The Moustache Parakeet: A Playful and Clever Pet Parrot
Moustache parakeets are attractive, intelligent, and playful birds belonging to the parrot family. They’re entertaining to watch and can be trained to talk. Unlike some birds kept as pets, such as my dusky conure, moustache parakeets are generally not cuddly. They do like and respond to human attention, however. If they’re socialized and handled daily from an early age they are friendly and affectionate birds and make lovely pets.
Moustache parakeets are also called moustached parakeets, mustache parakeets, and mustached parakeets. The bird's scientific name is Psittacula alexandri. The wild birds belong to the same species as the pet and are known as red-breasted parakeets. They live mainly in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
It's very important that pet moustache parakeets are hatched in captivity from eggs laid by another pet. I knew that this was the case for Petra, my moustache parakeet, before I got him. The wild population of the bird needs to be protected. The red-breasted parakeet is endangered in some parts of its range. The species as a whole is classified as near threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The word "parakeet" refers to small or medium-sized parrots that generally have long tails.
Physical Appearance of a Pet Moustache Parakeet
Pet moustache parakeets are attractive green birds with a salmon-coloured chest and upper abdomen. The upper part of the lower abdomen is lilac and the lower part is green. Females usually have a paler colouration than males. The birds have a blue-grey head, a thin black band between their eyes, and a wider black band on each side of their face, which looks something like a moustache. There is a yellow patch on each wing. The tail is a mixture of blue and green.
When the birds are mature, the males have an orange beak while the females have a black one. Immature birds of both genders have a black beak and a green chest and abdomen. Adult birds are between 13 and 16 inches in length.
A Wild Red-Breasted Parakeet
Red-Breasted Parakeet Appearance
There are eight subspecies of red-breasted parakeets. The chest and upper abdomen colour of the wild birds ranges from orange to pink and the amount of lilac on the abdomen varies. In addition, the grey feathers look bluer in some birds than in others. In some subspecies, the upper mandible of the male's beak is orange and the lower mandible is black.
Feral populations of moustache parakeets have become established in some areas, such as Singapore, and hybridization between subspecies has occurred. This has resulted in a wide variety of appearances in the wild members of the species. Even pet birds vary in appearance depending on their genetic background, although they seem to be more homogeneous than the species as a whole.
Wild moustache parakeets are in trouble for three reasons. They are captured for the pet trade, which is the main problem in most areas. They are also persecuted by farmers because they feed on cultivated grain and fruits. In addition, their forest habitat is being destroyed by logging and the desire for agricultural land.
Petra was hatched in captivity and hand reared. Hand rearing is very important in the case of moustache parakeets to develop their friendliness and prevent any aggressive tendencies from appearing.
Moustache parakeets are often said to be feisty, but Petra is a calm bird. He’s affectionate, but he’s not as outgoing or as cuddly as Cece, my dusky conure. Petra is free-flying most of the time. He will get on to my hand and likes to be carried around on my head or shoulders. He enjoys nibbling my ears and will let me stroke him in certain places on his body. He has a very different personality from Cece, who loves to be stroked all over his/her body. Judging by his behaviour, I suspect that Cece is a male. A DNA test is required to confirm the gender of conures.
Although some moustache parakeets enjoy being petted, others are very particular about where they are touched or like to be touched by only one person. The birds need to be handled daily to maintain their friendliness with humans. Keeping them used to being handled also makes vet visits less traumatic.
Moustache parakeets live for about twenty to twenty-five years in captivity. They have a loud voice, although I don’t consider Petra to be a loud bird compared to my noisy, shrieking conure.
Feeding a Moustache Parakeet
Wild moustache parakeets usually live in flocks in forests or wooded areas. They feed on fruit, leaves, grains, seeds, and nuts. Pet birds also like a varied plant diet.
A moustache parakeet does well on a mixture of pellets, fresh, raw vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and carrots, raw fruits such as bits of peeled apple, orange, and strawberries, and small amounts of protein, such as hard-boiled egg. My birds love cooked sweet potato. They also enjoy corn on the cob, after the cob has been cooked for a short time. Cooked rice or beans can also be given to a moustache parakeet. Seeds and nuts should make up only a small proportion of the diet. Avocado is poisonous to pet birds and should never be given to them.
If you have a pet bird, make sure that all produce is pesticide free and wash it thoroughly before you give it to the bird. Remove uneaten produce quickly so that it doesn't spoil. Also make sure that seeds and nuts are unsalted and unsweetened and are as fresh as possible. Petra loves peanuts, but they are high in fat and should be given as an occasional treat rather than as a regular food. He loves spray millet too, but this should also be given occasionally, since a bird can gain weight if he or she eats a large amount of millet.
Moustache parakeets are messy eaters, dropping food to the ground as they eat. My dog takes advantage of this behaviour. He waits wherever Petra and Cece are being fed and tries to pounce on the dropped food before the other dog in the family gets it.
Entertaining a Pet Bird
A moustache parakeet should have a large cage with plenty of room for climbing. The cage should contain lots of interesting toys. Since the moustache parakeet is intelligent, its mind needs to be kept occupied. Boredom will make the bird miserable and may lead to behaviour problems. Even if a bird has to be left in the cage at some times, it should be let out for a lengthy period each day. Before you let your bird out of the cage, make sure that the room is safe for exploring, especially if the pet can fly.
Moustache parakeets love to chew. They need to be provided with lots of safe, chewable toys and equipment. Chewing is a natural instinct that needs to be satisfied. Toys are an ongoing expense when you own a moustache parakeet, since he or she will love destroying wooden ones. Other wooden items that are safe for birds can also be put into the cage for the bird to chew.
Like most birds, moustache parakeets enjoy a water bath. I put water in a dog bowl for my birds to have a wash, which they both love. Cece in particular gets very excited when she has a bath.
A Moustache Parakeet and his Toy
Molting in Birds
Molting is a normal process in a bird's life as new feathers replace old and damaged ones. Molting in a moustache parakeet can be an alarming process the first time you see it, because in addition to the loss of feathers the bird may look dowdy and seem quieter than usual. I make sure that Petra is getting highly nutritious food during this period and also give him special molting food. He soon returns to normal.
You should watch your bird carefully during the molting process to make sure that he or she really is molting and isn’t sick. It's also a good idea to record the molting date so that you can see if your bird is losing feathers due to the change of seasons, for example, and know what to expect in the future.
A Bird Tantrum
Cleaning the Cage
To keep pet birds healthy, their cages and the objects they come into contact with need to be kept clean. Food and water bowls need to be washed daily and filled with fresh material. The cage liner also needs to be replaced daily. The whole cage should be cleaned once a week. The job is made easier—and the cage kept healthier—if small sections of the cage or items in the cage are cleaned once a day.
Bird droppings stick to bars, trays, perches, and toys. Cleaning the cage is an easier job than it used to be now that there are bird-safe liquids on the market that dissolve the droppings. A damp cloth or brush plus a cage cleaner liquid gets the job done efficiently. Every when you're using a cleaning liquid that's claimed to be non toxic, the cage and equipment should be rinsed thoroughly after the liquid is used. Everything needs to be dry before a bird gets into the cage again.
Since wooden perches and toys take a long while to dry, it's helpful to have a selection of toys and perches so that some can be used while others are drying.
A Safe and Interesting Cage for Birds
Perches must have a suitable diameter for your pet’s feet. Natural wood perches are good. They should be placed at different levels in the cage so the bird can move from perch to perch as he or she would move from branch to branch in the wild. Don’t put perches directly above the water or food bowls, since bird droppings can contaminate the bowls. Perches covered with sandpaper shouldn’t be used, since they are too abrasive and can cause sores on the bottom of a bird’s foot.
You need to make sure that your moustache parakeet’s cage is safe and interesting. You also need to make sure that it contains items that have surfaces with different textures to help your bird keep its nails and beak in good condition. However, you do need to be careful that the cage doesn’t become so crowded that the bird doesn’t have much room to move. Designing the inside of a cage is fun and it’s easy to get carried away.
Finding an Avian Veterinarian
Try to find an avian vet or a general vet that has had a lot of experience with birds to attend to your moustache parakeet. As is true in human medicine, there is a great deal of information for a modern veterinarian to know. A specialist in a particular area of veterinary medicine—such as the care of birds—is very useful. Hopefully your bird will never get sick, but if it does you will need a vet visit. In addition, if your bird needs a nail trim, you might prefer to get your vet or a veterinary technician to do it.
The breeder of your bird may know of a good avian vet. Bird clubs and societies may also be helpful. Even pet store owners may be able to help. Until recently, the store where I buy bird food was run by a couple who breed birds and are very interested in keeping them healthy. The couple are very knowledgeable and always had excellent advice to share when I visited the store, including the location of a good avian veterinarian.
Courtship Displays in the Red-Breasted Parakeet
Red-breasted parakeets usually nest in hollows in tree trunks. The female lays three to five eggs, which she incubates for about thirty-one days. Anyone who would like to buy a pet moustache parakeet should find a breeder with a good reputation.
A Wonderful Pet
There’s a lot to plan before you bring any pet bird into your house. Once a bird has arrived it will need plenty of care. Owners should touch and interact with their moustache parakeet every day. If a bird is left too long without human contact it may become wary and unfriendly. If you’re ready for the commitment, a hand reared moustache parakeet bought when it's young and given plenty of personal attention is a wonderful pet.
References and Resources
© 2011 Linda Crampton