Where should you get your first Parakeet?

So, you’ve read up on caring for parakeets, researched everything they need and thought about how you can integrate a cage into your home.  And after all that, you still want to become a parakeet parent!  Now all that’s left is to find your budgie.  There are a few ways to get a parakeet, let’s explore some pros and cons to each.

Bird rescue or shelter:
There are a lot of huge “pros” to rescuing a parakeet, namely that you are changing the life of that bird forever.  Many parakeets are surrendered to shelters and rescues; there is a misconception that parakeets are quite easy to care for, short-lived, or not disruptive.  Of course none of these things are necessarily true.  In order to have physically and mentally healthy parakeets you have to provide a lot of physical objects and a lot of your time. Parakeets can live from 15-20 years, which is equal or greater than many dogs and cats. Parakeets cannot match the noise level of, say, a sun conure, but they can be very loud and their voices are not always pleasant.

For these reasons and countless others parakeets are frequently surrendered and you will easily find many in need of new homes.  A rescue near me currently has upwards of 10 parakeets that need new homes.

There are some cons to a rescue parakeet:
– many rescues will not allow you to adopt a single parakeet, which makes sense, because parakeets are flock birds and can be quite miserable living solo, even if their human flock spends a lot of time with them.  I agree that parakeets should not be kept solo, but I concede that new owners may wish to try bonding to a single parakeet for their first.
– Rescues will potentially want to do a home visit, which is again totally reasonable, but might be off-putting. Ultimately they are just trying to make sure that you are ready for parakeet parenthood and not visiting your home to be judgmental, but again, I see a home-visit as a potentially intimidating prospect!
– They may expect you to provide vet references and/or the name of the vet you will take the parakeet to.
– The budgies available for rescue will almost certainly not be babies and may be more difficult to bond with and tame, depending on their prior circumstances.

Reading over the list of cons it might seem like I am not in support of bird rescues!  Far from it, I hope my next parakeets are from a shelter or rescue. I simply want to point out all of the due diligence the rescues undertake to ensure the parakeets are not surrendered to them again and again in an infinite loop of unprepared owners.

Local or home-based breeder:
Selecting your parakeet from a small breeder will guarantee you get a very young parakeet. Some home breeders hand feed the babies, and some let the parents deal with feedings but make sure the babies are introduced to humans as early as possible and are handled as frequently as is healthy for them.

Either way, a small breeder baby will have had way more positive experience with humans than a parakeet from a big box pet store or possibly even a rescue parakeet.

Another pro to the local breeder is that you may have the opportunity to visit and bond with your baby before they are ready to leave their parents. Some breeders will allow you to come by as often as you like in the weeks leading up to taking your new baby home. You can also vet the parakeet’s living conditions and make sure you get a parakeet from someone you feel comfortable with – who will also probably also be able to answer all your questions about caring for parakeets, and might even be available to you after the fact for further questions.

Some cons about home based breeders
– It can be hard to find a reputable home-based breeder. There are people breeding parakeets out of their homes who do not have a lot of experience and/or don’t take much care, and that could result in sick or injured babies.  You also need to be sure they are not breeding closely related parakeets.  In this instance, you have to do your due diligence, make sure you visit them and that the parakeets are well-kept, clean, healthy and that you are comfortable with the set-up and the breeder.
– There’s a perception that a hand-fed or frequently handled baby will be easier to tame/friendlier to humans.  This is not always the case and you may be in for a disappointment! Our small breeder girl is much meaner than our pet store girl.  Some things are just down to the individual parakeet’s personality.  Our breeder was working on some great color mutations with our parakeet’s clutch and sometimes we jokingly wish she’d been working on temperament instead!

I don’t have a ton of cons for the small breeder, just be sure you do your research and feel good about the conditions of the birds being bred and how the babies are raised.

Big box pet store:
Compared to the other options it is extremely easy to get a parakeet from a big pet store. Just decide today’s the day and go to the pet store.  Literally no one will ask you if you are qualified to purchase a parakeet or have anything prepared in your home to care for it.  The parakeet will be extremely affordable and may even be “on sale”.

If you take a day or two, you can cruise by every pet store in your vicinity and make a selection from upwards of 50 parakeets. Although you may not be able to handle them beforehand, you can observe for as long as you like and get a sense of the personality of each bird.

You also can choose from a lot of different color mutations, and additionally, if you want one sex or another you will certainly find what you are looking for.

Although their living conditions will likely not be ideal, you can also easily ascertain whether the parakeets are kept clean and comfortable.  By knowing what to look for you can also visually check to see that the parakeets are healthy.

There are, of course, some cons associated:
– These parakeets have likely never been handled by humans.  They were raised by their parents until ready to go and then packed into boxes and shipped off.  They are about as feral as it gets and it can take months of hard work to gain their trust.  (Counter point – winning their trust is one of the MOST rewarding experiences you can ever imagine)
– Their living and breeding conditions were probably not great, thus increasing the chance of injured or sick birds. Some injuries and illnesses may not be visible at the time of purchase.
– Inability to tell whether the parakeet has been bred from closely related parakeets.
– Lack of support during and post purchase – with the home based breeder and the rescue you will have a point of contact that could help answer your questions about your new parakeet. Big pet stores do not typically offer that kind of service, and in fact most of the employees know next to nothing about parakeets.
– By purchasing your parakeet at a chain pet store you perpetuate the system of potentially unethical breeding and over-breeding.  I’ve done this myself, so I am certainly not casting stones. With so many parakeets in need of homes, it can be seen as a “bad” thing to support the system.

Final Thoughts:
Since parakeets are fairly addictive, once you start you’ll probably have an opportunity to try every method of acquisition.  For a first-timer, my recommendation would be to find a local or home-based breeder, I believe that you’ll get a lot more support pre and potentially post-purchase.  As superior a choice as adopting parakeets from a shelter is, I think the desire to have a baby parakeet to bond with is inescapable and valid as well, particularly for a first time owner.

To be fair, I also felt it was pretty magical picking out our Petsmart baby, and I want to give them a shout-out for having clean living conditions and friendly (if not particularly knowledgeable) employees.  I would not trade our experience of taming Toby for anything in the world, and I think the fact that we put in so much one-on-one work has made our bond with her exceptionally strong.  Although there were periods of despair along the way where it seemed like she would never trust us, the moment I realized she was excited to see me come home from work was full of unparalleled excitement and pride.

As far as drawing any conclusions – I personally think all of these options can work out perfectly well, or fail spectacularly!  There are no guarantees that any parakeet you take home will be healthy and have a good temperament.  And no matter where they come from you will have to put in work to fully tame your parakeet and maintain a bond, there is definitely no easy way out on that one!

PetSmart

(parakeet) girl fights

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!

Cleaning up after budgies – tips to make every day easier

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!

Slow motion parakeet video – fun with slow motion flight

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!

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

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.

The Parakeet’s sense of touch

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!

Sense of smell and taste in parakeets

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!