Parakeets and human hands – how our flock reacts

Parakeets and human hands, or rather the parakeet’s relationship with human hands, is a fascinating and varied topic. We have three budgies, and each of them have wildly different personalities. I’ve been thinking about that  lately, and how their personalities are reflected in their behavior around our hands.

A blue parakeet eats shredded carrot from a white plate
Toby takes first dibs on eating the shredded carrots

Toby is our first parakeet, and was an only bird for almost a year before we brought home her “sister” Kelly. We lavished Toby with attention and spent a ton of time training (or attempting to train) her on things like flying to us from anywhere in the house and on basics like stepping up on our fingers.

Given that history, you’d think Toby’s relationship to our hands would be pretty straightforward, but it’s actually quite complex. She seems to regard our hands as birds, so, when she the mood strikes she likes to interact with our fingernails as though they are playmates. She will pin her eyes and tap her beak against a human fingernail and reacts to it exactly as though she’s playing with anther bird.

Maybe because of her belief that our fingers are birds, what she won’t do reliably is step up onto a finger as though it’s a perch. In fact she seems quite offended by the idea if you ask her to step up! She will do almost anything to avoid hopping onto our hands, maybe because she wouldn’t naturally step on another budgie?

Regardless, unless she’s quite distracted or tricked with millet, she wants nothing to do with our hands at all unless they are being her bird friends.

A pale blue and white parakeet sits on a wooden perch
Kelly thinking about what (or who) she should bite next.

Kelly is a different matter entirely when it comes to hands. We brought her home from a parrot shop where as a baby she was hand fed and handled frequently by her breeders. Because of her upbringing we had a misguided assumption that she would be totally cool with hands and very easy to work with.

She was accepting of stepping up when she was a juvenile, but as soon as she starting moving towards adulthood she decided it just wasn’t working for her. Unlike Toby, however, she doesn’t see our hands as birds at all. As best as we can figure, she things of our fingers as wooden perches. At least that’s a logical explanation for why she bites us so hard! Much harder than she bites the rest of the flock, unless she’s very angry at them, or certainly everyone would be dead from blood loss.

Kelly will, however, take help from a hand without biting if she needs it. For example, if she ends up on the floor and feels confused, then she will look around for us to help her out. Maybe she thinks of that as her human flock coming with their weird wooden perches to get her out of trouble? I have no earthly idea, but it’s very much at her discretion.

After working with her extensively to try and reduce her biting we have essentially accepted that it’s just not going to work out between her and our hands! She’s a great companion and a lot of fun otherwise, and it’s rare that we need to risk injury to enjoy her company at this point.

A green parakeet naps on a heated perch
Kevin loves the K&H thermo perch for an afternoon nap

Kevin came third, and for no reason whatsoever has the ideal relationship with our hands. As frequent readers know, Kevin was completely miserable in quarantine, wanted nothing to do with humans, and only started acting remotely budgie-ish once he was with Toby and Kelly.

The moment he met them his relief was palpable, and even though they immediately started plotting to kill him he was overjoyed. So, to be honest, although we’ve intermittently worked with Kevin since on taming and training, it’s been spotty at best and we largely accepted that he was a “bird’s bird”.

Which is why it makes no sense at all, but he’s amazing with our hands. He always steps up when asked and will let us put him wherever we want. He will sit on a finger for longer than either of the girls and seems really comfortable. He’s the only one who’s ever sat on my finger and preened himself for a moment or two.

Moreover, he actively looks to us and our hands for help and sees hands as a solution rather than a problem. If he wants to get from point A. to point B. and we offer a hand he will take it 100% of the time.

He doesn’t see our hands as birds, or as wood to be chewed, but as helpful tools. He likes to beak at our fingers in an exploratory way, and will agreeably endure, but does NOT enjoy, an occasional gentle head or chin rub.

As I write this it becomes even more clear to me how their personalities are reflected in their actions towards our hands; Toby’s desire for connection and attention, Kelly’s single-mindedness, and Kevin’s gentle affability. I feel, essentially, that although I could have done more to train each of them, the results would always be strongly driven by their personalities.

A very common question for a new parakeet owner to ask is, “when will my parakeet let me hold him/pet him/snuggle him, etc. Without being a Debbie Downer, I always want to answer, “probably never”. But that’s the truth, with taking on budgie parenthood you’re spinning the wheel of chance and there is no guarantee that you’ll have a budgie that will EVER want anything to do with you touching them. In fact, I’d even venture that it’s more likely they won’t.

One of the great things about parakeets is their huge variation in individual personalities and the multitude of ways that you can have positive interactions with them that don’t involve petting. Although our parakeets and human hands interactions may not always be ideal, and are occasionally quite painful, I wouldn’t trade these cool little people for anything more predictable or more snuggly!

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Celebrating Toby’s Fifth Gotcha Day

I can hardly believe it, but today we are celebrating Toby’s fifth Gotcha Day! For anyone unfamiliar with the phrase, a “Gotcha Day” stands in for a birthday as the day you brought your pet home. It’s especially useful when you don’t actually know the date your pet hatched. Since Toby came to us by way of Petsmart, all we know is that she was under three months old when we got her, because she still had baby bars on her head.

Toby was the first parakeet of the flock, and rather gracefully endured all of our first time parakeet parent mistakes. These included scaring her routinely with our hands, letting her stay up too late, and not understanding that the proper diet for a parakeet includes lots of fresh vegetables. Through all of it, she has held steady and not seemed to judge us too harshly!

Now that Toby is five we might have expected her to slow down a bit in what is, essentially, budgie middle age. Quite to the contrary, Toby is still easily the most energetic and active of the flock.

A blue parakeet hanging from a gray jacket
Toby checking to see if my jacket has pockets.

Toby is always first to check out a new jacket or sweatshirt to explore pockets, and is a classic budgie female in her utter territoriality. It doesn’t matter whether someone else saw it first, if she wants something then it is hers (no sharing either!).

A blue parakeet biting a bag of potato chips
Toby was very interested in the texture of this chip bag

She was not successful in exploring the contents of this bag of chips. In fact, Toby has never eaten a potato chip or any processed human foods. We agreed from the start that we humans didn’t really want to share our food with budgies and we’ve been dogged about sticking to it.

Toby is also the most likely to pose for the camera.

A blue parakeets poses for the camera
Toby working the camera

At various times, Toby has lived alone, then with Kelly, then with Kevin, and now by herself again. Having gone through all of these iterations I can now say that Toby is a horrible roommate. This is largely, again, due to how territorial she is. She doesn’t shy away from getting into a viscous battle when the mood strikes, which is occasionally at random without any provocation.

Even with her idiosyncrasies, we certainly wouldn’t change her one bit, or any piece of her story leading up to celebrating Toby’s fifth gotcha day. Parakeet parenthood has been a roller coaster of highs and lows, beyond anything I would have imagined five years ago, driving home from Petsmart, hearing her nails on the cardboard box and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into.

A blue parakeet rests with one foot up
Toby in a rare moment of relaxation

So, cheers to Toby on her fifth gotcha day, I hope we have many many more together!

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Parakeets and fresh produce – making sure we are stocked year round

There are many differing opinions about the best diet for parakeets, but one thing we can all agree on is that fresh vegetables and fruits are an important part of a budgie’s diet. Parakeets and fresh produce has been a major source of concern in my household lately, since the beginning of the pandemic.

We used to grocery shop weekly, typically on a Sunday morning and I would be sure to stock up on fresh produce for the flock. Usually this would include something for them to bathe on, like a big bunch of cilantro, parsley or carrot tops. Additionally, we would pick up a broccoli crown, and maybe some celery and whatever else looked good that week to have them try. Then, throughout the week I would make them a vegetable snack when I got home from work for the day. Some days they would eat it and others they would either ignore the vegetable or play with it, but at least I knew I was always giving them the option, and providing enrichment in one way or another!

During the pandemic, this got significantly more difficult. Instead of grocery shopping weekly we started going just a couple of times a month. This meant I had to plan meals for a longer time frame and was bringing in less fresh produce overall. I am sure part of it was panic, but I also focused more on shelf stable foods like pastas and soups, just in case there was a longer period where we weren’t able to get out to the store.

As we moved through the first few months of the pandemic and started feeling like we needed to get out of crisis mode, I realized that we were already having another crisis of parakeets and fresh produce, or lack thereof! We didn’t really want to go back to the grocery store every week, and there’s only so much frozen peas and corn you can feed a parakeet (seriously, as they are starchy and sugary, respectively).

Additionally, we realized that we humans were also in a crisis of fresh produce, so this meant we had a household-wide problem to solve. Enter Misfits Market, a subscription-based service delivering organic produce that’s been rescued from being garbage and only occasionally looks a little funny. Note: this post is not sponsored by Misfits Market and I am not being compensated for this post. They have a couple of options and as a family of two (plus three budgies) the smaller Mischief box has been perfect for us.

Every week we get a pretty hefty shipment of fresh fruits and vegetables, all organic, and many of them sharable with parakeets. Of course some of it doesn’t work for our budgie pals, like citrus fruits, onions, potatoes, etc., but they love celery and they’ve tried so many new things because of this box (and so have we humans, incidentally!).

Kevin also got to try beet greens, which he loved immediately.

The Mischief box is $26 per week/box, initially it wasn’t helping us reduce our spend at the grocery store, but I found that I just needed to adjust my meal planning to include more of the good fresh stuff, especially after being in more of a shelf stable or frozen food rut.

Now I’m enjoying an afternoon smoothie instead of reaching for potato chips, and the budgies are chowing down much more routinely on new fruits and veggies in addition to their old favorites. If you have any questions about Misfits Markets let me know! It’s certainly been a game changer for my parakeets and fresh produce supply.

Please note: if you click any of the Amazon links in this post and make a purchase I will earn a small commission as a member of the Amazon Affiliate network. Thank you! 

Budgie cage placement – separate room or middle of the action?

A couple of years ago we decided to move the parakeets’ cages into what is intended to be the master bedroom in our house. We decided to change our budgie cage placement for a couple of primary reasons.

The first was that our oldest girl, Toby, had become really fixated on my husband. She was territorial about him and loved nothing more than to sit on his shoulder, scream in his ear and fight anyone who came near him. The second was that our “middle child”, Kelly, had developed a habit of chewing her cage bars and making a horrific clanging noise. We were working on redirection, but honestly given the two lady budgies’ issues it seemed like a good time to take a break and hopefully hit reset on some behaviors.

We lasted a bit over a year and now the budgies are all back in the dining area between our kitchen and living room. Our house has an open floor plan so they are in the middle of the action with a good view on all human activity except work and sleep time.

Our cage set up
Our two current cage set up

Here are my pros and cons for budgies having a separate room.

Pros

    • In their own room the parakeets could be guaranteed ten to twelve hours of solid quiet, dark sleep time. This helps to keep them out breeding condition and is good for their health in general. With budgie cage placement in the common area they are much more likely to stay up later while we are cooking dinner, watching television in the evenings, or grabbing a late night snack. If you have night owls in your family this can cause disturbed sleep until the wee hours of the night.
    • Speaking of cooking, being removed from the kitchen in their own room meant we didn’t have to worry as much about accidental smoke or other dangers from the kitchen.  We only cook using stainless steel pans, and would never take the risk of non-stick/Teflon cookware, but I still worry about accidentally burning toast someday and risking their lives.
    • The budgies had a place to remove themselves if they were feeling overstimulated. If we were watching a loud movie or playing music the budgies could remove themselves any time they wished to a nice quiet place and take a break. Granted, I’m not sure how legitimate this one is, since they seem to enjoy loudness in general!
    • It was much easier to corral them all into one place at a moment’s notice so we could open the front door. With the budgies in the main section of our house we eliminate the ability to open our front door during the day. This makes signing for packages or just going in and out of the house a very difficult task requiring bribery to get them all into cages. With their home base in a room with a door it was much easier to shoo them all in and shut it quickly.

Cons

    • It was harder to clean up after the flock and service their cages. They weren’t near the kitchen anymore so getting water every day was a nuisance. It felt like more of a pain cleaning up after them overall, the mess was spread out all across the house and, if I’m being honest, it was easier to ignore messy cages when they weren’t in front of me all the time. Similarly, I found myself forgetting to swap out toys and perches routinely to keep their cages enriching.
    • The bedroom didn’t offer them any opportunities to look out a window. Unfortunately all of the windows have a view of a busy street. During the day the sun glints off cars whizzing by and at night it’s all headlights. The few times I tried leaving a curtain open I could tell the flock was constantly startled by traffic. With their dining area placement they can look out into the backyard and watch bunnies, squirrels and of course outside birds. This is definitely a source of entertainment.
    • Their separate room was also the hardest of our house to heat and cool. In the summer it gets direct sunlight all afternoon until sunset and heats up pretty fast. In the winter, as the largest room in the house it’s also the hardest to keep heated. So, even if I had less worries about kitchen smoke and disturbed sleep I replaced them with different concerns about overheating and chilling.
    • It set us back severely in taming Kevin. Kevin was totally miserable the entire time he was in quarantine and desperate for parakeet company. Shortly after he integrated into the flock we moved them all to the bedroom. The fact that he had 24/7 budgie company coupled with becoming even less familiar with us resulted in him viewing humans as an inconvenient necessity and nothing more. We certainly were not part of his flock. I now believe that parakeets being able to view human activity from a safe distance is a critical part of taming. Shortly after they moved out to the common area and he could watch us go about our business I saw a shift in his behavior. It clicked for him pretty quickly that we were not, in fact, scary monsters, but part of his larger flock. Kevin can still be pretty shy around us, but he’s much more likely to choose interacting now and it’s so gratifying just to not have him react to us with fear. I don’t think we would have gotten past that without his being immersed in our daily lives.
    • This brings me to my biggest con. The parakeets being separate from us in their own room enabled them to create their own little subculture. Across the board they didn’t choose to interact with us as much as they had. It started to feel less like a human/pet relationship and more like I had rented out a room to a small family that didn’t speak the same language as I did. They were living their separate lives and happy without integrating too much. It was painful to feel that Toby and Kelly, who are typically way interested in humans and their activities, were totally fine with limited interaction.

Although almost any of the cons would have been enough to convince me to put our budgies back in a common area it’s the last one that really did it. It was so sad not having them as a major part of our daily lives and I think we’ve all been happier now that they are part of all the action again. So, my final recommendation on budgie cage placement is in the middle of the action 100 percent! Even though it takes more care not to open doors and increased safety in the kitchen it is absolutely worth it to feel like we are all part of one flock.

Transitioning parakeets to new food

One of the first things you will likely purchase as a new budgie owner is a supply of food for your new friend. Depending on where your budgie came from, you may want to change his food pretty quickly from a low quality seed mix to something with added dried vegetables, fruits and herbs. Transitioning parakeets to new food is not as easy as making a swap and crossing your fingers, there are some considerations and warnings.

  • I don’t think it’s fair to call parakeets “stubborn”, but they will starve to death rather than eat something they don’t see as a safe food, or as food at all. This is not out of willfulness but because they literally may not view something like a pellet as food, particularly if it’s nothing like what they are used to eating. Please don’t ever totally change your parakeet from one food to another with no transition period. Particularly don’t ever abruptly change from a seed mix to pellets.
  • Instead, start with what they are used to eating and slowly mix in what you are switching them to, increasing the ratio of the new food over several days or weeks. Even if you’re just changing to a new seed blend, this is a helpful way to make sure your parakeet still has something they feel safe eating and won’t starve.
  • This does particularly apply if you are transitioning to pellets, which, I’m just going to be honest, I don’t recommend as a primary source of nutrition. I’ve written about seeds vs. pellets in this post, but in brief, I don’t think that pellets have been proven to be nutritionally complete and they are not mentally stimulating enough. Additionally, budgies are designed to eat seeds.
  • I’ve focused a bit on transitioning from seed to seed or seed to pellet, but you may also need to do some work to get your parakeet trying vegetables and fruits. A great way to start is by chopping a vegetable up very finely and mixing it with millet or your parakeet’s preferred seed mix. Offer that as the only food source for a couple hours and even if they just pick out the millet they are sure to accidentally eat some vegetables too. Make sure not to leave fresh vegetables and fruits in your parakeet’s cage for too long, especially in warmer months as rotting vegetables aren’t anyone’s idea of a good meal!
  • The bottom line is that most budgies should transition fairly easily to a good quality seed mix, no matter what quality the pet store or breeder was feeding. Just take your time and make sure you’re seeing seed hulls in your food cups every day and good healthy poops, which indicate your parakeet is eating.

Hopefully there’s at least some food for thought here (haha!). Healthy feeding is always top of mind for parakeet parents and transitioning parakeets to a new food can be one of the most nerve-wracking hurdles to overcome. But, with a little sly work to transition them to a new food, you’ll have healthy-eating babies in no time.

A blue parakeet foraging in some seed on a plate
Toby loves foraging through her regular seed mix on a plate
Two parakeets trying some sprouts
We did not care for these. Which is too bad, since they were expensive!