One of our readers asked an interesting question some months ago, and I am still trying to find a satisfactory answer. "Are negative attitudes about salt, fat, sugar. and caffeine for our birds derived from documentable research or just supposition based on human dietary habits?" She went on to say that if chocolate really is poison her bird would be dead as he devises elaborate schemes to steal this forbidden substance.

I wrote to some of the larger manufacturers of bird foods who run research centers inquiring about possible scientific research on these topics with no replies.

In his book Avian Medicine, Principles and Application, Dr Harrison points out that the science of feeding birds has lagged behind that of most other pet species. There is a lack of financial incentive for either university or industry to employ nutritionists to study these species. The expense and difficulties found in studying the nutrient requirements in a variety of species and metabolic conditions have delayed avian research. It has only been in the past decade that this type of research has really taken off, and it will take several more decades to establish an accurate picture.

Under a discussion of sodium Dr Harrison points out that moderate increases in dietary sodium are relatively non- toxic. High levels of sodium result in poor feathering, excessive thirst, nervousness, edema, dehydration and sometimes death. How does one decide how many salty snack crackers how often result in a high level of sodium?

Veterinarians have documented many times that consumption of even small quantities of chocolate have resulted in hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and sometimes, in spite of active treatment, loss of the bird. The progression of these effects when large concentrates of the active ingredients (theophylline and caffeine) are consumed is very rapid.

It is true that a bird in good physical and emotional health can withstand much more in the way of toxins than a marginal bird. As always, individuals react differently and at different times in their lives each bird may react differently to the same food.

For years I had been supplying my breeding Quakers with cherry tomato vines for their nest building. I grew these vines up the side of the aviary just for the birds. When I mentioned this in a published article it was brought to my attention that tomato leaves and vines are listed as toxic substances. Even though this is contrary to my own experience I no longer give the Quakers tomato vines. Scientific proof or not, at the hint of danger I play it safe.



Dear Linda;

I don't expect my Quaker to be making a meal of my plants, but just in case he does nibble on a leaf or two, are there any that are safe? I do enjoy having plants around but I would give them all up rather than have him come to harm.

Rita from Florida

I took this list of safe house and potted plants from the annual Birds USA 1996. The list of poisonous plants is much longer, but choosing from these common ones should offer you some selection.


Ferns (asparagus, birds nest, Boston, maidenhair)

Fig plant

Grape Ivy


Swedish Ivy

Spider Plant

It should be noted that the pelletized fertilizer found on the surface of the soil in many house plants may be more of a threat than the plant itself. These encapsulated products contain high levels of nitrate that can be rapidly fatal.

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Dear Linda;

It is fun reading about others who have these unique little birds. Mine is doing well since an unhappy experience with a car two years ago. He has always been quite tame and loves the attention that he gets from myself and my husband. I recently bought a new cage, a big one, to house all my cockatiels ( up to six now) and my Quaker together. The only problem I had in the beginning was the Quaker pulling the tails of the Tiels. But all have settled down now and everyone has their own spot in the cage where they sleep. Pam from Florida

It has been my experience with all species that putting the birds together in a strange cage at the same time is the best method for their getting along together. They have not had time to become territorial and protective and are less likely to fight. Having the cage sufficiently large for them to escape unwelcome attention is also important.

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Dear Linda;

My breeding season hasn't been as booming as I had hoped. After pulling my first clutch of babies I had hoped for another clutch- but so far my Quakers aren't going along with my plan. My first clutch are just about weaned and are quite vocal. I call them my little green bobbers. One thing is certain - bird breeding is not an exact science. Thanks for your efforts in furthering Quaker awareness. Erin from North Carolina The old adage warning not to count your chickens before they are hatched applies even more to bird breeders. Breeding pairs can follow the same patterns for years, and then suddenly change completely for no reason we can figure out. There is always some interesting development going on in our aviaries - never routine or boring.

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Dear Linda;

I have just finished the recently mailed Quaker News. I am concerned about misinformation - about pencils! The so called "lead" in pencils has always been nothing more than a form of carbon. Early pencils used charcoal. Carbon is harmless. So's the paint as humans often chew pencils. I'd be more concerned about pencils that have erasers in metal holders on one end. I'm not at all sure that eraser material doesn't have the potential to impact a bird's system. I don't read the "news" to find flaws but I feel those who dispense advice have an obligation to base it on facts. Alice from Texas

We do make every effort to authenticate the advice we give. Whether carbon or graphite I still feel that pencils are not safe toys. That metal holder with the eraser removed is very sharp and can be the source of injury. Also we must keep in mind that the fact that humans tolerate some substances is not the criteria for making the decision that it will be handled equally well by birds. We do appreciate input from our readers. Keep you comments coming! We all need to share our expertise.

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Dear Linda;

My Quaker, Rosie, is smart, loveable, and very talkative. She is also territorial and usually will bite me when I reach into her cage. Is this a usual Quaker trait? My neighbor's Quaker is the same way. Kaye from Ohio

So many readers write to tell me of the same behavior I must assume that it is quite "usual" for Quakers, although I have observed this in many other species. Especially when set up for breeding, most will defend their cages from the very humans who care for them. Many follow the same pattern when solo pets.

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Dear Linda;

I have a question regarding my Quaker Nicholas, our newest family member. For Christmas Nicholas got a beautiful large cage with lots of perches and toys. My problem is that with the other cage he was very eager to get out to be loved. He enjoyed our times together at night. Now with the new cage I almost have to drag him out. He refuses to let go of the wires or perches no matter how I try to bribe him. Once he gets out he is perfectly fine but getting him out is a chore. Any suggestions? Teri from N.C. One of our readers with this same problem told me that she solved it by putting the cage on the floor with the door open and a favorite treat nearby. After allowing her pet to leave the cage at will, with no coaxing or force, he soon got over his fears and again came out to play very willingly.

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Dear Linda;

We own three normal green Quakers that we love dearly. Because of that we tried to get involved with an exotic bird 4-H club, and found that there are none. So the three of us began our own. It has been difficult to find people to help us with the educational portion of our group, so we research a lot on our own.    Feathers and Friends 4-H club

If any of your members have access to the web pages via your computers you will find more than 60 of my articles on varied topics (a number on Quakers) which have been published in journals and magazines. My Web pages are found at:

Dear Linda;

Our Quaker Beeker is over three years old now. He started talking before he was weaned. He is very bonded to me. He tolerates our two cats. They are both afraid of him.

If I give the cats a treat of human food (ground beef is their favorite) Beeker sometimes gets down on the floor and eats it. The cats stand back and watch! They don't dare cross him.

My question is about his biting habit (and how to get rid of it). He seems to be afraid of things that I pick up. He lunges at them and then bites me instead. It almost always happens when I pick something up and he's on my shoulder, but it also happens when he is on the table or counter and I pick up somthing near him (he runs at it with his beak wide open). Even if I slowly bring the object to him and let him see that it won't hurt him,if I move it quickly after that, he'll lunge at it again. If he bites me really hard I say "bad bird" and lock him in his cage. He doesn't seem to understand though. Is there anything else that we can do to stop this behavior? Barb from Illinois

I confess that I am stumped. You seem to be following all the bird behaviorists suggestions. It seems that the long memory characteristic of Quakers recalls some long past unpleasant experience to create biting as a fear reaction. Do any of our readers have suggestions to offer?



From the South Jersey Bird Club News

A pet bird depends on you to maintain its environment. Therefore, along with providing adequate shelter and proper nutrition, it is important that you keep the home "hazard free." Many household objects can be dangerous and sometimes fatal for pet birds. Natural curiosity, powerful beaks, and the ability to fly can cause harm if birds are not carefully monitored. If you are not at home to monitor your bird it is essential that you keep it caged. There are many household items and activities which are dangerous to pet birds. For example:

WINDOWS AND MIRRORS do not appear to be a barrier to birds and they may fly headlong into them.

OPEN DOORS AND WINDOWS are an obvious danger.

OPEN CONTAINERS OF WATER, such as sinks, toilets, or pots of water present the risk of drowning. If your bird flies free in your home these containers should be covered.

CEILING FANS can cause serious injury to flying birds.

LOUD NOISES may produce stress in birds, lowering their resistance to infection or creating emotional problems such as feather plucking.

OTHER PETS IN HOUSEHOLD, such as dogs or cats, can harm birds. A jealous or aggressive bird may severely damage another bird's toes or beak.

HOT COOKWARE, HOT FOOD, AND HOT RANGE TOPS can burn a bird. Keep birds away from the range when cooking.

LEAD POISONING can occur when birds pick up lead or lead painted objects, chew on them, and swallow small fragments. Common sources of lead include old lead based paint, solder, putty, linoleum, costume jewelry, curtain weights, wine bottle foil, and shot gun shot. Lead poisoning is one of the most common poisoners in birds. It causes nervous system disorders, and usually seizures. Veterinary care should be sought.



contributed by Kathleen Carr

When we realized with our first Quaker (1987) how easily they picked up speech, I made up two "flock" songs and ever since then we have sung them to all the Quakers I've owned. My sister-in-law sings them to her two birds as well.

The birds love to listen to us sing the songs and they also can sing them, for the most part, in their entirety. If they're feeling insecure, they are tremendously reassured by all of us singing together. Both birds recruit my husband and/or me to sing with them at least two or three times a day with the phrase "Wanna sing?".

Here they are:

I'm A Little Quaker

(Sung to the tune of I'm A Little Teapot)

I'm a little Quaker, green and stout.

Open up my cage and let me out.

Better pick me up or else I'll squawk,

Rub my tummy, and then I'll talk.

Hug The Quaker, I Love You

(Sung to the tune of London Bridges Falling Down)

Hug the Quaker, I love you,

Yes I do, Yes I do.

Hug the Quaker, I love you.


Beaker, one of the Carr Quakers, also sings the theme song to "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

Barb from Illinois wonders if her three year old Quaker Beeker is unusual in his love of music. She says "He loves to hear music, even my singing which is terrible. We've made up the Beeker song. I goes something like Beeker, Beeker, Birdie, Birdie. Beeker is a good bird. Beaker, Beaker, Beeks, Beeks, to whatever tune comes to mind. When I sing he sometimes puts his ear right to my mouth. When he is alone (or thinks he is) he sings the Beeker song over and over again. She is curious to know if other people have found that their birds love music or if he is taking after his owners. (They both love rock and roll).



Loyd L. Sullivan

I always smile to myself when I speak to people considering purchasing their first parrot. How do you explain to someone that the innocent little creature they wish to acquire may turn into a noisy, messy, demanding, self indulgent monster that would not think twice about biting the hand that feeds it? We have all heard stories about difficult, demanding, or unmanageable birds. The owners are baffled. They had carefully selected a domestic, hand raised bird and raised it lovingly, actually catering to its every whim. They become confused when their bird becomes untidy or aggressive. I feel that this is a "people problem", not a "bird problem." People often expect more of their birds than the birds can possibly be - quick to tame, friendly with everyone, brilliant talkers, quiet when not talking, non destructive, and compatible with all other household pets. This is just not realistic. A hand fed, domestic bird may not need to be tamed in the classic sense of the word, but it does need time, patience, and understanding while it adjusts to its new surroundings and learns to accept the new people in its life

Avian pets are conditioned to react and respond to their owners. Birds need discipline to become an enjoyable part of your household. I never felt the need to turn any bird into a "circus bird" by training it to ride a scooter or balance on roller skates. In order to test her intelligence (and my own!) I decided to teach my bird Chanel some conditioned responses to hand cues. (I hate the term tricks.) I was amazed at her ability to learn. This became a daily ritual with us, and it became very clear that she was enjoying the opportunity to learn something new as much as I enjoyed teaching her. She will now kiss you on cue, show you where to scratch her, wave, turn a full circle on her perch, all by hand commands. She has one verbal command which is simply "Look," to which she will bring her face close to mine and look into my eyes. Each of these responses took her no more than five or ten minutes to learn, but she has never forgotten any and she does not mix up the hand cues (although she will occasionally turn in circles on her perch without a cue to try to get a treat.) We now plan to try more complicated responses, like talking on cue.

I believe that every bird has a genuine desire to learn and how we condition our birds to behave makes all the difference between raising a well adjusted bird and a holy terror. If you let your bird out of its cage every day when you get home from work, it will expect the door to open daily at 6PM. If you feed your bird table food when you have dinner you will establish a pattern that is very difficult to change. If you run to the cage every time you hear a squawk your bird has learned how to "fetch" you. The only results from these conditioned responses are trained owners and spoiled birds. Remember, birds live a long time and changing undesirable behavior patterns after years of reinforcement is a challenge not easily understood by your pet.

Some problems also occur when the novelty of owning a bird wears off. Perhaps you are weary of the seeds scattered all over the floor, or the colorful murals on the wall created by flying grapes or cherries. There will be times when you have to work late, have company for dinner, or are just too tired or too busy for the normal "parrot playtime." This break in the bird's routine can create a screaming maniac but it is what the bird was carefully conditioned to do by you.

I wish that I could say that my birds are perfect and that they have never misbehaved, but I can't. I once shared my home with a Toucan that taught me so very much. It taught me that my wife's potted palm tree really should not be potted at all, but that the dirt looked much better covering the dining room floor. It also taught me that you can eat the fruit in the fruit bowl with out removing the peel, simply by digging holes in every piece of fruit there. Most important it taught me that we shouldn't let our birds roam around when we aren't there to supervise. Even my special girl, Chanel, once mistook the leg of my wife's antique end table for one of her chew toys and she still likes to throw her food around after she has been scolded.

Birds have a reputation for being mischievous - that's part of their charm, but the next time your bird "misbehaves" remember that it's a condition that you instilled in them and that you should blame no one else but yourself. A careful blending of love, attention, and discipline will help you to raise a well adjusted bird and hopefully keep it from turning into a spoiled brat.



Diana and Dave from D&D Feather Friendly in Connecticut sent me a welcome advertisement. It states " In the wild Quakers build elaborate, compartmentalized nests. Our bird just loves to get inside this tube and make all kinds of gurgling racket. Nights are spent all cozied up inside the security of this retreat. It is just a thick walled cardboard tube, about 6 inches by 3 inches in diameter. It comes with a hoop style wire attachment. Sure, they will chew it up! But at $1,95, who cares? Catalogue # MRT, Birds of Play, 70231 Beach Drive, Edwardsburg, Mi, 49112."

Some time ago I was given a metal tube of this size, covered with an old crew sock. ( toe of sock snipped off and sock brought back through tube and up over outside again) This lived up to the promises of the above advertisement in every way but I had no idea where to buy them.

I ordered a considerably more expensive model of the same idea from a magazine advertisement. It is neatly covered with a soft plush material, and much more attractive looking than the old sock, but it came with a warning that it is made of plastic and is dangerous if chewed. (as it inevitably would be by our Quakers)

The crew sock covering would work well on the cardboard tube and slow down demolition. I mistrust wires of any kind in our cages as a source of accidents and would prefer tying the tube up with cotton rope or untreated strips of leather. .

Diana says that her Quaker is so long he hangs out of the tube but loves it nevertheless. Strangely enough, our bird may leave droppings on the top and outside but never messes up the inside of her tube home. Thanks Diana and Dave for sharing a great idea.


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