The Quaker Parakeet

The Quaker Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus has been described using many words: noisy, hardy, sociable, smart, intolerant of nest inspection, a pest and easily bred. The reputation that has earned it some of these adjectives are often unjustified. It is unquestionably garrulous and sociable, but the description that it is a rapacious consumer of agricultural crops is often overly exaggerated. Yes, they are opportunistic feeders and will feed on cereal crops, but those populations introduced to Florida and Puerto Rico have never posed a threat to the various agricultural industries. Indeed the introduced populations in Florida feed primarily on palm seeds, flowers, pods and buds rather than important agricultural crops like lychee, longan, mango, guava or carambola. In Florida the feral populations date to before 1969 and yet I know of no reports of the birds attacking any crops. No feral population has turned to grain or cereal crops for food.

In complete contrast, the feral populations of Ring-necked Parakeets Psittacula krameri immediately turn to crops for food – they are a menace to almond crops in Israel, for example–and often viciously attack cavity nesting birds to usurp the nest. The Quaker in contrast builds its own nest, preferring palm trees in dense cities and telephone poles.

Interest in Quaker Parakeets can be divided into two categories: breeding for pets or color mutations and maintaining a fascinating species in aviaries. Its willingness to nest, ability to breed when only a year of age and undemanding dietary requirements make it a very suitable avicultural subject in those parts of the world where keeping it is not prohibited; because of the hyperbole of it being a pest, many municipalities ban its keeping.

In many countries where aviculture is pursued and keeping the species is not banned, Quaker Parakeets are very popular pets. They are very capable talkers, exceedingly smart and sociable. They can be noisy and prone to plucking and mutilation syndrome, but this may be due to them being kept singly and to boredom; Quaker Parakeets are exceedingly active birds that are always interacting with one another. Keeping a single bird in a cage without insuring that it is kept busy can be one of the causes of plucking and mutilation. Other causes can be fatty liver disease (they should not receive diets rich in oily seeds), allergies and a hormonal imbalance. Many birds also pluck to attract the attention of their owners. They quickly realize that if they pull out their feathers they will elicit a response from their owners, who come rushing. Ignoring the act of feather pulling but insuring that the bird is kept occupied are very important in undermining this vice.

Many means can be used to keep these parrots occupied. Quakers can be given plastic straws to weave a nest, can be offered a tray of sand into which millet seeds have been mixed (to encourage a natural behavior of foraging on the ground) and can be given pieces of green coconut husk to chew apart. Providing enrichment and toys are important in keeping this particularly active species occupied.

For the breeder, a colony of Quaker Parakeets is absorbing. They are endless interacting. Their nest building habits are fascinating. But in a colony, pairs are not as productive as they would be when housed one pair per aviary. Mutations abound; the first was a blue that appeared in 1867 at Schönbrunn Zoo in Austria. Since then the palate of colors has been never ending.

Quakers can be allowed to build their own nest or most breeders provide a conure-type nest, which is easily inspected. Quakers detest this nest inspection and especially the breeder handling their eggs or young. This aspect can be handled one of two ways: the nest can be inspected daily, even when not breeding, to train the birds to see it as part of the daily chore, or it can be inspected when the chicks are about to removed for hand-rearing (if that is the ultimate objective). Chicks that are being hand-reared are noisy and active. Like Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus and Cockatiels Nymphicus hollandicus, they tend to defecate away from where they sit. This behavior is quite common in truly terrestrial parrots.

In the wild, Quakers produce one clutch annually, two if the available food supply is unusually good. Between 50-63% of the birds more than two years of age nest and 61% of the young survive more than the first year. Pairs feed close to the nest but young tend to disperse, traveling as much as 6 miles away to feed. Chicks not uncommonly live in a crèche right after fledging, this to learn flocking behavior, predator evasion and to find their future mate. In captivity pairs tend to produce multiple clutches in a season. Pairs often start their second clutch before the first clutch has fledged.

Quakers lay 4-8 eggs per clutch, which hatch after an average of 26 days. The chicks have yellow down, white in some mutations. They fledge when 6-7 weeks old and quickly become independent.

In aviculture, most populations comprise of a mixture of Myiopsitta monachus monachus with an influence from Myiopsitta monachus calita. These are two of the three subspecies. A fourth, now treated as a separate species, is Myiopsitta luchsi—a distinctive bird with a finch-like call and an absence of barring from the chest. Unfortunately luchsi is unknown in aviculture, or it would be immensely popular because of its unnerving call. Interestingly all introduced populations have been traced back to a specific locality. This suggests that the adaptability of all of the populations varies.

As a pet or aviary bird, the Quaker Parakeet can be described as utterly fascinating. It is often the species chosen by the breeder who is interested in progressing from breeding Cockatiels. Many experienced breeders also keep it on account of the long list of available mutations, with many more surely to appear in the coming decades.