THE QUAKER NEWS

OCTOBER 1995

 

FROM THE EDITOR

Many of our readers have brought a new baby Quaker home this summer and are in the process of taming and training their pet. Whether the bird be wild caught or hand fed, this needs to be undertaken with the knowledge that it will be a long, slow process. The objective in your first weeks is to win the trust and respect of your bird. How to accomplish this depends on both the bird's temperament and yours. There are many articles and books written on this subject and as many different approaches suggested as there are different bird behavior specialists.

Keep in mind that a pet purchased as a "hand fed baby" may possibly more resemble a wild caught bird. Unless the breeder has taken a great deal of time to handle and socialize the baby during the feeding and weaning process the descriptive term "hand fed" has little significance except as a selling point. The only advice I feel qualified to offer is what hasworked best for me. Most important of all "Go Slowly". Do not push your bird. Give it whatever time it takes. Always offer little goodies - a peanut, a grape - when you approach the cage. At first, if your bird appears timid at your approach, just drop the treat into the feeding dish, all the while talking in a soothing manner. Eventually the bird will learn that you are not a threat but a source of food. Wait patiently for the bird to approach you with confidence and you are well on your way to making a friend of your pet.

Hand fed babies who have been socialized by a devoted and conscientious breeder will quickly become completely trusting with no fear of humans. Older birds who have been well treated in the past will require only time to recover their trust.

Remember to respect the fact that each bird has it's own special personality and may not conform to the expectations given you. Much like small children, our Quaker babies are individuals who never quite fit an exact pattern. One ability they have in common seems to be the capacity to train their unsuspecting owners in behavior that pleases the bird, rather than vice-versa.

 

FROM OUR READERS

Dear Linda,

We have had our Quaker Louie for nine months. We are a family of five one of which is four year old Mary. Louie is basically good with all of us except Mary. He tries to go after her every chance he gets. I know she would really love to hold him and be his friend. Do you have any solutions to change this situation? P.S. Mary is full of energy.

Margaret from New York

Dear Margaret:I think your P.S. is the key to the problem. All companion birds are upset by sudden movements or unexpected loud noises. You may find some help in this issue's article on biting, but I am afraid the training needs to be directed toward your energetic little daughter rather than Louie. Even if you succeed in changing her behavior around the bird, Quakers have long memories and are even more difficult to change than four year olds.

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Dear Linda,

My husband and I need some information on the effects of temperature on Quakers. We purchased them last summer when we were living in Canada. Through the summer months they did not seem too uncomfortable with the heat and would splash in their water dish if they became too warm. However this last week we had a much different experience. We are now living in the Seattle area and the weather has been extremely warm these past few weeks. The birds began to molt and I noticed the larger male seemed to be over preening himself. I assumed that he was just removing old feathers. However, that evening the air became extremely warm in our apartment and the next morning the cage floor and surrounding area were covered with feathers and down.

Sitting on the perch was a rather pathetic looking little Quaker. Not only had he removed feathers from beneath his wings, but his chest and little legs. Fortunately the heat did not effect the smaller female. Now my husband and I are sure to keep a fan operating and to mist them when the weather is too warm.

My questions to you are: Are Quakers susceptible to high temperatures? Why should one bird be affected by the heat and not the other?

Dorothy from Washington

I think that you may be jumping to conclusions when you assume that the weather was the sole cause of your Quaker's plucking. In that the heat was a part of a stressful change of home, happening unfortunately at the time of a molt which is also stressful, it probably did contribute.

Quakers are normally very tolerant of either heat or cold, more so than most other species. Ours here in Florida are in outside aviaries and thrive in the hot summers as well as the cold spells in the winters. Each Quaker has an individual and unique personality, and may differ greatly in ability to handle stress. If the development of new plumage is not satisfactory, and plucking continues, I advise consulting your Avian Vet for possible physical causes. Meanwhile, lots of love and attention will help the birds to adjust.

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Dear Linda,

I am planning to convert my Quaker to pellets and would like to know if it is OK to use those formulated for Cockatiels. There seem to be no formulas for Quakers and my Quaker will not eat foods sized for the larger parrots. He currently eats pellets but not solely, however he dunks them in water first. Is this OK?

You are wise to convert your bird to mainly pelleted food. There will probably be less soaking in water with the smaller, cockatiel size, but there is no harm done - just a habit of some and not others. I place the water bowl at the opposite end of the cage from the food bowl just to discourage the practice a little and pay particular attention to frequent emptying of the "soup" they make of their water. 

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Dear Linda,

My Quaker is eight months old and does not talk. He makes all kinds of noises and is a real sassy bird. His feathers are in good shape, he eats well, and loves to be in the room with me. In fact, if I leave him alone in a room too long he hops down and comes looking for me. We talk to him all through the day. Sometimes when he is chattering I think he says "Bobbi", his name. I have thought of boarding him with talking birds but I am afraid he will pull his feathers as he did when we first got him. Do you think he will ever talk?    

Ruth from Florida

Please do not even consider boarding that dear little bird anywhere at all. He sounds completely devoted to you and your husband and would be just heart broken to be sent anywhere without you. Do be more patient. Bobbi is just a baby. Just keep talking to him, repeating the same words or phrases endlessly. I think that by the time this issue gets to your home he will be talking up a storm.

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Dear Linda,

Can you please help me? My Quaker Reekki was getting a real good bath one day when I noticed two yellow feathers by his neck. Does this mean that he is split to Lutino? To my knowledge they were not there when I got him as a young bird. He is now almost two years old.     Jo Ann from Missouri

Dear Jo Ann:There is no visual indication at all of a Quaker being split to Lutino. Yellow feathers appearing in an older bird after several molts usually indicate either damaged feather follicles or are an indication of liver disease.

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Dear Linda,

We have a three month old Quaker that we purchased for our six year old daughter. We named our bird Q.P. since they are his initials. (For Quaker Parakeet) Since he is a little girl's pet, also for the Kewpie doll. That's how we pronounce it.  

Lorie from Arkansas

So many of our readers have come up with unusual and clever names for your pets. How about a clever name contest? Send in your entries. I will have to serve as judge and the prize will be a free years subscription to The Quaker News.

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Dear Linda,

Rosie, our perky Quaker is the brightest spot in our household. She greets us coming and going - summons us with "Come here, right now. damn it!" She keeps our dogs in line with "Go lay down. No barking. Barking is baaad." And of course "I love you. Give Mama a kiss", and "Nite nite kiss" are endearing. How did we manage without her?

Kaye from Ohio

An old gentleman I knew insisted he could start any bird talking by swearing. I don't really suggest that as a solution to the silent bird, but you do notice that most of the phrases Kaye quotes are probably said very emphatically and plainly to make the dogs mind. Clear, loud, often repeated words will help get your bird started, and once a few words are spoken, the rest follow quickly.

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Dear Linda,

I tried something with my beloved Quaker Radar. I shake up a container of orange or any other kind of juice until it bubbles. Then I pour the contents into a glass and Radar proceeds to bite the bubbles, drinking at the same time.

This may be a good idea for someone who can't get their bird to eat fruit. He likes both orange and apple juice the most. Radar is my constant and loveable companion. We go all over together and travel many miles (ten hours sometimes) going up north visiting. He is a very good traveler although I often have to put my finger in the cage and rub his head. (Only when we are on a road with little traffic.) 

Joseph from N.C.

An additional word of caution - let Radar have his fun chasing bubbles only under your close supervision. Quakers can't swim. I was told about one who fell into his owners oversized coffee mug and drowned.

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Dear Linda,

About the middle of June I arrived home with my own Quaker Parakeet, Spike. I had been looking for a bird for a year and met many different birds. Spike was the most even tempered, sweetest bird I met in that whole year. That's why I got him. Spike hasn't started to talk or even mutter yet. Is there a certain age that Quakers start to mutter? What does it mean when Spike yawns? Is fluffing up a sign of anxiety?   

Kim from California

Low, indistinct sounds that you could call muttering are the start of talking. Birds usually, but not always, garble their first words a bit and practice the sounds before they are clear. They are all different - some start talking in the weaning stage, some not until one or two - and very rarely some just never do much talking. I think that Spike occasionally yawning has probably the same meaning as when a human yawns. Excessive yawning can be caused by worms or other physical problems. Fluffing up can mean that Spike is cold, that he is preparing for sleep, is just a part of his preening routine, or if it persists and is accompanied by other symptoms, it may mean that he is sick. By closely observing your bird's behavior, as I am glad to see you are doing, you will learn his little ways that are peculiar to him alone and be able to interpret his behavior quite well.

 

TEACHING A PARROT TO BITE

(Use of this article only with written permission of author)

from Guide To A Well Behaved Parrot - Mattie Sue Athan

WITH permission of Barron's Educational Series

Nature produces the parrot's tendency to use its hard sharp beak to bite. It is a tendency that possibly blossoms to fruitation frequently in captivity. Humans and a poorly planned captive environment can easily reinforce the tendency to bite. An understanding of the parrot's instinctive behaviors combined with aggression-prevention handling mannerisms, a well designed environment, and planned responses to the bird can reduce a parrot's natural tendency to bite.

I see several instinctive behaviors that probably generate the initial bite: crankiness, the flocking instinct, territorialism, and sexual related aggression. Combine these with proactive behavior by humans, unintentional reinforcement and misunderstanding of how the bird uses the beak and you have a biting parrot.

The flocking instinct often contributes to the development of biting in a young parrot that interacts regularly with more than one person. Because sick or injured group members might attract predators, a "good citizen" of the flock might naturally try to drive the weaklings away.

In family settings this perceived "weakling" might be the nicest person in the family, the smallest person, the quietest person, the oldest person, or another pet.

Of course, in human society attacking "weaklings" is an extremely inappropriate behavior. In birds it must be socialized out by denying reinforcement, by providing responses that the biting bird does not want, and by teaching acceptable alternative behaviors to replace the undesirable behavior. One must be careful not to unintentionally reinforce any form of hard biting on humans or other animals. Many varied responses will be interpreted by the bird as reinforcement of the bite. I usually presume that reinforcement of a negative behavior is unintentional; although I have seen resentful or hostile humans openly reward companion parrots with kisses, praise, or food rewards following a bite or attempt to bite a spouse, parent, sibling, or other pet. This can lead to dangerous tendencies in the bird that will not always be expressed against the person one might wish. It is a form of "behavioral bird abuse." A domestic hand fed parrot that has been reinforced to bite matures into a viscous, dangerous creature with an uncertain, probably unhappy future.

An attacking parrot can easily be reinforced with laughter on the part of the favorite person. Although the behavior is self-rewarding (done for the pleasure of doing it), laughter from the favorite person could well be the next most sought after response by the bird. And not laughing is very difficult! Here is a clumsy creature who cannot hold its bell and look at the food dish at the same time without falling off the perch, trying to kill someone 100 times its size! Laughing the first time the baby bird attacks your significant other is setting a dangerous precedent of reinforcing violence. We know that it is not funny if our 14 month old child tries to kick the dig; and we wouldn't permit, much less reinforce that behavior. A companion parrot has many of the same aggressive reactions as a human toddler; it is just as inappropriate to reinforce them in a parrot as it is in a human.

A more appropriate response to the stimulus is a stern look; a loud "Stop it!", wobbling or shaking of the hand if the bird is perched on your hand or even picking the bird up to accomplish the correction, a loud clap of the hands, step ups, or time out wherever the bird does not want to be. Simple crankiness on the part of a baby parrot can start a cycle of biting that is easily unintentionally reinforced. TzaTza is going through his first molt. It must be an emotionally intense time for a six month old Quaker. Last month he looked like a little round green satin apple. This month he looks like a lawn that was "mowed" with scissors.

He is moody, confused. He wants to be petted but his neck is so full of stiff new pin feathers that he bites when I touch it. I have given up trying to accommodate the pets he still begs for, but I spend a lot of time kissing his little beak and blowing into his neck. He seems to enjoy both, closing his eyes like a cat squinting in the sunlight. Sometimes he is quieter then usual. He is defensive of his cage. Yesterday he bit my nose when I had a white cosmetic mask on my face and approached him too quickly.

Both of these bites were responses to stimuli from the human. These bites are best avoided by altering the behavior that stimulated them. A cranky baby parrot with a head and neck covered with stiff pinfeathers may seek comfort, but petting those pointy little pinfeathers will bring only a response to pain. Better to give the bird a bath to soften the feather sheaths, A nip by a cranky baby who got poked in the neck with a pinfeather, I believe, is best ignored.

As a matter of fact, most early bites from hand fed babies are probably accidents.

A nip on the nose by the baby sitting on its cage can be treated with a stern look, a loud "Cut it out!", and a swift lockup inside the cage below. Prevent the nip on the nose by:

Avoiding the cranky bird if your appearance is not usual ."Prompting" the bird's good mood by saying "good bird" before you prompt for physical contact.

Approaching more slowly. Quick movements are more often than not the culprit here.

Accidental reinforcement also includes pulling back every time the bird puts its beak on the hand. This will cause the bird to believe that the perch is unsafe. It will respond more aggressively by testing the potential perch before stepping up. The behavior of putting the beak on the hand before stepping up must be ignored if the bird is to trust the perch (hand) and respond dependably to step up.

Poking and pointing at a bird with quick movements are extremely proactive. This is a problem with people who are animated talkers. Waving or wagging fingers swiftly in a bird's face is interpreted by the bird as an invitation to fight, particularly if those fingers are enhanced with brightly colored fingernails. While many birds really enjoy being petted with long fingernails (they feel like a beak!) and can tolerate brightly colored fingernails, if biting persists, one must really examine the way those fingers are being presented to the bird. A pointed appendage - finger, toe, or nose - approaching quickly into the bird's face is an almost irresistible stimulus to bite.

Don't "thump" the bird on the beak. This is ultimately a counter productive act. I believe that it is a little too enraging not to inspire grudges that will be avenged when the opportunity presents itself.

Many bites are either accidental or a matter of interpretation. An accidental bite, unintentionally reinforced or responded to with much drama can easily become a permanent habit.

 

CHARLEY COMES HOME

A Tragic Story With A Happy Ending

Glenn F. Kruse

As an Aviculturist and caring for and raising birds such as Red and Yellow canaries and several kinds of Finches and attending several bird fairs, my interest was drawn to getting a pet parrot. After talking to several bird breeders and reading articles on different types of parrots I decided on getting a Quaker Parakeet.

I bought a six week old Quaker from a breeder and named him Charley. When I picked up Charley on Fathers Day, June 18, at the breeder's house his wings were clipped so he wouldn't fly away. I was hand spoon feeding Charley a parrot formula in the morning and evening and he was starting to eat a little on his own. This went on for three days.

On the third day that I had Charley I took him outside to show him to a neighbor. To my surprise Charley flew away over a garage and into a high tree. His green and gray

coloring blended in very well with the leaves of the trees. We spotted Charley high up in a tree and got a ladder to rescue him but he took off and flew away. It was about eight PM with night and darkness coming.

The next morning I got up early and went through the neighborhood calling his name which he probably hadn't learned yet at such an early age. I posted lost bird signs on poles, called the police department, the animal shelter and humane society, placed ads in the local paper, but two days after Charley flew away there were no calls or sightings of him reported.

When I got home from work on Saturday, June 24th there was a message on my machine from an animal shelter. I called back and read to them the letters and numbers on Charley's leg band and it was my bird. When I went to him and talked to him he was so excited and flapping his wings and squawking to get out of the cage. I also was excited and happy and almost flapping my wings.

They told me that they got a call that there was a weird looking bird or parrot in a park in the next village which is some two to three miles from my home and across a river.

I am so thankful and feel lucky that Charley is now home. I had his wings re-clipped. He hasn't been outside since. I wonder why?

 

COMPATIBILITY

Some of our breeders may by this time of the year have about given up hope for some pairs to produce a clutch of babies. The placing of a hen and cock together does not automatically insure that baby birds will be produced. Many of the larger birds, and a few of the smaller birds like our Quakers, may take years to bond to each other. It can even happen that a bird will never become compatible with the mate chosen by the owner. Many have minds of their own about an acceptable mate.

The hen may be more interested in mating than the cock and give up on her attempts to be fertilized. She then goes about nesting as usual but lays and tries to incubate clear eggs. Some Cocks are intensively territorial and concentrate on defending their cage space rather than on the hen.

More often an eager cock finds himself with a reluctant hen. He may be so tired of his mates "having a headache" that he drives her into the nest box and keeps her there without food and water. Occasionally the female is badly plucked by an aggressive male.

We also encounter the "next door syndrome." The cock ignores his own hen and spends his time actively courting the hen in the adjoining cage.

The most effective way to insure compatibility in a pair is to place them together in a cage at an early age. Allowed to grow up together they will bond closely.

When adult birds are being paired, placing both hen and cock in a new, strange cage at the same time is often effective. There will be no defense of territory. They will both be frightened and will find security in each other. Allowing them to become acquainted in adjoining cages first helps this maneuver to work well.

Quite often the solution is just the passage of time. "Let's give them another year." is a frequent decision - and it often pays off.               

 

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