What is the green cheek conure? Where do they come from?
The green cheek is a type of conure. What is a conure? Conures are a type of parrot. Okay, let's start at the beginning! Parrots are birds belonging to the family Psittacidae. This includes conures as well as macaws, Amazon parrots, cockatoos, lories & lorikeets, parakeets, and a variety of others. All parrots have hook-shaped bills and "zygodactal" feet, meaning they have two toes pointing forwards and two toes backwards.
Conures are long-tailed, small- to mid-sized New World parrots. Most species are in the genuses Aratinga and Pyrrhura. They come from South and Central America and Mexico, though there was once a conure, the Carolina parakeet, that was found as far north as Chicago and New York. Sadly, this bird went extinct in the early 1900's.
With their long tails, conures are sometimes called "parakeets", which isn't really an incorrect term since a "parakeet" is any fairly small parrot with a long tail. Conures are closely related to macaws, and the resemblance can be easily seen - many conures look very much like tiny macaws. The main discerning factor is that all macaws have a skin patch between their eye and their beak, while conures are feathered between their eye and beak. Conures still have patches of skin surrounding their eyes, called "eyerings", and the exact size and color of these eyerings varies depending on the species.
Most of your "typical" conures, such as suns, peach fronts, and cherry heads, belong to the genus Aratinga. But those aren't the only conures! The second-largest conure genus is Pyrrhura, and that's where green cheeks are placed. Pyrrhurras are smaller than most Aratingas, and typically have wide eyerings and scalloped chest feathers. The green cheek is the most common of the Pyrrhurras in captivity, and is Pyrrhura molinae. In older books, you may run across references to them as "Molina's conure".
I will also note here that all of the Pyrrhurra conures are very similar in terms of personality & care, and almost all of the information in this FAQ can be easily applied to a maroon bellied, black capped, or painted as easily as it can be to a green cheek!
What do green cheeks look like?
Green cheeks are small conures, though they're pretty average for a Pyrrhura. They're about 10" long, and weigh about 60-90 grams. This makes them about the same length as a cockatiel, but slimmer and not as chunky in body.
Starting at the head, the green cheek has a black beak, dark brown eyes and wide white eyerings. The top of the head is dark gray or blackish. The ear coverts are grayish, and the "cheeks" are, of course, green. Some green cheeks also have varying amounts of green or greenish-blue above the eyes. Some green cheeks have a little bit of blue on the back of the head. The chest is scalloped gray. The body is dark green. The flight feathers are cobalt blue, and many green cheeks also have blue under thair tail. The tail itself is a dark maroon color. Some green cheeks have a full maroon belly; others have a little maroon on the belly; and still others have no maroon on the belly at all. The feet are pinkish, with dark nails.
Don't think their names mean anything: maroon bellies also have green-colored cheeks, and many green cheeks have maroon-colored bellies! There are two "for-sure" ways to tell them apart. First, is the top of the head: in green cheeks, it is a dark grayish or blackish, while in maroon bellies, it's green. Second is the tail: green cheeks have an all-maroon tail, above and below. Maroon bellies have green on the tops of their tails, maroon below.
How can you tell what age a green cheek is?
For the most part, the answer to this question is, "you can't". There's no clear visual difference between a one year old green cheek and a twenty year old green cheek. Very young green cheeks, before their first molt (usually around the age of 6-10 months), are usually duller in color than adults and still have a soft "babyish" look to them, but it takes a little bit of experience to be able to see the difference. Very old green cheeks may have problems associated with age that can be seen visually, such as arthritis. They may also have more scaly feet. But as you can see, it's not as simple as looking in a horse's mouth!
How can you tell a male from a female?
This is another difficult one. You can't just look under their tails and know what you've got! For the most part, you cannot tell visually whether you have a little boy or a little girl. If you want to be sure, I recommend having your bird DNA sexed. If you ask, one of the many companies that do DNA sexing will send you a free test kit. There's two common ways of doing this: you can either clip a nail too far back and send in a tiny amount of blood to be tested, or you can pluck out a few feathers and send those in. The "feather sexing" tends to run a few dollars more, but in my mind it is the much better method! It is not a very expensive procedure: expect to pay around $20-$25.
If you don't have to know for sure whether you have a male or female, then there are just a few visual clues that might give you an idea, although these are never fool-proof. Females tend to have a more rounded head, making the top of their head look a bit higher. They tend to be rounder in body too, and may seem to sit lower on the perch when resting. Males tend to have flatter, longer heads, and sometimes this seems to make their beak look a little larger. They tend to be slimmer in body and may seem to sit taller on the perch.