August 27, 2010

More About Grey Cheeks

by Robbie Harris

The grey-cheeked parakeet is the most common of all the Brotogeris. When first introduced into the U.S. in large numbers in the late 1970s, they were very inexpensive (costing between $25 to $35 each). Thousands were imported here with almost all of them completely tame and sweet. A good friend of mine, Frank Lanier, of California, purchase 150 newly imported grey cheeks. This was the first time he had seen this type of bird offered for sale. He said as he reached into the cage (in the quarantine station), a number of these little birds rushed toward him. He thought at first they were coming to attack, but instead they were all pushing toward him for attention and affection. he did not know that all of these imported grey cheeks had been hand-fed. He said they covered his arm like a swarm of bees. It was very hard to pick which one he wanted because they were all tame and sweet. Within five days, he sold every one of those virtually unknown parrots, and his customers were begging for more.

Within days, the quarantine station quickly sold out of all the grey-cheeked parakeets in stock. As the years went on, thousands more entered the U.S. Unfortunately, very few, considering the numbers, ended up as breeders. This shortage will only continue unless more people set them up for breeding now. This past year, I raided a couple dozen, with demand a much higher price than back in the 1980s. With all the changes of U.S. regulations, the cost of grey cheeks have increased tremendously. This is because there is a much higher demand than supply of these birds. I see baby hand-fed grey cheeks priced as high as $600 each in pet shops now. This demand is unreal for these birds! The other Brotogeris are less expensive.

Most people are unaware of the fact that grey cheeks are not naturally tame. Many hear the word grey cheek and instantly think of a sweet, tame little bird. Let me clarify something--not all grey cheeks are sweet, little things. I've seen the sweetest babies in quarantine stations that had just been imported from Peru. But, on the other hand, I have also seen wild-caught imported grey cheeks that were just as nippy and feisty as wild lovebirds. The sweet grey cheeks that were imported were birds that had been hand-reared. The natives would remove the chicks from the nests and hand-feed them for future sale to foreign bird dealers. Thousands were collected to be exported out of South America.

Many times the young grey cheeks were not even cracking hard seed yet when they arrived into the U.S. and were placed in private (government-controlled) quarantine stations. Those grey cheeks were fed cooked, soft cracked corn and/or soaked primate biscuits. Sometimes there were even really young grey cheek chicks in quarantine that still had to be hand-fed by the station employees. I was told that the losses of baby grey-cheeked parakeets in quarantine were almost none. They were quite hardy in quarantine and took to hand-feeding very well.

I've talked to some bird breeders who successfully raised a clutch of grey cheek chicks and allowed the parents to fledge their own young. They believed that hand-feeding grey cheek chicks would be a waste of time because they would be tame no matter how the chicks were raised. Many of these newly weaned, domestically bred and parent-raised chicks were completely wild and nippy. So, if a grey cheek is wanted for a pet, not for breeding, be sure that the bird is already tame.

Very young grey cheeks are easily distinguishable from adults because the upper beak is black. The younger the bird, the blacker the beak. Usually, by the time the young bird is 5 months old, the beak is the same color as the adult. Once the beak changes color, it is difficult to determine the age of the bird. My young, feathered grey-cheeked parakeet chicks are usually just as colorful as the adults.

The tame, hand-reared chicks make wonderful companions to their human owners. They are so intelligent that many times one must stop and wonder if there is a little person inside. For a pet, either sex is equal in talking ability, companionship and entertainment.

My son had a pet grey cheek that came to him no matter where he was in the house. When he called Peppy, she flew right to him. She also returned to her cage on command. She was a real character. She liked to chase his wallet, a game she came up with years ago. He would put Peppy on the floor or on a table. He'd keep moving his wallet, and no matter how fast, she would run after it to bite it. He would hold on to the wallet, and just as Peppy ran up to bite it, he'd life up the wallet and move it a food or so. Peppy kept chasing it to give it that nip. Every time she did get it, she seemed so proud of herself.

Peppy, like many Brotogeris pets, learned to lie on her back in the palm of a hand until she was told she could roll over. Peppy has since passed on, but my son has a pet white-winged parakeet about 10 years old now that is just as wonderful of a pet. She, too, will lie on her back in his hand, and she is just as playful and loving.

Article originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of Bird Talk. This is copyrighted material, reprinted with the author's permission. This article may not be reprinted without written consent from the author and Bird Talk magazine.

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