This is one of the most popular birds in the world. It can be found in two sizes, and it learns to talk!
"I had an Australian Parakeet who wanted to bathe with my baby daughter every morning. When the cage was closed, he protested noisily until someone opened it." The case of the American writer and ornithologist William H. Allen Jr. is only one out of many pranks and tricks this bird, one of the most popular in the world, performs. Intelligent, curious, easy to reproduce, breed, tame and teach, that's not all yet: the Australian Parakeet can learn to talk.
The first to describe it was the naturalist Shaw, in 1789. Half a century later, another naturalist, John Gould, published a book about it, and introduced it in England. Not long after that, the Autralian Parakeet was taken to the USA. It's arrival had such an impact, that an indiscriminate hunting of the species followed in Australia. A law was then established to prohibit the exporting of the bird as a way of preserving it in the continent.
The original color of this Parakeet is light green. The first different color to be settled was the yellow. A mutation emerged in Belgium in 1872. Today, the variety and tonalities add up to more than 200 colors, a result of the work of breeders from the orignal mutations and with the combination of the following colors: green, yellow, blue, gray, violet and white. The English obtained a larger size and more compact appearance: the English Australian Parakeet, or English pattern, with 20 to 22cm, while the original size is 17cm. The head is larger, the beak hidden, inserted in the head, and the black spots under the neck are more definite. It has a more docile and calmer temperament, and it is the only one to participate in expositions. The English breeders also managed to settle the mutation of the Australian Parakeet with a topknot on its head.
It's scientific designation, Melopsittacus undulatus, derives from its wavy appearance. The male's caruncle is blue, and the female's is in pink tones. The exceptions are the albino males (white), lutinos (yellow albinos) and some varieties of the harlequin (bluish pink).
The Psittacidae, family to which the Australian Parakeet belongs, are usually talkative. The shape of the mouth and larynx make this possible. But, unlike the parrots, the Australian Parakeet repeat sounds faster than they are taught, producing words in a higher pitch. The adult bird doesn't learn to talk. It is necessary to teach them since they are babies. The first step, therefore, is to buy them as soon as they leave the nest and start eating by themselves. Pet stores, bird fancier clubs or associations may provide the addresses or indicate breeders. While they're babies, it is necessary to feed them in the mouth; this will make them tame and friendly to their "adoptive" parents. Isolate them completely from birds and animals, so they don't hear other sounds.
Teaching them to speak demands determination and patience. Start training with only one short and simple word such as "hello", "dad", "babe", etc. Repeat it several times a day, every 10 to 15 minutes. Pronounce it closely, pausedly and clearly, with patience and disposition. You may use a tape recorder to help. Record the word and play it several times a day. Generally, from 30 to 60 days after the beginning of learning experience, the "student" will start saying it. From then on, the bird will assimilate other words faster.
There are cases in which the bird's vocabulary reaches up to 200 words. In Brazil, breeder Eberath Iken became famous for teaching his Australian Parakeet 176 words. It took him approximately five years. It's not necessary to go that far, but you can teach it your name, address and telephone, in short, your identification.
Another way of teaching is through association. When uncovering the cage say, "good morning," and when turning off the lights, or covering cage, say "good night". After a while, when you do one of these things, the bird will repeat the corresponding expression. Give preference to male babies. Traditionally they sing louder, and are more vocal. The femenine voice, as well as the children's, work better in teaching, because of the higher and clearer pitch.
Feeding: Commercial Parakeet mix, or a seed mix
in the following proportion: 40% birdseed, 40% millet, 10% oat, 10% sunflower
(daily); raw green corn (twice a week), green vegetables, except lettuce (in
alternate days). If there are baby birds, supply them with soft food, such as
bread soaked in water, in quantity for a day, and more green vegetables and
Housing: For one couple, a 64cm long x 34cm high x 30cm wide cage is enough. The English pattern couple needs a bigger cage, 70cm x 40cm x 30cm. For colony breeding, the ideal aviary should have the following dimensions: 3m x 1,5 x 1,5. The colony may be as big as 10 couples of the ordinary parakeet, or 5 of the English pattern parakeet. To avoid them flying away, make an extra room at the entrance, which will make bird to go through two doors. Install canvas on the top of aviary, and cover with clay roofing tile, leaving one third of the aviary uncovered so the birds can sun bathe.
Breeding: This must only begin after a year. When ready to mate, the female's caruncle acquires a brown tone and the blue in the male's caruncle becomes more intense. If breeding in colonies, several couples mating in the same place, use the closed wood nest for Australian Parakeets, leaving more nests then couples, to avoid birds fighting over nests. For the same reason, the number of couples in a aviary should be 6 to 8, all of them placed there at the same time, and at same age. In case of death of one female, you shouldn't substitute it imediately, for the male will attack her. Nest should be covered with sawdust. If after the birth of babies the nest is too humid, change sawdust. Females lay up to 6 eggs, one every day and a half. They are born in pairs and are hatched during 18 days. Manipulation of babies is allowed, and even convenient to balance litters. If a couple has only one baby and the other has 5, rearrange babies. They will not be rejected, nor attacked. At about 30 days of age, the babies start to eat by themselves. They must, then, be separated from parents, so they can start a new bearing. It is absolutely necessary, after the breeding period (six months, three bearings), that males be separated from females. If possible, they shouldn't see each other. With this separation, the resting and maintenance period begins (six months), and you will be able to choose the couples for the next breeding period. To interrupt breeding, take away the males. The females stay in the same aviary.
Health: The most common disease, scabies, is transmitted through perches e cage bars. Highly contagious, it spreads rapidly to all birds. It appears in the feet, legs and around the eyes and beak. The disease is easily treated. Breeder Nelson Kowall treats it with Emerich ointment, made with vaseline and sulfur in manipulation pharmacies, by a competent pharmacist, who knows the formula and follows the right dosage. Accuracy, in this case, is very important. Scrub strongly, with the tip of the fingers, the affected places. Breeder Juvenal Perestrelo uses a solution of 50% Acarsan, sold in drugstores (in Brazil) and 50% liquid vaseline, applied with a cotton swab. Both applications must be done three times, every ten days.
Life Span: up to 12 years.
More Information: CON, National Ornithological Center, Tel. (011) 575-2672
Reading Material: The Cut of Budgerigar, W. Watmough, Nimrod Book Services, Liss, Hants, GU33 7PR, England; A Criação de Periquitos e Seus Cuidados, Ademir Eugênio Lopes, Livraria Nobel S.A., Brazil.
We would like to thank the assistance and additional text
editing of breeders Juvenal Ferreira Perestrelo, president of CON, and Nelson
Research and text: Carmen Olivieri. Text editor: Claudia Piccazio
Picture: Fernando Torres de Andrade
Owner: Centro Ornitológico Nacional