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Australian Ringnecks

These beautiful Australian Ringnecks are not as common as one might think in South African aviculture, although they do seem fairly common in aviculture in other parts of the world. When in peak condition they look immaculate with their shining, colourful feathers. They are lively birds that make chattering and whistling noises. There is often a bit of confusion when it comes to the Port Lincoln Parakeet and one of its subspecies, the Twenty- eight Parakeet. Both species are fairly common in aviculture yet many aviculturists can get the two confused. Let’s have a look at why.

The red frontal band on these birds is normally the feature of the Twenty-eight Parakeet and the yellow abdomen is only seen on the Port Lincoln Parakeet. Where the confusion can come in is that some Port Lincoln Parakeets also have the red frontal band, which some aviculturists believe could be a hybrid. Many think that this is a hybrid that came about through captive breeding, but this is not entirely true. In their natural habitat in the regions where the Port Lincoln and the Twenty- eight Parakeets’ natural ranges overlap, the Port Lincoln Parakeets with a red frontal band can be seen in flocks.

Traditionally, two species were recognised in the genus Barnardius: the Port Lincoln Parakeet (Barnardius zonarius) and the Barnards Parakeet (Barnardius barnardi), but the two species readily interbred at the contact zone and are now considered one species. Currently, four subspecies are recognised, each with a distinct range, all of which have been described as distinct species in the past. As of 1993, the Twenty-eight Parakeet and Conclurry Parakeet were treated as

subspecies of the Port Lincoln Parakeet and the Barnard Parakeet, respectively. The classification of this species is still debated, and recent molecular research has found that all subspecies are very closely related. Several other subspecies have been described, but are considered synonymous with one of the above subspecies. B. z. occidentalis has been synomised with the Port Lincoln Parakeet (B. z. zonarius). Intermediates exist between all subspecies except for between the Port Lincoln Parakeet (B. z. zonarius) and the Cloncurry Parakeet (B. z. macgillivrayi). Intermediates have been associated with land clearing for agriculture in southern Western Australia.

The subspecies of the Australian Ringneck differ considerably in colouration. The Port Lincoln Parakeet (B. z. zonarius) and Twenty-eight Parakeet (B. z. semitorquatus) subspecies have a dull black head; back, rump and wings are brilliant green; throat and breast bluish-green. The difference between these two subspecies is that the Port Lincoln Parakeet (B. z. zonarius) has a yellow abdomen while (Twenty-eight Parakeet) B. z. semitorquatus has a green abdomen; the latter has also a prominent crimson frontal band that the former lacks (although as mentioned previously, this red band is not always indicative).

The two other subspecies differ from these subspecies by the bright green crown and nape and bluish cheek- patches. The underparts of Barnard’s Parakeet (B. z. barnardi) are turquoise- green with an irregular orange-yellow band across the abdomen; the back and mantle are deep blackish-blue and this subspecies has a prominent red frontal band. The Cloncurry Parakeet (B. z. macgillivrayi) is generally pale green, with no red frontal band, and a wide uniform pale yellow band across the abdomen. Females in Australian Ringnecks generally seem to be a bit duller in colouration and a bit smaller.

The calls of the Barnard’s Parakeet and Cloncurry Parakeet have been described as “ringing”, and the calls of the Port Lincoln and Twenty-eight have been described as “strident”. The name of the Twenty-eight Parrot is onomatopoeic and is derived from its distinctive ‘twentee-eight’ call.

In their natural habitats their diet consists mainly of seeds of grasses and herbs, fruit, blossoms, leaf buds and insects and their larvae. They are usually seen in pairs or family groups.

Port Lincoln Parakeet

Port Lincoln Parakeet

Port Lincoln Parakeet

Barnardius z. zonarius

  • Adult male: Has a completely black head with no red frontal band, more extensive blue cheek patches, yellow abdomen, and yellowish green under tail-coverts and vent. The green colouring on the body is lighter in tone and slightly more yellowish than the Twenty-eight Parakeet.
  • Adult female: Is similar to male but with brownish-black head.
• Length: 33cm
• Range: The Port Lincoln Parakeet, which is the nominate species, is widely distributed through central, southern, west to central and south eastern regions of Western Australia, the northward the southern Northern Territory and northern area of South Australia.
  • Status: Widespread and common in the dry eastern part of its range. In the wheat-belt area, it is probably the most common bird there. While legally protected in Australia, there are certain times of the year in restricted areas where farmers are legally allowed to shoot them because of crop damage.

Twenty Eight Parakeet

Twenty Eight Parakeet

Bardardius z. semitorquatus

  • Adult Male: This subspecies has a black head with a red frontal band. Their abdomen is green, but lighter than its breast. The green feathers are generally darker than the Port Lincoln. A true Twenty-eight carriers no yellow on the breast or abdomen. It is the largest of the subspecies.
  • Adult female: Generally duller than the male with little or no red on the forehead, and their heads are more brownish black.
  • Length: 40cm
• Range: Inhabits forested areas of south-western corner of Western Australia, extending from Albany northward to just north of Perth.
  • Status: Abundant in forested areas, and normally seen in pairs or small parties.

Cloncurry Parakeet

Cloncurry Parakeets

Barnardius z. macgillivrayi

  • Adult male: Overall body pale bluish-green; cheeck patches and sides of throat turquoise blue, the edge of the wings and under tail is turquoise blue. Their neck ring and broad abdominal band is lemon- yellow. Their rump is bluish green washed with yellow, bill is a bluish- horn colour and eyes are brown.
  • Female: Similar to the male except she is a little duller and the head sometimes a little smaller.
  • Length: 33cm
• Range: Found in the eastern area of the Northern Territory adjacent to north-western Queensland, wherein lies the town of Cloncurry and hence this species name.

Barnard’s Parakeet

Barnard’s Parakeet

Barnardius z. barnadi

Also known as the Mallee Ringneck. These are very popular birds in aviculture due to their beautiful colouring and hardiness, and they breed fairly well in captivity.

  • Adult Male: Overall plumage is green; crown and sides 
to head bright green, cheeks with slight bluish tinge; red band to forehead; nape olive-brown with adjoining yellow collar on back of neck; lower back blue-black; breast and abdomen turquoise with a variable orange-yellow band; iris dark brown; feet grey.
  • Female: Have a paler plumage; back and lower back dark grey-green; under wing-coverts greyish; pale under-wing stripe usually visible.
  • Mutations: There are blue and lutino mutations
  • Length: 33-35cm
  • Range: Native to south-eastern Australia (Queensland 
to South Australia). They are common in mallee scrub, open woodlands, where they blend extremely well with their surroundings. They are often seen in pairs or family groups feeding in branches or shrubs.

Care and Breeding

As these Parakeets are large birds they require a good sized aviary of around 4m long and a meter wide with the height of the aviary no less than 2m. If you are using suspended aviaries there are aviculturists that use suspended aviaries that are around 1 meter high x 1 meter wide by 5m long. They have very strong beaks that have known to be able to devour wooded structures and wire of a light gauge. Fresh branches placed in their aviaries will be quickly chewed up and provide many hours of entertainment for them. Although considered tough birds, make sure that they have some protection in their aviaries from cold winds and rain. These species tend to enjoy foraging on the ground so if you have a conventional walk-in aviary make sure the floors are kept clean in order to prevent worm infestations. It is important to note that all Australian Ringnecks can be quarrelsome and aggressive and therefore it is important that they are never housed together or aside one another. You should only house one pair of birds from the same species in one aviary. 
As far as feeding is concerned, these parakeets like a diet of small parrot mix comprising, for example, plain canary seed, grey sunflower (not black), hulled oats, pannicum, white millet and safflower. 
They also relish a regular supply of fresh apple, silver beet, orange quarters, carrot, seeding grass, wheat, barley grass, millet sprays and sunflower heads. 
They also enjoy almonds and nuts. Do not feed almonds that have been left to get damp. Make sure they are stored in a dry place and cracked when needed. 
As mentioned, these birds have strong beaks and therefore a strong wooden nest box is needed. Some use natural wood boxes as the wood is generally a lot harder to chew. Breeders have noted that if the next box is too deep (more than 70cm) or not at an angle they have been known to jump down onto their eggs and thereby damage them. A shallower log of around 60cm with an opening of around 15 – 20cm seems to be ideal, even more so if angled slightly enabling the
hen to easily climb down into the nest box. A substrate of 50% peat moss and 50% wood shavings can be used at the bottom of the nest box.

Courtship consists of the male head bobbing and bowing before the female. He squares his shoulders, raising his wings slightly, and fans his tail while chattering and twittering his special courtship note to her. Between four and seven eggs may be laid with incubation beginning after the second or third eggs has been laid. A normal clutch consists of four eggs, with incubation lasting about twenty one days. The hen alone incubates the eggs but is fed to some extent by the male. Young are in the nest for around 38 days before fledging and are independent in a further two weeks. Immature birds reach their full colouring at around 14-15 months of age. Breeders have been able to double clutch their birds in a season.

Overall, Australian Ringnecks are highly desirable avian species and I think as breeders it is important that we make sure that the subspecies are not crossed and only pure lines are bred in captivity. These birds can be a real joy to work with and I hope to see more and more of these in the years to come in South African aviculture.

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