FROM THE EDITOR
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
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.
FROM OUR READERS
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,
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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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
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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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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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
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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
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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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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:
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
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?
MAKING A SAFE
HOME FOR YOUR BIRD
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
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.
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
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
Here they are:
I'm A Little Quaker
(Sung to the tune of I'm A
I'm a little Quaker, green and
Open up my cage and let me out.
Better pick me up or else I'll
Rub my tummy, and then I'll
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
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
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
MONKS RETREAT OR
A QUAKER MOTEL
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
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.