes with her to school every day and has his own cage in the back of the classroom
“TJ basically serves as the class mascot,” Skaptason said. During much of the school day, the bird perches on different children while they do their school work. The children are also allowed time each day to care for the bird, to clean out his cage, give him fresh food and water, teach him tricks, sing to him or just hold him. “TJ loves being with the children,” Skaptason said. “He will start singing as soon as we pull up to the school parking lot, because he knows he? going to school to meet up with the flock.
Conures can also build attachments to other birds in the household. However, when it comes to cats and dogs, conures are often a little less friendly. There aren’t many examples of conures becoming actual “buddies” with dogs or cats, because after all, conures are prey animals and dogs and cats are predators. Certainly, though, most conures can learn to see the family dog or cat as fellow members of the household, and they may get a certain kind of enjoyment out of interacting with them from a safe distance.
Their interactive and sociable nature is one of the things that really lends conures to being ideal pets for families. “When you’ve got a conure, it’s going to be an active part of the family. It’s not going to be content just being there in the background,” said Lisa McManus, a conure breeder in Colorado and a board member of the International Conure Association.
Conures have other “family friendly” qualities as well. Although there are always individual exceptions, most conures are extremely playful, affectionate, easy-going, fun-loving, resilient and cuddly.
Most conure species are very forgiving, meaning, a new owner can make mistakes that are easy to fix,” Kasho said. If a conure is a child’s pet and the child is just learning how to interact with animals and handles the conure inappropriately, it’s probably going to be more willing to give the child a second chance than other parrot species, according to Kasho.
McManus has African greys and Amazons, in addition to conures. She also has several grandchildren who like to come over to her house and visit with her birds. Overall, her conures are far more tolerant of her grandchildren than the Amazons or the greys. “The conures don’t get upset by a lot of kids running around, whereas the greys or Amazons might,” she said. “My conures actually seem to enjoy being right in the middle of everything.” Her conures are also much more willing to be picked up and handled and are less nippy compared to her larger parrots.
Missouri veterinarian and bird breeder Julie Burge, DVM, has had similar experiences with her birds. “Conures often tolerate being petted all over the body, while Amazons and greys generally tolerate only being touched on the head and neck,” she said. She noted that children usually want to have a pet they can hold and pet, and may not understand why a parrot might bite them, which makes many of the “more nippy” bird species less desirable pets.
Of course, there is some variation among the different conure species. In general, Brennan believes Aratinga and Patagonians are the best conure choices for children since they tend to be the most affectionate and gentle. Pyrrhura tend to be the most playful of the conures, but they can be a little more nippy than the Aratinga. Still, she added, as a group, “Conures are 50 million times better for families than Amazons, which tend to be really feisty.”
For many families, a conure is the ideal size bird. “They are a good size, not big enough to be really intimidating, yet not tiny and seemingly fragile,” said Kasho. Their beak is obviously much smaller than an Amazon, cockatoo or macaw, which is very reassuring to a child. At the same time, a conure is usually much more interactive and easier to handle than a smaller bird like a budgerigar (budgie) or canary.
“Conures are popular because they pack a big personality into a small package,” added Burge. “They are usually good at learning tricks, and the larger conures like the blue crown may become good talkers. They are much more affordable, take up less space and have a much less dangerous bite than their larger macaw cousins, which is an important consideration for families with young children.”