The Quaker Experience


by Marcus Pollard

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!

 

Blue & Green Quakers.

Baby Quaker.

Dad & His Thistles!

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!

Housing:
My Quakers were housed in 3m long by 1.5m wide flights and my normal Greens were housed next to my blue male and split blue hen. I have always resisted the temptation to put mutation to mutation (in this case blue to blue), as there appears to be a tendency for the size to decrease. A few successful Neophema breeders that I know also were quick to confirm this observation. Anyway, right or wrong, I have always been able to sell my birds and a number of people have remarked upon the size and vigour of the blues so I guess I will keep on breeding this way. Having the birds in close proximity resulted in some initial anxious moments for me but in 12 years I have never experienced aggression through the wire, no missing toes or bloodied heads. There is, however, one major consideration. The noise! Two pair of Quakers in a covered in aviary was tolerable (just!) but when you add 8 youngsters you have a racket to behold. A warning. NEVER attempt to go near your Quakers if you are suffering from the effects of any alcoholic overindulgence, as your birds will realise your frail condition and scream all that much louder. Donít believe me? I suggest you undertake a scientific experiment and donít blame me if you suffer ruptured eardrums! Smart birds these Quakers!

 

Nest Box - 2002.

Nest Log - 2003.

Gangway, Comin' Out!

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!

Feeding:
I have already given you an outline of what Gordon Dosser supplies to his birds and my feeding is a little more basic. They are fed a small parrot mix (Peppers Small Parrot mix from Qurindi, NSW) and this is topped up every week. Why every week you ask, could it be that I am just a tight wad? Well, I learnt many moons ago when I was a budding young Green Rosella, Platycercus caledonicus, breeder that if you fed your birds every couple of days you had real problems. I had the fattest rosellas you have ever seen and when their feathers started to be replaced by grey down I freaked and consulted an older doyen of parrot propagation who parted with this gem. "Parrots are like kids. Feed them every few days and the only thing they will eat will be what they like in their case sunflower seeds. You have to make them eat their greens. So only feed them once a week and replace a great deal of the sunflower with safflower and plain canary and they will be right next time they moult".

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!

Breeding:
Much has been written about the fact that this parrot is one of a handful that actually constructs a nest. In fact the only one that builds a complete structure? Believe me, construct they do! Vast numbers of sticks, branches, wire and anything else that they can lay their beaks to will be woven into a huge structure. Iím afraid that I discourage my birds from doing this but they still seem happy breeding in nest boxes and conventional parrot logs. Mind you they will still fill their nest up with old corncobs and Milk thistle stems until you wonder where the chicks have disappeared to! My first nest of 5 were hatched in a barren nest box, yet by the time they were ready to leave the box they were all crammed into one corner of the box as the rest of their nest was full of sticks, stems and unidentifiable pieces of dried, desiccated fruit!

 

Six Fertile Eggs.

Six Huddled Bodies!

Some of the Hoard!

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.

Pet Potential:
I am one of those breeders that only resorts to hand rearing as a last option or out of necessity as I feel that hard to get birds are wasted as pets rather than as breeders. I also had a low opinion of hand-reared birds as parents that is until my tame blue Quaker produced his first 5 young! However, I guess it was the way that he was hand reared that made the difference. He was hand reared in a box along with several other parrots so he was never truly imprinted upon people unlike the parrot reared in isolation that rapidly becomes silly tame and, in my opinion, useless for breeding. No doubt there are people out there that disagree but I am writing from my experiences! Like the hand-reared hen Northern rosella, Platycercus venustus, that removed the legs from her mate or the hand reared Crimson rosella, Platycercus elegans, which nearly removed the fingers from her owner!!

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!"

 

Worn-out Dad - 2003!

Mum and Two Blue Babies.

Last One out - 2003.

Diseases and/or Problems:
The only thing that I have found to kill these birds is misadventure! Like the male that ate his METAL leg ring and got it stuck in his throat and choked or the chick that flew into the edge of the bird net tucked under my arm and broke its neck! Old age appears to be the biggest potential threat to these parrots when they are kept in decent conditions. I worm my birds once a year with a crop needle (Panacur 25, active ingredient Fenbendazole) and once by way of their water bowl (Cydectin, active ingredient Moxidectin). I have not detected roundworms in them but they are always wormed religiously a hang over from being a paranoid finch keeper! A point worth noting here is that when crop needling Quakers maybe Conures in general? t is important to watch how you hold the bird as their crop appears to be slightly different than most other parrots (in a different alignment maybe?). The first time I cropped one of these birds I removed the crop needle and the wormer came out as well and I thought Id killed the bird it was sneezing and bubbling the wormer all over the place! Straight on the phone to Gordon who laughed and explained that he had had the same trouble and suggested tipping the bird right back and vertically removing the needle while keeping the Quaker in the vertical position, as straight as possible. Followed his advice and no more problems. He suggested that the digestive system of the Conures might be in a different line than other parrots and that is why he, and others, had experienced teething problems. Anyway, that was what I found - you are all probably more experienced with Conures than I. Oh, just in case you are tempted to say "Rank Novice", I have wormed hundreds of parrots for a number of local breeders but had never had problems like in the Quaker. Maybe it was just that I knew what they were worth and was terrified of damaging one- who knows!

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:
a) a long way away, 
b) very, very tolerant or
c) stone deaf! 
On this point I have a friend with whom I breed the endangered Swift parrot, L.discolor, and we were fortunate enough to obtain a pair of Sun Conures, Aratinga solstitialis. I was elected to look after the birds during their quarantine period and I housed them in a wire cocky cage in my bird room. I have never heard anything that could come close to the noise they made; it simply made my hair stand on end and my teeth grate! I have never been so happy for 40 days to be up so I could show them the door they make Quakers sound like Nightingales and I really felt for those poor startled finches! I could never understand how my friend could suffer their noise as they were housed right outside his front door. Ring him up and you could hear their insidious noise in the background over the phone! He recently told me he is partially deaf - lucky for the continued well-being of the Conures I should think!

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.

Mutations:
At present, in Australia, the only established mutation is the blue coloured bird. This is where there is a complete replacement of the normal green plumage colour by blue. The gene for blue plumage is Autosomal Recessive and both hens and cocks can be heterozygous or split for blue or carriers of blue depending upon your favoured terminology! Overseas there are a number of different mutations including the cinnamon, cinnamon-blue, albino, lutino and pied. Even overseas there is a substantial price tag on these mutations with the two cinnamon varieties the priciest at present.

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!

Conclusion:
I guess it is hard to describe any one factor that makes the Quaker parrot so dear to my heart, well, close as any hookbill can get at any rate! Maybe it is their ability to build those incredible nests, or is it the beautiful blue or green that contrasts so well with the drabber grey of the body? Could it be their wonderful nature when hand-reared or their general bubbly disposition as an aviary bird? Maybe its their demonstrated ability as guard parrots! I guess it must be a combination of all these factors that means I shall have a number of these guys in my parrot aviaries for a long time to come and if you ever hear of anybody that has been in Tassy and abused by a vocal blue Quaker chances are you will know whose aviaries they were at! Itís a well-worn clique, but do yourself a favour and get yourself a pair of these guys even if you do have to get a set of earplugs too!

From www.cliftonfinchaviaries.org     Copyright remains with author.

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