INTRODUCTION TO QUAKER PARAKEETS
Until recently, choosing a Quaker parakeet as an avian pet was given only fleeting consideration by persons interested in sharing their homes with a bird. Most people are instantly captivated by the larger parrots' beautiful exotic colors, size, and talking ability. But with a personality that has no rival and a life span of approximately 25-30 years, the Quaker parakeet's popularity is soaring, and these cheeky little fellows are quickly becoming one of the most sought-after avian pets of the 1990's!
People who want a bird with a large-parrot personality but without the larger size, need look no further than the Quaker parakeet. Although considered just another member of the "parakeet" family by those unfamiliar with them, Quaker owners can attest to the fact that these special little treasures are in a class all their own. They have proven to be just as intelligent and much more personable than the common parakeet.
A medium size bird of 11-12 inches in length, the Quaker originates from southeastern Brazil and Argentina. The nominate race is the most commonly available subspecies, although color mutations are currently being bred by several aviculturists in and outside of the United States. An extremely rare mutation is the beautiful lutino Quaker, with coloration of pure yellow; the forehead and underparts appearing a grayish white. Not as rare as the yellow and well established in aviculture, the blue mutation is becoming widely available and is moderately expensive. This color mutation can best be described as a powdery soft Wedgewood, with cheeks, throat and breast a silvery blue-gray. Additional color mutations currently being successfully bred or attempted include a pied mutation, (with characteristics similar to the green but including yellow feathers); an albino mutation; and a cinnamon mutation (a pale, diluted green with cinammon on the flight feathers and tail). In theory, all of the colors that are found with budgies --- violet, cobalt blue, gray --- are possible to produce in Quakers. Mutations are quite beautiful, and the exciting possibility of an entirely new future mutation is an inspiration to many devoted Quaker breeders, presenting a promising future for these lovable little birds.
Quakers are distinguishable in the world of psitticines as the only species which builds communal nests. They create very complex and fascinating structures made entirely from twigs, branches, straw, leaves and any other nesting material they may find suitable. In the wild, entire colonies of Quakers create a main nest structure, and each pair of Quakers "add on" to that structure, building separate chambers very much like apartment buildings that contain several apartments. Each chamber usually consists of three separate areas, with each area having a pre-designated purpose. One area is used for the laying and incubating of eggs, another as the living quarters for hatched chicks, and the third as a "look-out" point for the parents to guard the nest.
Unfortunately this distinct behavior, along with their admittedly well-deserved reputation for being quite prolific, has resulted in the availability of Quakers being somewhat limited in specific areas of the United States. The reason for these ever-changing and confusing state-specific regulations is that in the past, free-flying groups of Quakers have rapidly reproduced and formed large flocks or colonies which have descended on orchards and farmlands, destroying crops. Some wildlife authorities believe that if enough Quakers escape from captivity and reproduce in large numbers, they might harm our native birds by out-competing them for food.
Fortunately, research has proven this reasoning to be faulty. Studies of naturally wild Quakers have shown that fledgling babies rarely distance themselves more than 500 yards from their parents nest site when they build their own nests. They also seek sites which will provide year-round food sources, an abundance of large trees in which to build their nests, and proximity to a large body of water. They prefer to attach their new nests to an already-existing structure as opposed to building a stand-alone version. Displaced Quakers whose original nest site has been destroyed, rarely, if ever, settle more than several hundred yards away from their original nest site. Based on this information concerning their nesting habits, it is unreasonable to assume that Quakers would be inclined to take over large tracts of farmland and crops, destroying or consuming all vegetation and starving out our native birds. Unfortunately some authorities are either unwilling to believe this information because it is simpler not to, or possibly are unaware of its existence. Either way, it has been an uphill battle fighting for the rights of Quaker owners and breeders, and more importantly, Quakers themselves.
Very few behavior problems are seen in domestic Quakers if their needs are provided for adequately. Unlike many other parrot species, a Quaker's behavior can often be predictable, and therefore the Quaker may be more responsive when behavior modification techniques are needed. Given a fleeting chance, a Quaker can and will quickly become a long-term member of your family --- one that is as entertaining as it is personable. They are cheerful, happy, active birds and are very vocal by nature. A few Quaker owners consider them to be extremely noisy, although I believe these opinions to be in the minority. Some Quakers apparently do feel the need to vocalize quite loudly, but these "overkill" periods of communication appear to be limited to short periods of time during the day, if at all, much like a rooster who crows at dawn.
Quakers are fast learners, rapidly picking up words and phrases that they hear often, and can frequently be heard "conversing" with themselves as they practice saying different things. They usually begin talking at around 6 months of age, though many start even earlier than that. They are considered to be the best talkers of the so-called "smaller parrots". The vocabulary of a Quaker who resides in a high traffic area or receives a lot of verbal attention can rival that of an African Grey -- well known for it's intelligence and speaking ability. As witty as they are charming, Quakers often use their sizeable vocabularies at the most appropriate (or inappropriate!) times. They do a great deal of whistling and chattering, but the amount of noise that they generate can in no way be rated as objectionable. Whistling is one of their favorite activities and they will put great effort into learning short tunes heard on the radio, television, or from humans; they will practice endlessly until they achieve excellent versions of these notes.
They are also famous for their terrific sense of humor and play. Most Quakers are bundles of energy and will spend hours swinging, climbing and playing with toys. Ropes, ladders, leather chew toys and Olympic rings are particular favorites. They are amazing acrobats and often play with several toys at once. They have a wonderful zest for life that is contagious to anyone watching or interacting with them. Being the mischievous and fearless creatures that they are, their natural curiosity can often get them into unbelievable pickles if they are not carefully supervised! All of these traits are indicative of their quick wit and intelligence that they easily express verbally as well as socially. Far from being only "mimics" of human behavior, these adorable little green guys are as loyal, loving and sensitive as any human being could possibly hope to be.
Responsible bird owners know that the key to a happy Quaker is more than just a cage, food and water. Quakers are sensitive creatures that need to be part of a family. With importation at an end, it is our responsibility to ensure the future reproduction of these lovable birds. Handfed Quakers have replaced wild-caught ones as pets, we must all try to learn as much as possible about successfully keeping and breeding these fascinating creatures.