Scientific name: Myiopsitta monachus
Common name: Monk Parakeet
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Adult length: 29cm (11in).
Adult weight: about 150g.
Expected lifespan: 30 years.
Status in wild: Common.
Origin: Southern South America: isolated population in the highlands of Bolivia, then from eastern Bolivia, through southern Brazil to central Argentina.
Not long ago Quakers were exported from Argentina in huge numbers. Many of these extremely sociable wild-caught birds were highly distressed at being separated from others of their kind. They were very noisy, calling for contact, thus Quakers gained a poor reputation. Today all young birds available are captive-bred. In the USA Quakers are popular and almost all young are hand-reared for the pet trade. In the UK there is probably more interest in breeding mutations. In the Parrot Society Breeding Register for 2010, members reported breeding 91 Quakers -- all parent-reared.
Suitability as Pets
Quakers acquired when young can make delightful pets. They are extremely intelligent and have the potential to be very affectionate, playful and friendly. They can also become superb mimics and hand-reared birds have been known to start talking even before they are weaned.
Because Quakers are so intelligent they resemble Grey Parrots in their ability to manipulate humans. It is therefore essential to teach and reinforce simple tasks such as “Step up!” If a young bird nips, it is advisable to return it to its cage immediately. As it enjoys human interaction, especially lying on its back in the hand, it should quickly learn to desist!
As mentioned below, Quakers build their own nests; it might be more accurate to say that they weave their nests, as they have a remarkable ability to fit twigs together in a secure and permanent fashion. Mattie Sue Athan in her book Guide to the Quaker Parrot (essential reading for Quaker lovers) writes that their “incredible need to control object placement in the immediate environment is more developed in the Quaker than in other, especially larger, Parrots whose primary instincts involve removing objects from cavities.
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This instinct to arrange things is probably related to the bird’s unusual wild nesting habits.” She describes how if the toys of one Quaker were moved within its cage, it pushed and pulled them back into place! A Quaker can be very territorial regarding its cage, so much so that it is better to encourage it to step up outside the cage -- and not by putting one’s hand inside it.
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Note that these birds have notoriously loud, harsh voices and some are too noisy to make long-term pets. However, owners who can keep their birds constantly amused and stimulated and provide them with plenty of companionship, are less likely to have an unacceptably loud bird.
These Quakers readily accept a varied diet that should comprise about 60% seed, dry and soaked or sprouted, and 40% fresh fruits, berries and vegetables.
A good proportion of the diet can consist of wild foods such as hawthorn berries, blackberries, willow catkins, young leaves of dandelion and smooth sow thistle, and cultivated foods such as cotoneaster berries, flowers such as nasturtium, plus of course, the usual fruits including pomegranate, also soaked dried figs.
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The plumage is the same but the head and beak tend to be larger in the male.
The Quaker Parakeet is unique among the whole of the Parrot tribe in having the ability to colonise towns and cities, even in cold climates. It has famously caused blackouts in thousands of homes in New York when huge stick nests have crashed down, hitting power lines.
When I was curator at Loro Parque, Tenerife, and lived within the grounds, one pair had a nest in a palm tree about 3m (10ft) above our terrace. The nest in the next palm tree was less readily observed but its occupants were instantly recognisable by their beak deformities. “Longbeak” had an immensely overgrown upper mandible whereas her partner, “Beaky”, totally lacked an upper mandible. He appreciated the moistened bread that I put out on the terrace but obviously had survived without any problem before we arrived.
The Quakers would start to nest in March, laying five or six eggs. The first young would leave the nest at the end of May. One day there was a tremendous commotion at the nest overhanging the terrace. Mitred Conures were at liberty in the park. Although the Quakers outnumbered them by hundreds to one, the Quakers seemed afraid of them. When the Conures decided to investigate the big stick nest, they did not fight back. They evicted the last chick from the nest. It sat forlornly below the untidy bundle of twigs that had been its home for the past seven weeks, uninjured but not yet able to fly. We gave it to a friend who hand-reared it.
Aviary birds might use a nest-box (but nest inspection will be difficult) but it is much more entertaining to provide a wire base and lots of fresh-cut twigs (willow, apple or hazel) and let the Quakers do the rest.
This is one of the few Parrot species that never nests inside tree cavities, but the others are cliff-nesting Conures and Macaws of several species. It nests on the colony system, in a huge structure which contains multiple nests.
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