By Robbie Harris
September 2001 — Encouraging Quakers To Nest and Weaning Conures
We have a pair of quaker parakeets set up in a breeding cage. They have a cockatiel nest box attached to their cage with a thick layer of shavings inside. They go inside this box to sleep, but that is it. They do not seem to have anymore interest during the day in their box. I know for sure that the two birds are a true pair, being a male and female. Both birds are more than 3 years old. They are also on a very good diet, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I would love to breed them, but how do I get them more interested in the nest box. They get along very well.
Quaker parakeets are basically conures, so many of their breeding habits are similar, but they can also be quite different in some of their nesting habits. Some will use wooden nest boxes, but a few will not. These birds can actually build their own nest with twigs and branches. But, in order for a pair to build their nest — and some nests can be very large — they need to be in a large cage or, even better, a very large aviary.
It sounds to me that your cage may not be big enough for them to construct their nest. Many pairs will use a plain old wooden box. Try for one a bit bigger than a cockatiel nest box. Supply clean, freshly picked, safe branches and twigs. The branches should entice the pair to set up housekeeping and stimulate them to go to nest.
Most likely, the pair will start filling their box with the branches, chewing and shaping them. There they will construct their "twiggy" nest and think about laying eggs and starting a family. Keep tossing in the branches by the handfuls as needed, and maybe soon you will be raising quakers!
Update: I actually e-mailed this answer about a month ago. They tell me that after they starting giving their birds branches and twigs, the quakers got to work filling their cockatiel nest box. Most recently, I heard that the pair is now incubating a clutch of eggs.
I have been hand-feeding my cherry-headed conure for some time, and he will not eat on his own. He is 3 months old and still eating from a syringe. When he sees me and wants to be fed, he screams. I am trying to feed him fresh fruit and vegetables, but so far all he can do is taste and pick at the bowl of food. He is not really eating much food on his own at all. How can I wean him?
All birds wean at different ages. Twelve weeks old for a large-type conure is not that old at all. Some of the larger type conures take longer to wean than the smaller-type conures, like a green cheek. Some birds can teach themselves to eat at a very young age. I once had a cockatiel that learned to crack seed and eat on its own at 5 weeks old. I had another cockatiel at the same time that took almost 4 months to wean. The bird was fine, it just wanted to be hand-fed. One day it walked over to the food bowl and started to eat — it no longer wanted to be hand-fed.
Other types of birds, like conures, can wean at all different ages. Some wean at about 8 to 9 weeks of age, but many will not wean until they are 3 to 4 months old. Each bird is an individual. If you are hand-feeding other birds in the same room, some babies will want that hand-feeding just because they hear the other birds screaming and begging. I now have a separate room for weaning birds. This room is for birds that are starting to eat on their own, or should be eating on their own. Cherry-headed conures can take longer to wean, up to 4 months. This is perfectly normal for this bird. Three months old is still young for a conure.
Make sure your conure is in a cage with low perches near the food bowl. I use large crocks for both food and water for weaning, and I keep them on the bottom of the cage at first. My weaning cages are only 12 to18 inches tall. With very tall cages, some babies climb to the top perch and just sit there, not venturing near the food and water bowls. With shorter cages, the birds are always near the bowls. Because of this, they tend to pick, play and experiment with the food in the bowls, until they learn to eat.
Offer your bird all kinds of foods to entice him to try some of the foods. You can use a good seed mix with avian pellets, various types of colorful breakfast cereals like Cheerios and slices of apple and standard mix vegetables (the frozen type found at the grocery store). Then just have some patience.
Make sure to feed him only in the morning and at night for now. As soon as you think he may be starting to eat, cut the morning feeding in half, but continue the normal feeding in the evening. Never permit a baby to go to sleep for the night without a full stomach. As soon as you see him eating pretty well, cut the morning feeding. Soon you will be able to cut the evening one, too, as soon as he is eating well on his own. I know some people that just love feeding their "baby" pet bird, and still give some hand-feeding up to year old, but that is not necessary.
If your baby is still not eating or showing any real interest in the next few weeks, maybe a vet visit would be helpful. If a bird has a bacteria or other problem going on, it can also be a reason why he is not interested in foods. Birds with medical problems often won't eat on their own.
Robbie Harris has a Web site so people can easily get in touch with her. She will post things she learns that may be of some importance to others, such as hoax e-mails. Questions for her Bird Breeder column can be sent through her Web site: www.robbieharris.com . She will answer questions that seem to be the most frequently asked and those that will help many.
Robbie Harris raises a wide variety of exotic birds at her home in Southern California. She has written two books, Breeding Conures and Grey-Cheeked Parakeets and Other Brotogeris, and owns and raises a large variety of African parrots, including greys, Jardine's, Capes, Senegals, red bellies, brown heads and Meyer's. Harris has received seven U.S. First Breeding Awards for various types of psittacines.