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GRASS PARAKEETS

They are small, long tailed parakeets that belong to the genus Neophema, such as the Scarlet-chested, Turquoisine, Elegant and Bourke Parakeets. Most of their day is spent foraging on the ground for grass seeds. Sometimes, members of the genus Psephotus (Red Rump, Hooded, Mulga, etc) and Platycercus (Rosellas) are also referred to as Grass Parakeets.

Life in the Wild Neophema parakeets come from Australia, where the different species can be found in all types of habitats. The Bourke lives in the Mulga woodland, the elegant can be found in open grassland or near coastal sand dunes, and the turquoisine lives in forest areas near mountain slopes. People rarely see the scarlet-chested parakeet, possibly because of its nomadic nature.

Characteristics Neophema parakeets are popular aviary birds because of their beauty and peaceful temperament. The birds' nondestructive nature and pleasant chirping make them easy to keep in all kinds of situations. Birdkeepers who house an assortment of birds in planted flights can add one pair of grass parakeets and appreciate these colorful gems in all their splendor. Because they are quiet and small, they are also ideal for apartments. No matter how you choose to keep these little gems, it is important to consider that they are aviary birds that should be kept in pairs and housed with plenty of room to fly.

Pet Quality It is tempting to keep these birds as pets, since their colors outshine the comparatively plain budgerigar. Neophemas, however, have quiet, introverted personalities; they are not as outgoing or charismatic as budgies. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, Neophemas do not make good pets. Grass parakeets are best enjoyed in aviaries or flight cages.

Considerations In warmer climates, like Florida and California, grass parakeets can be kept outdoors, but still need adequate protection from the elements. The three basic rules are to avoid dampness, eliminate drafts and reduce humidity. Keeping them indoors in a temperature- controlled environment avoids those problems.

Housing Except for the more sedentary Bourke's, Neophemas are busybodies. They spend their day running around the cage bottom, eating or flying around their flights. To accommodate these energetic creatures, they are best housed in aviaries or large flight cages. An ideal breeding cage would measure 3' by 3' by 4'.

Mixed Flights For the hobbyist with a mixed aviary, grass parakeets are certainly worth considering. Bourke's and Scarlet-chesteds get along well with cockatiels, finches and doves. Turquoisines and elegants can also be kept in community flights, although they can be quarrelsome during breeding season.

Buying Birds Not all Neophemas do well in every situation. Scarlet-chesteds, for example, are more sensitive to cold weather than Bourke's parakeets, and blue wings need larger flights than elegants. Researching the needs of the different species will help you avoid disappointments.

Diet In the wild, Neophemas spend most of their day foraging for their regular staple of grass seeds. In the aviary, they also spend a good part of their day eating. You need to accommodate their habits by feeding them a variety of foods that are not only nutritious, but will also keep them busy.

A quality parakeet seed mixture, spray millet, cuttlebone and fresh water daily will serve their basic needs. They relish fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, beets, kale, spinach, dandelion, broccoli, carrots, corn and wheat grass. All fresh produce should be washed thoroughly as these birds are very sensitive to even small amounts of pesticides. Organically grown fruits and vegetables purchased from a health-food store are best. During breeding season a high quality egghead should also be fed.

Neophemas, especially those kept in outdoor aviaries in warmer climates, are susceptible to Candida infections. Therefore, it is important their food and water dishes scrupulously clean any uneaten fruits and vegetables should be removed from the aviary within hours after feeding.

Water I do not add vitamins to their drinking water; the mixture can grow bacteria in warm weather and cause fungal or bacterial problems. I also never medicate my Neophemas via their drinking water, because they are desert birds and drink very little. Not only will they not receive enough medication this way, but a sick bird will dehydrate from not drinking. It may be more time-consuming, but I medicate my ill parakeets orally. This way I am sure they are receiving an accurate dose.

Breeding A contented grass parakeet, housed and fed properly, should breed readily. Young mature birds that were paired with their mates early on get right down to business come spring time. Like all breeding birds, Neophemas like privacy. They need to be in a quiet location, away from people and other pets. One way of providing them with an added sense of security is to keep them in flights with the top perch and nest box above the keeper's eye level.

Once a grass parakeet decides to breed, it isn't particular about the nest box. Parakeet- or lovebird-sized nest boxes lined with a fine layer of pine shavings on the bottom will work well. The male carries out his inspections before the hen enters the nest box and does her rearrangements, which entail several days of moving around the substrate.

The hen needs to spend a certain amount of time in the darkness of the nest box before she can lay her first egg. Keep a close eye on young, first time laying hens to watch for egg binding. Recognizing the symptoms and taking speedy action will save the hen before it is too late.

The hen will lay every other day until she has laid four to six eggs. The eggs are incubated for 18 days. The male feeds his mate from the nest box perch for the first 10 days, after which he is allowed to enter and feed the chicks directly.

Neophemas grow quickly and fledge as early as 4 to 5 weeks of age. They are unstable fliers and are prone to bruising their ceres from crashing into cage wire. This will pass after a few days.

The male does the feeding as the hen prepares for her second clutch. Unless the hen had two unusually small clutches (three chicks total), it is best to remove the nest box to prevent her from laying a third clutch. By giving the parents time to rest from the arduous task of raising chicks, they will live longer, healthier lives.

Once babies are eating on their own (7 to 8 weeks old), youngsters should be moved to a larger "baby flight," where they can exercise and strengthen their flight muscles.

Banding Babies can be close-banded at 10 to 11 days, with budgie-size bands. (9/64).They can also be banded with open colored plastic bands on the other leg to mark family lines or certain birds split for a color mutation. If you have many bloodlines of different species, it is easy to identify unrelated birds from a community flight just by looking at the color of their leg bands.

Mutation In aviculture, a mutation is a bird that differs genetically from the accepted norm, in this case color. Color mutations are for the serious aviculturist that has already mastered the basics of breeding "normal" grass parakeets. Mutations can be less hardy and more difficult to breed, but are a nice challenge for the experienced breeder.

Split This means that although a bird appears "normal" in color, it carries a hidden gene for a certain color mutation. Splits cost less than a mutation and can be an inexpensive way of getting of getting started with the different color grass parakeets.

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