The Quaker Experience
I guess as a bird keeper whether you keep finches, parrots, chooks or whatever- there is always a bird that you long to keep and breed. For me this hookbill was the Quaker parrot, Myiopsitta monachus. Others might tend towards Macaws, Black Cockies or exotic Lories, but for me it has always been this little green parrot from South America. Much has been written about their wild distribution and habits so I will stick to my own observations on this beauty.
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the home of Gordon Dosser, a prominent Victorian aviculturist, where there was housed a fantastic collection of Lories, Black cockatoos and Conures. My eyes boggled at the extent of his collection and the sheer variety of birds, many of which I had never seen before. His hand rearing room was another story! He allowed me to handle some of the older babies and I soon selected a strange looking chick that was obviously a Lory ascertained by the stream of droppings that it aimed onto my t-shirt!!) but was black in colour. Gordon told me it was a Black Lory, Chalcopsitta atra, and what its market price was, I gingerly replaced it back with its nest mate! But I digress which, if you have ever read my gear before, will not surprise you!
As we took the tour of his birds we came to an aviary that housed a pair of Quakers but to my surprise, one was a beautiful blue colour. If I was in love with the normal green bird I could not leave the blue birdsí cage. As a rule I am not taken with mutations at the best of time but the complete replacement of the natural green colouration by this magnificent blue was truly stunning. At this time the blue mutation was just being established and was way, way outside my meagre price bracket. But I was doubly determined to possess a pair one day!
Well, a number of years went by and, as is the nature of mutations, the price fell to where I was finally able to afford a pair and who better to get them from than Gordon himself. They duly arrived with a sheet of dietary information that made my head swim. On top of their normal seed diet Gordon fed them corn, peas, carrots, snow peas, silver beet, broccoli, all the fruit that was in season and....wait for it....chillies!! I thought he was joking so I thought I would test their resilience by giving them a red Habanero chilli (the hottest you can get). They didnít bat an eyelid as they ate the flesh and seeds. Dud chilli I thought until I stupidly stuck a rejected seed in my mouth very hot indeed! Not till years later did I read that birds donít have the receptors for capsaicin (the hot chemical in chillies) in their bodies sneaky little varmints!
When I first obtained my Quakers they were the greatest cost outlay I had ever made on birds so their aviary was completely covered in to protect them from our temperate climate! This contributed to the amplifying effect of the Quaker chatter and they are now housed in 5m flights that have half the roof and sides open to the weather Ok, in truth I really wanted those covered aviaries for my finches! These are one tough little parrot! Provided that you supply ample shelter I believe they would thrive in most conventional parrot flights. If they can survive in the wild in Chicago they can survive anywhere!
Although I was only 17 at the time I have always remembered his words. Despite my misgivings I adhered to his advice and the birds decreased in size, increased in feathers and bred for me. I must admit I had to steel myself to walk past their accusing eyes when entering their enclosure! But that was nothing to the noise that accompanies a very annoyed Quaker parrot that feels that HE should be getting far more delicious seeds FAR more often. Add to that a hand raised Quaker to boot and earmuffs and blinkers are the order of the day!
When they are breeding my birds are fed copious amounts of Milk Thistle (they eat all the various varieties of weeds that pass as milk thistle here, even the spiky, coarse leafed types that other parrots are not too keen on) and corn on the cob. They will pick over apples, pears and oranges but the corn is their all time favourite. Iím afraid the chillies I now keep for me! Cuttlefish is always supplied and they will demolish this when the mood takes them! Branches of gum and willow are supplied and are massacred with great relish and what is not eaten will find its way into their nest.
Fresh water is always supplied and they like nothing more than a good bath in clean water. Have noticed them dropping the maize kernels into the water bowl on occasions and, when I was once slack in changing their water, noticed that a few days later they were down bobbing for kernels when the maize had softened. Told you they were clever!
My reasoning for not allowing them to build a huge stick nest was to make it easier for me to access the nesting chamber to check on the chicks. Not an easy thing to do without wrecking the entire structure if they are allowed to follow their instincts. If you are contemplating hand raising the chicks you will be best advised to use nest boxes so that you can check the size and condition of the chicks. I have never had them desert chicks through nest inspection but suspect they might take a dim view if you were to dismantle their stick structure on a regular basis. I have a friend that allowed his birds to build their massive nest but they deserted their young after he had rearranged the nest several times to inspect the chicks he now box breeds and has had no further desertion problems.
These guys appear to be attentive parents and I have found that if they hatch a chick they will invariably rear it. The average clutch has been between 4-6 eggs and fertility around 95%.
As previously stated, my birds are fed Milk thistle and Corn on the cob plus the usual apples, pears and oranges when breeding.
Young Quakers can be homicidal maniacs when first leaving the nest, especially in longer flights, so it is important that you keep visits to a minimum when the chicks first leave the nest. The young can be left in with the parents should they decide to double clutch. On this topic 2002 was the first time that I have ever had Quakers double clutch. Both nests are still with the parents and there are few squabbles or fights that is except for dad whom, so it appears, has had enough of his offspringís antics!!
The actual breeding season appears to vary from year to year. When I first bred them they sat in August but in 2002 the first eggs didnít appear until mid December. Basically, I have had eggs in every month from August through to February.
I try to breed mine as a single pair to an aviary but have read where many people keep them on the colony system. I did once have 5 birds DNA sexed and told that they were all males so I placed them together in a flight only to find that one of these males had laid 6 eggs!!!!!!!!! Despite the obvious sex imbalance this pair reared 5 youngsters and there was little evidence of serious fighting between the other males. I also left the young from the first nest with the parents when they double clutched one season and there was no interference with the second brood from their older siblings.
When my blue Quaker bred his first chicks he would sit on the lid of the nest box when you were inspecting them and offer you advice on where you could go! He still has a rather blue turn of phrase which; of course, he only utters at the most inappropriate times. Such as when a prospective Quaker owner arrives to check out the birds and he walks up to them as Iím doing my sales pitch and captivates them with his friendly nature and bobbing dance but then proceeds to assail their ears with intemperate phrases!! Oh well, he IS a good breeder! I did ask Gordon about his Quakers use of certain expletive deletives and he looked at me and stated that if I had had to get up every 2 hours to feed the little buggers when they were chicks then I might have been tempted to let fly too!! Hmmmmmmm canít argue with that one. But, I digress yet again!
I have had to hand rear Quakers and they have the most fantastic disposition that I have encountered in parrots- in equal place with the Swift parrot, Lathamus discolour. Even reared in isolation from other siblings they appear not to have any of the clingy nature common to other hand reared parrots. Also, unlike most hand reared Broad tailed parrots they wonít turn around 12 months down the track and try to tear your arm off! My little fellow was happy to be on and around you but never attempted to bite or nip and of an evening, when he had had enough of you or what was on TV, he would simply walk down your arm and stick his head up your jumper sleeve and go to sleep! Considering that this species has a VERY powerful beak, he never attempted to bite or nip. In speaking to the proprietor of Birdsville (a large bird outlet in Sydney, Australia) Les Lenton, he has always sought out hand reared Quakers as pets as he claimed that no body had ever returned a Quaker or complained about them as pet birds. Yet he also claimed he had had many hand-reared birds returned by their owners for inappropriate noise or behaviour from Macaws to Black Cockies, but never a Quaker. Given that they are a little noisy as an aviary bird it must speak volumes for them as a pet. On the subject of noise, the birds that I have hand reared did not even attempt to scream as their aviary-reared cousins did and the only time I heard them shriek was when they had unwittingly kamikazied into the clutches of a vicious pot plant or slid gracelessly into the sink!! It was more "here I am, come save me" rather than "take one step closer and your ears will get it!"
Diseases and/or Problems:
Given a good grade of small parrot mix and plenty of veggies and fruit you shouldnít have too many problems with this species. Perhaps plenty of branches and pinecones to amuse themselves with would also be of benefit.
Noise is perhaps their greatest draw back. When kept in a colony
system or in adjacent aviaries they indulge in what we term Quaker
chatter that can only be described as ear piercing! If you are
contemplating a pair make sure that your neighbours are:
Although the noise is a major consideration it can also be a blessing in disguise as they are the best alarm system known to aviculture. If anyone, and I do mean anybody, dares to come near their cage you will know about it in 5 seconds. My own Quakers chatter away when I enter their enclosure but if I have a stranger with me their chatter becomes ear piercing! Also, please donít think that you are going to hold a conversation with anyone near their cage, as they will always endeavour to have the last word! They have alerted me to visitors on a number of occasions. These visitors have included a number of Brush-tailed possums and owls at night plus snakes and two-legged human interlopers during the day. On one occasion I heard a raucous din emanating from the front Quaker pens and, upon arriving with the block splitter tucked under my arm, found a number of people peering into my aviaries. They had seen the aviaries from the road and decided to drop in and have a look and I suggested they might like to go away and ask next time! This time I felt my tame blue Quakers parting words were totally appropriate! Iím digressing yet again! As previously mentioned, the noise is only a major problem in small, urban backyards or where your aviaries might be completely covered in such as to act as an amplifier.
Given the random nature of genes I guess it is only a matter of time before these mutations are available to bird keepers in Australasia. Having seen pictures of these other mutations I feel that they make the Quakers look like budgies (no offence!) and prefer the blue Quaker over any that I have been shown in pictures at least you can tell that the blues really are Quaker parrots!