The Monk Parrot, Quaker Parrot or Grey-breasted Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus – uncommon facts about a common pet bird, Part I

Monk Parrot

Often, when we become familiar with a parrot species in captivity, we tend to lose sight of the fascinating details of its life in the wild. This is a mistake, although understandable, as only a few of us become fortunate enough to observe parrots in the wild.

The monk parrot, however, offers those of us living in the northeastern USA a chance to glimpse parrot life in the “wild”, as the species has been established here since the early 1970’s – the result of accidental and intentional releases. One explanation of this raucous bird’s ability to survive our harsh winters is found in its biology – as it ranges into southern Argentina, the monk parrot came to us well-equipped to survive the cold. Also, it is a communal nester, and the only parrot to build a nest outside of tree cavities. The huge, thick-walled stick nest, added to over many years, buffers the wind and allows the birds to huddle together, and thus to retain warmth. So solidly constructed are these nests that other birds, including the stoutly-build 5 foot-tall jabiru stork, often nest atop them.

I cared for 2 groups of monk parrots at the Bronx Zoo, both housed in outdoor exhibits. Free-living monk parrots attached their nests, through the exhibit wire, to the captive’s structures, and communicated with them constantly (among the most vocal of parrots, monks have a least a dozen different calls that elicit different responses among others). In one case the captive birds’ nest was quite low – about 10 feet off the ground – due to the nature of the exhibit. The free-living parrots nested higher up in a tree, directly above it, and spent a good deal of time on the roof of the cage, in animated chatter with their confined relatives (plotting an escape?).

A section of the nest I examined after it was dislodged by a storm was constructed of thick, thorn-covered branches (this, per the literature, is typical) and had 2 chambers – the smaller for a nesting pair, the larger most likely for non-breeders. The entrance holes were oriented downwards, in keeping with what I have read in other’s accounts. A mammalian or avian predator would definitely have had a hard time entering the nest, and in any event the many eyes present would likely serve as a deterrent as well.


Information concerning monk parrots as pets is available at:

Parrot Color – parrots are found to have a novel method of acquiring their brilliant red feathers

African Grey Parrot
Over 80% of the world’s parrot species have some degree of red coloration, the intensity of which is only rarely found among other bird families. While most birds acquire their red coloration through carotenoids (naturally occurring compounds) ingested along with food, researchers at Arizona State University have shown that parrots utilize a previously unknown system.

Parrots manufacture red pigment internally. This pigment, a suite of 5 molecules, is found in all red-colored parrots, but, as far as we know, nowhere else on earth. Also unusual is the fact that the pigment seems to be synthesized at the site of each growing feather, and that it has anti-oxidant properties as well. This finding has very important implications for ornithologists, as it points to a very unique evolutionary history among parrots and their relatives (of course, parrot owners have long known how different parrots are from other birds!).

Once again, studies of a species’ natural history have given pet owners important insights as well. Pigment production is a drain on the parrot’s metabolism, and a vitally important process given its anti-oxidant properties. It is, therefore, vital that pet owners provide their parrots with a nutritious diet and proper care.

Choosing a Pet Parrot – An Overview of Popular Species, Part II

This article is the second in a series designed to help you in choosing a pet parrot by providing background information on popular species. Please see Part I for an explanation of the nature of the information covered here.

Peruvian Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Brotogeris pyrrhopterus
At a mere 6 inches in length, this bird is an excellent choice for those with limited space. Grey-cheeks have a trusting, amiable nature, even when obtained as adults, and are therefore also well-suited to those new to bird-keeping. These parakeets are not the most skilled of talkers, but can learn a few words and are, overall, ideal pets.

Blue-headed Pionus, Pionus menstruus
Beautifully clad in green and with a striking blue head, this medium sized (11 inches) Latin American parrot has moderate talking abilities but a great personality. I have kept several in busy pet stores and nature centers – without fail, they remained calm and even, I would venture to say, “amused”, by the goings on around them. The blue-head makes a fine pet for those who live in circumstances that might shake up other birds (noisy children, active dogs, etc.).

Sun Conure, Aratinga solstitialis Sun Conure
This bird’s brilliant green-streaked yellow plumage would cause most bird fanciers to ignore any bad traits it might have. Amazingly, however, this Central American beauty also makes an affectionate pet and a fair talker. It is far quieter than most conures, and a bit more “steady” in demeanor as well.

Noble Macaw, Ara nobilis
Macaws have much to recommend them – striking beauty, large size, intelligence – but their strong personalities and propensity to scream (often at dawn) should give one pause for thought. The noble macaw, one of the smallest species available (14 inches), is an excellent first choice for those new to this group of parrots. A bit more laid back than the larger macaws, nobles crave company and thus bond strongly with their owners, and talk reasonably well.
Blue-and-Gold Macaw, Ara ararauna Blue & Gold Macaw
This huge (32 inches), gorgeously marked fellow’s great intelligence and eagerness to play renders it among the most sought after of the macaws. They talk well, in a surprisingly deep voice, but are also given to loud screams and require a large cage and freedom to roam about. Those considering this or any large parrot should be well-versed in parrot care and handling, as an untamed macaw can inflict severe injuries with its massive beak.

Goffin’s Cockatoo, Cacatua goffini
One of the smalGoffin's Cockatoolest of the cockatoos (13 inches), this species shares the group’s overall intelligence and tendency to bond strongly with one person (and to become jealously possessive of that person). Goffins are good “beginner cockatoos”, as they easily trained and speak well, but they do require more space than other similarly sized parrots. Like all cockatoos, they shed a fine, white powder-down, which may disturb people with dust and related allergies.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua galerita
These striking white birds are topped with crests of yellow feathers and have huge wingspans. Incredibly intelligent and good talkers, they are very expensive and in great demand. Sulpher-cresteds should, however, be kept only by those with a good deal of experience – their intelligence comes with a strong, determined personality, and is backed by a powerful beak. Like all cockatoos, they are a good deal more active than other parrots, and hence require both a huge cage and a room about which they can move freely on occasion. Cockatoos spend a good deal of time gnawing on anything within reach, and will demolish furniture, electric wires and such if not closely supervised when roaming about.


An article discussing additional factors that may influence species selection is posted at:

Finches Use “Parrot Toys” Too!

Zebra Finch

Most bird fanciers are aware of the vigor with which many parrots use toys (or turn household items, jewelry, etc. into “toys”!). Providing opportunities for play and exploration is, in fact, vital to the health of these active, inquisitive birds. However, we sometimes tend to overlook other pet bird species in the matter of toys.

My experience with pet and wild birds has convinced me that this is a mistake. I have observed a number of species engaging in behavior that, if not truly “play”, is certainly very close – little green herons “hunting” leaves, fledgling cardinals pulling at flowers and dropping them to the ground, etc. And anyone who saw the National Geographic Magazine photo of a wild raven sliding down a snow bank on its back cannot but conclude that it was truly “playing”. Most of these activities help birds in developing skills that they will need for survival (although I cannot yet explain the sow bank photo in that light!). In captivity, they also provide valuable mental and physical stimulation.

Finches of all types are particularly quick to use toys, even those designed with other birds in mind. They notice anything new in their cage, and are soon pecking, flying and perching on or about the novel item. They take quickly to ladders, toys that house hidden treats, nests constructed of grasses (which they usually try to shred in short order) and love to peck at bells.

Many parrot toys are quite suitable for finches and will be well used, even if not in the manner intended by the manufacturer. When purchasing toys made for larger birds, please be sure to check that your finches cannot injure themselves by becoming lodge themselves within any holes or openings. There are many options available – a few suggestions follow:
Heart Ring of Rings

Choosing the Proper Perches for Pet Parrots, Finches, Canaries and Other Birds

Most commonly kept pet birds will spend the great majority of their time on a perch of some sort. The materials of which your pet’s perches are made, and the width of the perches, are vital considerations when outfitting a cage. Poor choices can rather quickly lead to painful foot injuries, arthritis and muscle atrophy.

The perch most often utilized by your pet, i.e. the one upon which it roosts for the night, should be of a width that allows the bird’s toes to go about ¾ of the way around. A variety of perches of other widths should also be included in the cage, and these should be made of differing materials. Following are some perch characteristics, along with suggested products:

Natural wood perches provide both a variety of grip widths and a chewable surface.

Variable-width perches constructed of a variety of materials will help to maintain foot health and are easily cleaned.
Insite T & U Perches
Treetop Perches

Cement perches are valuable in keeping nails trimmed but should not be used as your pets “main” perch. A good place for these is near the food bowl, so that they are used daily but not exclusively.
Trimmer Perches

Rope and cable perches provide a unique surface upon which to grip and perch and encourage birds to exercise the muscles in their feet (especially if placed at varying slanted angles).
Comfy Perches


Scroll To Top