by Linda Greeson

It is exciting to dream of owning a beautiful Cockatoo like the one who perched on Baretta's shoulder in his TV series. Although not as exotic or impressive for your friends, making your choice of a pet bird from the group called the Small Hook Bills is infinitely more practical. These smaller parrots have definite advantages as pets. Not only is the initial cost much lower, but the need for spacious cages and large amounts of expensive fruits and vegetables is eliminated. There will not be loud shrieks to contend with from these smaller birds. Most important, they respond to love and attention with devotion just as satisfying as the larger species.

Love Birds are a species of the small hookbills who make amusing and colorful pets. Some can be trained to talk, but only with endless time and patience. Although a pair often become devoted and affectionate with each other, their personalities do not generally match their name.

Although not as generally available as the Love Birds, the Senegals, when hand fed as babies, make delightful little pets. Their bright plumage, a combination of yellow and orange contrasted with dark brown and olive green, make them most attractive in appearance as well as personality.

Another satisfying choice of a pet is the Parrotlet. These birds are generally very quiet and undemanding. They remain shy in a new environment and can be quite aggressive and nippy until they finally feel secure. They are especially clever at imitating sounds, such as laughing, coughing, or even sneezing. They bond closely to one owner, not welcoming the attention of strangers.

Another of the hook bills, the Meyers Parrot, is not very striking in appearance but compensate with exceptionally sweet and gentle natures. Their plumage is mainly dark gray brown with some yellow and blue green, but most have very clear speech and a less limited vocabulary than most of the smaller birds. They too bond strongly with the owner but are generally nervous and shy with strangers.

My field of expertise is with the Quaker Parrots. Quite a few passed through my hands before I came to realize what little gems they are. They are a medium sized bird, usually eleven to twelve inches in length. The normals are varying shades of green with gray cheeks and throats and bright blue flight feathers. Their large, soft brown eyes are instantly appealing. There are extremely rare yellow mutations and a beautiful powdery Wedgwood blue which I am presently excited to be breeding in my aviaries.

Regardless of their color, the Quakers all have the same delightful personalities. Kept singly as pets, they are quiet, limiting themselves to talking, singing and whistling. When kept in large numbers, either in colony breeding or housed in individual adjoining cages, they become extremely noisy. Although they are hardy and prolific, they do not make a good choice for prospective breeders with close neighbors.

The Quakers are unique in that they are the only nest building parrots known. In the wild, and when colony bred, each pair of birds builds its own separate chamber within the main nest structure, similar to an apartment house. Each chamber consists of two separate sections - an inner livingdining area and a front porch. The eggs are laid and incubated in the back dining room area. As the chicks grow larger they move into the living room and out on to the front porch. The parent birds are constantly re-constructing and repairing the nest, working industriously at this task even when burdened with the feeding of a clutch of baby chicks.

The Quaker's cage requirements are modest. The minimum size should be 18 inches x 24 inches x 18 inches high. This size cage is acceptable if it is used only as a place of refuge - that is, a sleeping place and a feeding station. When in doubt, larger is always better.

As with all species, the diet offered both pets and breeding birds is most important. We rely on a good quality pelleted food as the mainstay of our Quakers' diets. If fed a seed mix, they will require calcium and vitamin supplements. We frequently provide treats of fruits and vegetables. We try very hard to limit our pets' treats to these nutritional foods and resist the temptation to succumb to their begging for cookies and other sweets.

I not only breed Quakers; I love them. One of our first hand fed babies is still a favorite pet, and he keeps us constantly amused. His talking ability and vocabulary rivals that of our African Gray, in spite of the fact that we have very little time to spend on giving lessons. He loves to play, hides in my pocket, lies upside down in my hand, and is always happy and sweet. I confess that there are times when I tire of hearing him whistle Dixie, but he is easily diverted from his concert by a new toy. He has a great time with even the cardboard center of a roll of toilet tissue.

All of these small Hook Bills are hardy little birds. Given normal care and attention they have a life expectancy of thirty to forty years. When taken into your home as young birds they become a member of the family. It is entirely within reason to expect that the same little bird who is loved by your children will be the delight of your grandchildren.



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