(parakeet) girl fights

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As regular readers know, I have two female parakeets (Toby and Kelly) living together in a little sorority. This is far from ideal, female parakeets tend to be more aggressive and territorial than their male counterparts. Typically you would want to either have multiple males, who would be great “bros” and just hang out and play or a male/female pairing, in which the male would naturally take a back seat and let his lady have her way.

If you want to have a larger flock than two: a. I’m very jealous because I wish my house was full of parakeets and b. from what I understand you can have a large flock of just males and they will be very happy, or almost any amount of males and females, as long as it’s an even number so everyone can pair off if they want to have close a bond with just one other parakeet.

In my experience with two females, you get a minimal amount of hanging out together, preening and regurgitating, but mostly it’s either playing separately or squabbling over various resources, regardless of the relative scarcity of the resources in question.

I don’t have the biggest flight cage on the market, but it’s certainly large enough for two to live comfortably.  I also have three water sources and two food bowls, but it really doesn’t matter, whatever Kelly has Toby wants, and vice versa.

Usually these disputes are resolved with a minimum of screaming, beak-banging displays of ownership and the occasional sword-fight of beaks, but on a rare occasion we have had some real knock down drag out melee style battles. Most recently they were fighting over a small toy while Patrick was working from home, the yelling was so loud he came out of his office to check on them and witnessed Toby tackle Kelly at the top of the cage, they both fell to the bottom and proceeded to roll around on the floor looking like something out of a cartoon.  He broke it up by speaking sharply to them and also removed the toy.

It also doesn’t help that Kelly has been in breeding condition, which Toby somehow manages to never go fully into, thank goodness.  I have to be so careful about not giving them any toy or hut that is nest-like or can easily be perched on and defended.

I made precisely that mistake with this Sea Grass Hut, which was on a play gym, so I rationalized that limiting their time with it would keep it from becoming an embattled object.  For a while they would play on it and hang out very companionably, looking every bit like a little girl gang.

parakeet girl gang

Of course as Kelly got further into nest mode the sea grass hut became “hers” and she began defending it viciously.  The last incident she bit Toby’s toe hard and I was concerned she had caused a serious injury, Toby immediately retreated to the cage and wouldn’t put weight on that foot.  There was no visible damage and after a short while Toby was totally back to normal. The sea grass hut was immediately removed and no other item has created quite that much ire.

A lot of people, many of them parakeet experts who I respect, would say that Toby and Kelly should never be housed together, and that the aggression will inevitably escalate until one of them becomes a murderer.

I do have a Small Vision Bird Cage as well as our original Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage that they could be separated into if the need arose, but the times they are so sweet to one another makes me want to keep them together. Also I know they like sleeping in the same cage (once finished with their perch dominance routine) and I believe it makes them feel safer. As much as they squabble when they are “at home” they really do enjoy each other’s company.  I have to accept that I’m perpetuating a potentially dangerous situation, and I need to be able to live with my decisions if something does go drastically wrong someday.

Weighing the options I think the risk is worth the reward, knowing how unsettled Toby was when she lived alone and how much Kelly has enhanced Toby’s ability to try new things and explore. In a perfect world I would get them each a mature male boyfriend and expand the flock, but with my husband’s allergies there’s no way he could handle the 100% increase in feathers!

parakeet girl fight
we fight!
parakeet girls kissing
but we also love!

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Cleaning up after budgies – tips to make every day easier

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Even just a couple of budgies can make a pretty big mess!  Here’s the schedule I follow so it never gets out of hand and I only spend a small amount of time on a daily basis.

Daily:
AM
– refresh water and food bowls, if any of them are contaminated with poop change out for fresh bowls.

PM
– Wipe down cage bars with a damp paper towel anywhere there is visible poop or any other mess
– Wipe down dirty looking perches and toys
– Freshen water and check to see if food bowls are free of poop
– Remove top sheet of Bird Cage Liners from cage tray and give the poops a once-over to check for any health issues
vacuum (more than once per day during molting)
Feed a fruit or veggie snack and clean up after that as well
– Hunt for floor poops and clean up as needed.

Weekly (usually on a Saturday or Sunday):
– Remove perches and scrub with a tiny bit of mild dish soap and hot water using a Hard and Soft Side Vegetable Brush.  This tool is perfect for getting poop out of the crevices of a cement or natural perch.  Of course it should be kept well-separate from a veggie scrubber that’s used for human or budgie vegetables!
– Remove and wipe down toys, and examine for any loose threads or other ways that the parakeets could get caught or otherwise injure themselves. Rotate or retire toys as needed for mental stimulation.
– Wash all bowls and Lixit Bird Waterers  with hot water and mild dish soap
– Wipe down all cage bars
– Provide parakeets with a couple of bathing options, hanging bath, and Tupperware bath, for instance. Clean up water mess afterwards.
– Wipe down play gyms and window perches

As needed
– Remove all toys and perches from cage and thoroughly hose down cage.  Use scrubber to remove poop from all cage crevices.

Additionally, if you have a grate on the floor of your cage I recommend wiping that down every other day at least and taking it out for a complete cleaning weekly.  I took mine out to increase the usable cage space for our parakeet and also to encourage foraging behavior, but a great side effect was much easier clean-up for me.

It looks like quite a lot laid out that way, but I never feel overwhelmed by a mess or by the amount of work I have to do to keep up after the budgies.  Mine are very territorial, so I usually try to wipe everything down as soon as I let them out in the afternoon.  That way they are enjoying flying around and exercising while I’m hastily tidying their cage and not getting my hands bit!

Let me know if I missed any critical steps!

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Slow motion parakeet video – fun with slow motion flight

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Some readers have probably already seen our slow motion parakeet video, but hopefully you won’t mind checking them out again!  Using a perch and some millet as a lure we decided to try taking videos of the parakeets flying to us in slow motion.  I’m pretty happy with the result.

Note: Make sure to turn down your sound before watching, there’s a weird metallic noise that I’m trying to fix but in the interim I don’t want to hurt anyone’s ears!

You can check out more videos of Toby and Kelly in slow motion (among other things!) on my YouTube channel.

These videos were taken using my cell phone, an Apple iPhone 6 Verizon Wireless, 16GB, Silver, which I think is pretty amazing!

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The importance of a flock to a parakeet – as demonstrated by watermelon

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You might have seen my post last year about things Toby was terrified by. One of the main offenders was watermelon, the sight of which so traumatized her last year that she retreated to her cage and could not be coaxed out for the rest of the day. Now last year at this time Toby didn’t have Kelly, and I wasn’t aware yet of the importance of a flock.

Fast forward to this year, I decided to try watermelon again because Kelly is a total fruit nut, and is not afraid of the color red.

I did my usual routine of getting out their plate and the fruit and putting on a good show of eating it myself and exclaiming over its goodness. Kelly came over to my shoulder first and was very excited, and then lo and behold here comes Toby, who is so blasé about being confronted with something red that you’d think she was a different budgie entirely.

Offering her a little piece while she was on my shoulder did cause her to recoil a bit, but Kelly was more than happy to stick out her tongue and test the melon for edibility.  Discovering that it was, in fact, awesome, Kelly got even more worked up and immediately hopped down to the kitchen counter and started eating the watermelon before I was done cutting it up.

Toby immediately followed suit, and they both proceeded to eat more of any fruit or vegetable than I think I’ve ever seen before!  They ripped larger pieces into shreds, carried some off and dropped them all over the place. Not a snack for the mess-averse, but I feel it is well worth it to see them really enjoying a treat.

It might be easy to see how this illustrates the importance of keeping more than one parakeet.  Solo, Toby was terrified of so many things that limited her life and her enjoyment of her surroundings.  No matter how bonded she was to her humans, there was absolutely no way that we could fill that role in her life.  She needed another parakeet desperately to be the leader and to show her things were okay.

This was even further reinforced for me on the same evening, they were getting settled in to bed and going through their recent nightly routine.  They are both molting, and once I start dimming their light they head up to the top perches in their cage and take turns preening and feeding each other (before it devolves into fighting over who’s going to sleep where).  Spying on them during these quiet bonding moments I know that Patrick and I could absolutely never fill that void for Toby the way Kelly does. And instead of taking something away from us, it just makes our flock stronger because everyone’s needs are being met in a way that they weren’t when we were just a flock of three.

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The Parakeet’s sense of touch

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There are two ways to approach the issue of touch.

First I feel like I have to mention that parakeets don’t necessarily like being touched by their humans.  As I explored in when will my parakeet let me pet him, petting is not natural to a parakeet. They will groom each other and regurgitate, but unless they are engaged in mating behaviors, there’s not a lot of touching going on.

Many hand fed babies, probably males more than females, can be raised from an early age to enjoy some snuggles.  But, when you’re starting out as a parakeet parent it’s not something you should expect your parakeet to enjoy, more a pleasant surprise if they do.

From my personal experience, my budgies would much prefer to be in control of the touching, they like to tap my fingernails with their beaks, groom my hair, walk all over me, etc., but if I try to even put a pinky on their necks they act as though I have violated a long-standing treaty.  They are both girls, to be fair, and I know that girls tend to be much more standoffish.

The bottom line is that if you want a pet that’s going to cuddle up with you parakeets are not your best bet, although some will be cuddly.

Second would be facts about a parakeet’s sense of touch, quick research confirms that they have the same nerve endings that humans do, and are therefore able to feel pain. I know that parakeets are skilled at masking injuries and illness, so knowing that they do feel pain means we humans should take extra care to examine our budgies for injuries that they may not want us to see.

Parakeets are particularly talented at feeling vibrations, which would help keep them alive in the wild avoiding predators lumbering through the woods.  Unfortunately, in the home this sensitivity to vibration is a major cause of night frights.  I live on a busy road and there are trucks lumbering to the highway at all hours of the day and night, I assume that Toby and Kelly must have gotten used to them over time and no longer find it a cause for alarm. This talent for detecting vibration also helps hens know when their chicks are hatching.

Parakeets mostly use their beaks and feet to touch things. So it’s important they have a wide variety of stimulating objects to use and also to keep their beaks and nails trim.  This can be achieved with different perches and toys. Particularly where there feet are concerned, if they don’t have perches with varying widths, textures and shapes their feet can get out of condition, causing muscle stiffness and ultimately atrophy. Since we know that parakeets feel pain, it is especially critical that we don’t allow this to happen by only offering smooth doweled wood or plastic perches of a single width.

The feet can also become very dry and crack, especially during winter, so make sure to frequently offer your parakeet a regular misting, bath, or even a shallow dish of water to run around in – whichever they prefer, or all three.

It’s important to stimulate all of the senses of your pet parakeet and touch is certainly no less important than the others.  I have to admit that although I’ve been covering my bases, I really hadn’t put too much thought into their sense of touch.  Going forward, I will be looking for new ideas for how to enhance their touching experience, without trying to give them a hug, of course!

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Sense of smell and taste in parakeets

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I spent a single blog post on both sense of sight and sense of hearing, but smell and taste are going to end up lumped in together! This is largely because they are less essential to the parakeet and probably impact his behavior less in your home.

As far as smell goes, all the scientists appear to agree that parakeets have the ability to smell; but they don’t really agree on how good the sense is or how much they use it to function. Some say it’s almost as good as humans and they use it for foraging and to find their way home in the wild. Others say it’s quite limited, or possibly they just don’t use it that much. Either way, they probably rely much more on their sense of sight to locate food and their sense of sight and hearing combined to evade predators.

Sense of taste is less developed in parakeets than it in in humans. They have fewer taste buds and those taste buds are located at the base of their tongue. They can probably detect sweet and sour. They can also tolerate spicy peppers because their receptors for spice don’t react the way ours do.  Individual parakeets have different preferences for foods based on taste. Some parakeets can have quite a sweet tooth for fruits, but due to sugar content these should be treats only and not fed on a daily basis. In our house, Toby likes vegetables and shies away from the sweeter stuff, while Kelly is equal opportunity but really loves peaches and strawberry.

So – why would these senses be so much less developed than sight and hearing?  Well, it really wouldn’t suit a forager to be too concerned with how good their food tasted or smelled, since they basically have to live on whatever they can scrounge up.  They can tell by sight if a fruit or vegetable is spoiled, so no sense of taste needed there.

Also a sense of taste would certainly be no use in getting away from a predator, although I could see how a sense of smell might be a good alert system, having an incredible panoramic view and a keen sense of hearing are probably good enough.

This does mean that you can’t use the smell of a certain food to entice your budgies into trying something new, but you can show them it’s good to eat by eating it yourself.  You can also get them excited by making noises associated with food preparation. Mine just have to hear their dish come out of the cabinet and they immediately start watching me closely.

A note – the sense of smell being poor doesn’t mean they are less sensitive to fragrances and chemical odors. On the contrary things such as candles and Teflon are toxic to birds and kill them by destroying their lungs. It does, however, mean that your parakeet won’t be put off if you want to hang out with him after coming home from the gym a bit ripe – so that’s a bonus!

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Toby and Kelly’s phantom foot injuries

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Weeks apart, Toby and Kelly both managed to scare me half to death thinking that their feet were bleeding.  I’m sure unintentionally, they taught me a good lesson about how to respond to a medical emergency, whether real or perceived.

Toby took the first round, I had just put a plate of cucumber mush into their cage, she hopped on the plate, and then jumped back off.  As she bounced around the cage I saw a bright red, wet dot on her toe!  Now, mind you I have no idea how a parakeet could cut their foot on a plate of grated cucumber mush, but if anyone was going to find a way it would be Toby.  That girl trips all over her own feet every day.

IMG_5104

Anyway, I immediately went to level 10 on the panic scale, like most parakeet owners, I’ve heard the statistic that ‘keets can die from losing just 12 drops of blood, and this looked like bit fat drop number 1! I yelled out to my husband that he needed to come immediately because Toby’s foot was bleeding, he leapt off the couch and joined me in the kitchen and reminded me that I should grab my Styptic Powder from our 1st aid kit. I was literally in such a state I don’t know if I would have gotten that far, so much for being calm in a crisis!

I grabbed the powder and ripped open the package, quickly reading the directions as I went.  But, as my initial panic was fading, I noticed that the drop of blood hadn’t changed on Toby’s foot, or fallen off or anything, which seemed pretty suspicious.

Pointing it out to Patrick, we decided that since she wasn’t in immediate danger of exsanguinating we should get her to wash her foot off and see what the heck was going on.  I poured a shallow dish of water and we lured her in to splash around with some millet.

As soon as she hopped in the water the red dot floated away and there was nothing at all wrong with her toe underneath!  Huge sigh of relief, but what the heck was it in the first place??  I poured out some of their food on a white piece of paper and noticed that here and there were tiny pieces of something red which were clearly the culprit!  It makes so much sense now, that she got her foot wet in the cucumber and then, hopping onto the papered floor of their cage, got a small bit of discarded food stuck to her toe!  It just happened to be colored for maximum bird mommy panic.

IMG_4969
possible offenders

 

Sidebar, the reason I’m so susceptible to thinking their feet are damaged is because Toby and Kelly both have a tendency to bite each other’s feet. No one HAS ever actually drawn blood, but if someone’s feet look bloody that’s where my mind goes immediately and it feels so plausible.

Next up, several weeks later, was Kelly.  I had just woken them up for the day and saw a dried-looking patch of red on her foot that I simply could not explain.

I can proudly say I reacted with somewhat less panic, but did call Patrick over and instead of grabbing the styptic we first went for the plate of water and millet trick.  She happily splashed around for a few moments and the red splotch faded, to my great relief.

Then I remembered that I had fed her strawberries for the first time the previous evening and it looked like a total bloodbath!  I didn’t notice any stains on her foot at the time, but I had noticed the tip of her tail and her head had a couple of red marks, so I must have just missed the foot splash.

The lesson learned here, for me, is twofold.  First it reinforces how important it is to have first aid supplies on hand.  But second, and most important, it reminds me that keeping a level head and assessing a situation before reacting with any rash treatment is so important.  I’m relieved that I didn’t treat them with anything they didn’t actually need, even though delaying to assess the (perceived) damage made for some tense moments!

IMG_5250
strawberry bloodbath

PetSmart

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