by Dr. George H. Waring, Department of Zoology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-6501  USA
Tel: 618-453-4135    Fax: 618-453-2806

Online version of this report presented by the Hawaii Ecosystems at Risk (HEAR) project


This study was undertaken on behalf of the USGS/BRD/PIERC Haleakala Field Station (island of Maui, Hawaii) to investigate recent reports of a large parrot flock in the Haiku District. The objectives of the study were to (1) confirm the sightings, (2) determine the species of parrots involved, (3) determine the size and distribution of the population, plus (4) determine the habitat use and general behavior patterns of the birds.

Field work was conducted from January to early April 1996. In addition, interviews of biologists and local citizens were also conducted to expand upon the field observations; the cooperation of these individuals was extremely helpful and sincerely appreciated.


In 1986 or 1987, a pair of pet conures (reportedly Aratinga mitrata -- the Mitred Conure) were allowed to fly free in the community of Huelo (Maui, HI) by a resident (hereafter called "The Founder") located 0.5 km southwest of Huelo Point. From this founding pair, the Huelo flock has increased to approximately 30 individuals by late 1995. "The Founder" (pers. comm.) stated in January 1996 that the age of the original pair was 11 years. He has a large aviary and leaves the doors open for the birds to come and go as they desire; "they are like peacocks," he said, "and come when called." He anticipated more offspring to be produced in 1996 (April or May).

Mitred Conures (also known as Mitred Parakeets) are rather uncommon in captivity, although a number have been exported from Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru -- occasionally confused with shipments of a similar but less commonly exported species, A. wagleri. Of the 97,000 Neotropical psittacines imported into the USA between October 1979 and June 1980, approximately 3500 were Mitred Conures (Roet et al. 1982). Between 1986-1988, the United States imported an annual average of 94,000 Neotropical parrots (99% derived from wild sources), approximately one third were Aratinga species (Thomsen & Mulliken 1992).

Aratinga species are highly productive in captivity; therefore, in the future, perhaps aviculture will supply the pet trade so that wild caught birds will be in less demand (Clubb 1992). Silva (1993) reported Argentina (setting an export quote of 7000 for 1991) became the sole exporter of Mitred Conures once trade ceased from Peru and Bolivia.

Numerous introduced populations of parrots exist around the world, rarely have these been Aratinga; yet Aratinga pertinax was established on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, before 1860 (Wiley et al. 1992) -- the likely source of individuals now appearing on nearby islands of St. John, Culebra, Tortola, and Puerto Rico (Silva 1993). Recently additional Aratinga species have become established at new locations -- Aratinga mitrata in Puerto Rico, A. leucophthalmus in Puerto Rico and California, A. canicularis in Puerto Rico, and A. holochlora in Texas (Silva 1993).


Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Species: Aratinga mitrata (Tschudi) 1844 -- Mitred Conure (syn. Mitred Parakeet)

Sibley & Moore (1990) recognized two subspecies as follows:

A. m. mitrata, Mitred Conure [World No. 5185]; the natural distribution is as follows: Andes, 1000-2600 m, of western South America in central and southeastern Peru, central and southeastern Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro, Chuquisaca, Tarija) and northwestern Argentina (Jujuy, Salta, Cajamarca, Tucuman, possibly La Rioja and w. Cordoba). [Silva (1993) reported these birds are in inter-Andean valleys in Peru at an altitude of 1500-2700 m.]

A. mitrata alticola Chapman 1921, Chapman's Conure [World No. 5185.1]; in Andes, 2800-3400 m, of central Peru (Cuzco). Alticola, according to Chapman (1921), differs in ecology (high altitude habits) as well as morphology (less red on cheeks and tibiae, more narrow frontal band, and darker general color).

The taxonomy of conures is likely to be revised with detailed study. Ridgely (1982) stated A. mitrata and the Red-fronted Conure (A. wagleri) are closely related and may prove to be conspecific. Morphological traits between parrot species are often subtle, and even within species plumage can vary. Of the five rather dissimilar Aratinga species investigated by de Lucca (1984), all had similar karyotypes and each exhibited 2n = 70. Aratinga species apparently have not been studied with molecular biological techniques.

In their native habitat in South America, Mitred Conures favor semi-arid montane slopes and valleys within an elevation range of 1000-2700 m for A. m. mitrata and 2800-3400 m for A. mitrata alticola; mixed foraging flocks containing individuals of both subspecies have been reported in Peru (Silva 1993). They feed mostly in woodlands or in small patches of forest and less commonly in regions with extensive humid montane forest. Like A. wagleri, they regularly fly over semi-open country, often very high and for long distances (Ridgely 1982). They are known to occasionally be an agricultural pest, e.g., feeding on cultivated maize and seeds of oranges (Silva (1993); yet they usually feed in patches of natural woodland on seeds, fruits, and berries (Forshaw 1977). In native habitat, some say breeding occurs from November to December, others say May; Hoppe (1982) reported on a nesting in captivity in Germany where eggs were laid in late April and hatched in the third week of May. Up to three weeks before egg laying, pairs separate from their flock; the hen and occasionally also her mate will spend considerable time in the nest cavity. Outside of the breeding season these parakeets are reported to wander widely in large flocks (up to 100 or more) in search of food, often in the company of A. wagleri and A. acuticaudata (Arndt 1982). O'Neill (1982) commented that Mitred Conures in Peru tolerate well the presence of humans, as does A. wagleri. The distance Mitred Conures flee when frightened is considerably reduced in shady places or under overcast skies (Arndt 1982). Their vocal repertoire has been described as a continuous krah-krah-krah, a single kreh, and a repeated krah-krah-kreh (Silva 1993).

Behavioral and ecological studies of conures are scarce. During a study A. guarouba in Brazil, Oren & Novaes (1986) noted the birds were usually seen from 0730 to 1000 and from 1530 to 1745 as they flew in flocks of 3 to 30 or more; average group size was 10. Breeding and defense was communal with several females contributing to the clutch located in a high tree cavity. Hardy (1963) studied the displays and reproductive behavior of A. canicularis both in captivity and in Mexico. These birds maintained pair bonds throughout the year, nest as monogamous pairs in arboreal termite homes, produce a clutch of 3-5 eggs in captivity and from 1-3 in the wild; only the female incubates and broods, the incubation period appeared to be 30 days and begins with the first egg laid; the male helps feed the female and nestlings; roosting occurred in the termitarium and commenced at or soon after sunset, with morning activity beginning upon full daylight (approx. 0730). In Costa Rica, A. canicularis often fly in mixed species flocks with three other species of parrots; flock size was greatest (equal or less than 48) just prior to roosting and in Aug.-Sept. (Chapman et al. 1989). When capturing A. canicularis, Meyers (1994) found greatest success using arrays of mist nets placed high at the roost site where he broadcast roost vocalizations as the birds arrived.


Mitred Conures have stocky bodies, long pointed tails, and attain an overall length of 38 cm (15 inches) or slightly more; weight is approximately 250 g (Silva 1993). Green feathers cover the bird except for an irregular pattern of red feathers on the face (around eyes, lores, cheeks, and forehead) and sometimes a few red feathers occur on the breast, tibia, and at the bend of wing (Forshaw 1977). The beak is creamy yellow, the eye-ring whitish, legs are grayish-pink, and the feet brownish. Males tend to have proportionally more red than females (e.g., on cheeks) and appear to have a more massive head, body, and tail (length). Adults have a yellow-orange iris, whereas immatures have a  brown/gray iris, green tibia, and little or no red on the sides of their head (Arndt 1982).

Nesting occurs once per year. Unlike their lowland counterpart A. wagleri, Mitred Conures do not appear restricted to cliff faces for nesting (Ridgely1982) and use tree cavities if available. But they utilize holes in the face of cliffs in Peru and Bolivia (Silva 1993). One to four eggs are laid in the nest cavity. Egg size (n = 4) is 35.9 (35.3-36.8) x 27.0 (26.4-27.5) mm (Silva 1993). Each egg requires 23-26 days of incubation, which is done by the hen alone. Usually all eggs of the clutch hatch the same day. Fledging occurs when the young are approximately 50 days of age (Arndt 1982; Hoppe 1982). Silva (1993) hand-reared one young which weighed 11.2 g on Day 1; 149.7 g on Day 27, when pin feathers were evident; and 247.8 g on Day 58, when the bird was fully feathered and starting to sample solid food.

The pair bond between male and female is monogamous and apparently lifelong ("The Founder," pers. comm.). Distinctive courtship behavior is not normally observed in conures; however, as nesting nears, the pair may spend more time perched side by side and in mutual grooming; copulation lasts up to three minutes, during which the female may vocalize (Arndt 1982).


The Huelo population has steadily grown. When the Division of Forestry and Wildlife conducted studies on the flock in approximately 1993, the population was 13 (Ueoka, pers. comm.). By late 1995, as many as 28 were being counted at one time (Parker, pers. comm.). On two other recent occasions, observers estimated 30 birds.

The flock has been observed perched or flying from Kailua on the east, to Twin Falls and Hoolawa Valley on the west, and the Lowrie Ditch on the south. Therefore it appears these parrots are ranging < 2 km from their home site. The focal area of the flock is still the origin site of Huelo where roosting typically occurs.


The birds were observed to began their day at or close to sunrise by noisily flying from their roost, which for the Huelo flock appeared to be the sea cliff at Huelo Point (Lat. 20  55' 00" N; Long.156  13' 10" W) on property owned by Benedict Joseph P. Tavares et al. (Zone 2, Sec. 9, Plat 7, Parcel 52). During the course of this study, the parrots then usually flew at tree-top height southward over "The Founder's" property -- sometimes landing in the tall trees (e.g., eucalyptus) of that property for up to an hour before moving to other sites to feed, preen, and socialize. When people have spotted the birds at Kailua or in Waipio and Hoolawa Valleys, it is typically before 0900 or in the mid- to late afternoon.

A rather high-pitched call ["schrack"] was repeated frequently when these birds were in flight or about to do so. Their sounds were loud and raucous. When perched, the birds were relatively quiet; however, periodically some begin to vocalize and suddenly a portion of the flock would circle the area noisily before again landing. They are gregarious within their own species but are not very social or interactive with humans ("The Founder," pers. comm.).

The Huelo flock was observed to be made up of subgroups of primarily pairs or triplets. Thus, when in flight, the flock organization was not uniformly symmetrical as seen in geese but rather a random clustering of pairs or triplets merged with or near similar units. It was not unusual for only a portion of the population to fly as a flock; therefore, on some occasions observers see, for example, 12, 15, 18, or 23 in a flock and later may see a group of 2 or 4.

Mitred Conures are frugivorous/granivorous. Locally they feed on the fruits and seeds of wild plum, Christmas berry, papaya, strawberry guava, and other shrubs and trees (Kahiamoe, pers. comm.; Parker, pers. comm.). They are opportunists and feed on whatever is accessible and ripe at the time. Thus they roam in search of food and may return to the same site on subsequent days when the supply is adequate for the flock.

Later in the day the birds return to Huelo, often noisily circling the area and perching in tall trees, before eventually settling at the roost by sunset. A couple of years ago, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife attempted to capture the flock while they were perched but had no success. Ueoka (pers. comm.) said landowners did not allow the State biologists access to the roost site.

To date, there is no evidence the population has fragmented or is using more than one geographical area. Nevertheless, I and other observers have noted the existing population does not always fly as a single flock; sometimes one or two dozen will be together and later pairs or groups of four will fly together. Permanent fragmentation would be anticipated as the population increases in size, e.g., exceeding the roost site or forage capacity of the area. The site where nesting occurs was not determined during this study. Perhaps some, if not all, nesting occurs at the sea cliff; "The Founder's" aviary is another possibility.


Arndt, Thomas. 1982. Encyclopedia of Conures. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, NJ.

Bucher, Enrique H. 1992. Neotropical parrots as agricultural pests. Pages 201-219 in Steven R. Beissinger and Noel F. R. Snyder, eds., New World Parrots in Crisis, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Chapman, Frank M. 1921. The distribution of bird life in the Urubamba Valley of Peru. Bull. 117, U.S. National Museum, Washington, DC.

Chapman, C. A., L. J. Chapman, & L. Lefebvre. 1989. Variability in parrot flock size: possible functions of communal roosts. Condor 91:842-847.

Clubb, Susan L. 1992. The role of private aviculture in the conservation of Neotropical psittacines. Pages 117-131 in Steven R. Beissinger and Noel F. R. Snyder, eds., New World Parrots in Crisis, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

de Lucca, E. J. 1984. A comparative study of the chromosomes in five species of birds from the genus Aratinga  (Psittaciformes: Aves). Cytologia 49:537-545.

de Naie, Lucienne. 1996 interview. Huelo resident.

Duvall, Fern. 1996 interview. Non-Game Biologist, Department of Land and Natural Resources

Forshaw, Joseph M. 1977. Parrots of the World. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, NJ.

Hardy, John W. 1963. Epigamic and reproductive behavior of the orange-fronted parakeet. Condor 65:169-199.

Hews, Garrett. 1996 interview. East Maui Irrigation Co., Paia.

Hoppe, Dieter. 1982. Welterstzucht mit dem Rotmaskensittich (Aratinga mitrata mitrata). Die Gefiederte Welt 106:375-376.

Kahiamoe, Moki. 1996 interview. Life-long resident of Huelo. His father originally owned much of the land now developed near Huelo Point.

Meyers, J. Michael. 1994. Improved capture techniques for psittacines. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 22:511-516.

O'Neill, John P. 1982. Comments on the status of the parrots occurring in Peru. Pages 419-424 in Roger F. Pasquier, ed., Conservation of New World Parrots, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Oren, David C. & Fernando C. Novaes. 1986. Observations on the golden parakeet, Aratinga guarouba, in northern Brazil. Biol. Conserv. 36:329-337.

Parker, Jeff. 1996 interview. Huelo area resident.

Ridgely, Robert S. 1982. The current distribution and status of mainland Neotropical parrots. Pages 233-384 in Roger F. Pasquier, ed., Conservation of New World Parrots, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Roet, Emily C., David S. Mack, and Nicole Duplaix. 1982. Psittacines imported by the United States (October 1979-June 1980). Pages 21-55 in Roger F. Pasquier, ed., Conservation of New World Parrots, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Schafer, Lindsay. 1996 interview. Kailua resident.

Sibley, C.G. & B.L. Monroe, Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven.

Silva, Tony. 1993. A monograph of macaws and conures. Silvio Mattacchione & Co., Pickering, Ontario. 380 p.

Tavares, Benedict Joseph P. (Makawao resident) Primary landowner where Huelo parrot flock probably roosts during night.

"The Founder." 1996 interview. Huelo resident responsible for founding flock.

Thomsen, Jorgen B. and Teresa A. Mulliken. 1992. Trade in Neotropical psittacines and its conservation implications. Pages 221-239 in Steven R. Beissinger and Noel F. R. Snyder, eds., New World Parrots in Crisis, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Ueoka, Meyer. 1996 interview. Wildlife Biologist, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Westcott, Greg. 1996 interview. Huelo area resident.

Wiley, James W., Noel F. R. Snyder & Rosemarie S. Gnam. 1992. Reintroductions as a conservation strategy for parrots. Pages 165-200 in Steven R. Beissinger and Noel F. R. Snyder, eds., New World Parrots in Crisis, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

(May 1996 ms. Copyright © 1996, 1997 by George H. Waring. Use for any purpose other than reading online requires written permission of the author/copyright holder.)
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