The Bourke’s Parrot (Neopsephotus bourkii) is an Australian grass parakeet which is closely related to Neophema parakeets such as the Turquoisine and Splendid Parrots. It was named after General Sir Richard Bourke, who was the governor of New South Wales from 1831-37. They have been bred in captivity since 1877.
They live throughout the central and southern interior areas f the country as well as the odd sighting to the west. they prefer to live in arid and semi-arid scrublands and live in pairs or groups of no more than 10-30 birds. They are protected in Australia, but their numbers are increasing due to this.
The wild version of the Bourke is a brown bird with pink abdomen and breast and a blue rump. The male has a blue forehead while this is absent on the female. As the name says, they are grass seed eaters who are seen to be most active at dawn and dusk.
There birds are called parrot, but by size are nearer to the parakeets measuring 7-8 inches in length and weigh around 45g. Their average lifespan is 15-20 years in optimum conditions.
Their natural environment is a dry, hot one but Bourkes generally do not have any special heat requirements. As with most all birds, protection from the extremes of weather is always a good idea but otherwise they can live in a sheltered outdoor aviary with minimal complications in the British climate.
As a rule, Bourkes have a lovely temperament; they are gentle and non-aggressive. They are intelligent little birds and are also very quiet, making gentle chirping noises which can barely be heard above the chatter of zebra finches. These are a fantastic start-up bird for someone looking to start keeping a member of the parrot family.
If they have been hand reared, they bond closely with their humans. But on the turn side are also able to keep themselves occupied when alone and are not so active during the day, following the wild pattern. They still need to have time out of the cage in supervised areas for exercise. Personal experience has also shown that parent reared birds can become reasonably tame given time and patience and will happily sit on the shoulder or arm or come to feed from your hand.
In an aviary, they live happily with others, even smaller birds. Sometimes they can be bullied by bigger birds, but again from experience, they can defend themselves if needs be. They enjoy climbing so in an aviary; trees are a must so they can enjoy themselves but are not chewers as many parrots are, so are less destructive. They also enjoy a bath so should have access to a bath as well as fresh water.
One thing to remember is that Bourkes will often feed on the ground so ensure the floor of the cage or aviary is kept free of bacteria such as moulds to prevent illness.
There are various mutations from the wild-form Bourke and the most well known of these is the Rosa Bourke. These birds are much pinker in colour than the wild type with little or no blue on them and a more universally pink feather colour. There is also a lutino mutation which is quite common where all blue parts of the bird turns yellow while the eyes are red. Other less frequent mutations include rubino, opaline, cinnamon, Isabel, fallow and pale fallow.
Seeds, grasses and plants, are their staple diet in the wild as well as fruits, berries and insects. There are special seed mixes now available for the grass parakeets for Neophema parakeets but they will also be happy with a good budgie seed mix as long as supplemented with treat seeds such as millet and safflower, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Sprouted seeds are another option strongly recommended for a Bourke’s diet. These have increased nutritional value compared with normal seeds as the fat in the seed is utilised in sprouting and leaves only the good parts behind. They will also enjoy kale, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, swiss chard, grated carrot, corn and fruit such as pear, banana, grapes and apple. They will also enjoy weeds such as sow thistle, dandelion, chickweed and seeding grasses.
Access to vitamins such as calcium is also useful so the birds can supplement themselves when necessary. It is important for the hen when breeding but also for good general feather health and to help with digestion.
Their natural nesting place is a tree hollow, usually in an acacia or casuarina tree around three feet off the ground. In captivity, they like a nest box high off the ground, typically 25 x 25 x 40cm. They do not have a specific breeding time in captivity while in the wild breed from August to December. Due to this they can be relatively prolific once they start and remain as a pair.
Under wild conditions, the Bourke has 3-6 eggs which the female incubates for 18-19 days. She is fed by the male while doing this and makes occasional trips out of the nest for exercise. The male will sit nearby and watch over the hen, ready to defend her and nest if needed.
Chicks fledge at around four week when the mother continues to feed them. Once fledged, the chicks will be fed by their parents until 7-8 weeks of age and can then be separated from their parents if required.
Bourkes are excellent starting birds for the parrot family with a gentle temperament who make little noise and can live happily in a variety of conditions. They can occupy a large cage or an aviary and are content to share with others with little problems. Their diet is a simple one, especially with the newer mixes specially designed for grass parakeets and a good balance of fresh food to help maintain health. They are an utterly pleasant species who can learn to be quite tame even if not hand-reared and will give endless pleasure.