This is an article I wrote for “Companion Parrot Quarterly,” issue 69. In it, I mention keeping Lineolated Parakeets in mixed aviaries and since I wrote the article, I tried just that with my linnies. They currently live in a very large flight cage with two budgies and two button quail. The birds all get along just fine. The key to keeping linnies with other small, gentle parakeets seems to be having multiple food and water dishes and plenty of perches. The button quail stay on the cage bottom since they are ground-dwelling birds and the linnies and budgies leave them alone.
I have also noticed that linnies are becoming much more popular with aviculturalists since I wrote this article.
Edit: I later got a female budgie who doesn’t seem to like the female linnie. So, they are now separate. The linnies have been living with the button quail for well over a year now and they still don’t bother each other.
An Introduction to the Lineolated Parakeet
Why I Chose Lineolated Parakeets
The Lineolated Parakeet, Bolborhynchus lineola, is a small parrot species that is native to Central and South America, and it is the species that introduced me to the joys of parrot keeping. I’ve always been an animal lover, and have lived with a variety of animals throughout my life, including dogs, reptiles, fish, cats, rodents, and ferrets. However, until a couple (edit: now several!) years ago, I had never owned a bird, or even had much experience with them. I had started to read a bit about parrots, and found them absolutely fascinating, as I had no idea that they were so intelligent and complex. I began to consider getting a parrot, but not wanting to acquire an animal that I could not properly care for, I bought a few parrot books, and joined a parrot club to be sure that I really wanted to commit myself to parrot-ownership. When I finally decided it was time for me to add a parrot to my family, I began to look for a gentle, small parrot, and finally decided upon the lineolated parakeet (“linnie”). I chose a linnie as my first bird because I read that they are generally quiet, non-aggressive, and playful. Perfect! I needed a quiet bird because I lived in a duplex, and I wanted a gentle bird because I found birds with large beaks somewhat intimidating (although this is no longer the case, since I have a cockatoo and an Amazon!). I soon obtained my little bird, a cobalt-colored female I named Garnet, from a local breeder, and I adopted a second green linnie, Emerald, a year later. These little birds are similar in size to many other popular miniature parrots such as peach-face lovebirds and budgies. However, they are not nearly as common as these species, and I’m not too sure why this is, as linnies can make wonderful pets for a bird lover. This article is intended to introduce the reader to these loveable little parrots.
Personally, I think linnies are very attractive, cute little birds. They are small parrots and average about 16 centimeters (six inches) in length. This makes then only slightly longer than a lovebird. Wild linnies are a pretty emerald green with black-tipped feathers on the upper body and wings, which give them a “barred” appearance. Although they are referred to as “parakeets”, they actually have very short, fan-like tails. The term “parakeet” is usually reserved for small or medium birds with long tails. Adult linnies have very striking dark-brown eyes, pink legs and horn-coloured bills. Senior birds often have a small patch of yellow feathers on the forehead, and juvenile birds are a lighter green and have a more extensive bluish tinge on the head than the adults. Like the majority of parrot species, the males and females look alike and are quite difficult to tell apart by eye. The females, on average, tend to be slightly smaller than the males and they also have narrower black margins on the rump, lesser wing coverts, and the tail. However, this is not always the case, so many owners and breeders choose to have their birds DNA-sexed
As is the case with many of the small parrots, several color mutations have appeared in captive linnies and aviculturalists have perpetuated these. The most common of these is the blue series of mutations, which include sky-blue (turquoise), cobalt, and mauve (slate). There are also dark green and olive green linnies that are darker than the wild-type ones. Lutino (yellow) and cremino (cream-coloured) linnies are also available. Other colors, such as gold and silver, have been bred in Europe, and there are also cinnamon and pied linnies, but these are currently quite rare.
Linnies in the Wild
There are two subspecies of lineolated parakeet. The first is Bolborhynchus lineola lineola, which occurs from southern Mexico to western Panama. The second is Bolborhynchus lineola tigrinus, which is also called the barred parakeet. The barred parakeet is a darker green and has thicker black markings on its wings than the lineolated parakeet. The barred parakeet occurs in northwest South America in northwest Venezuela and the Andes of Colombia and Peru.
These little parrots tend to prefer living in the canopies of dense, montane rainforests and cloud forests. They breed at elevations of 1500 meters or higher and, like most parrots, prefer to raise their chicks in a hollow tree trunk or limb. In the winter after the breeding season, linnies often descend to lowland forests. During this season, many will forage in partly cleared areas, cultivated areas and savannahs.
Wild linnies tend to occur in small flocks of up to 20 individuals, although flocks of up to 100 have been seen. Beyond the information I’ve presented here, which is taken from Parrots of the World, by Joseph M. Forshaw, very little is known about the habits of these little parrots in the wild. Since they are small, like to live high in forest canopies, and are very well camouflaged in their surroundings, they are very difficult to observe in nature. Additionally, they are not nearly as noisy as other parrots, which makes them difficult to spot. They are most often seen while in flight, because they often chirp while they fly, which may attract a birdwatcher’s attention.
Garnet and Emerald have been an excellent additions to my family, which also includes a six-year old maroon bellied conure named Lucy and a red-lored Amazon named Ripley. Garnet and Emerald are rather quiet birds, although this is not to say that they are completely silent. Each morning, they chirp when they feel it’s time for me to get up, or when the other birds vocalize. Garnet often produces a cute twittering noise while climbing on her ropes and play gym. Since linnies do not produce a high-volume call, they can make excellent pets for apartment dwellers. I actually find Garnet and Emerald’s chirping and singing to be quite pleasant. To me, they sound more like songbirds such as canaries than parrots.
Many lineolated parakeets do learn to speak a few words or phrases, and they often learn to do so at a very young age. I’ve heard that male linnies are more likely to learn to speak than the females, but females are often capable mimicking various sounds as well. Garnet does not speak at all, but she has learned to imitate a kissy-noise that Lucy can also make. She also imitates Lucy’s loud calls, but she does this in a much quieter tone. I also keep a trio of degus (small brown rodents related to the chinchilla) in the same room where Garnet’s cage is located, and I swear she has learned to copy the warbling noises and beeps that the degus make. Emerald doesn’t speak or mimic anything yet, but he’s a fairly new addition to the family.
Linnies can make great family birds. Many will have a favorite human, but if handled by a number of people, most will be friendly with all family members and won’t become “one-person birds.” Linnies kept in pairs can even remain tame with humans if they are handled daily. Their calm, gentle nature makes them appropriate for families with children, if the children know to handle the bird gently and are supervised while doing so.
Linnies (generally speaking!) tend to be peaceful, non-aggressive birds. Plenty of gentle handling of a young bird helps ensure that it will become a friendly, good-tempered adult. For the most part linnies are such pacifists that they can often be kept in large, mixed aviaries with other small, non-aggressive finch or parrot species such as society finches or Bourke’s parakeets. Karin Banerd, in an online article, reports that her linnies cohabit easily with finches, Australian grass parakeets, and canaries. Linnies can of course also be kept in a large colony with other linnies. They should never be kept in an aviary with species that tend to be aggressive towards other birds, such as parrotlets or lovebirds. When keeping them in a home with other larger parrot species, it is important to be sure that the other birds do not “bully” the linnie. So far, my linnies coexist well with Lucy and Ripley, but since Lucy and Ripley are territorial at times, I never leave them out together unsupervised, and I have provided each species with their own, separate play area. The two linnies get along very well with each other.
Caring for a Linnie
Most captive linnies live to be about 10-15 years of age with proper diet and care. Not much is known about the diet of wild lineolated parakeets, but like most parrots, they eat a variety of seeds, fruit, nuts, leaf buds, and blossoms. In captivity, linnies generally thrive on a varied diet as their wild cousins do. Garnet and Emerald eat high-quality pellets that I supplement with a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains (such as brown rice), cooked scrambled eggs, millet, and a seed mix. For the most part, linnies tend not to be picky birds, especially if they are weaned onto a varied diet. One breeder told me that these parrots tend to be little “garbage cans” since they generally love to eat anything! However, Garnet does have a few odd little quirks when it comes to food. I could not get her to eat red peppers or broccoli until I clipped them onto the side of her cage. She eats them happily when presented that way. I also convinced Garnet that the brown rice, bean and veggie mixture I make for the birds is good food by letting her see Lucy, who I got before Emerald, eat it. When Garnet saw Lucy eat the food, she decided to try it too. Since parrots are flock animals who often eat together in a group, it’s often possible to convince them to try a new food by either eating it in front of them yourself or letting them see another bird eat it.
Linnies (like any bird) tend to appreciate having a large cage, or better yet, an aviary. These little birds often love to climb, so they need plenty of room in their cages for toys they can climb on. A cage needs to be large enough to house a few different types of toys, a few perches made from different materials, three dishes (one for pellets, one for soft food and one for water) and not appear crowded and still give the bird(s) plenty of room to move around in. However, the size of the gaps between the bars on the cage must be taken into consideration when choosing a cage, since these little parrots can easily get their heads stuck between widely-spaced cage bars. If this happens, the bird may panic and break its neck. Be sure the bars on the cage are close enough together (less than half of an inch) to prevent the linnie from getting its head stuck. Linnies are generally non-destructive in their cages or aviaries, although Garnet did once chew a small hole in a wall, and she loves to peel the bark off of clean elm branches.
If you end up with a cage that has the guillotine-style doors that slide up and down, be sure to seal them shut somehow. Garnet lost a toe when one of those slammed on her foot. My husband, Quentin, came home one day and found Garnet huddled on top of her cage looking quite unhappy, missing one of her back toes. She was in her cage when we left the house that morning, and all the cage doors were still shut. We found some blood at the bottom of one of the guillotine doors, and her missing toe was on the bottom of the cage. It seems Garnet was clever enough to figure out how to open that door, and it likely slammed on her toe on her way out. Poor Garnet! We rushed her to a veterinarian who cauterized her toe and supplied us with some antibiotics to give her so her toe would not become infected. Please check your cages to be sure there’s no way your bird could be hurt in a similar way.
Companion linnies appreciate the opportunity to spend some time out of their cages daily, but since they are so small, they are prone to accidents, such as being hit by a door, or being stepped on. Always be aware of where your linnie is when he or she is outside the cage. Garnet and Emerald have a play gym outside their cage, and above it is a large “boing” that Garnet loves, and several ropes for them to climb on. A boing is a rope with wire inside that allows it to form a spiral. Garnet loves to climb to the top of her ropes and flap her wings like mad to make the rope swing. Her rope toys are not in her cage, since she will chew on them, and linnies can easily get their toes stuck in toys containing loose threads. Most linnies also love having a cloth tent to sleep in, and Garnet heads right for hers at bedtime each night. I check it frequently for loose threads she could get her toes caught in, and so far I have never found any. Some parrots may see a sleeping hut as a nesting area, and will therefore lays eggs in it or guard it. So far, this has not been a problem with Garnet.
Being rainforest birds, most linnies seem to enjoy showers or baths. Garnet and Emerald far prefer showers and will not enter a bird bath. I shower them with a spray bottle, and they love this! Garnet hangs upside-down and spreads out her wings so her whole body gets wet. After the bath, she clings to a perch and flaps her wings very rapidly to dry off.
Properly socialized linnies are generally very sweet, inquisitive, non-aggressive birds, although the odd one may become a bit nippy at maturity. However, Garnet has still never bitten me hard, and Emerald is very gentle. Linnies also tend to be a bit less bold and feisty than some other small parrot species like parrotlets and lovebirds. Garnet was a touch shy when I got her, and always prefers to walk away from people she’s afraid of than bite them. She would always flee from me when I tried to hold her when I first got her, and she was also quite afraid to leave her cage. I really didn’t want her to live in a cage her whole life, so I went to work to help her get over her fears. For the first week, I sat and read where she could see me, so she would get used to my presence. I have since convinced her that it is safe for her to stand on my hand by rewarding her with a bit of millet whenever she approached me. She was also served her favorite foods outside of her cage, so she came to realize that being outside of her secure cage isn’t so bad.
I acquired Lucy a few months after I got Garnet, and her addition to the family seemed to benefit Garnet. Lucy is absolutely fearless, and Garnet came out of her shell quite a bit after seeing Lucy interact positively with me and play outside of her cage. I think she learned that it is safe to be out of her cage by watching the Lucy enjoy time out of her cage. I suspect she learned it was safe to stand on my hand by watching Lucy as well. Young birds often learn a lot from watching their flock mates. Emerald is still shy as well, and I am working with him to help him become more outgoing as well.
I should also point out that Garnet and Emerald are somewhat atypical for linnies, being as shy as they are, because most are quite outgoing and easy to tame. The two other juvenile sky-blue linnies I met at Garnet’s breeders were both very outgoing, as are most linnies. It was quite interesting to see the variation in the personalities of the different birds in the clutch. The babies were placed in a large cage in the breeder’s living room where they would get used to things like dogs, the television, and other normal household things. They were also played with each day, so I think Garnet is just naturally shy.
Linnies have quite a few quirky habits that set them apart from many other parrot species. The way linnies walk across horizontal perches is unusual and is often described as “primate-like.” While walking, they tend to retain the ducked posture they often take while perching. Garnet and Emerald, like many other linnies, love to spend time hanging upside down. Linnies also adopt a very unusual posture when they sleep: they keep their feathers fluffed up, and their heads down, and they raise their tails upward. Linnies also have very expressive little tails: they fan them in and out when excited, startled or annoyed. Unlike parrotlets and most cockatiels, they use their feet to hold or manipulate objects. Matthew Vriends, in The Parrotlet Handbook, notes that they will spend time on the ground looking for seeds, and insects. This is fine for aviary birds, but be cautious about letting a pet linnie on the floor, as they are easily lost and/or injured.
An Overlooked Species in Aviculture
Interestingly, despite their sweet, gentle nature, linnies are not terribly popular yet, although I predict that they will become better known in the future. Currently, they are mentioned in only a few parrot books (such as the Parrotlet Handbook, by Matthew Vriends), but there several websites out there devoted to these parrots. I have found my linnies to be very enjoyable companions and I appreciate their sweet, gentle natures. I’m not sure I could have asked for nicer birds. If you love small birds and are looking for a quiet, and gentle, yet playful and loyal companion, a lineolated parakeet may just be for you.
Banerd, K. 2002. The Lineolated Parakeet – A Real Charmer. Online at http://www.lineo1.bravepages.com/testimony-karinbanerd.htm
Forshaw, J. M., and W. T. Cooper (illustrator). 1978. Parrots of the World. Lansdowne Editions, Melbourne, Australia.
Vriends, M. M. 1999. The Parrotlet HandBook. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, New York, USA.
–a website on these charming little birds.
-another site on Linnies.
Some news from the Indonesian Parrot Project!
Project Abbotti—Saving the World’s Rarest Cockatoo
October 1, 2008 (San Francisco, CA) The world’s rarest cockatoo has been re-discovered in Indonesia. The Yellow-crested Abbott’s Cockatoo is found in the wild only on a single island (tiny Masakambing Island; 500 ha) in the Masalembu Archipelago. This island is in the remote Java Sea, north of the cities of Surabaya and Bali, and east of southern Sumatra. This archipelago also contains Masalembu Island [2000 ha] and Keramaian Island [300 ha].
Parrots are the most endangered bird family. A number of the parrots threatened with extinction are found only in Indonesia. Four of the five cockatoo species listed on the highest category of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are found in Indonesia. Of these, the Yellow-crested cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) are the most imperiled. This species contains four subspecies. Three of these are fairly well studied. However, one (C. sulphurea abbotti) has remained largely a mystery until now, but is known to be at great risk.
There are no cockatoos in the other two islands in the archipelago, with the bird having been extirpated from Masalembu and not known to have ever populated Keramaian. Studies in the 1990’s, which remain largely unpublished, found that only 5-10 individuals remained on Masakambing. However, there are essentially no extant data since that time, and intervening extinction was a distinct possibility.
Therefore, the Indonesian Parrot Project (IPP, a U.S. all-volunteer, non-profit Non-Governmental Organization or NGO) working with Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia (KKI; Cockatoo Conservation Indonesia, its allied NGO) launched an expedition to the Masalembu Archipelago in June and July of 2008 . The field work was led by Dudi Nandika and Dwi Agustina (both from Jakarta, Indonesia and co-founders of KKI) working under the guidance of Dr. Stewart Metz, President and Director of the Indonesian Parrot Project.
Due to the small size of Masakambing, Nandika and Agustina were able to make detailed surveys of the entire island. Once the skies had been filled with flocks of these cockatoos; now a total of only ten cockatoos was identified—four males, four females, and two juveniles—making them the most threatened cockatoo in the wild and one of the world’s rarest birds. Like other members of the C. sulphurea species, these beautiful birds have a largely white body with a brilliant yellow, forward-curving crest, and slight yellow on their ear covert feathers. They may be the largest of the four subspecies. The first photographs of these birds in the wild outside of Indonesia were acquired, as was some videotape footage of the birds mating, preening, eating, playing with twigs, examining nest holes, and similar natural behaviors.
Two major threats to the survival of the Masakambing cockatoo were identified. One is their capture for the illegal pet bird trade. It is usually nestlings, rather than adult birds, which are taken. Formerly, they were trapped in large numbers by outside visitors who took them to Bali and Sumbawa Islands. Now, with the marked decline in their numbers, the birds are only sought by government officials, who keep them as pets due to the prestige of owning such a rare bird. A second risk factor has been the logging of trees which had been suitable to provide food and nest holes for these cockatoos. This area has been planted, especially with coconut palms, with almost total destruction of previously favored habitat flora such a kapuk trees (Ceiba pentandra) and mangrove (Avicennia apiculata).
Due to the extreme gravity of the situation, an intensive conservation program was initiated on behalf of these cockatoos. Visits were made to Junior and Senior High Schools to teach students the principles of conservation, increase their awareness of the plight of the birds, and foster pride in their rare and unique bird. T-shirts are being made to reinforce this message. Laws to protect these birds had been passed but only in the distant “kabupatan” (district) of Madura and these decrees are out of date; there are plans to update these and extend them locally to the islands of the Masalembu Archipelago themselves, where they are more likely to be enacted. Officers from the armed forces and police locally were taught about the protections already in place nationally and internationally and were encouraged to conserve the birds. [See photo below] Stickers reminding villagers of the plight of their cockatoo will be placed at suitable locations.
Other measures under consideration include: paying the villagers for each cockatoo which is allowed to successfully fledge (leave the nest); hiring local villagers as “wardens” to protect the nests from disturbances; protection of remaining habitat; increasing knowledge about the biology of the bird through ecological research studies; holding town meetings for informational and awareness purposes; and providing artificial nestboxes for breeding. The most aggressive and complex approach might be to initiate a captive breeding program. For the latter, attempts would be made to locate and breed any C. sulphurea abbotti outside the island or in local zoological parks. Their chicks could then be used to repopulate Masakambing (unfortunately, the other two islands are too deforested to consider for this approach).
It is hoped that, in view of the gravity of the situation, international assistance and funding can be found to save this magnificent but rapidly vanishing cockatoo.
For more information, interviews with Dr. Metz, photographs or video please contact Bonnie Zimmermann, Indonesian Parrot Project, (707) 227-5155, (707) 965-2538 or email@example.com or Dr. Stewart Metz at (425-830-5295) or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Magpie in the Mirror
Magpies are very common where I live, and despite their somewhat bad reputation – familiarity breeds contempt, after all – I find them quite interesting. They seem like rather intelligent birds and they’re also one of the very few wild bird species (juvenile ravens, keas, and woodpeckers being the others) I’ve seen engage in play. I’ve seen juvenile magpies play with objects and even tease and chase young hares.
It turns out that they are one of the very few species that is self-aware and can recognize itself in the mirror. Here’s a video from youtube.com about that:
Great apes, elephants, and dolphins are the other non-human species that seem to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror.
The video above notes that the magpie’s self-awareness may be the result of its large brain. Among birds, corvids (crows, jays, magpies and relatives) have the largest brains relative to their size. Cockatoos (Cacatuidae) come next, followed by parrots (Psittacidae). Owls (Strigidae) also have huge brains for their body size, but most of that excess braininess is in the area that controls visual input. Quails, partridges, and pheasants have the smallest brains relative to their body size.
The text of the scientific paper reporting on their mirror self-recognition is online right here:
Here’s a comment on it by Franz de Waal:
Introducing Peggy, the Jenday Conure.
Last week, I got a new addition to my flock. She’s a sweet little Jenday Conure (Peggy) who’s had a bit of bad luck in her life. First, she became positioned a bit funny in the nest box she hatched in and one of her legs became splayed out. Her breeder did manage to straighten it quite a bit, so it wasn’t too big of a deal. However, a little later on, she got her other, good leg caught up in a snuggly. Most of her leg was lost, although she still has a bit of a stump there. Poor bird.
Peggy went to another home for a while, but ended up going back to the breeder, who Emailed me wanting to know if I could give Peggy a good home. I thought about it and figured, Why not? I have room for a medium bird, and plus, I really like conures. They tend to be very friendly, curious birds, and Jendays in particular are absolutely gorgeous. They can be noisy, but bird noises don’t bother me too much. The breeder also wasn’t asking for any adoption fee, which I thought was nice.
Anyway, this is little Peggy:
She’s very cute but I guess she broke off her tail feathers too at some point. I’m sure they’ll grow back, though.
Peggy’s a very sweet, friendly bird. Quentin (my husband) put her on his lap the second day she was here and preened the pin feathers on her head for her. She then climbed up his shirt and started preening his beard. Aww.
She gets around okay despite her handicap. She can climb around on the cage bars side to side with no problems. She falls occasionally, so I got her a long, short cage. It’s one intended for rabbits, but it seems to suit her needs well. She has a lot of rough perches (like natural wood and concrete ones) so she can grip onto them well. Her one foot is still a little gimpy so I don’t think she’d be able to perch well on smooth dowel or manzanita perches. She can perch on my shoulder just fine and she can grab my hair or shirt if she slips. She seems to like being a “shoulder bird,” and she spends a lot of time preening my hair.
She has to have small pellets since she cannot hold food in her feet. Likewise, any vegetables or fruit I give her need to be bite sized. Her chew toys are ones that won’t swing around much, since she cannot hold on to toys with her feet. She seems to enjoy exploring and chewing stuff, and she’s been trying to chew up my keyboard. She successfully got the “Ctrl” key off when I wasn’t looking. Lucy, my Maroon-bellied Conure, previously bit the “Home” key off, but I found it and glued it back on.
On another note, if there are any other conure fans out there reading this, you should also check out this blog: Best in Flock: Life with a Sun Conure and Pionus Parrot. The author has some info on Sun Conures (which are similar to Jendays).
I’ll likely post more pictures of Peggy later on!
Update! (November 14, 2008)
Here are a couple more pictures of Peggy:
Peggy does get along fine with my Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy. Despite her handicap, Peggy is extremely active. She’s always puttering around her cage, busily chewing up and dismantling her toys. She has a few wooden ladders and is currently working on chewing off all of the rungs. I often tie strips of vegetable-tanned leather to the bars of her cage and she loves to chew those up or untie them. I’ve also caught her hanging upside-down from the top of her cage beating up some of her bells.
She’s very affectionate too and comes out of her cage each night to sit on or with me and Lucy while I work (mostly on my thesis). She’s really a charming little character.
Update 2 (May 19, 2009)
Peggy’s tail and flight feathers are coming in nicely. A lot of her flight feathers were broken when I got her.
Above is a picture of Peggy at a parrot club meeting. A Blue and Gold Macaw was spreading his wing out and Peggy was copying him.
This is my favorite picture of Peggy. It really brings out her colours and her facial expression is adorable. She’s a bit damp in this picture because she just had a shower.
A picture of Peggy taken about a month ago. Her tail is growing in, though some feathers are a bit bent. She’s very sweet and playful.