BOURKE'S PARAKEETS: (Neophema bourkii)
Pictures at bottom and our aviary.

The Bourkes Parakeet as a pet:
The Bourkes Parakeet can make a very good pet for beginners and the experienced person. These birds are very calm and quiet and do not bite at all. They are the same size as an English Budgie so the cage size is the same for them. Most parakeets can talk and we have heard from owners of these birds that they can talk as good as Budgies. They do cost more for Bourkes as the normals go for $50-$60 each while the Rosies go for $80-$100 each but they do live longer than Budgies making the cost worthwhile.

We have heard from people that the Bourkes Parakeet can become tame as easily as a Budgie. Some are a little difficult but they can become tame with time & patience. If you cannot tame these birds in a few months, you have just found one that may have a problem that may or may not go away in time.

Breeding cages for these birds should be 18 inches high by 18 inches deep and at least 30 inches long or wide. Books say they mature at 18 months which usually means they can breed at this age. Their eggs take 18 days to incubate. The nest box should be 8 inches wide by 8 inches high by 16 inches deep. The entrance hole is 2 to 2 1/2 inches. A Budgie nest box is also suitable in size. The box should have wood shavings or mulch as a base.

Voice: A frequent repeated (also while flying) mellow "chu-vee" sometimes a hard & penetrating rolling whistle ending in a soft pleasant whistle. They have a very pleasant sound and are very peaceful birds.

Feeding: See general care & feeding from main page. During breeding they also need small mealworms, rolled oats, hemp, crushed corn, small sunflower seeds & some fruit if they will eat it.

Nest: In small hollow trees, especially in acacia & casuarina to 10 feet. The hen lays 3 to 6 white eggs on a layer of wood pulp. They hatch anywhere from 18 to 20 days. The male feeds the hen while she is laying on eggs.

Lifespan: The lifespan of Bourkes Parakeets is 8 to 15 years with an average age of 12 years being common.

Distribution: From south-western Queensland and deep into the western portion of New South Wales through central Australia to the northernmost portion of South Australia and a few areas in the inland of Western Australia.

Male & Female: Pink; black-brown scalloping. Crown, neck back, wings, and tail are auburn. Edge of wing is blue, as is the underside of the tail feathers. Blue-white eye marking. Wing feathers have a white band. Outermost tail feathers are blue-white. Female has a rounder head and usually lacks most of the blue colouring above the beak and is generally duller all over. (from "Parakeets of the World" by Dr. Mathew M. Vriends.)

P.S. We breed the normal and Rosy Bourkes and find our females have a flatter head than the females, opposite to the info mentioned here. My wife Bernie says, the males just hold their head feathers higher making it appear more round and should not be used to sex the birds.

After nine, sometimes eight, months the young achieve adult colouring, but until that time it is virtually impossible to sex them. Only the rounder heads of the females may be an indication, but not a certainty. Eyes are brown; beak is a shiny black; light brown feet. Sexing Rosy Bourkes is almost impossible but sometimes you may see a few flecks of pale blue scattered over the heads of the males and not the hens.

Length: 21-22 cm (8 1/4-8 1/2 inches); wings 10-12 cm (4-4 1/2 inches); tail 10-11 cm (4-4 1/2 inches).

Habits: Seen in small family units or in pairs, after prolonged droughts in big flights. From the late 30s onwards this species was regarded as extinct. Today, however, these parakeets are very common, particularly in the Mulga steppes in southwestern Australia. It is possible that the food plants of the parakeets were destroyed due to overgrazing by sheep. After a reduction in the number of sheep following a prolonged drought, the vegetation recovered and the population of Bourke's Parakeets increased again. The birds roost in the shade of trees and shrubs during the day and do not become active until about two hours before sunset. Water places are not visited until after sunset. The parakeets are calm and confiding in the wild; sometimes they even come into the gardens. Food is gathered on the ground and consists of the seeds of grasses and herbs, acacia seeds that have dropped to the ground, and sprouting blades of grass. Breeding season August to December. The nests are located in hollow trees at a height of 1-3 m. Four to five eggs. Incubation period is 18 days, nestling period 4 weeks. Complete juvenile molt at the age of 4-5 months. The male guards the breeding territory and feeds the female, who only leaves the nest once a day to defecate and drink.

Keeping: 1867, at London Zoo. These pleasant aviary birds neither scream nor gnaw, leave plants unharmed and are even peaceable towards waxbills. Bourke's Parakeets thrive even in small aviaries. Being fond of warmth and dryness, they have to be protected from damp weather. In the winter they require a heated shelter. The outdoor aviary should be equipped with a shrub that provides shade. Bathing is engaged in above all in the rain or under the jet of a shower. It is only towards the evening, when most other species are already asleep, that these parakeets start to become active.

Diet: Various kinds of millet, woodland bird mixtures with little niger, few sunflower seeds, no hemp, germinated and unripe seeds, some apple, charcoal, fresh twigs, greenstuff. For raising, lots of different seeds (germinated and unripe), stale white bread soaked in water, biscuit, chopped hard-boiled egg.

Breeding: First bred in captivity in Belgium in 1877. Propagation is easy and succeeds even in small wire cages. Up to three broods in succession. These parakeets are already able to reproduce themselves during the first year. The female leaves her nest several times a day and lets herself be fed by the male who perches nearby. If the nest is being examined she sits tight and even lets one push her out of the way. The nest box needs to be cleaned before the young fledge. If this is not done, inflammations of the eyes may result due to enerustation with feces. After fledging the young birds are very nervous. To avoid injuries resulting from flying into the wire, the latter should be covered with reed-matting or brushwood. The young are fed for approx., another 10 days. Bourkes parakeets have proven useful as foster parents for grass parakeets and Mulga parakeets.

Behaviour: Although the pairs form a close attachment, there is no social preening. Courting males move around the female, leap up into the air and bow a few times, afterwards stretching out to their full height. The wings are raised, revealing the blue flanks beneath.

Particulars: Recently imported birds should not be placed in a outside aviary for five months; they must first become accustomed to our climate. Warmth is a very important requirement for these birds, so they must not be allowed to stay outside during the winter months for the first year if we want to avoid dead or sick birds! This species was named after Sir Richard Bourke, who was governor of New South Wales from 1831 to 1837. Neophema is Greek and means: neos = new; phema = voice; their voice is indeed very pleasant to the ear. If we provide our Bourke's parrots with a good menu, good housing, and offer a little extra treat once in a while, I can guarantee that these birds will live a long life. I have known cases where they lived for twelve years and longer in good health in an aviary. Since in the wild they feed mainly on seeds (grass seeds and seeds from the acacia and spinifex, which are preferably sought in the vicinity of water), we should offer them a variety of seeds in the aviary, even though this is often a problem because they do not readily become accustomed to the seeds we offer them.

It is obviously much simpler to purchase specimens that have been locally bred, making sure, of course, that they are not related. Hard boiled eggs and oven-dried bread will provide some change for them, while plenty of greens and fresh buds and twigs should not be left out. Once imported birds have become accustomed to local climate and the seed menu (panicum millet, oats, hemp, canary seed, weed, and grass seeds) they can be placed in the outside aviary (mid-June). The female will start to breed quickly, particularly when she has become accustomed to the weather and can stay outdoors during the winter without the danger of becoming ill. In February she will lay three to seven eggs (17.8-18x15.6-16 mm), although usually four or five. She alone will sit on the eggs for about twenty days. The male will feed her during this time, and later the young as well. Each season a couple can rear three to four clutches. The young are reared on canary nestling food and the extra nutritional foods mentioned earlier. Ant-eggs, mealworms, soaked rice, corn, bread soaked in milk, and sometimes fruit are welcome too. When given good care, owners have little trouble in keeping these birds healthy and lively and encouraging them to breed.

In the wild they are most active toward evening; early in the morning, before the sun has barely risen, they are already busy searching for food. In the aviary they will be busiest in the early morning and in the evening without bothering any other aviary inhabitants. Just before and during the breeding period, they will also be busy during the day. The male, in particular, will be very active when the female is sitting on the eggs. He will constantly fly back and forth in the aviary, nervously sitting on top of the nesting box and regularly popping into the box to make sure everything is still in order. The female also willingly allows checking by the bird breeder, though we should not overdo this of course. Young birds that are flying out of the nest are quite wild. We should keep a close watch on them because they may very well injure themselves flying against the wire or walls. We can alleviate this problem by placing plants against the walls and sticking some green twigs through the wire roof, etc., which will alert them to the obstacles. Bourke's parrots make excellent foster parents for fellow species as well as for species belonging to the genus Psephotus.

One of the most docile birds to come out of Australia is Bourke's grass parakeet. It is probably also the hardiest of the grass parakeets. When new breeders or novices tell me that they want to start breeding grass parakeets for the first time, I always suggest they start with Bourke's parakeets because of their gentle temperament and their mild personality. That makes it easy to house them either by themselves or with birds of other species. I have previously mentioned the recent successes some breeders are having colony breeding these aviary gems, but by no means do I suggest this method except to experienced breeders, and then only on a small scale. Bourke's parakeets make a pleasant whistling sound with their wings while in flight. When they are in good health and full color, the salmon or rose-pink color covering the whole frontal area is a beautiful sight to see. This color can be brought out even more by feeding shredded carrots.

The rest of the bird is of a grey color, with usually some deep blue along the edges of the wings. The cock bird is readily identified by the blue across the forehead, above the eyes. This blue band shows up after the first moult, at about five or six months of age. The young chicks, however, are difficult to sex, if they can be sexed at all. The white markings under the wings are to be judged the same as in the scarlet-chested. If the white marks are really prominent, the bird is probably a hen, at least most of the time. If the white markings are really light, or absent completely, the bird may be of either sex. Some breeders go by the shape of the head in trying to sex the young birds. I have not been very successful in this latter method, so I will refrain from commenting further on it. There are supposedly three mutations in Europe of a yellow variety of Bourke's parakeet. The first one is of a cinnamon color, and sometimes of a more yellowish color; it is a sex-linked mutation with red or amber eyes. It can be readily identified by the dark area on its lower beak, the rest of the beak being yellow or flesh-coloured. The feet also are flesh-coloured, but the toenails are dark.

This mutation is also now in the United States, and I have some in my aviaries. The second yellow mutation is of a prettier yellow, but it's still not a true lutino. The eyes vary from pink to ruby in color. Some of the prettiest specimens have a pinkish tint to the yellow. Some are lighter yellow than others. This recessive mutation can be identified from the sex-linked variety easily by checking the beak, which is all flesh-color yellow. This mutation is also in the United States now; I have several pairs in my aviaries. The third yellow mutation is said to be a true lutino, but I have never seen any and really have no proof that they exist. Bourke's parakeet goes to nest even more readily than the other grass parakeets; at least this has been my experience with them. They will often breed at six or seven months old, but they should be held back for at least one year. I firmly believe from experience that any species of grass parakeet--and other parrots and parakeets, too--would be a lot better breeders if we could only stifle our impatience and breed them for the first time at two years of age or older. Bourke's parakeets are nearly always double-clutched; they many times lay a third and even a fourth clutch if we are foolish enough to let them do so.


I have a very fine breeder friend in my area who in 1975 colony-bred five or six pairs of Bourke's parakeets in an L-shaped pen of fairly good size and was successful in having over twenty young birds fledged from that attempt. The next year, 1976, he increased the number of pairs in the same pen to about nine or ten pairs, and the results of that attempt were sharply reduced from the previous year. I have another breeder friend (in the Riverside, California area) who attempted to colony-breed five pairs in a pen approximately twelve feet by twelve feet. He fledged babies in 1976. In the same pen, and with most of the same original birds, he had over 20 babies fledged in 1977. In another pen, four feet wide by sixteen feet long and about seven feet high, he placed four pairs of young Bourke's parakeets from the previous year's hatch and had 28 babies fledged in 1977. These facts can all be readily verified. So it seems to be a hit and miss proposition, as other breeders have not been quite so successful in their attempts at colony breeding. Obviously, if the attempt is to be made it would probably be best to acquire young un-mated birds, an equal number of each sex, and put them into the pen to be used at least a couple of months before breeding time. I would strongly suggest installing at least one and one-half times as many nest boxes as there are pairs, such as eight boxes for five pairs, etc. Older birds that have already been paired off and have been used to being by themselves probably shouldn't be used in colony breeding attempts.

-----Normal Male Bourke's Parakeet---------Female (left) & Male Bourke's Parakeet------

---------------Pied Bourkes Parakeet----------------------------Rosy Bourkes Parakeet----

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca




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