Cherry-Headed Conure (Red-Masked Conure)

Red Masked Conure feeding
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The cherry-headed conure, also known as the red-masked conure, is medium-sized parrot that is very intelligent and loveable, and notable as a show-off clown. Easy to train, the cherry-headed conure is regarded as the best talker among the conure species, but it can be a loud bird that isn't suitable for apartment dwellers. 

Common Names

The cherry-headed conure has several other common names, including red-headed conure, red-masked conure, and red-masked parakeet.

Scientific Name

Aratinga erythrogenys.

Origin and History

The cherry-headed conure is native to South America, where it occupies a fairly narrow range from southwestern Ecuador to northwestern Peru. This species dwells primarily in jungles and deciduous forests, but can also do well in semiarid regions and even suburban zones. In several places, pet birds released or escaped into the wild have established feral breeding populations. The movie "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" popularized a group of feral cherry-headed conures in San Francisco, and other such populations exist in other parts of California, Texas, and Florida.

The cherry-headed conure is a very popular pet, and in 1994 was classified as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to habitat loss and trapping pressure in the bird's narrow native range in Peru and Ecuador.

Size

The adult cherry-headed conure ranges from 11 to 13 inches measured from the beak to the tip of the tail feathers. Adult birds weigh 5.8 to 6.5 ounces.

Average Lifespan

When well cared for in captivity, the cherry-headed conure can live 50+ years. 

Temperament

Cherry-headed conures are known to be intelligent, fun-loving birds who thrive on interaction with their owners and do well with training. Cherry-headed conures love being the center of attention and will go to great lengths to get it. Like all conures, these are very loud birds that scream intermittently. 

Like most parrots, the cherry-headed conure is a flock-oriented bird with well-developed social instincts. In a captive environment, the human owner takes on the role of flock mate, and in order to be happy, a cherry-headed conure will require lots of interaction time with its owner. 

Cherry-Headed Conure Colors and Markings

Cherry-headed conures sport deep green feathers over most of the bodies, with a characteristic splash of red on their faces and heads. On some individuals, spots of red will extend down the neck. The birds also sport another splash of red on the tops of their wings. They have bare white rings around their eyes, horn-colored bills, and gray feet. This bird's beauty makes it highly prized as a pet.

Caring for the Cherry-Headed Conure

Cherry-headed conures are widely available at pet stores and from breeders, but it's always wise to check adoption agencies and rescue organizations to see if they have birds available for adoption. 

The cherry-headed conure should have a cage of ample size—at a minimum, one with a 24 x 24-inch footprint and 36 inches in height. Bars should be spaced no more than 1 inch apart. Equip the cage with many toys designed to withstand the energetic chewing these birds exhibit by instinct. Frequently changing the toys will keep them mentally stimulated. Provide perches in a variety of widths inside the cage to allow proper exercise of the feet. Conures do well in room temperature environments but keep them out of drafty locations. Also, provide a playpen outside the cage where the bird can exercise and explore during their daily exercise periods. 

Make sure to keep plenty of clean drinking water available, and change it frequently. Cherry-headed conures like to bathe daily and will use a shallow water dish in the cage to do so. They also enjoy being misted or sprayed with room-temperature water as part of the bathing ritual—a time that can also provide some of the much-needed interaction with their human owner.

Cherry-headed conures require 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night in a dark, quiet environment, and covering the cage at night may be necessary. 

Cherry-headed conures can be playful, affectionate, and rather entertaining. Properly socialized pet conures love spending time with (and on) their owners, and they enjoy learning tricks and other training. While conures as a group are not fluent talkers in the same vein as African grey parrots, the cherry-headed is the most talkative of the conures and many birds can be taught a limited vocabulary. Even a non-talker will be extremely chatty with instinctive vocalizations. Despite not being a proficient talker, these birds charm their owners through sheer personality and antic behavior. 

But this isn't a bird well suited for everyone, as it is prone to intense screaming, especially at certain points of the day—usually sunrise and sunset. And cherry-headed conures will demand two to four hours of time exercising and playing with their owners each day. However, owners willing and able to provide the necessities for a cherry-headed conure are rewarded with an interesting and interactive pet that never seems to run out of energy and spunk. A happy and healthy cherry-headed conure is always the life of the party. 

Feeding the Cherry-Headed Conure

Like all parrots, cherry-headed conures do best on a diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, and supplemented with a high-quality commercial pelleted diet. A small amount of seed should be offered as treats, but make sure that your cherry-headed conure doesn't get too many seeds in his/her diet. These birds have a reputation for getting "addicted" to fattening seeds such as sunflower and safflower, and once fixated on seeds they may refuse to eat anything else. Overweight birds are prone to a variety of health issues, so pay close attention to your conure's diet.

Exercise

Cherry-headed conures are active birds that require a good amount of daily exercise in a safe, "parrot-proof" area outside the cage in order to stay in top condition. Two hours each day is a minimum amount of exercise, and four hours is more optimal. 

Common Health Issues

Common health issues with cherry-headed conures include: 

  • Conure bleeding syndrome (CBS), a disease of unknown origin that causes unusual and unexpected bleeding. The prescribed treatment is usually vitamins.
  • Respiratory problems caused by fungal infections (Aspirgillosis). Sometimes treated with antifungal drugs. This is a serious problem best avoided by making sure bedding and feed is never allowed to become damp and moldy. Some experts advise never to feed parrots peanuts, which may carry the fungus. 
  • Bacterial infections, which may cause respiratory problems and general decline. Treatment is with antibiotics; prevention is by keeping cages and your bird scrupulously clean. 
  • Depression, usually due to neglect by owner. This may manifest with destructive behavior and self mutilation. 

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

The cherry-headed conure is one of several conures popular with pet owners. Also check out these other small parrots:

Also check out our profiles of other conures and medium-sized parrots.