There is a little bird called the Lineolated parakeet, also known as
the Barred parakeet, that is next to unknown when it comes to your average
bird person. I discovered them many years ago, looking through "You
and Your Pet Bird" by David Alderton, and fell in love with the litte critters.
I got my first pair in February.
Not being one to jump into something without a bit of research, I did my darndest best to find some information on these little guys. I will pass on most of what I learned.
Description - Lineolateds are small parakeets, about the size of a lovebird. A friend of mine described them as looking like a cross between a budgerigar, a parrotlet, and maybe a little lovebird thrown in. I guess when you get down to it, that's not far off! They are basically green birds with, of course, black barring. Their eyes are large and dark, their beak small and horn colored, and they are just darn cute little birds! Their tail is short but pointed, and seems to be a continuation of their body, almost. They're somewhat sexually dimorphic; the males tend to have more black in their tail - this holds true in my pair, but I've heard that if you want to be really sure, you ought to have your birds DNA or surgically sexed.
Origins - Lineolateds come from scattered areas in southern Mexico
and Central America where they reside mainly in mountainous and forested
areas. They supposedly gather in small to large flocks, and spend
a lot of time on the ground. They are reputed to be quite the runners!
Unusually for small birds, they use their feet as "hands" to hold their
food; they also "pin" or "flash" their eyes when excited, by contracting
the pupil, just as the larger parrots like Amazons and African greys do
- although it's not quite as noticible as their eyes are more darkly colored
(a medium brown, lighter that a cockatiel's).
These guys were more common back in the "Dark Ages" of importation (ha ha), and suprisingly a number of mutations were developed (discussed in more detail below). Today, they're pretty uncommon, but there are breeders out there to be found if you look hard enough. Information on them is even harder to come by; the purpose of this article, I suppose!
Buying - If you can find one of little fellows, expect to pay anywhere from $75-$200 for a normal green. The color mutations cost more, of course, though they are not that expensive when compared to, say, color mutations of Quaker parrots.
Pet Qualities - Everything I found in reference to Lineolateds' pet qualities raved about them, saying that they become tame quickly and are among the most loving and trusting of the small pet birds. I found little info on their personalities, but the overall consensus seems to be that they make wonderful, loving pets. Looking at my own pair, they're extremely loving to each other, not wanting to leave the other's side and always preening and cuddling - no doubt a hand-fed bird would act similarly towards it's human companion. They're also very playful, interested in what's going on around them, and not shy birds.
Noise Leval - Another thing in their favor, is that they are very quiet birds. Their noise is often described as a "shrill twitter" or chatter, not wholely unpleasant to the ear, and not at all very high in volume. I do notice that when my pair is seperated from each other, they make a louder, higher-volume call, still not particularly obnoxious, and for the most part they are exceptionally low-volume, pleasant birds to have around.
Talking Ability - I found little or no info on their talking ability, or if they have any at all, but my own male mimicks a wide variety of noises. He doesn't talk, but his voice is clear and he's a good mimicker - I would bet that if he were tame he would talk quite well.
Diet/Care - I found no references to any special dietary needs, and breeders' birds do just fine on a basic parrot diet of pellets, fruits, veggies, some seed, and other variety. My own birds were on a seed diet when I got them, but had no problems converting to my standard diet based on pellets, and are very fond of a wide variety of foods. Cage size for a single bird would not have to be enormous; any large budgie or lovebird cage, or a nice standard cockatiel size cage would be appropriate. Mine seem to like to toys but aren't quite as playful or acrobatic as a lovebird.
Color Mutations - Suprisingly enough, there are a fair number of color mutations available; there's blue, which is pretty self-explanatory, lutino, which is a yellow bird, cremino, which is a cross between the blue and the lutino and is a light yellow/cream color, and the "dark factor" mutations, the same as in lovebirds; jades, olives, cobalts, and mauves, the latter two being the blue forms. These are all more expensive than the normal green bird, but not that uncommon, at least when compared to the normal green. The blue, the most common of the mutations, I have usually seen for sale for around $300.
Breeding - Lineolateds are reputedly fairly easy breeders, not being reluctant to go to nest and not being prone to any particular problems. I've heard some say they do better with more than one pair within hearing distance, so they can chatter back and forth, but other breeders have only a single pair and do fine. Cage size for a pair doesn't have to be enormous; minimum would probably be around 18" x 18" x 30" or the equivalent. Recommended nestbox size is usually 6" x 6" x 9". Lineolateds will sleep in their box year-round and it's recommended you leave this up unless absolutely necessary; for a pet bird or breeding birds that need a rest, perhaps a Happy Hut or similar product would be a good idea. Some sources stated they will build a nest within the nestbox if given nesting material; mine havn't shown any tendancies to do so. They lay an average of 4-6 eggs, and the youngsters wean at about 6 weeks old. Young Lineolateds can begin breeding at an early age; one article stated that they may begin breeding as early as 6 months! However, for all intents and purposes, it's best to delay breeding until at least 10 months to a year, if you don't want to risk compromising the health of your birds.
In conclusion, I guess I ought to say that Lineolateds are some pretty nifty little birds. They're one of aviculture's little "secrets", but it's my opinion this secret won't stay secret for long; they're just too perfect. They make wonderful pets, easy breeders, aren't horribly expensive and aren't at all noisy, and there is already a number of colors to choose from. What more could you ask?