THE QUAKER NEWS

JANUARY 1995

 

FROM THE EDITOR

I recently had an experience with a sick bird who, whenever she knew that she was being observed, put on a most convincing act. She sat up on the perch, picked at her food, and even her eyes became rounder and brighter when she knew that she was not alone. Even my trusted Avian vet doubted that there was anything wrong. She only proceeded with cultures and blood studies because she trusted my judgment. The laboratory work showed that the bird was indeed seriously ill. Fortunately she responded well to medication and I still have one of my most prized show birds.

It is important for pet owners and breeders to be aware that all birds will try very hard to disguise signs of illness. This is basic instinct, remaining from life in the wild, when to reveal its weakness would attract predators to the entire flock. In captivity, after many generations of breeding, a sick bird is still often attacked and killed by others in the flock, or even its mate. This behavior is directed by their former need for self preservation. 

By the time your bird is no longer able to hide the obvious signs of illness, it may have been sick for weeks or even months. At this point treatment becomes difficult or even impossible.

The only person capable of noticing minor abnormalities is the owner. Changes in your bird's activity, appetite, droppings, etc. are only evident to the owner who observes the bird every day. An experienced Avian Veterinarian will take your reports seriously and usually proceed with necessary diagnostic tests on the basis of your observations. The Vet cannot eliminate the possibility of a condition existing that requires treatment on the basis of a physical examination alone. Your careful reporting of deviations from the normal that you have observed will often be the deciding factor in the decision to further investigate.

 

FROM OUR READERS

Dear Linda,

" My son Ryan recently saved up enough money to buy a baby Quaker and a large cage for him." Kathryn from Florida "Hello. I am seven years old. have a Quaker parrot named Simba. Simba laughed at my brother when he was crying. That was the first time he laughed. name-Ryan."

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Dear Linda,

"My Quaker's name is Radar. He has been a comfort to me since my wife's passing. Very loyal and bonded to me now very good company. Thanks for listening." Joseph from Florida - - - - - - - - -

Dear Linda,

"Is a pelleted food complete for my Quakers? Do I need to add something else?" Danny from Puerto Rico

If a pelleted food makes up about 80% of your birds' diet and fruits, vegetables, and healthful treats the balance, there is no need to add vitamin supplements.

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Dear Linda,

"As a pet Quaker's "Mommy", one of my questions is how large a cage can I go and please tell me how wide a bar spacing is safe." Maria from Missouri

The minimum size for a pet Quaker cage is about 18 x 24 x 18 but this is minimum. When in doubt, larger is always better. The only limitations to size is what your pocketbook and home situation permits. Cage bar spacing should be no wider than one inch.

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" My pet Quaker was four years old when I purchased him, and not hand fed. I have had him one year and he will come to the side of the cage, but will not come out. He becomes absolutely frantic if I attempt to lure him out He has toys and plays but I cannot coax him out. " Charlotte from Illinois

My only suggestion is continued patience and kindness. Maybe eventually the little fellow will overcome his fear of the world outside his cage. Do any of our readers have suggestions? Perhaps some of you have had the same problem and can help Charlotte.

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Dear Linda,

"It startled me when I read that this little creature can live 35 to 40 years and will probably outlive me - That is if he curbs his curiosity that gets him into trouble. Question: How do you hold a fast moving, biting Quaker down to file his nails?" Millie from Montana

And a good question it is! I suggest using cement and rough bark perches and leaving any necessary filing to your vet.

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"Dear Linda,

"My Shatzi hates vegetables unless he can pick them from my mouth when I eat my dinner. He flys off his cage (his wings are clipped),waddles accross the floor, climbs up my leg and on to my shoulder, and wants to be fed. He eats meat, mashed potatoes, and vegies this way." Wilhelmme from Maryland

I have read many times that it is not a good idea to feed our pet birds food from our own mouths. Human mouths may contain bacteria harmful to the bird. It should not be too difficult to teach Shatzi to enjoy his dinner from a spoon.

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Dear Linda,

"I want to know more about colors - which are quietest, more easy to work with, etc." Judith from MI

I have never been able to identify characteristics in the many blue Quakers I have raised that make them different from the normal green. I am convinced that differences are all highly individual with no relation to color. The only difference between a blue Quaker and a normal green is the color of the plumage - and the price!

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ABOUT MOLTING

Linda Greeson

There isn't a doubt in my mind that our Quakers are very special little birds, but they do share many things in common with the rest of the psitticines. One of these is the process of molting at periodic intervals, a messy business we just have to endure.

Molting is the process whereby the growth of a new feather causes the shedding of an old feather. The feathers are made of a fibrous protein called Keratin. They are really more like the scales of a reptile than the hair of a mammal.

At any one time your bird may have feathers derived from more than one molt. This is because some molts involve all of the feather tracts, while others involve only certain tracts or specific feathers.

The very first molt occurs in Quakers at about four weeks of age. This is when the soft, fuzzy down of the baby chick is replaced by feathers, these smaller and more narrow than the adult plumage he will have later. This is the time when I carefully watch the developing tail feathers of the Quaker babies to spot the visual blues in the clutch. There are irregular periods of partial molt until finally adult plumage is complete at about six to seven months.

Most birds, including Quakers, will molt on a yearly cycle. These are called seasonal molters. Their schedule roughly follows the seasonal light cycles and the supply of food experienced by their forbears in their natural habitat. 

The molting process usually starts with the flight and

tail feathers in an orderly progression. The body feathers begin to molt while the wing feathers are being replaced. This progressive molt makes it possible for birds to continue flying while feathers are being replaced. In the wild, being unable to fly for even a short time, would make the bird easy prey.

Feathers, like our clothes, do wear out. Producing new ones is necessary for more than maintaining an attractive appearance. Healthy plumage is necessary for flight and for the maintenance of body temperature.

The growing new feathers, called pin feathers, are dark at the base and part way up the shaft, containing the blood necessary for their growth. If damaged in any way, bleeding can be profuse. When this happens, the pin feather must be pulled out in the direction of growth, and firm pressure applied until the bleeding stops. Coagulating agents, such as Kwik Stop or flour, should only be used if pressure is not effective as clogging of the open follicle can result in infection.

In spite of many scientific experiments. all the facts about the molting process do not seem to be clearly understood. It is recognized that unnatural lighting conditions or unusual stress effect the molting pattern. It is agreed that there are hormonal changes occurring during the molt. Many pet owners complain of changes in disposition. A tendency to be grouchy or nippy during the molt is often reported. There is no question that molting requires a great deal of metabolic energy and can be considered a period of stress for your bird.

Quite often, in addition to the regular seasonal molt, Quakers will have a light loss of feathers just prior to breeding. This is called the prenuptial molt.

Failure to provide sufficient protein in the diet during the molt may result in sparse and unsatisfactory new plumage. Birds on a good pelleted diet do not require the addition of special foods. Those on a primarily seed diet need additives for extra calcium, protein, and fat. This would include supplements of greens, vegetables, nuts and cereals and possibly hard boiled eggs or egg containing biscuits.

The number of feathers that cascade to the floor from

one small bird always amazes me. As you vacuum and sweep, take comfort in the fact that this will go on for only six to eight weeks. The end result will be a more beautiful Quaker.

ANOTHER "MIRACLE QUAKER"

Krista from Arizona

Dude Baby will be two years old on March 23, 1995. He is a Quaker who was hatched in my aviary, and the odds were against him from the start.

His parents had abandoned their nest and his egg was cold when I found it. He had pipped (inside the egg) but was not moving or crying. Our last violent storm of the season was moving in and I put his egg into the incubator. A half hour later the storm hit. The lights in the house suddenly blazed brighter than ever intended. There was a huge bright lightening strike outside and a terrific crash of thunder.

The next thing I knew, something in the incubator blew

up. There was thick black smoke and a very bitter odor coming from the incubator. I grabbed the egg and rushed the smoking incubator outside, noxious fumes and all. Then the lights went out for real.

I filled four one gallon water jugs with scalding water, putting two on each side of a shoe box. I put the egg in and wrapped the whole mess in a thick quilt.

Two hours later the lights came on and the egg was peeping. I rigged up a brooder with a heating pad and a fish bowl. Dude Baby hatched 48 hours later. He didn't grow for almost a month. He weighed 1.5 grams until April 17th when I tried Instant Ounces on him. It worked like a miracle.

He finally opened his eyes on May first. He is my favorite bird. I have framed the page from my desk calendar with his weights written on it. Don't ever give up on your babies. Try everything.

QUAKERS AND THE LAW

Some good news for Ohio residents! I have heard that the outrage over Ohio's regulations on pinioning (surgically amputating) the wings of companion Quaker Parakeets resulted in a barrage of letters and phone calls. The protests were so numerous the decision was made to change the requirement for ownership from pinioned wings to clipped wings. Keeping those wings clipped is no hardship and a precaution we all should observe anyway. This has not gone through legal channels yet, and is not official, but I have been promised that making the change legal is just a matter of time.

NESTING MATERIALS FOR QUAKERS

We have had quite a few inquiries from our readers about nesting materials for breeding Quakers.

Most of my Quakers are happy to produce their offspring with about three inches of plain old pine shavings in the bottom of a cockatiel nest box. We may add some cedar shavings or a sprinkling of 5% Sevin powder to discourage insects, but we produce a lot of Quakers with nothing more exotic than that.

Those who are a bit slower to get started nesting we supply with an assortment of twigs, grass clippings, small branches, palm fronds - just about anything to interest them in building a nest. Until recently when I was told that tomato vines and leaves are toxic I had great success with the dying off cherry tomato vines. Their being toxic is contrary to my experience, but when in doubt I take no chances.

A small wire shelf, added near the nest box is enjoyed by some nest builders, helping them to enlarge their apartment.

My Mother's breeding pair of blue Quakers have been working industriously for weeks at building a nest that is fast filling one side of their cage. For some time they could not agree on a location for the nest. One would place a twig on the wire shelf and the other would promptly throw it to the floor with angry chattering. We often observed a tug of war with a stubborn Quaker pulling violently at each end of a stick. They finally reached an agreement and are working up from the cage floor through the wire shelf.

Compressed peat, moss, or commercially prepared pet litter which has not been treated with chemicals or perfumes are all materials in use. What ever is used must be safe if ingested by the birds and free of chemicals and odors.

With experience you will find that different pairs have their own individual preferences in nesting materials. Whenever possible it is worthwhile to indulge their whims.

TIPS ON TOYS

Our Quakers are playful, curious, and sometimes too clever for their own good. As with any item you introduce them to, when presenting a new toy watch for sharp edges and places that could possibly snag toes, wings, or beaks.

Quite often it is the clips that fasten toys onto the cage that are potentially hazardous. Many avian specialists recommend that round key ring fasteners, dog leash rings or shower curtain type clips be replaced with C-link hangers. These are also called Quick-Link hangers. These special links fasten by screwing a locked on nut to threads on the other side of the opening. C-links are not 100 percent safe, but less likely to cause problems than the others. They can be obtained at hardware stores or from your pet store.

Toys with protruding wires or breakable chains are a danger. Avoid chains with links that are not welded shut as gaps could snag toes or beaks. Check bells for clappers that can be removed and swallowed. Rope or cloth toys are good for chewing but straggly ends should be kept trimmed. Tie thong strung toys tightly with no toe catching loops and discard soiled leather toys. Many leather pieces can be cut off, leaving the rest of the toy intact.

Always, and without fail, watch your bird carefully with any new toy before leaving it to play unattended.

Some of our readers complain that their Quakers do not like toys and will have nothing to do with them. The bird psychologists feel that this is because they were not introduced to toys correctly. They recommend a slow, gradual approach with new toys. Any change can be perceived by the bird as a threat. Start by placing the toy outside the cage at first, allowing the bird to become used to the new object from the safety of the cage. Pick up and play with the toy yourself so the bird will get an idea of its purpose.

Choose toys appropriate for the size and preferences of your bird, preferably starting with small, simple toys. Every bird is different. Some have definite preferences in color, and the choice of a toy in a favorite color is good. Some birds like to rip up paper and will enjoy toys that can be shredded. If your Quaker especially likes to fiddle with your hair as many do, try some of the toys made of rope. If it likes to hold things, try toys suitable to be held while being played with. There is a huge selection to choose from.

 

Quakers At Large

Nesting to Live - Living to Nest

by David Wright

Quakers are unique among all other parrots in that they are the only parrot which builds a nest. All other parrots prefer nest cavities excavated from within trees. Quakers are also one of the very rare species of bird which utilizes its nest year round. Breeding activities are just one of the functions that a nest seems to serve among Quakers.

Oddly, Quakers seem to enjoy building onto and repairing their nests year round. Construction occurs during all four seasons of the year. Bachelor Quaker males will build nests even when there is no immediate prospect of obtaining a mate. The "unwed" male will construct a nest and continue to maintain it. Perhaps he hopes that his diligence will be rewarded by someday demonstrating his home-building talents to a prospective mate.

One of the unanswered questions concerning Quakers is why the nest appears to be such a vital asset. Quakers' native range in  South America positions their native territories within a range of temperatures which includes winter lows in the 20's. Is it possible that Quakers began building nests to survive low winter temperatures?

The Kea, Nestor notabilis, is a parrot indigenous to the high mountain regions of New Zealand. This parrot is known to frequent ski lodges and surrounding environs even during periods of heavy snow. A quick check of "Parrots of the World" by Joseph Forshaw indicates that Keas are cavity nesters for whom a nest serves only breeding purposes.

For birds in general the nest serves only to shelter, warm and  hide eggs and, often, incubating hens. In the Sociable Weaver, Philetirus socius, nesting is a communal activity.     Nests are used by the Sociable Weaver for breeding pur          poses as well as serving as a year-round abode. The nest appears to serve as a barrier to predation as well as a communal roosting habit.

Studies have not determined the factors influencing the use of nests year round by Quakers. We can only speculate, at present, what function year round nest building serves in Quakers. Nature does not provide for needless, useless expenditures of energy so this behavior must serve a valuable function.

Possible theories for Quaker nesting devotion and repair include: 1)demonstrating the quality of male health by nest size and/or quality; 2) protection from the elements; 3) protection from predators; 4) communal nesting resulting in "more eyes" watching for predators; and, 5) platforms for communal mating displays.

Whatever the reason, Quaker nests are large and very apparent. Early control efforts of the Quakers living in the United States were conducted merely on the sighting of nests and their subsequent destruction. Certainly, if humans use these nests as location markers, other predators must do so also. A communal nest would seem to send a very apparent "dinner" signal to passing birds of prey, cats, and snakes, particularly since Quakers are "at home" year round in their communal nests.

Year round nesting of Quakers remains an enigma. Much study needs to be done to answer the myriad questions that this behavior suggests. Although Quakers are very numerous both in South America as well as in the United States much is unknown about them. We have, however, studied a number of Quaker nests here in Connecticut. Of 40 nests measured sizes ranged from 34 inches in length by 23 inches in width to 9 feet in length by 5 feet in width.

Of the 40 nests measured, 13 nests had one entrance hole leading to one nesting chamber. Twelve nests had two entrances and two nesting chambers. Three nests were built with three entrances and three nesting chambers. One nest contained five nesting chambers attached to five entrances!

 

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