Australian Ringneck Parrots by Mark Holmes, Angaston, S.A.

The ringneck family of Australian parrots belong to the genus, Barnardius. They are also referred to as Broad-tailed parrots. The ringneck group are widespread throughout the drier areas of Australia and there are four main subspecies recognised, namely :

Twenty-eight parrot

Port Lincoln parrot

Mallee ringneck

Cloncurry parrot

A hybrid subspecies between the Port Lincoln and Twenty-eight parrot, the so-called wheatbelt hybrid or the yellow-fronted Twenty-eight parrot, also exists. All are widely kept in avicultural collections and are a worthwhile addition to any fanciers collection.

The Twenty-eight and Port Lincoln parrots and the wheatbelt hybrid are all very similar in coloration and I am sure there has been many a friendly argument on an aviary visit amongst aviculturists as to which is which.

In the Twenty-eight parrot, the sexes are alike in body colouration. It is a large bird, being approximately 40cm in length, of which 20cm is tail. The male however, is slightly larger than the female and has a broader head. Its head is dull black; lower ear coverts violet blue; it has a narrow yellow collar around the nape; the back and wings are bright green; the outer webs of the primary feathers are dark blue; the throat and breast are dark green; the belly is green; the underwing coverts are blue; the eye is brown; bill is pale grey; legs and feet are grey. Both sexes have a red frontal band across the top of the bill, as do the wheatbelt hybrids. The wheatbelt or yellow-fronted Twenty-eights as they are often called have the same colourings and markings, except the belly is yellow grading to a pale green towards the vent.

Immatures of both the Twenty-eight and the wheatbelt hybrid are duller than the adults with a brown hue about the head. The Twenty-eight has a tri-syllabic call, sounding like ‘twenty-eight’, as the last note is higher in pitch than the first two. This call has given rise to their common name.

The Port Lincoln parrot is also known as Bauer’s parrakeet, Banded parrot or the Yellow-naped parrot, although these names are not widely used.

Once again the sexes are similar with the male being slightly larger with a broader head. They are 37cm in length, including 19cm of tail. The head is dull black; lower ear coverts are violet-blue; narrow yellow collar on the neck; back and wings are green; outer web of primary feathers are green, becoming blue towards the tips; the lateral feathers are blue edged with pale blue; the throat and breast are blue green and the belly yellow changing to a yellow green as nears the vent and undertail coverts. Underwing coverts are blue; the eye is brown; the bill pale grey and the legs and feet are grey. Neither the male or female Port Lincoln has a red frontal band although some individual birds may have a small red spot above the bill. This is due to interbreeding, as the Twenty-eight, the wheatbelts and the Port Lincoln will readily hybridise. This is most noticeable in large numbers of trapped birds that dealers have on hand at times.

Immature Port Lincoln’s are once again duller than the adults with the head having a brown hue.

The contact call is a high pitched whistling note, repeated rapidly several times. The alarm call is harsh and metallic, being very similar to that of the Mallee ringneck.

The Twenty-eight and Port Lincoln breed from August to February, mainly in central and southern Australia. Birds in northern Australia are known to start nesting as early as June, but this often depends on the rainfall. They often double brood in the wild although I have rarely heard of them double brooding in captivity.

There is a great activity at the start of the breeding season as the pair inspect every hole and hollow in the branches of a living or dead eucalyptus tree, chattering incessantly and wagging their tails. Once a breeding pair have selected a hollow they defend it vigorously against other parrots.

During the mating display, the courting male crouches in front of the female, squares his shoulders and wings and vibrates them slightly, with his tail fanned and moving quickly from side to side. While doing this he chatters constantly.

They nest in a hollow limb of a eucalyptus tree, laying four to seven (usually four), rounded, white eggs 31x25mm in size. The bottom of the hollow is lined with wood dust as a soft bed for the eggs. Hens sit for 21 days and young fly after 30 days.

The Port Lincoln is widely distributed on the west coast of South Australia around Kimba, north to Alice Springs, west from Alice Springs to the Western Australian coast, and the whole of WA below that line, except the south-west corner. They are most common in most types of lightly timbered country, from eucalypt woodland to mallee and dry acacia scrubland of the central regions.

The Twenty-eight inhabits dense eucalyptus forests in the south-west of Western Australia.

Twenty-eights and Port Lincolns feed on the ground or among the branches of trees and shrubs, eating a variety of seeds and plant food.

These conspicuous birds are noisy and inquisitive. When disturbed they fly to a nearby tree, call excitedly and evaluate the danger before flying away. The alarm calls given by one bird quickly attracts others and soon the disturbance, be it a snake, goanna or other, is being investigated by a dozen or more chattering parrots.

Twenty-eights and Port Lincolns in an aviary have been known to be very aggressive towards their young when they have fledged and it is best to isolate the young as soon as they are independent. They have also been known to continually chase their young from the feed bowl, resulting in the death of the young birds.

The Mallee ringneck parrot is also known as the Mallee parrot, Ringneck parrot, Barnard’s parrakeet or buln buln. It is often confused with its close relative, the Cloncurry parrot. Both the Mallee ringneck and the Cloncurry are the same size but their body colourings are different and more distinct than the Twenty-eight and Port Lincoln.

They are approximately 34cm in length including 17.5cm of tail.

The male Mallee ringneck has an overall blue-green body plumage, a red frontal band above the beak and blue cheeks. They have a V-shaped brown-blue band extending from the eyes, back around the head, to meet a narrow yellow collar at the nape. There is an irregular band of orange-yellow across the belly, with the back and mantle a deep blue-black. The shoulders are yellow; the outer webs of the flight feathers blue, the underwing coverts also blue. The central tail feathers are blue with a faint edging of white. The eye is dark brown; bill is pale grey; feet and legs are grey.

The female is very similar to the male, but the back and mantle are a dark grey-green. The hen is slightly smaller, especially in its head size. Immature birds are duller than the female. The normal call sounds something like ‘Kwink-Kwink-Kwink’ and, when disturbed, the alarm call is a harsh metallic shriek.

If feeding in branches or shrubs, they will utter a subdued chattering.

Mallees blend extremely well with their surroundings, either when feeding among the outer branches of eucalyptus or mallee or on the ground.

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

The breeding season is usually August to January, but may be triggered by heavy rain. After choosing a hollow, the pair spend considerable time preparing it, lining the bottom of the hollow with decaying wood dust and making a shallow depression for the eggs.

The courting male crouches in front of the female, squares his shoulders and wings and vibrates them slightly, with his tail fanned and moving quickly from side to side. He also chatters constantly.

Four to six white eggs are laid (usually five); they are rounded and are 29x23mm in size. The female incubates the eggs for 20-21 days and the young leave the hollow after about 30 days.

While the female feeds in the early morning and late afternoon, the male sits in a nearby tree and warns of approaching danger.

The Mallee ringneck is common in mallee scrub, open woodlands

and in trees along watercourses and is distributed from the Murray Flats and Murray Mallee of South Australia, to the sunset country of north-west Victoria and western NSW. They are also seen in southern Queensland.

When seen in an aviary, their colouring may seem a bit ‘ordinary’, but when seen in the wild they are very impressive.

Soon after sunrise they leave their roosting perches, drink and move out to the feeding areas until mid morning. During the hottest part of the day they shelter in the trees or forage in the shade for seeds, fallen fruit and the like. Towards dusk they become active and feed and drink before roosting for the night.

The Cloncurry parrot is often confused with the Mallee ringneck in captivity. In the wild the Cloncurry parrot is restricted to the Selwyn Ranges in north-west Queensland.

The Cloncurry is of similar size and stature as the Mallee with the sexes alike. The Cloncurry has a general plumage of pale green; no red frontal band; a wide pale yellow band across the belly; the wing coverts are green; and the tail feathers get darker as they go down the tail, almost to a blue. The feet and legs are grey-brown. The female is paler than the male and slightly smaller. Immatures are duller than the adult birds and may posses a russet frontal band which disappears after a few months.

They have a call, courtship and mating habits very similar to a Mallee. They seem to be a quieter bird and more docile among my collection of ringnecks. The male Cloncurry is the clown of my collection, as he usually hangs upside down on the aviary roof and moves from one side to the other. He is usually seen to roost this way too.

As far as feeding is concerned, ringnecks 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. Be careful with grass from the roadside as it may have been sprayed by the local Council.

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.

The floor of the aviary should consist of a sand or grit base, and cuttlebone and shellgrit should always be available. They also enjoy a fresh branch of mallee or other gum in the aviary every so often, chewing off the leaves and climbing all over it.

In all, I have found my collection of eight pairs of ringnecks, comprising three pairs of Port Lincolns, two pairs of Mallees, and one pair each of the Twenty-eight, wheatbelt hybrid and Cloncurry, a rewarding addition to my aviaries. One pair of Port Lincoln’s are laying, and another is working their hollow, as is the pair of Mallees and the Cloncurry. Most of my ringnecks are only 12 months old, so I am not over hopeful of achieving success just yet.

Some of mine are housed in adjoining aviaries, with heavy gauge 13mm mesh. I hope to have them in every second cage by next season as I build some more cages. My aviaries are all 2.4m deep, 0.9m wide and 2.1m high, except two which are 3.7m deep, 1.1m wide and 2.1m high. Their hollows are all 60-90cm long and hung at 45° angle, away from the afternoon sun.

Reprinted from the December 1987 edition of Bird Keeping in Australia, the official publication of The Avicultural Society of South Australia Inc.