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Fleas, Nylon and Mumbling Quaker Parakeets

Fleas got you frantic? Is nylon a "no-no?" Does your quaker parakeet's repertoire of sounds have you in a quandary?

Cage 'n' Cookin'

By Susan Chamberlain



What do fleas, nylon and mumbling quaker parakeets have in common?  BIRD TALK readers are concerned about all three!


When I got my first 'big' bird, a mitred conure,
I called the pet store after about 24

 Mitred Conure
hours and
asked why the bird was so quiet. "Give him a day or two," the proprietor laughed. Little did I know that noise was the calling card of the wild-caught mitred conure. I was quickly enlightened, and in the years since, I've learned that each species has its own repertoire. BIRD TALK reader Melissa Chun's quaker parakeet definitely speaks a different language than her cockatiels do. She writes:


"I just got a new quaker parakeet.  He's a very sweet little bird and is adjusting quite well. Do quakers make odd noises?  He tends to purr and yelp.  Sometimes it sounds like he has gas, and there's something that resembles a smoke detector. The cockatiels are very skeptical about this green beast."


Melissa, one of the unique characteristics of quaker parakeets is their tendency to "mumble" and vocalize to themselves.  Some people describe it as "muttering" or "talking under their breath."  Whatever it sounds like to you, your bird's unusual vocalizations are most likely normal quaker sounds. They often make these noises when playing or exploring their cages. The smoke detector sound you describe may be something from the bird's current or previous environment.


 Quaker Parakeet
Some hand-reared quakers speak their first words by the time they are 6 months old.  They can still learn to talk after their first year, and many birds have extensive vocabularies. Quakers can chatter and whistle up a storm, but the noise is seldom objectionable unless there's a whole flock of them! Because of the relatively low noise level, quakers make acceptable apartment or condominium pets.  A single, tame bird is usually less noisy than a pair of quakers. Don't be surprised if your quaker begins to mimic your cockatiels!





Is Nylon a No-no?


Another reader wants to know:

Can you tell me if rope with nylon is bad for use in bird toys or for birds at all?


Nylon itself isn't inherently bad. There are some hard bird toys made out of molded nylon, and these are generally safe for most birds as long as they are not sharp and do not have small parts that can be removed and accidentally ingested. 


Many bird toys and accessories are fashioned of rope. Rope perches provide secure, comfortable footing for pet birds. Because the rope does not conduct cold, it makes a good cool-weather perch. Rope toys are intriguing to most hookbills and can provide a diversion for birds inclined to pluck their feathers.


When rope accessories first appeared on the
market about 20 years ago, there

Orange winged and double yellowheaded Amazons on rope perch
were a lot
of avian injuries associated with them as birds became entangled in the strands of rope. Some even managed to manipulate the rope and get caught between the coils. These products have improved over the years because manufacturers listened to bird owners and have made them safer. Rope perches and swings are now so tightly wound that it is unusual for a bird to become trapped between the coils. Many toys feature shorter lengths of rope to reduce the risk of entanglement. Often, rope is not the main component of a toy, but merely a fastening device for wood parts. Many feature multiple knots to pique avian interest.


While most birds use rope toys and accessories without incident, synthetic and cotton rope or string may be hazardous to pet birds under certain circumstances. The big difference between nylon, other synthetics and cotton is that synthetic fibers are stronger and usually finer than cotton, and this may make it more difficult for a bird to become disentangled if it gets caught in the strands. Fine, synthetic fibers may escape detection if wrapped around a little leg or toe. I've heard stories about finches and canaries getting human hair or synthetic nesting material wound around their legs as well. If you notice your bird limping or favoring one leg, don't hesitate to investigate the cause.


African grey, Bert enjoys playing with rope and wood toys on his playstand.

How can you reduce the risk of injury to your bird?


* Examine toys carefully prior to purchase. Be sure that rope perches are tightly wound. Check the length of rope on toys. Shorter lengths are less likely to ensnare toes and legs. Examine the knots and avoid anything that looks like a noose. Be sure hardware is safe. Avoid dog-leash style snap-hooks and shower curtain style hooks.


* Purchase the correct size toy or perch for your bird. Ask your pet shop professional for advice.



* Observe your bird with the new toy or perch until you are sure it can interact safely with the item.


* If you are unsure about its safety, remove the toy or perch from the cage when you are going to be out of earshot. My African grey parrot, Bert, plays happily with rope and wood toys on his playgym instead of inside his cage.


* Discard rope perches and toys when they become heavily soiled or badly frayed.


* Keep your bird's toenails trimmed so that they do not become caught in strands of rope.


* Observe your pet to be sure it is not actually ingesting bits of rope or string, as a crop impaction or digestive emergency may result.  Avian veterinarian Robert Monaco of Long Island, NY, cautions that synthetics do not break down in the gut.


* There is no toy that is 100-percent safe for all birds all the time. Someday someone is going to write and tell me that a bird knocked itself out with a ping-pong ball! Know your bird and choose its toys and accessories carefully.


* Supervise, supervise, supervise!



Frantic about Fleas?


Spring is coming, the ground is warming up, and the fleas are getting ready to jump onto their furry hosts. Even though it is extremely rare to find a bird infested with fleas, your dog and your carpeting may crawling with them. How can you get rid of them safely with birds in the house?   


Flea control can be a challenge when you have pet birds, but you can control these pests! A BIRD TALK reader wrote to complain of a household flea infestation even though there were no furry pets in residence! Years ago, my indoor cat got fleas by simply sitting on a windowsill!  As soon as I discovered the fleas, I went into action. I took the cat to the vet to be treated and boarded overnight. I threw out the cat's bedding and her favorite sofa pillow. I vacuumed thoroughly, threw away the vacuum cleaner bag and repeated the process several times. I washed the hard floors, sprayed the window screens with a pyrethrin-based insecticide and scrubbed the windowsills. I applied diatomaceous earth to the ground around the foundation of my home. Thankfully, the fleas never made it up to the second floor bird room, and no extreme measures were necessary. The cat came home wearing a just-for-cats flea collar, and the fleas never returned.


In the years since, remarkable strides have been made in flea management. Safer pesticides that act by inhibiting the reproductive cycle of the flea are available. Your veterinarian can prescribe fast-acting flea control pills or once-a-month topical applications for your animals. Dr. Monaco says that most of his clients have their dogs on flea control pills, so it is seldom necessary for them to treat their homes to get rid of the pests.


If it becomes necessary to treat your home, work with both your avian veterinarian and a professional exterminator. Ask their advice, and read product labels for directions, cautions and ingredients. According to Birds for Dummies by Gina Spadafori and Brian Speer, DVM, pyrethrin, precor and fenoxycarb are "safe around birds after the application has dried."


Bird shop professional, Barbara Landsperg advises: "Remove your birds from any room (or the house if necessary!) being treated for fleas and keep them out until the room has been thoroughly aired out. Never use flea or tick sprays near your birds, no matter what the ingredients. Even so-called nontoxic products can be harmful when inhaled."


Because birds have such sensitive respiratory systems, use extreme caution when using flea powders to treat carpeting or upholstery.  The resulting dust, suspended in the indoor atmosphere may prove harmful when inhaled. Remove your birds from the area before sprinkling the powder and especially before vacuuming, as the vacuum cleaner will blow some of the particles back into the air.  Open the windows and air the room well before returning your birds to the area.


Does your dog or cat wear a flea collar?  Have your animals been dipped, sprayed, bathed or powdered with a flea control product?  If so, do not permit your bird to come into contact with the animal's fur or bedding, as they may contain pesticide residue.


Hide the Chocolate!


Chocolate abounds on Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day. It's a delicious treat for humans, but chocolate can be deadly to birds. The toxic ingredient is theobromine and it is more concentrated in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate. Don't offer your pet even a tiny morsel of either!


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Fleas, Nylon and Mumbling Quaker Parakeets

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Reader Comments
Wait what if the birds already got fleas??? I bought it and took it home, but when I pirtched it on my finger a flea jumped on me then back on to the bird.... what do I do..
jack, los angeles, CA
Posted: 7/3/2010 2:42:41 AM
Thanks! Just brought home a cat who has fleas, I was worried for my cockatiel. Once the cat has been dipped, I'm going to spray the upholstery, etc. with pyrethrin, wait a couple hours, and bring the bird back in.
Hannah, Overland Park, KS
Posted: 12/1/2009 11:47:52 PM
Just the answer I was looking for about fleas. My girlfriend now has a puppy and I have a Quaker and wasn't sure what to use for fleas. Also am going to check with a bird hospital in the next town.
Thanks again
ron, gainesville, FL
Posted: 2/9/2009 8:40:20 AM
This was a wonderful article.
I had no idea that birds could get fleas.
You are so right about quackers mumbling. I have one that is 21 yrs. old and she does alot of mumbling.
Glenda, New Bern,, NC
Posted: 4/21/2008 3:10:37 PM
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