Quakers: The Most Loved and Hated Parrot
by Mattie Sue Athan
It was my second in-home for a family that was paying long distance mileage. First I had come to see an African Grey that
seemed never to quite adjust. Now I was here for a Yellow Nape in the terrible two's. These were their second and third
The family's first love, and most favored companion bird was a common monk parrot.
"Why didn't anyone tell us that the Quaker was the perfect parrot? We kept hearing such wonderful things about African
greys and yellow napes, and such rotten things about quakers, we thought we were missing something. But our two large-bird
experiences have only served to show us how wonderful our quaker is. He talks with cognition, learns new things all the time,
goes to anybody (away from his cage) and-after 10 years-he is still finding new ways to amuse us!"
Sadly, it's a story I have often heard: quaker owners who are disappointed in larger birds who had bought larger birds
because they heard they were so much "better" than quakers.
Then I hear people who have been around groups of quakers, perhaps imported or breeding birds, say, "I don't like
I hear people who have known maybe half a dozen quakers (and sometimes even people who wouldn't recognize a quaker if
they saw one) parrot those same words, "I don't like quakers."
I believe this is one of those cases wherein the more you get to know individual members of the group, one on one, the more
you love them.
Quakers are behaviorally predictable and respond dependably to common behavioral techniques. In Myiopssitta monachus -
the monk or quaker parakeet - I see all the mimicking ability of the budgie, African grey, and yellow nape in a sturdy, easily
manageable size. Indeed, in some places, these little grey-cowled feathered monk(ey)s are called "the poorman's yellow
nape". Because they aren't cavity breeders, companion monks aren't usually as destructive as many of their cousins.
In my studied opinion, in terms of price, size, temperament, talking ability, and just plain cuteness, handfed domestic monks
embody most of the most desirable characteristics of a companion parrot, My own quaker - who receives a modicum of
attention in this home of Amazons, cats cockatiel, and weinerdog - is an amazingly astute conversationalist. Tza-Tza likes to
answer the phone (although he can't figure out how to get it to talk back without my help).
Tza-Tza bathes himself everyday when he gets fresh water (then I have to change his water again or he drinks bathwater all
day). He even grooms his own nails by blunt filing them on the rough bars of his wroght iron cage. When I have one of my
occasional asthma attacks, he coughs along, then asks, "Are you OK?"
Monk parrots are the darlings of the pet trade and subject to limited availability even in states where the are legal. Gale
Whittington, owner of Colorado Seed and Pet (a 45-year-old bird store) says, "The quaker is extremely hardy and one of
the best talkers of all the small parrots. I sell more quakers than any other small parrot."
Karen Goodman, owner of The African Grey, a birds-only store, reports than in nine months when they are available, she sells
more quakers than cockatiels. "People in state where quakers are illegal are really missing out. Because of their affordability
and talking capability they are the best deal around. The domestic handfeds are quite different from the imports we were
seeing a few years age: less noisy, more talkative and cuddly."
Although they continue to be demonized by agricultural interests, being illegal in half a dozen or so states, feral Quakers have
nor proved to be as dangerous as once feared. They have failed to become a ubiquitous threat in areas in the US where they
have become established. According to David Wright, a Compuserve regular who has studied our feral quakers, recent
census information indicates that there are probably fewer than the 1973 estimate of four to five thousand quakers living wild
in the US. They survive in areas where there is a year-round food source, and abundance of large trees, and proximity to a
large body of water. Mr. Wright observes that quakers do not leave the immediate area from which they were fledged, and
therefore have not proliferated as feared in areas where they have become a fixture.
The monk parrot has a distinctive grey cowl across the head with lighter grey cheeks, and scalloped, African grey-like
marking on the upper chest. They resemble conures, but are the lone members of their Genus. There are two subspecies, one
with more distinct grey markings on the chest, one with a more plain grey chest. There are no external gender characteristic.
In 17 years of observing many shipments of imported quakers come into Colorado, I have not seen a quaker with the red
band across the breast that appears in the TFH edition of Parrots of the World, nor have I seen a quaker with even one
orange feather, as sometimes seen in African greys.
Very young quakers have a soft beak especially on the sides at the base of the lower mandible, more green and less grey on
the hood, and less pronounced barring on the breast. Baby monk parrots exhibit a sort of "palsied" feeding and begging
response that gives them their common name, "quakers". You can easily identify a young bird because it still frequently pulls
its head to the back of its neck and "quakes" when it wants attention. Some quakers maintain this baby body language much
longer than others, some revert to it occasionally even as adults when they are courting, ill, or otherwise needy.
Highly social and eager to please, domestic quakers usually love to be cuddled. Some birds never learn to step up because
they like to be picked up like a baseball (with the palm around the back). They learn to play dead easily. Individual males
tend to masturbate often, sometimes sounding more like a threatened viper than a little green and grey bird. Domestic quakers
are reportedly easy to potty train.
Their talking (and noise making) capacity is legend. Handfed domestic quakers often rival African greys in their ability to
acquire huge vocabularies. Hand-fed domestics seldom develop the calls of their imported predecessors who had a loud,
raucous "cultural" language. Quaker sounds can be so repugnant, interlopers flee just so they don't have to hear the noise. On
the other hand, wild quakers are sometimes tolerant, even accepting of the presence of certain other species, often allowing
opossums, bats, and geese to occupy their huge communal nests.
Companion quakers are also quite "African grey-like" in their tendency to bond too strongly to one person or location, so
controls must be maintained to balance their bonding. This tendency is especially pronounced in the quakers's tendency to
bond too strongly to a cage or territory. I do not insist that a quaker come out of the cage on my hand. I let the bird climb out
of that fiercely protected compartment on to the door or top of the cage where he will sweetly comply with the step-up
command. It is especially important that quakers spend time in multiple "foraging" territories, practice step-ups on a regular
basis, and go on frequent outing to prevent the development of excessive territorial-related aggression. Never service the
cage when the bird is present.
We seldom see excessive shyness in companion quakers, and any bird behavior consultant can tell you that aggression is
much easier to treat than shyness. We see very few significant behavior problems in domestic quakers with a large assortment
of well-used, frequently-rotated toys. If adequate behavioral and environmental controls are maintained to prevent the
development of bonding-related aggression, domestic handfed quakers can be outstanding companion birds. As several of
my clients have discovered, the might even be "better" than some of their larger, more famous cousins!