Breeding Sun Conures: An Overview
Sun conures produce at least two clutches per year of three to five eggs per clutch, which hatch after a 25-27 day incubation period. The chicks fledge at around 8 weeks old, and are fully weaned when they are between 8-11 weeks old. The youngsters leave the nest covered in the dull green juvenile plumage, which is gradually replaced by the colorful adult plumage when they are between 6 months to a year old. While it is possible for a breeding pair to produce multiple clutches throughout the breeding season, it is recommended that the breeder allows the pair to have a maximum of three clutches per year, to maintain optimum health in the breeding pair, with further clutches being discouraged by removing the nest box if necessary. However, as most sun conures like to sleep in a nest box year round, if the nest box is removed it should be replaced with a bird tent to provide a cozy sleep area for the pair to snuggle up in.
Selecting a Breeding Pair
Sun conures reach sexual maturity at around 2 years of age. Firstly, you will need to find an unrelated breeding pair. As it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell male and female sun conures apart, you will need to acquire birds that have been sexed either surgically or through DNA testing of blood or feather samples.
One also needs to bear in mind that as these birds are monogamous, form very tight pair bonds and mate for life, you will need to find a compatible pair. Although sun conures are not as fussy as some parrots when it comes to selecting a mate, not all birds are compatible, so if you are wanting to breed immediately, it would be best to buy a proven pair from a bird breeder. A proven pair is a pair of sun conures that have produced chicks together in the past. Alternatively, purchasing a bonded pair is another good option. A bonded pair is a pair that have formed a pair bond, are showing signs of mating behavior such as feeding each other, sexual interest in their partner, and an interest in nest boxes. A bonded pair is vital for successful sun conure breeding, as the male will feed the female while she is incubating the eggs, and will continue to do so once the chicks have hatched, contributing to raising the chicks as well. Once you have established a bonded pair of sun conures who are showing an interest in breeding, it is best to move them to an individual breeding cage, housing only the pair, as they become very territorial and aggressive when breeding.
The hen needs to be fed a diet high in calcium, proteins and vitamins, well in advance of breeding commencing, as a balanced diet is essential for the development of the fertilized embryo into a healthy hatchling. This breeding pair must continue to receive a balanced diet to keep them in optimal condition throughout the incubation phase. Once the chicks hatch, this can be supplemented with additional foods such as eggs, apples, sprouted seeds and corn on the cob, which the parents will regurgitate to their chicks, ensuring they receive a balanced diet crucial for optimal growth and a good healthy start in life.
As exercise is essential for health, vitality and fertility it is best to provide sun conures with a cage large enough to allow them free flight prior to breeding commencing. Although sun conures will readily breed in a suitable smaller cage, a 6-8 foot flight cage is ideal, with a minimum size of 4 foot long x 2 foot wide x 2 foot high, with a 1/2 -3/4 inch bar spacing recommended. Once they start breeding they will become rather sedentary, with the female occupying the nest most of the time, and the male will spend his time in or around the nest feeding and fussing over the female. A breeder may choose to house the birds permanently in a medium sized suspended or conventional flight aviary, or he may choose to keep the pair in a large communal aviary when not breeding, and move the pair to a smaller breeding cage at the onset of the breeding season. However, if opting for the latter, bear in mind that the pair will need time to adjust and acclimatize to their new environment before breeding commences.
It is best to replicate the breeding conditions experienced naturally in the wild as much as possible. Thus, while a wooden nest box is prone to being chewed and destroyed by a breeding pair of sun conures, wooden boxes provide a more natural nest, and as wood has good insulation properties, they also offer the benefit of retaining warmth, vital to successful incubation and rearing of the chicks.
A cockatiel size wooden nest box is suitable for breeding sun conures, or using strong plywood, you can construct your own wooden nest boxes for sun conures measuring 12 x 12 x 12 inches or 15 x 12 x 12 inches, with an entrance hole of 3 inch in diameter. It is best to attach this to the exterior of the cage, with the opening to the nest box facing into the cage. Depending on your cage design, you may need to cut a hole in the cage wire to allow the breeding pair access to the nest opening from within the cage. By placing the nest box outside the cage it prevents the pair from destroying the nest box by chewing to a degree, and also allows you to monitor the nest and its contents more easily. The nest box can be lined with nest box litter such as clean straw, shredded newspaper or non-toxic wood chips or shavings, which the pair will rearrange to their liking. This not only aids as a distraction from gnawing on the nest box to provide nesting substrate, but it also prevents the eggs from rolling around and getting damaged, and absorbs droppings from the chicks when they hatch.
Egg Laying & Incubation
When the hen is ready to lay eggs, she will lose feathers on her belly, revealing a bald patch of skin, known as the brood patch, which allows her to transfer the heat from her body to the eggs to keep them warm during incubation. Other tell-tale signs to look for to indicate that egg laying is imminent are a rounded belly or a swollen, distended cloaca (reproductive opening).
The hen will lay her eggs over a period of a few days, and will usually commence incubation when the third egg is laid. The eggs are incubated for around 25 days before the chicks start to hatch. You then need to make the decision as to whether you plan to leave the chicks in the nest for the parents to raise, or to remove them and hand rear them yourself. Some breeders also opt for a combination of parent raised/hand-fed, where the parent birds look after the birds, but they are removed from the nest to be hand fed.
Sun conures are prolific breeders that are easily bred in captivity. Although they will breed in a smaller cage, a medium size flight is recommended for optimal breeding performance. By providing the pair with the correct housing and diet, you will ensure the success of the breeding attempt. Once a clutch of eggs is produced it is best to leave the pair in peace until the eggs hatch.