An Introduction to the Lineolated Parakeet
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.