By Karin Banerd
Though small in size, lineolated parakeets (Bolborhynchus lineola) have large, amiable personalities, with much of the pet-potential of the larger hookbills. As an inexpensive pet bird, they have little equal, and I anticipate their popularity may one day rival that of the cockatiel. These birds are smaller and give off less dust than that popular, crested bird.
One detractor with the lineolated parakeet is that its droppings tend to be more loose than is commonly seen in hookbills. But even this characteristic varies among the lineolateds that I have. I have yet to figure out why this is the case. It may be a reflection of their native habitat in the forest, where they could obtain plenty of water, as opposed to birds from dry landscapes in Australia that need to conserve their water loss, thus making their droppings very dry.
The loose droppings may also indicate that we don't know enough about their diet yet to feed them in a way that promotes more solid droppings. Cages that allow the droppings to fall through a bottom grate into shavings of some sort are ideal. The shavings absorb the extra moisture and help reduce any smell.
A breeder and friend who supplied me with three of my original stock of lineolated parakeets and who raised some 15 chicks from three breeding pairs last year, sold her chicks privately and through local pet stores. Her broods averaged five chicks each.
She tries to track the progress of the birds when they move to a home as pets. Thus far, the feedback she has received about the pet quality of these tiny gems has been extremely positive. Being new to the bird trade, we are cautiously optimistic about how they are regarded by prospective pet-bird owners and how well they maintain their tameness.
I have been told by other bird breeders that the lineolated parakeet's unusual breeding behavior is not unique to the species, but it is certainly not the norm. The male approaches a female and sits very close beside her, facing in the same direction. He then lifts his leg onto her side or back and angles his vent toward her vent. If she is not receptive, he has little hope of connecting, and she will move away. If she is receptive, she angles her vent toward his, and they will connect.
Pairs have been known to partcipate in considerable preening of each other's head and neck, sometimes even vent preening, as they sit side-by-side facing opposite directions. Some pairs use this mutual vent preening as a kind of courtship, followed by a switch to the same direction and then mating. If one bird vent preens too aggressively, the offended partner will squawk.
Either sex will do a lot of side-by-side, cozy sitting, and each bird will take turns bending and craning their neck and head in front of the other bird as a request for neck preening. Preening seems to be a necessary part of the courtship, as it is with many birds.
As bonded pairs, they get along well and don't exhibit the common argumentativeness that often arises with breeding and raising young. My pairs that are now raising young have already spent many days in and out of the nest box, with the female often staying in for many hours, even whole days on end before she begins to lay eggs.
Once she starts to lay, the male often stays out of the nest box and calls warnings to her if there is too much of a disturbance outside. Some males prefer to spend most of their time in the nest box with the female, only popping out when someone approaches the cages. He checks out the situation first, and then she may stick her head out as well.
In hand-feeding, a chick's head pumps very fast during the feeding (and since my hand initially couldn't keep up with their heads, the food often dribbled onto their faces or necks). These rapid, staccato head thrusts keep rhythm with their persistent frog chirps (high-pitched ribbits). The chorus of the chicks is similar to the sound of spring peepers (frogs) in marshes and wetlands.
The range of gestations from various sources suggest 18 to 23 days. Clutches vary from three to six eggs. The nest box is approximately lovebird size, and I used boxes measuring 28 by 20 by 21 centimeters high (approximately 11 by 8 by 8 inches), but other bird breeders have proven that their nesting requirements are flexible.
Fledging takes place at about 5 or 6 weeks of age, with weaning usually complete by 8 weeks of age. The chicks are covered in dark gray, fuzzy down that seems to peak in density at about 2 weeks of age. Thereafter, gray pin feathers begin to cover more of the bird. The first gleam of green feathers occurs at about 3 weeks of age.
As newly hatched chicks, they make almost no sound in the nest box. A habit I have acquired is to listen with my ear on the nest box when I am checking for newly hatched chicks. The plaintive, high-pitched squeaks of canary or hookbill chicks cue me to offer fresh, homemade eggfood. However, even after five days and four hatchlings, I haven't heard a noise from the lineolated chicks — even when I visually inspect the nest and remove a chick. Neither parent makes any noise either, no squawking, no lunging for my hand and no nipping.
Together Or Separate?
Initially, I tried colony breeding the three pairs of green lineolateds I had. There was a lot of squabbling, and one particularly broody female was quite dishevelled and feather picked by the time I separated them into individual breeding cages. She was a shy, parent-raised bird, that settled down nicely in her own cage.
The birds I purchased were both hand-raised and parent-raised. The hand-raised were definitely calmer birds and parents, although a pair of the parent-raised birds were also calm. The wildest females were parent-raised. The wilder the bird, the more it resorted to a curious panting in a lowered position on the perch. Normally, they sat in a somewhat horizontal manner on the perch.
A shy or anxious bird dropped its wings down, exposing more of the rump and lower back, and it panted rapidly with its beak open. This display didn't seem to hurt the bird, and the nervous spell passed once I moved away from the cage or the bird. The females seemed more prone to this nervous display.
Our first success in breeding came with an experienced breeding pair. Six eggs were laid and, about 21 days later, the chicks began to hatch in one- and two-day intervals, with the sixth egg hatching three days after its predecessor. Both parents were active feeders, and five of the chicks survived.
Some squeaking noises were finally evident when the chicks were about 8 days old. The parents spent more time out of the nest at this point, because there were so many bodies writhing together to keep warm. I decided to pull the oldest and largest two chicks a little early (11 days) for hand-feeding, worried that the youngest chick would get neglected or that the parents would tire out.
I banded these two chicks with lovebird-size bands at 11 and 10 days of age, and they started off on four feedings a day. Their short legs meant that I needed a toothpick to pull out the fourth toe, because the band would not push farther up the leg, past the knuckle, to allow the fourth toe to fall down.
The parents never objected to nest inspections. The female quietly moved aside as I checked on the chicks. I didn't need to worry, because every time I checked the chicks, their crops were incredibly full. The last hatchling eventually died two days after it hatched.
Parrots by David Alderton, Salamander Books Limited, Tetra Press, USA, 1992
Simon and Schuster's Guide to Pet Birds by Matthew M. Vriends, Simon and Schuster Inc., 1984, USA
For more about the lineolated parakeet, check out the January 2001 issue of Bird Talk magazine at book stores, pet stores and newsstands now through January 6, 2001.
Karin Banerd lives in Ontario, Canada, where she breeds canaries, finches and small hookbills.