By Steve Retherford

Today as most of us know, there is a growing interest in Pyrrhura keeping, especially the Black-Capped Conure (Pyrrhura Rupicola).  Currently, I have five pair set up and have been producing some babies the last few years.  Awhile back I noticed some irregular

white pigmented areas on the babies' feet.  I wondered what I had done or had it gotten injured and these were these just scars left behind?  So I began to ask around the bird community to see if others had seen the same thing.  Most said the markings were a sign that a new mutation was appearing.  I had seen these markings on the (VOREN STRAIN) Black-Capped mutation also; but, not having any definite answers, I continued to wonder about this.  Even one of Rosemary Low's books uses a picture showing a BC bird with the same markings on its feet (Parrots in aviculture).  In doing a little research on Blackcaps I found out Mr. Tom McCoy of California had gotten the AFA's first breeding award for (Pyrrhura rupicola sandiae) in 1981, and Tom Ireland of Florida produced some in 1982. The atlas of Conures states that Tom McCoy received his birds from a Mr. Don Wells in 1980.  I had spoken with a person named Don Wells in the past.  Could this be the same person?  A few more phone calls and emails later, I indeed was talking to Mr. Don Wells -  the first person to actually capture and import Black-Capped Conures into the US...Can you imagine being able to go back in time to a place when it was legal to capture unknown species and bring them home for future study and breeding?....Now I had a million questions for him. These must have been great memories for Don as he says "he still remembers it like it was yesterday ". The birds were captured from extreme northwest Bolivia in a place called Cobija, Beni, Bolivia in 1979.  This area bordered Brazil and Peru and had many species in common with those countries.  They were sent to a U.S. quarantine station (Birds Unlimited Warehouse) for the required time period.  After being notified, the birds' quarantine period was up, but before he could pick them up they were accidentally sold to a Mr. Tom McCoy, who got the first breeding award with these first three birds - two hens and a cock.  These birds initially sold for something around $300 to $350 per pair.  Tom McCoy has since moved to Saudi Arabia but still stays in close contact with Don.  Later, Bernie Levine received a shipment from Don's friend (Gene Harris) in Bolivia, which consisted of a huge amount of hens.  I don't remember how many but it was quite few, as he remembers seeing them in Bern's warehouse after quarantine.  Don still has good contacts in South America and friends breeding this species.  Don is currently involved with importing more Blackcaps to the U.S. and will bring birds from South America as well as Europe, but they will most preferably be from friends in Peru where both species and subspecies of Rupicola exist.  He prefers to get only the ones we have here in the U.S. now, as future mixing of species would inevitably occur otherwise.  As for the speckled feet, Don suspects more than a mutation here -- it might be gene related or it might have to do with a virus also.  He says, "I know for sure it has nothing to do with the (VOREN STRAIN) as many birds arrived from nature this way."  Don says, "Keep up the pressure to have people pay attention to the 'type' specimens - we are losing them fast!  Mutations bring big money and that's where aviculture seems to have gone in this country and many others!  It's a shame, but I'm glad these birds have persisted in American aviculture, which is a surprise to him.  Most parrots don't make good pets and are falling by the wayside in preference to cockatoos and African Greys, etc.  We have really missed the boat on this one!  The European people are more dedicated to avicultural interests. There, Pyrrhura are kept and breeding well enough that they are exporting them now! Unfortunately, the WBCA has hampered us from getting birds in from there.

  So all of this has not brought me any closer to understanding the white toe markings.  It's still a mystery, but now I don't believe I did anything to cause it as they are captured in the wild with the same markings.  Also, I got to talk to a lot of nice bird people writing this.

        .....I've really enjoyed this little step back in time with Mr. Don Wells - a real living pioneer in today's aviculture.  Thanks, Don.

Note: ....Don made a negative reference to me calling him a pioneer ....But if anyone can do some of the things the rest of us can only dream and read about and live to tell about it, that is a true pioneer in the sense of the word no matter how old or young you are!  Sorry, Don :-)


Steve Retherford ( is an active bird breeder with over 30 years experience from farm animals to exotic birds and aquarium fish and resides in sunny Southern California, USA


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