THE QUAKER NEWS

JANUARY 1997

 

FROM THE EDITOR

My Mother has told me that when she was a child (70 years or more ago) the family pets lived exclusively on table scraps. When leftovers were short the dog was routinely given bread and gravy. There was always gravy - no one worried about fat content of foods. An occasional big treat for the cat was a ten cent can of salmon. She remembers her grandmother's parrot being fed sunflower seeds. There were no foods exclusively manufactured for pets.

Now in every super market there is a whole long isle devoted to pet foods - canned- dry - moist - a bewildering array of brands to choose from. The number and kinds of parrot foods available are fast catching up with those for cats and dogs. It will not be many more years before all seed diets for our birds are as unheard of as bread and gravy for the dogs.

There are a good many reasons for the fast growing popularity of pelleted and extruded bird foods. They all differ only slightly in content. With a diet of seeds each bird develops individual favorites. The seeds that appeal least to your bird are discarded - either on the floor or by you when the dish is re-filled. Even though the exact nutritional requirements of each and every species has not been determined, research has resulted in the production of many excellent foods that offer a more balanced diet than one of only seeds.

The choice of brand becomes a highly individual decision determined by what your bird will enjoy, and how well both pets and breeding birds maintain weight and general health on the chosen brand. Breeders, with many crops to fill, are influenced by price as well as content in making choices.

In the manufacture of pelleted foods a steam cooked mash is forced through a die. The food is subjected to high temperatures and pressures but the feed is not sterilized. The process in making extruded diets is very similar except that higher temperatures and pressures are used, and the materials used must be ground much finer. Fewer bacteria escape the extrusion process and the result is a higher concentration of food values.

Avoid mixing various brands. Vitamin and mineral supplements given in any form in addition to any of the fortified foods can result in toxic overdoses. My program is simply to make the mainstay of the diet a pelleted food with seeds, fruits and vegetables offered as treats fairly frequently, and a wise choice of table food in tiny amounts for the pets.

FROM OUR READERS

Dear Linda;

I have a question I only trust you to answer. I'll be in Europe for one month this summer and am leaving Niko (my Quaker who is my sole room mate and Buddy) with my boyfriend who is a cocktail owner. My concern is how to make this as easy as possible for Niko. Should I leave a tape recording of my voice to play when I am gone? I'm so nervous I don't know how I will relax without my baby. Actually he is four years old now. I hope he forgives me and loves me as much when I return as he does now. I won't rest easy until I know your trusted expertise.     Maria from Missouri

Thanks for your confidence, Maria. I have never pretended to be an expert on bird behavior but I feel confident that the bond you have developed with Niko will survive a month's absence. He may not be his usual cheerful self while you are gone but there isn't a doubt in my mind that he will be delighted to see you again when you return. I suggest having your boyfriend spend as much time with him as possible before you leave. If possible take Niko for a visit or two to his future temporary home. Many people use tapes and phone calls successfully. Relax and enjoy your trip- your bird will be fine. 

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Dear Linda;

My husband and I have retired and moved from the state of Washington to Arizona. We drove down, carrying our African Gray and Eclectus in the back seat of our sedan, our two small dogs as well. Our little Quakers, Billy and Baby were not allowed to travel through California. They had to be shipped by air and we were very worried about them, needlessly as it turned out. They arrived intact and unruffled, much to our relief. The first thing Billy said however was "food, food, water." which we placed in their carriers before we left the airport parking lot. Its a shame though that some states must put Quaker owners through such expense and worry and trauma to our little friends.     Fern from Arizona

We all agree that these regulations are discriminatory and not needed at all. They are apparently based on the situation with wild, imported birds which used to exist, and which does not apply at all to our domestically bred birds. We have a number of subscribers in California and know of several Quakers breeders there who seem to disregard these regulations without penalty. Perhaps in California, as in a number of other states, adverse public opinion has created a "don't ask, don't tell" situation where officials would rather not be forced to enforce their own regulations.

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Dear Linda;

We got our first Quaker 2 1/2 years ago. Oatmeal was 3 months old. We didn't have him "sexed" at the time but felt he was a male. We've recently been proven wrong. Following a health exam on Oatmeal and our new Quaker "Tucker" the tests showed that Oatmeal was a female. Tucker had already been sexed as a male. When we compared the two birds, Tucker's body looked wider and more angular. He also weighs 10 Grams more than Oatmeal. They are the same age. Is this a coincidence or maybe a way to make and educated guess?

Tucker was an unplanned purchase from a bird fair. The seller got him from a woman who was afraid of him because he bit, but she really didn't want to keep him either. We felt sorry for this scared little bird that had been mishandled and passed around, so home with us he came. It took just a few weeks to gain enough of his trust to handle him without getting bit.

Oatmeal, who talks constantly, is teaching Tucker to talk. Their "lessons" are hilarious, and end with Oatmeal saying "Good boy" to Tucker. They must be private lessons, though, since they quit when we come around. Tucker is just starting to talk to us. Shirley from Wisconsin

How nice to hear a success story about rescuing a little bird from being passed around and developed into a happy little pet. I have no really fool proof way to decide the sex of my baby Quakers. I keep records of my guesses on the groups I send for DNA sexing on, and am wrong just as often as I am right.

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Dear Linda;

I have two Quakers now about 15 months old. They have a funny little trait of what I call "beak bopping." They take their beaks and pound them on the surface in front of them. My breeder suggests that perhaps it is an attempt for attention. It appears to be an assertive move on their part but I am not sure what it means. If I tap my fingers assertively on the surface in front of them, they will repeat the number of taps as if it were a game. They do not seem to use it as a form of aggression. Nor does it appear that they want attention when they do it. I have seen them do it to the cat and dogs, but more often they just march up to the other animals and let it be known that they are in command (and they are!) If this beak bopping is an aggressive behavior, I don't want to reinforce it by repeating it to them; on the other hand, if it is a playful move, they are lots of fun with it. Can you tell me what it means?     Jan from New Mexico

I am intrigued by the fact that your Quakers repeat the number of taps that you do with your fingers. I come up with the impression that rather than being aggressive behavior, this is a most interesting of trying to communicate with you. It would be fun to go further with this, teaching them that two taps means "no" for instance -three taps for "yes" - you may have a little green geniuses.

Dear Linda;

In response to Kathleen Carr in your last issue my Quaker, Kiwi, loves for me to sing to him. He sings this verse with me to the tune of Rockin' Robin:

Kiwi rocks on his tree stand all day long,

Rockin' and a rollin' and a singing his song.

All the little birdies on Geronimo Drive,

Love to see Kiwi when he's doin' his jive.

Rockin' Kiwi, tweet tweedle e dee

Rockin' Kiwi, tweet tweedle e dee

Oh rockin' Kiwi, we're really going to rock tonight.

It's hilarious. He performs with head bobbing, dancing around, etc. We sing it every day.  Paulette

I have had many readers report that their Quakers are singing whole verses of little songs, adaptations of catchy tunes with usually the bird's name included. Perhaps some of our pets who are slow to talk will respond to singing. It's worth a try and a change from endlessly repeating the same phrase.

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Dear Linda;

Toby, my 3 year old female still plucks and sometimes mutilates his chest and underwings. We have seen two avian vets to no avail. Hormones as a final resort. Have been using herbal meds and she does seem happier but still rips her feathers out. I recently read about something called QMS or Quaker Mutilation Syndrome, which makes me wonder if this is more common in Quakers than I had thought. Do you know of any other Quaker owners who have had this problem? I would appreciate any input from them. Barbara from N.Y. The only problems I have personally experienced with feather plucking have been with Sun Conures and African Grays. The only Quaker "pluckers" are a few hens who at breeding time line their nests with their own feathers but no mutilation is involved. Apparently causes for this distressing habit are many and successful treatments are few. Both Barbara and I will appreciate any help from our readers.

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Dear Linda;

My Quaker, Cuckoo Bird, is very bonded to me. At the age of three months he was trying to regurgitate and feed me. He is now a mature bird, almost four years old. He spends quite a lot of time regurgitating his food and then swallowing it, over and over. In between he has learned how to masturbate.

I discussed this with his vet, and he has assured me that I do not have a little sex fiend, that some birds do it a lot, and that Cuckoo isn't special in this regard. That all the regurgitation is not harming him, that there is nothing to be done, so let him be. Hormones for birds, he says, are still in the experimenting stage. I don't doubt Cukoo's vet, its just that I would like a second opinion from you since you raise them and know them so well.

Don't tell me Linda, that it has turned into a habit and that I should distract him or give him more toys. I tried all that and I can't devote all the waking hours trying to distract him.   Millie from Montana

You made me laugh, Millie, because what you predicted was exactly what my reply was going to be - it has become a habit- try distracting him with new toys, etc.. etc. the standard answer. I agree with your vet. Cuckoo Bird is definitely in love with you, and is showing his love in the only ways he knows. At four he should soon be settling down with less of this type of activity - less "teenager" and more adult in his activity. What makes these little birds so fascinating is how individual they are - each with special characteristics that you may look far to be duplicated in others.

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Dear Linda;

You include so much about possible dangers and things that can go wrong in our news letter. Are these birds so delicate that just about anything can cause them harm?   Sue from Texas

And here I have done it again! Another article on home safety in this issue. Quakers really are not delicate at all. They are very sturdy birds, much more resistant to disease than most other species. I have perhaps been overdoing it on the warnings about dangers, but when I receive a letter telling me about the accidental loss of a pet due to either carelessness or lack of knowledge I know just how heartbroken the writer is. I want to do everything I can to prevent these things from happening to my readers. I promise - no more warnings for at least a couple of issues.

 

BUNKIE'S BEAK

 By his proud Momma, Barbara, from Colorado

Sometimes it kisses me, gentle and sweet,

But sometimes it bites where my nostrils meet,

It's usually hungry for some kind of treat, 

This is a poem about Bunkie's beak.

I never know if it is in a good mood,

It might want to strike, or it might want some food.

Sometimes it acts like a sly little sneak,

This is a poem about Bunkie' beak.

Sometime it is waiting to play with a toy,

After all, it belongs to a normal boy.

One time it gave me a kiss on the cheek.

This is a poem about Bunkie's beak.

Sometimes it is silent, or else it may speak.

It snaps at the places it knows that I am weak.

But I know that it gives me all the love that I seek.

This is a poem about Bunkie's beak.

 

NEW PRODUCT

At a bird show I attended recently I was given some samples of Kaytee's Nutra-Puffs which provide an attractive, wholesome treat and training aide. It is colorful, yellow, orange, and red, and a lot better nutritionally than the human snack it resembles. The manufacturer recommends limiting it to 5-10 puffs a day. For Quakers I suggest sticking to an upper limit of five as a hand held treat.

 

GODZILLA IN THE BIRD ROOM

from Flights of Fancy

Imagine being kidnapped by Godzilla and held captive in a small room in a foreign place. Each time Godzilla brought your food and water, he just burst into your room unannounced. No matter how many times he did it, you could get caught off guard and would still be frightened.

That may be what your bird is thinking. Take time to announce yourself when you enter your bird room or come home at night or leave in the morning.

Birds in the wild have a "signature call" which they use to communicate and reassure each other. A whistle, phrase, or tap on the wall will let them know that a friend is entering their area.

Especially in spring at the height of the mating season birds have hormonal rages perhaps beyond their control. This is the time when many pet owners give up on their pets instead of giving them a different type of attention. If your angel becomes a bit testy, ride out the storm. Back off. Give your bird some breathing room. These temporary bad moods will fade.

 

QUAKER OBSERVATIONS

By Scott Donaldson

Reprinted from Sunshine State Cage Bird Society's News Letter

My employment at the treatment plant in Bradenton (Florida) affords me the opportunity to observe some of the local free Quakers that abound in the area. The most that I have seen together numbers 55 and represents about five distinct familial groups. They come to the local next door golf course to do some feeding and mostly to socialize. They play in one of the larger trees and can be heard for quite a distance. They alight upon the ground and pick at seeds and jockey for position with one another. I believe that each distinct colony, of up to 20 individuals, are possibly interrelated and a meeting such as I have observed at work, allows fresh genes to enter the colony. These Quakers hang around much of the day, seemingly having nothing else to do, but soon they will be building their stick nests. Wild babies hatch from March to October and most pairs will clutch twice. The other feral parrots, the Nanday Conures, also flock together, however they and the Quakers do not get along.

Quakers do have some enemies among the crow population. Often I have seen crows chasing Quakers and once, while the assembled group was feeding on the ground, a large crow actually pounced on one of the Quakers hard enough to see the feathers fly. Needless to say, I quickly opened the doors of my truck and everybody dispersed. In hindsight, I wish that I had waited and watched so I might know what would have happened. The larger size of Quakers and their flocking nature probably limit the kinds of predators in their habitat. Man is probably their largest single threat. Quaker colonies are reported from Florida to Boston. I have made an effort to find some of their colonies around Bradenton. I know of eight such groups and suspect the location of another two.

 

QUAKERS: THE MOST LOVED AND HATED PARROT

by Mattie Sue Athan

First I had come to see a grey parrot who never seemed to quite adjust and now I was on a call for a yellow nape, the new third bird in the home. But the family's first love, and favorite companion bird, was a common monk parakeet.

" Why didn't anyone tell us that the quaker was the perfect parrot? We kept hearing such wonderful things about African greys and yellow napes, and such rotten things about quakers, we thought we were missing something. But our two large bird experiences have only served to show us how wonderful our quaker is. He talks with cognition, learns new things all the time, goes to anybody (away from his cage); and - after ten years - he's still finding new ways to amuse us!"

I'd heard stories like this before: quaker owners may be disappointed in larger birds even though they bought the larger birds because they heard they were "better" than quakers. Then I happen on someone who's seen groups of monks, maybe imported or breeding birds, saying "I don't like quakers."

And I might hear someone who has known maybe a half dozen quakers ( and sometimes even someone who wouldn't recognize a quaker!) use those same words "I don't like Quakers."

It doesn't even sound like these people are talking about the same bird. There must be tremendous differences between the nice and not-so-nice quakers, for no other type of parrot seems to evoke such vehement and opposite opinions. An unsocialized quaker can be an obnoxious animal, but handfed baby quakers don't come into the home obnoxious. Why then, do so many of them end up that way? Poor patterning and poorly planned environment are the culprits here. A quaker doesn't have to be a little hooligan, for these birds arevery predictable and respond dependably to common behavioral techniques.

In Myiopsitta monachus - the monk or quaker parakeet - I see all the mimicking ability of the budgie, African grey, and yellow nape in a sturdy, easily manageable size. Indeed in some places, these little grey - cowled feathered monk(eys) are called "the poor man's yellow nape". In terms of price, size, temperament, talking ability, and accessibility, handfed domestic monks are everything one could expect of a companion parrot. My own quaker - who receives minimal attention in this home of many pets - is an amazingly astute conversationalist. Tza-tza likes to talk on the phone (although he can't figure out how to get the phone to answer without my help). When I have one of my asthma attacts he coughs along, then asks "Are you OK?"

Tza-tza bathes daily, then I have to change his water again or he drinks bath water all day. He even grooms his own nails by blunt filing them on the rough bars of his wrought iron cage.

Monk parrots are well appreciated in the pet trade which may be the only place in the world where they are truly wanted. Gale Whittington, owner of Colorado Seed and Pet ( a 45 year old bird store) says "The quaker is extremely hardy and one of the best talkers. I sell more quakers than any other small parrot."

Although they continue to be demonized by agricultural interests, being illegal in several states, feral quakers have not proved as dangerous as once feared. They have not proliferated or become widespread in areas in the US where they are established. I believe that most of the 3,000 or more birds living wild in the US are escaped wild caught imported birds, for I doubt that today's handfed domestics have the necessary skills to survive outdoors.

Monks have a grey cowl across the head with lighter grey cheeks and scalloped markings on the upper chest. Although resembling conures, monks are the lone members of their Genus. There are two subspecies, one with distinct grey markings on the chest, one with a more plain grey chest. Lutino (yellow) and blue mutations have developed in captivity. There are no readily observable gender characteristics.

Quakers are named after one of their infantile behaviors. Babies exhibit a sort of "palsied" response when feeding and begging. Some birds retain this body language longer than others, some revert to it occasionally when they are courting, ill, or otherwise needy.

Highly social and eager to please, domestic quakers usually love to be cuddled. Some birds never learn to step up because they like to be picked up like a baseball (with the palm around the back).

Their talking (and noise making) capacity is legend. Hand fed domestic quakers often rival African greys in their ability to acquire huge vocabularies. Hand fed domestics seldom develop the calls of their imported predecessors who had a loud, raucous "cultural" language. Wild quaker sounds can be so repugnant, interlopers flee just so they don't have to hear the noise. On the other hand, wild quakers are sometime tolerant, even accepting the presence of certain other species in their huge communal nests.

Companion quakers are also quite African grey-like in their tendency to bond too strongly to one person or location, so controls must be maintained to minimize this territory-related aggression. We see few significant behavior problems in domestic quakers with a diverse environment including a large assortment of well-used, frequently rotated toys. If adequate behavioral and environmental controls are maintained to prevent the development of aggression, domestic quakers can be outstanding companions. As several of my clients have discovered, they might even be "better" than some of their larger, more-famous cousins!

 

HOME SAFETY

South Jersey Bird Club News

FAMILY ROOM OR LIVING ROOM

1. Try to keep your birds over a linoleum or tile floor with some sort of pattern that camouflages spilled food. Seed that falls into carpet may become moldy and hatch moths.

2. Plastic or PVC vertical blinds are ideal for the bird room. They resist chewing and do not contain the lead weights that drapes do. Watch the chains and pull cords around curious beaks though.

3.Keep a few non-toxic plants: Spider plants are particularly valuable because they absorb air-borne toxins. Ferns and ficus plants are safe too. 4. Birds love to chew on remote controls. Keep controls in drawers when not in use.

5.Allow your birds to watch TV and listen to the radio, even when you are not home. The media stimulates their minds.

6. Favor upholstered furniture that has no wooden arms to be chewed and no leather to be pierced by sharp toenails.7.Limit the hobbies you pursue around your birds. Felt tip pens are toxic as are nail polish, oil paint, fishing weights, costume jewelry, and ceramic glaze.

8.Whenever a bird is out of its cage be nearby.

9.Do not allow large birds to play with small ones; cage your Amazons while your budgies or cockatiels are out.

10. Provide large enough cages. Give birds room to flap their wings, and be sure cage bars are close enough together so no bird can stick its head through.

11. Choose plain lamps for the bird room -not Tiffany style or leaded in any way. Favor lamp shades that birds cannot perch on.

12.Save your newspapers for the bottom of the bird cages. Use sheets with black ink; colored ink is toxic.

13.Note the absence of ceiling fans which can severely injure flying birds. Air cleaners and covered fans can help rid the bird room of feather dust. Do not aim any fans directly at the birds.

14. Rollers on large cages make cleanup easier.

15 Cover each bird cage with a cloth cover each night so the bird can get some privacy and sleep. Have a vacuum handy for quick pickups around the cages.

16. Be sure neither your ironing board cover nor your iron is teflon coated. Do not use spray starches around your birds. BATHROOM

17.Keep the toilet lid closed so flying birds cannot land in standing water.

18. Birds may try to fly into mirrors. Have only small mirrors near your flock and give your birds opportunities to explore them at close range so they realize they cannot fly through them.

19. Turn off running water and empty basins birds may have access to. 20. Chemical cleaners and spray deodorants carry airborne toxins that harm birds nearby.

21. Many birds love to shower with their owners. Perching them on the curtain rods keeps them out of direct, hard spray.

OUTDOORS

22. To keep flying birds from crashing into windows, apply decals. Never leave windows or doors open without screens covering the opening. Birds may escape and curious, hungry mammals may enter your home.

23. Keep your cats and dogs away from any birds allowed out of their cages. Watch dogs are a good security measure to protect valuable caged birds from theft.

24. Recycle any bird seed your pet birds don't eat for the wild birds outdoors. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the outdoor bird feeder so you do not carry germs from the wild birds to your pets.

25. Do not apply to your outdoor plants any chemical fertilizers or pesticides that may drift indoors and poison your birds. KITCHEN26. Don't cut your birds' fruit and vegetables where you cut chicken. Residue that never completely wipes off may contain salmonella.

27.Birds may drown in tall narrow glasses of liquid. Don't leave any lying around unattended. Keep birds from sipping alcoholic drinks too.

28.Dry your hands with paper towels while servicing your birds to keep from transmitting germs that may stay on cloth towels.

29. Fixing pop corn for yourself? Make extra (don't butter or salt it) for your birds.

30. Hide the cords to all appliances such as toasters and can openers so birds cannot chew on them.

31. If your pet bird happens to be out of its cage and in the kitchen with you, be sure you are not frying, whipping, or opening a hot oven. 32. Freeze or refrigerate bags of bird seed for at least 24 hours to kill moth larvae.

33. Keep packages of frozen mixed vegetable on hand for your birds.

34. Always have a stock of greens on hand in your refrigerator for your birds. Some of the most nutritious are spinach, carrot tops, alfalfa sprouts, chard, mustard greens. and kale.

35. Consider serving leftovers such as macaroni and cheese or pizza to the birds. They love Italian food.

36. Teflon, Silverstone, or any other trade name given to the non-stick coating PTFE, kills birds once it heats to 530 degrees Fahrenheit. Take no chances of overheating such pans . Use only stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans.

37. Never purchase and use "non-stick burner drip pans, designed to catch runoff from pots. Normal usage heats these items to toxic levels in five minutes.

38. Keep smoke and strong cooking odors from your birds' lungs. Turn on the range fan when you cook.

39. To clean the oven, apply chemicals only if your birds are several rooms away and doors are closed. If your stove is equipped with a self cleaning oven, remove birds from the house while you run the clean cycle. Ventilate for four hours after cleaning before you allow birds back into the area.

40. Do not allow hot water to run unattended. Shower loving birds may scald themselves in the stream. Never leave standing water in the sink; a bird could drown in it.

41. Sterilize bird dishes and utensils in the dish washer. Be sure curious beaks do not have access to dishwasher detergent. 42. Always have your avian veterinarian's phone number readily accessible for emergencies.

Editor's comment: Most of these precautions are not necessary if your bird is kept under close supervision while out of the cage. Regard the Quaker as you would a mischievous two year old, and keep those wings clipped. 

 

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