Rock pebblers (Polytelis anthopeplus) are an overlooked choice for pet bird owners. Perhaps it’s because as Australian grass parakeets they are often considered aviary birds. Given the feedback I received from two rock pebbler owners, they are a parrot to consider when adding a pet bird to your family. The biggest surprise to me was that rock pebblers talk readily and learn a lot of phrases.
Rock pebbler owners Robin Deutsch and Cindy Keegan both say that their birds are more “watchers” than “doers.” One of their main activities is sitting and watching what is going on around them. “They watch all that goes on very intently and have a sweet face with big eyes and bright beak,” said Keegan. “They are great for apartments as they are very, very quiet. They have sweet, soft voices and speak pretty clearly.” Deutsch added that her rock pebbler, Rocky, has “many toys in his cage and he may play with them only on occasion.”
Besides talking, rock pebblers have a natural call that’s, “an unusual sound,” said Keegan. Deutsch said that her rock pebbler’s voice is high-pitched, like a budgie’s. Rocky has a 200-word vocabulary and also mimics household sounds. “Every time that my husband turns on our alarm system, Rocky makes the sound of turning it off,” said Deutsch. “This is very confusing for my poor husband.” You can imagine what it’s like to live with this talented mimic.
Rocky goes to bird shows and knows how to entertain that crowd. “Say ‘Hello’ to him and he will have an entire conversation with you,” said Deutsch. “He loves it when a huge crowd gathers around the table as he goes through his entire vocabulary. In fact, he has gone to so many shows with me that he could now answer questions about his species. He will tell you ‘rock pebbler,’ followed by ‘Polytelis,’ ‘Australia,’ and then his age. He does lie about his age, however. He tells people he is 5 when he is 10.”
Captain Charles Strut admired these birds in the early days of the European exploration of Australia. In their native habitat, rock pebblers live in the eucalyptus forests of southeastern and southwestern Australia. Rock pebblers, also known as the regent parrot, rockie or rock pepplars, are about 15 to 16 inches long — including a long, broad tail — and weigh about 170 to 180 grams when mature. The head looks small in proportion to the body. In fact, these birds are shaped a bit like pigeons. There are no subspecies.
Rock pebblers are sexually dimorphic as adults. The females and young birds are mostly olive green with a light red beak and a reddish band on their wings. At about 14 months of age, males produce brighter coloring. Both sexes have even-tempered dispositions, and both sexes learn to talk.
Some of the other birds that are successfully kept in roomy aviaries with rock pebblers include barrabands, Princess of Wales, Indian ringnecks, Neophemas, grass parakeets, doves and quail.
Rock Pebbler Odds & Ends
Deutsch points out that for all their agreeable and sociable nature, rock pebbler’s are not the smartest parrots on the block. When young, her Rocky took a week to realize that he would fall off if he kept walking beyond the top of his cage (Rocky is hard-wired to be a ground-feeding parrot) and would sit on top of a matzoh ball and eat it from the bottom up, with the ball rolling away from him in the process. Robin took to making him square matzoh balls. She has heard similar reports of the bird “not quite getting it” from other rock pebbler owners.
These two rock pebbler owners feed their companions a variety of foods, which the birds are smart enough to relish. Deutsch is the author of The Healthy Bird Cookbook. Her bird receives home-cooked pastas, beans, rice, muffins and a variety of vegetables and fruit. Keegan’s rock pebbler also likes to eat conure-sized pellets as well as warm, soft foods like pasta or cooked vegetables.
Rock pebblers enjoy being with people. Rather than being petted, a rock pebbler will enjoy sitting on your shoulder or a playstand and just being near you, even if you are doing something else. This bird is a good homework or housework companion.
Rock pebblers have much to recommend them: subtle beauty, a gentle nature, quiet voice and great speech and mimicry potential.
Diane Grindol shares her life with seven cockatiels and a blue-headed Pionus parrot. She is the author of “Cockatiels For Dummies” and “Teaching Your Bird to Talk” as well as other books about living with companion birds. Diane holds seminars for pet bird owners in various communities and resides on the Monterey Peninsula, California.
Rock Pebbler Breeding Tips
When it comes to breeding rock pebblers, Kim Castine of Feather Heaven in Michigan says these birds are as simple as it gets. She raises each pair in an outdoor flight cage that is 6-feet wide by 10-feet long by 8-feet tall.
Castine places three young males together with three young females to allow them to choose their own mates. Don’t try this during breeding season, she warned, because the males will be too aggressive. She knows people who just put one female and one male together, but “if they don’t like (their mate), you don’t know until next spring,” she pointed out.
If she’s lucky enough to get a hollowed-out log delivered to her wood pile, Castine shapes it into a 18- to 24-inch tall nest box. Otherwise, she makes her own out of wood that are 12- to 15-inches square and 18- to 20-inches tall. She creates a hinged lid, bores a 3- to 4-inch hole near the top, and covers the bottom with either bird litter or pine shavings.
The typical clutch size is three to nine eggs, and generally three to five of those will hatch. The female shoulders most of the incubating responsibilities, but the male pitches in from time to time. The male also helps with feeding. A good first-time mother will be able to raise four birds, so you may want to pull the fifth for hand-feeding, Castine recommended.