Pyrrhuras - General facts and reflections

Why do people in the Netherlands literally refer to Pyrrhuras as ‘fire tails’?  Is Pyrrhura too difficult a name?  No, the Greek words ‘Pyrros’ and ‘Auro’ mean fire and tail, hence ‘fire tails’.  However, not all Pyrrhura species have a reddish brown tail; just think about for instance the Melanura and Rupicola subspecies, which have more of a dark greyish, black tail.

Pyrrhuras are commonly referred to by their Latin name and not by their corresponding English, Dutch, French or German name, since some countries use different names to refer to one and the same species.
How come this South American parakeet receives so little attention among parakeet fanciers?  I really have no idea.  A possible answer might be that in the past, specialist literature provided very little information on these species. They were considered to be noisemakers, chewers and nearly impossible to breed.  In the early years, it was not yet possible to sex the birds on the basis of a reliable method.  Nowadays, by means of endoscopy or DNA testing making up pairs isn’t a problem anymore.  But back then, a breeder had a 1 in 3 chance of having a breeding pair.  Experience taught me that two males as well as two females can behave like a pair, they feed each other and seem to be mating all day.  In the seventies and eighties, Australian parakeets were considered ‘top of the bill’, since they can easily be sexed by appearance.  Hence, making up pairs is much easier, since the coloration differs according to the sex and the males are simply more sturdily built and have a larger bill and head. Young female Pyrrhuras on the other hand, are generally sturdier; their coloration is more intense and their bill seems larger.  Young Pyrrhura males have a duller coloration and seem smaller.  But!  When weighing them, the smaller birds prove to weigh 3 to 4 grammes more than the larger ones.  All this will be confirmed by performing an endoscopy. In other words, their appearance is the opposite of Australian parakeets.  Adult Pyrrhuras turn out to be equal in size, males are sometimes built more sturdily and their colours are now equally intense to the females’.
Just hearing the words ‘South American parakeet’ makes the majority of bird fanciers’ hair stand on end.  ‘Lots of noise and racket’ they immediately think.  Partly they are right, but they don’t know why these birds make so much noise.  Pyrrhuras screech when they see ‘something strange’.  For about 2 to 5 minutes they warn each other by screeching, for example because you stand too close to them or a pigeon suddenly flies over the aviary or similar things.  Then suddenly, there’s complete and utter silence occasionally broken by a lost screech here and there.  The screeching or squawking of the other ‘South American’, for example the Conure is different.  They screech all day long.  Similar are for example Rose-ringed Parakeets.  These soberly coloured green birds have gained attention among bird-lovers since the late eighties.  Just look at the many colour mutations that have been bred.  Mutation breeding with Pyrrhuras on the other hand is just getting started.  These lovely coloured birds have still to conjure up a beautiful pallet of colorations.
One reflection that I often hear among experienced Pyrrhura breeders is the recognition of a number of subspecies, for example the Molinea.  The Green-cheeked Conure (Molinea) is native to central South America.  In the past ornithologists, including Foshaw in 1973, subdivided this species into 5 subspecies, each having their own area of distribution.  The Molinea Molinea is native to the western part of this area; the Molinea Phoenicura to the northeastern part; the Molinea Australis to the southern part etc.  When reading the description of these subspecies in books like e.g. ‘Parrots of the World’ or the famous book by Thomas Arndt, ‘Süd-amerikanische Sittiche-Conure-band 4’, you notice how small the differences are between these subspecies.  One subspecies for example has green splashed with blue vent feathers, another subspecies has green tinted with blue or green with bluish vent feathers.  Other differences in chest and cheek drawings are described in an equal manner.  Hence, an impossible task for the layman and experienced fancier to determine these subspecies correctly.  Some people pride themselves in being able to categorize Molineas they see in pictures or in a collection into the correct subspecies, while for example these birds come from the same nest and have the exact same plumage as their parents.  None of these birds have the same coloration and one can certainly not categorize a bird according to a certain drawing in its plumage.
This reflection is certainly called for; haven’t ornithologists wrongfully categorised one species into 5 subspecies?  Their area of distribution is extensive and because of differences in diet, vegetation and climate, … a slight colour variation has arisen.  Specialist literature tells us one should obtain purebred breeding results.  But these birds do not even breed purely in the wild, since they overlap different areas.  We human beings have drawn an imaginary border through their natural habitat.  Consequently, according to some people the bird’s offspring aren’t purebred either in the overlapped areas!!!
It is much easier to recognise other Pyrrhura species due to the clear differences in coloration.  Experienced Australian parakeet breeders say they all look alike.  However, in a parakeet cage they are able to distinguish young Splendid and Turquisine females; or Elegant and Blue-winged chicks?!?  Only by closely observing Pyrrhuras, you will discover the magnificent display of colours in these peculiar, intelligent birds.

Pyrrhuras daily require clean fresh water, since they bathe every day, in summer and wintertime.  You should watch out when heating the water by means of a heating element during severe wintertime.  They will bathe and soaking wet they will hang themselves to dry on the aviary wire, waiting for the sun’s warmth while it is for example -15° to -20° C. (49° to 20° F).  A few minutes later they will freeze on to the wire, resulting in bleeding toes by trying to get loose.

When you decide to acquire Pyrrhuras, you should immediately attach a nest box in their aviary, for various reasons.  The nest box will become their favourite hiding place which gives them a sense of security whenever something startles them.  Newly imported birds also need these nest boxes to sleep in, otherwise they will sleep together near the wire.  I even saw imported Pictas rolling themselves up into a tiny ball in a corner of the aviary; I could easily move them in this state.  Pyrrhuras always sleep in their nest boxes!  When they don’t, there’s something seriously wrong with them.  The nest box is attached in the darkest and safest spot of the cage or aviary, with the entrance whole away from brightly lighted areas or eye contact of human beings.  The boxes are approximately 8 x 8 x 18 inches with a small inspection door at the side.  Homemade nest boxes are best made out of thick boards with vertical wood grains.  The birds will scrape the inner surface of the boards with their bill in order to keep their nest clean.
All Pyrrhura species are suitable as indoor pets.  When they are indoors they screech less hard than they do in the aviary.  Each chick should preferably be hand-fed separately.  Place each of the chicks in separate cages, otherwise once they’re full-grown they will bite at each other to attract the attendant’s attention.  And this is not at all beneficial to raise a tame, not biting bird.

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