The Quaker Parakeet and Its Mutations ~
Note: This is an updated version of a paper that was presented at the 1999 AFA Convention in Denver, CO, and later published in AUSTRALIAN BIRDKEEPER MAGAZINE (January 2000)
Since their first documented breeding in captivity, in a Vienna garden in 1867, the popularity of the charming Quaker Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus, has grown with Aviculturists and pet owners alike throughout the world. Although usually referred to as the Monk Parrot or Parakeet in European Aviculture, most enthusiasts in the U.S. simply refer to it as the Quaker.
According to our research, the Blue Quakers apparently appeared in Belgium in the 1940's. Currently, new colors are starting to appear on a fairly regular basis and the Quaker, as a species, has enjoyed accelerated popularity in the last two decades.
My personal experiences with the species began in 1971, when I was offered a pair of birds that had "paired off" in a cage containing a number of imported birds. Of course at that time, surgical and DNA sexing procedures were not yet available for monomorphic species, so we were compelled to do a lot of comparisons and guessing when attempting to chose true pairs. Aviculturists used to laugh and say that if a pair produced eggs you could be certain one bird was a hen, and if the eggs were fertile you had a true pair!Needless to say, I was very pleased to be offered two birds that had been allowed to pair by natural selection.
They were, indeed, a well-matched pair, and lost no time in producing offspring. We were immediately enchanted with their cute little fat cheeks, and amusing gyrations while being handfed. They were obviously extremely intelligent, and each had a distinct personality of its own. Their individual idiosyncrasies became apparent at very early ages, and some were mimicking the sounds around them and attempting to talk well in advance of being weaned. Since the babies were offered as pets, we soon heard lengthy tales of their delightful antics from their new owners. We quickly became "hooked" on Quakers, and their potential as pets.
In 1989 we were able to acquire some Blue Quakers from the late Tom IRELAND of Florida. These birds were rather small, and he informed us that they had not been particularly good producers. We decided to split them up and outcross to wild-caught green birds. The results were dramatic! When splits from the different pairings were mated, the first blue offspring produced were appreciably larger and more vigorous with better depth of color. Therefore, we felt we were headed in the right direction with our breeding program. Then in 1993, we were able to acquire several unrelated bloodlines of the blue mutation from Europe, along with the first red-eyed Cinnamon's to be imported into the U.S.
The lovely Pallid, and Dark-eyed yellow and white mutations appeared and were established in Florida, and a Fallow mutation appeared in Texas. The Pallid and Dark-eyed clear mutations have proven quite prolific, but the Fallow has been a little harder to establish. Ben and Janice Liverman in Texas have been the most successful with the Fallow mutation at this time.
In 1996, we were fortunate to be offered the right to purchase a single Lutino Quaker and the green birds that produced it. That first Lutino proved to be a male. Since he was produced by two green birds, that established the fact that this was a recessive mutation. We have been quite successful establishing the recessive Lutino, and as a result of combining the Lutino and Blue mutations we produced the first true Albino Quaker in the U. S. in 2006.
In 2000, we acquired a dark green Quaker that proved to be a recessive Greygreen, and from that we have managed to outcross and combine with other mutations to produce the Greygreen and Grey series specimens pictured in the Gallery and Mutation sections of this site. We believe that the Pallid Grey and Pallid Greygreen specimens pictured are the first Quakers of these colors to be produced in the World.
At the present time, we are working with some other "unusually colored" birds with the hope of producing still more exciting colors and combinations. There are green birds with yellow feathers appearing on a regular basis in several breeding programs around the country. We are confident that legitimate pieds will be established in the not too distant future. I use the term "legitimate" when referring to the pied birds, because pied-appearing characteristics, in any species, are not always indicative of a true mutation......Many times they are related to age, diet, or even a metabolic imbalance. For a new color or variation to be considered a viable genetic mutation, IT MUST BE REPRODUCIBLE IN A PREDICTABLE MANNER.
Breeding and General Management -
We believe that in all species, we would see greatly increased breeding results if we were able to allow our birds to pair by natural selection. Unfortunately most breeders are rarely able to do this, and the end result is that many pairs are slow to bond, settle down, and produce young. Some pairs choose never to multiply for the reason, we believe, that they are simply not compatible! I've even known of pairs of Budgerigars that were unproductive, and when they were given different mates became quite prolific.
Although a large percentage of young Quakers, approximately 90%, are ready to reproduce at one year of age or earlier, some make no attempt until their second year. It is our sincere belief that the proper management of juvenile birds that are destined to become future breeding stock is of prime importance. We personally feel that if young birds are given good flight and exercise space while maturing, they will become more successful breeders at an earlier age. Adequate exercise promotes overall better health, which translates into better breeding results.
If only a few birds are available to work with, they should be paired as young as possible, and allowed to mature together. It has been our experience that birds handled in this manner are more apt to evolve as well bonded producing pairs. If you are able to work with larger numbers of birds, better results will be attained if it is possible to implement the natural selection process. Once the pairings become obvious, the individual pairs can be removed to separate pens to breed.
When breeding in smaller individual cages or pens, instead of flights, it is a good idea if at all possible to allow your birds exercise in larger pens or flights during the off season. Since Quakers are normally a flocking species in the natural state, they can easily be flighted in groups. All birds in the breeding program should be banded to facilitate accurate record keeping. Accurate record keeping is the key to success with any breeding program. It becomes even more crucial when working with color mutations! Without knowing the genetic background of specific individuals, it is impossible to chart the various color expectations possible in their offspring.
Over the years, we have experimented with several colony arrangements with both normal green, and blue mutation birds. If nest boxes are given, some pairs, even wild-caught birds, will utilize them instead of attempting to build "from scratch." Other pairs will focus on weaving twigs into the wire, in an attempt to start a stick nest. If a shelf is placed at a high point in the aviary, it is quickly chosen as a construction site. If the colony system is chosen, it is imperative that a constant supply of fresh building materials is provided. Otherwise some birds will steal sticks from the neighboring apartments to enhance their own! In our experiences, we did not see any signs of physical violence as a result of these activities. Perhaps that is because all of the birds were constantly rebuilding and remodeling.
An acquaintance of ours tried a colony arrangement a few years ago, with 20 birds of unknown sex in a 10' X 15' aviary. We personally felt that the size was a bit small to begin with. His experiences, since he did not attempt to remove the young for handfeeding prior to fledging, were much less than desirable. He had numerous, almost routine, instances of youngsters being attacked by other birds in the colony as soon as they left the nest. Perhaps this behavior could have been at least partially avoided by providing a larger enclosure for the flock. It is also possible that this aggressive behavior could have been, at least in part, due to a gender imbalance in the flock. Since the sexes of the original 20 flock members were never determined, there is no way to prove this theory.
Combined experiences of colony breeding attempts seem to add up to the fact that while they are incredibly fascinating to observe in their various activities, it is actually counter productive to attempt colony breeding under average aviary conditions. On the other hand, an oversized aviary in an institutional setting, such as a public park or zoological garden, containing an active colony of Quakers would undoubtedly be of great interest to many observers. They are indeed very clever in their construction design and execution. Their diligence and determination during the construction process is captivating and inspiring to say the very least.
It is always wise to have breeding pens/cages as spacious as possible. This allows exercise, and helps the birds stay in better condition. An enclosure should be at least 4 feet in length to provide adequate space for them to stretch their wings and fly in. However, if it is possible to provide larger quarters, that is to be encouraged........It is always a good idea to give any species as much area as possible to exercise in. We do not use visual barriers between the individual enclosures. Since the Quakers as a species are naturally social in their daily activities, we believe that the visual presence of other birds may actually stimulate breeding behavior.
For nests, we use standard Cockatiel type nest boxes that are approximately 10" square, and attached to the outside of the flight. This allows for easy nest inspection without interfering with the "inner space" of the aviary. All boxes should be equipped with a safety latch on the lid to prevent escapes! We like to place a layer of pine or fir chips about 4" deep in the bottom of the box. For additional nest construction, fresh supple willow branches and leaf twigs from Japanese Arrow Bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) are provided. Even though Quakers will nest in a box with only chips or shavings, we have found they seem to do better when supplied with building materials to cater to their natural instincts, and to actually allow them the activity of at least partially constructing their own nest. The building materials are, we feel, of important psychological significance. While some birds take almost nothing into the box, others will create an elaborate basket-like lining. Still others will design intricate porches or awnings at the entrance. In all cases, it provides the male with some physical activity outlet while the hen is incubating. This prevents him from interfering too much with her, and possibly breaking eggs. We need to keep in mind that the Quaker is naturally a very active bird, and they can easily become bored. Bored Quakers are very much like bored children....and undesirable results often occur!
It has been our experience, that Quakers in general, resent having their nests tampered with much more than most other species. While it is true that we have pairs that will tolerate almost anything, most pairs simply want to be left alone to carry on their nesting activities. We hear stories on a regular basis about egg-breaking, burying, etc. When questions are posed regarding conditions, we usually learn that the nests are inspected and tampered with all too frequently. Some birds simply will not tolerate interference of any kind. Of course, this is actually true of all species. On the other hand, some pairs are so eager to raise a family they would probably reproduce on a freeway median if supplied with a nest! A few years ago, we had a Quaker hen raise three babies in a feed dish because there was no nest available. This was accomplished with several other birds in the same cage, and it was during the winter with a very short photo period.
Regarding nest inspection, the basic protocol we have observed for all species, not just Quakers is a follows: During the breeding season, the nests are inspected regularly on a weekly basis. When the first egg or eggs is/are observed in a given nest, the nest card is marked. No further inspections are initiated for that nest until a few days after the eggs are calculated to hatch. Some hens seem to start incubation as soon as the first egg is produced. Others seem to wait until two or three eggs are in the nest before getting serious. Babies are removed for handfeeding at approximately two weeks of age. The only exception to this routine, is if there are some obvious signs that all is not well. Examples include both birds being off the nest for prolonged periods of time, or a dramatic reduction in food consumption. With this regimen adhered to, we have minimal problems with nesting birds. I must confess that I become very concerned when I hear of people being told that Quakers are such terrible breeders and poor parents that the eggs need to be artificially incubated. This is simply not true! Furthermore, if such practices are implemented and perpetuated, it will have a very negative effect on the species. Babies that are deprived of being cared for by the parent birds for at least a few days, are deprived of the advantages of the natural flora from the parents' crops. This ultimately results in a compromised immune system from the very beginning. Also, it is reasonable to assume that they are deprived of the natural imprinting process, and this is very likely to have a negative effect on their breeding behavior as adults. We firmly adhere to the belief that 90% of the time, poor breeding results are a product of improper husbandry. Again, this is true for all species, not just Quakers. Another important thing to consider, is to give the birds an overall sense of well-being in a secure environment. This means that strangers should be kept away from all breeding areas. If you like the ego trip of playing "show and tell" with your breeder birds, you may well be depriving yourself of what should be considered a much more gratifying ego trip.....That of playing "show and tell" with beautiful babies.
Concerning diet, we feel that all birds in captivity should have the most varied diet possible. It is our belief that this practice provides psychological, as well as nutritional benefits. In their natural habitat, the diet varies on a daily basis, as well as with the seasons. It therefore seems logical to believe that these variables have a stimulating effect on their breeding behaviors.
Our birds are provided with a varied mix of seeds and pelleted food, with quantities rationed. The rationing forces them to consume a varied diet. Not unlike children, they will consume their favorites first, and eat the rest when they get hungry. They are also provided with chopped fruits and vegetables, and a variety of germinated seeds. Cuttlebone and calcium blocks are kept constantly available, and we notice an increase in cuttlebone consumption just prior to egg laying. WHEN PAIRS ARE FEEDING YOUNGSTERS THEY ARE GIVEN UNLIMITED QUANTITIES OF ALL FOODSTUFFS, WITH THE BOWLS BEING DUMPED AND REPLENISHED THROUGHOUT THE DAY. We find it interesting to see how the food preferences change as the youngsters grow and develop.
For the sake of convenience, many people choose to substitute frozen vegetables for fresh. If they are put out to thaw at bedtime, they are ready to feed in the morning. Or they can be quick thawed in the microwave.
It is our hope that this information will prove beneficial to you!
Anyone having specific questions or concerns is encouraged to contact us. It is always a pleasure to chat about Quakers, and to exchange ideas and knowledge with other Quaker Lovers and Aviculturists.