A tale of three vacuums – one of the most important items in the war against parakeet mess

Parrot ownership, even with smaller birds like budgies, can be quite messy. They love to throw seeds and hulls all over the place, as well as feathers, pieces of toys, anything they can shred…essentially anything a bird can be messy with, it will be quite delighted to do so. One of Toby and Kelly’s favorite pastimes is to throw whatever they can lift and then watch it fall.

To deal with the resulting mess we deploy an army of 3 vacuums, each with a specific purpose.

iRobot Roomba 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner:
Roomba goes out every weekday between 2pm and 3pm and vacuums as much of the house as it can before going back to base. What’s great about this is it means we don’t need to vacuum the entire house every day, and since it’s scheduled for mid-afternoon, we humans don’t have to listen to it work. The downside is that it can’t go where the cages are because there’s a small step up between hard wood and tile floors. Even if it could get up there is wouldn’t work out, I tried Roomba in their area once and the vacuum hit the cage so hard that it moved. There’s no way I would subject the parakeets to that every day! It does drive a foot or two away from their cage and they hustle over to the side and yell at it until it goes away, which is cute, and also a nice common enemy for them to bond over. Although it can’t get under their cage Roomba takes the edge off of our duties as budgie mess does not tend to stay in one spot. Even on days where they haven’t been out yet I’ll come home to find feathers in the bedrooms.

The iRobot Roomba 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner does take some care to maintain, we’ve had ours for many years, you’ll need to invest in replacement parts, like brushes and filters, and you do have to clean it weekly at a minimum. I believe we’ve even had to replace the motor on ours. It can also be annoying, if you’ve left any doors ajar it will trap itself and just keep going for hours/until the battery runs out. It’s also not very smart and might go vacuum the same room every day for a week straight.

Even considering the downsides, I think Roomba is a valuable addition to our arsenal.

Shark Rocket Ultra-Light Upright (HV302):
A few days into having Toby with us we realized we needed to have a dedicated bird vacuum that we could use conveniently every day in the cage area and kitchen. It had to be lightweight and easy to store but have really good suction and capacity. We started out with a dust buster but that wasn’t really cutting it for getting into crevices and all the way under the cage, and it stopped holding a charge after just a month or so. I have a feeling it just wasn’t up to the herculean task of cleaning up after birds.

We ended up purchasing the Shark Rocket Ultra-Light Upright (HV302) and it is fantastic. It’s corded, which I thought would annoy me at first, but we just keep it tucked out-of-the-way behind a door and it stretches where it needs to go. The attachments are awesome for getting under the radiators and it picks up everything as it should. It’s bagless and the canister is see-through. I find that we can go a couple of weeks without emptying.

We run this every day in the dining area where the cage it and usually extend into the kitchen as well as the hallway next to the cage. It only takes a few minutes a day but makes a huge difference between relatively clean floors versus tracking seeds and feathers everywhere.

Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away (NV501):
This vacuum is the big gun. It has an array of attachments, including an upholstery tool that will pull any tiny speck of dirt out of your couch. The canister pops off the base so it can be carried easily around the house and the smaller head attachment is good for both hard surface floors and carpets. Against with a clear cylinder canister it’s easy to tell when you need to empty and so satisfying to watch it fill up.

Unlike our daily vacuums, this guy only comes out on the weekends when we clean house, it is extremely thorough and powerful and easy to maintain.

Recently I dropped about 5 pounds of seed and pellets on our kitchen floor and after salvaging what I could we vacuumed up the rest, the Shark made quick work of it and probably would have been happy to chow down on the full amount.

The shark also does a great job during heavy molting times and has really good suction for getting tiny feathers from under tables, chairs, couches and oh just everywhere (since everywhere is where they are!).

Depending on your needs you can’t go wrong with any of these vacuums; I think all three are a great system to keep parakeet (and everyday human) mess under control.

One big note about safety, please don’t ever vacuum with your budgies out of the cage. I saw a terrible story once about a parakeet that got sucked up in a vacuum, thankfully it survived with medical intervention but hat’s a vet bill that’s pretty easily avoided by keeping birds at home when vacuums are out. I’m going to assume that most parakeets are not huge fans of the vacuum anyway and probably feel safer in their cages instead of battling the great noisy beast!

Cooking safely with parakeets in the home

I’ve been thinking lately about cooking and how to safely cook around budgies.  They process air much faster than humans so the smallest pollutant can be fatal.  Most people know that things like candles and cigarettes are big no-nos for birds, but there are several things to avoid specifically while cooking.

The big one to stay away from is Teflon pans. It was with some sadness that I got rid of all my non-stick cookware the day Toby came home. It’s safe to use stainless pans, like the Cuisinart 733-30H Chef’s Classic Stainless 5-1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Helper Handle and Cover, although it certainly increases my risk of burning things!  Which, I am joking about, but we make every effort not to introduce cooking smoke into the budgie’s breathing space. It’s not recommended to keep parakeets in the vicinity of a kitchen because of all the contaminants, but with a small house we really don’t have a choice on that.

Because of switching to stainless from non-stick, it may be tempting to rely more on cooking sprays that grease your pans, these are also bad for budgie airways. That’s just a good reminder about any spray, really, from hair spray and deodorants to home scents.

Another big danger zone is your oven. A new oven is deadly to birds, and needs to be run for a long time to release all of its breaking in fumes, which I believe are burning off some coating on the interior of the stove. Basically you either need to remove the budgies from the area and run your oven at a very high temperature several times or if you buy from a local appliance store it’s my understanding you can pay a little extra to have them do this for you.

We are pretty much without our oven at this point, we bought it last fall and thought that we had burned everything off properly, Patrick spent two days at home with Toby in another room and the oven running/house vented, and we were able to use it around Christmas last year, but really didn’t do much with it after the holidays.

Flash forward to this year when we went to heat up a frozen pizza and realized that it still isn’t done giving off fumes.  So, we’ve agreed to skip the oven this winter and work on getting it properly broken in this spring/summer when we can move the birds to another room AND vent the house without making it too cold.  Fortunately we have this toaster oven, BLACK+DECKER CTO6335S 6-Slice Digital Convection Countertop Toaster Oven, Includes Bake Pan, Broil Rack & Toasting Rack, Stainless Steel Digital Convection Toaster Oven that is pretty big and safe to use until we sort out the oven issues.

Also watch out for the self-cleaning oven setting, this releases fumes that will kill your parakeets because the oven heats itself to about 900 degrees and this super heats the chemical coating inside.  If your oven needs to be cleaned it’s much safer for your birds and you to use natural products like baking soda, vinegar and your own scrubbing power.  I would also suggest that spot cleaning your oven after a spill may help avoid the need for devoting an entire day to oven-cleaning down the road.

The best tool in my kitchen is my Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, Digital Timer, Stainless Steel, we usually throw something in it on Sunday morning and it has us set for dinner for at least two or three nights.  The slow cooker is safe for budgies because the insert is ceramic and has no coating – YAY! If a recipe calls for it to be coated with cooking spray I take it outside, but I think in most cases I could replace that with greasing it with butter anyway.

Beyond taking care about what products you are cooking with I would also strongly caution anyone about having parakeets or other companion birds outside of their cages while you cook. Even a budgie that you think is clipped for his “safety” can make a random leap onto a hot surface or (heaven forbid) into a pot of boiling water.  We discouraged Toby from hanging out on the kitchen counters when she was young and subsequently she and Kelly never land on them, but I’m still careful to tuck the crock pot out-of-the-way while it’s on, and they are not allowed out if we are preparing food either using knives or heat.

For me this all adds up to a pretty good excuse for cooking less and eating out more!  Also, not cooking equals more time for parakeet bonding, so, win-win on that point.  Seriously though, if you love to cook and bake you can still do so safely with budgies, but like most facets of bird ownership, you just need to be mindful and careful of the dangers to your feathered kids.

Review of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food

I think my days of mixing together different seed blends to try and perfect our parakeet’s diet is over now that we’ve tried Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag.

When we first got Toby we started out with a big bag of Kaytee foraging parakeet blend which was $8 for 5 pounds, and here we are 14 months later ending up at $26 for 4 pounds for Dr. Harvey’s!  Quite an increase in price, but as it is with most things you get what you pay for.

The difference between this blend and other commercial blends is easy to see, feel and smell. I swear I am fairly tempted to eat this as a snack myself.

Per the product’s description the food is a “wonderful blend of nuts, fruits, seeds, vegetables, herbs and bee pollen made specifically for parakeets. This blend is so plentiful in vitamins and minerals and the appropriate amount of protein that it takes the guesswork out of feeing your parakeet”. For me, knowing that I’m providing the parakeets with the best possible seed-based nutrition is totally worth the relatively high price tag.

Dr. Harvey’s is also free of chemicals, dyes, preservatives and synthetic ingredients. I love that there is nothing in the mix with a color that doesn’t occur in nature. Also, although I haven’t tried it yet, I have read several reviews that the seeds are so fresh you can sprout them and feed the sprouts to your budgies. I will have to test that out and report back.

I can report that our budgies mostly ignore or remove all of the larger pieces of fruit in the blend, although it we hold one out for them they will eat it from our hands they just aren’t that interested when it’s in the food bowl.  So, this blend does not replace offering fresh fruit and veggies, nor should it!

As you’ll see in the photos below our parakeets took to Dr. Harvey’s immediately. For now I’ve been mixing it in with my last blend because I do want to use that up, but going forward I think we’ll be a Dr. Harvey’s family.

And, once I got over my sticker shock I rationalized that A. our parakeets are worth the very best and B. since we’re talking about a matter of 5 tablespoons of food per day, I think we can shoulder the financial burden!

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When will my parakeet let me pet him?

I saw this question posed recently in a social media group and it made me wonder how many new or prospective budgie owners think they are going to have a snugly cuddly relationship with their parakeet.

I’m not saying it never happens; we’ve all seen videos of a parakeet lying down in someone’s hand enjoying a neck and head rub and looking like they are in total ecstasy.  Much like the budgies with insane vocabularies (Disco, for example) those cases of the snugly parakeet are the exception and not the rule.

Here’s the thing though, that’s okay.  It simply isn’t natural for a parakeet to want to be petted, it’s great if you adopt the rare parakeet that does, or if you hand raise a parakeet and he grows up feeling comfortable with your touch, but if you have the average budgie that isn’t very snugly, that’s okay too, and it doesn’t mean you have failed at having a good relationship with your parakeet.

An additional factor is that similar to dogs and cats, each parakeet has his own personality and overall ability to be tamed. I had a cat once who loved having her tummy rubbed, and another cat who would take your hand off for even suggesting it.  Our Petsmart bird Toby was way more comfortable with people and hands after living with us for 6 months than Kelly is, and Kelly was hand-raised by expert bird breeders who handled her every day.

Most parakeets that start out feral will become comfortable with perching on your hands, shoulders, head etc. (with a lot of hard work on your part). They will be happy to play with you and preen you. Fewer than that will be okay with you lightly rubbing their necks and heads.  Even fewer than that will accept more touching.

I’ve posted before about the theory that a parakeet regards your hands as other birds, having nothing to do with your head. From that perspective it makes a lot of sense that they would never accept being petted, since why would one bird pet another?

A further complication is that you can accidentally stimulate your parakeet sexually by touching his back, since that’s something they associate with mating. Not surprisingly, it can be very frustrating for a bird to be stimulated in that way without having a mate, and unless you are trying to breed parakeets you don’t want them to be in season anyway.

Bottom line takeaways are:

  • If you want a cuddly pet a parakeet may not be a good choice for you
  • Your parakeet may never be interested in being petted or touched, no matter what you do, he may even react out of fear every time you approach with your hands, and that’s okay
  • You can still have a fulfilling relationship with your parakeet if he does not fit into your definition of “tame”, and lack of being able to cuddle him does not constitute a failure on your part.

Snuggle huts – worth the risk to parakeet safety?

In our early days of having Toby I was searching around for toys and perches on Amazon and came across the PREVUE Snuggle Hut Small 7+ACI-. There are a lot of variations on these type of “tent”, some have hard sides covered in fabric, like the snuggle hut, and others have three soft sides, there are different types of fabric and different ways to connect them to your cage. They all follow the same theme of providing a nice snuggly hiding spot for your bird.

Theoretically, this is awesome, parakeets are easily freaked out by a wide array of things so having a safe space that’s soft and dim and cosy is a boon to their feeling of security. Also, snuggle huts are super fun to play on and in; budgies can cling to the sides and top, and play peekaboo on the interior. The fleecy sides can be preened and the thicker sturdier fabric interior can be chewed and pulled.

I purchased one for Toby and installed it in her cage; she was so cute going in and out of the tent and she clearly loved hanging out inside of it. Unfortunately, I noticed she was also wedging herself between the tent and the cage bars, on the sides and on the top of the hut. She was able to get out every time, but I thought of the hours that she spends by himself when we are at work and it just didn’t sit right with me, so I quickly took the snuggle hut back out and stored it away in our toy cabinet.

Afterwards, I started reading up on the dangers of snuggle huts and similar products. Because of parrots propensity to rip and tear any material they will frequently rip open the seams on these tents, and some budgies and larger parrots then wedge themselves inside the walls of the snuggle hut. If the owner is home and can get them out quickly enough this might result in a successful rescue, but there are a lot of cases where a parrot has been seriously injured or died.

Also because of the shredding habits parakeets may end up ingesting fabric while tearing apart their snuggle huts. Ingesting fabric can lead to an impacted crop. Here again you are looking at either a death or in this cage an expensive surgical procedure to remove material from the crop.

Since these tents could be fairly hard to access once in the cage you could have the best intentions to maintain it and make sure there are no holes or loose threads, but it would be very difficult to inspect the entire tent on a daily basis.

Outside of the risks of physical harm, a snuggle hut could also seem like a nesting space to a parakeet, and if you are not trying to breed your birds that’s just a bad idea!

I recently came across our old snuggle hut as I was cleaning out some toys that the parakeets don’t love, so I decided to put it on our play gym for a few days. Of course both Toby and Kelly were immediately infatuated with it – they both spent tons of time crawling in and out of the tent as well as on the outside. They are so stinking cute playing hide and seek that I wish I could put the snuggle hut right back in the cage. Especially for winter, it seems like it could be a nice place for a nap or even night-time sleeping.

For us, though, the risks are too great to outweigh the benefits. If you currently have a snuggle hut or any similar product in your cage, or are thinking about getting one, I strongly encourage you to do some research and read some of the stories of people who lost their parrots to hut-related injuries. In a couple of days I plan to take our snuggle hut down and finally throw it out, in the mean time I’ll certainly make sure they only have supervised play time around it an I’ll inspect for loose threads and dangerous tears after every play session.

The good news is that you can also find budgie-safe huts made out of sea grass or very heavy canvas. Here’s a couple of sea grass huts available at Amazon, the Prevue Pet Products Naturals Sea Grass Bird & Small Animal Snuggle Hut 62811 or the Super Bird Creations Seagrass Tent Toy for Birds.

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holes after just a few hours of play, could easily be widened

Trying a screen for nighttime – ensuring a good night of sleep for parakeets

In a previous post, I mentioned my concern that the budgies aren’t getting the best possible sleep.  This is both because they are in a high traffic area of the house, which makes sense during the day time, and because Toby won’t tolerate being covered at night.

I had the idea a while back that we should try using a room divider so even if they could hear us after bed time at least they wouldn’t be woken up by seeing us move around.  And as a bonus it might make it easier for us to access our kitchen after 7pm!

We decided on the ACME 02285 Naomi 3-Panel Wooden Screen, Natural Finish, hoping that since it was made of just wood and paper it wouldn’t smell too much (aggravating Patrick’s issues with new furniture).  We also bought a used screen to try and reduce that new furniture smell further.

Of course it still stank to high heaven, of oranges surprisingly! It’s not allowed in the house yet, right now it’s in a hallway between our kitchen and basement thinking about what it did.

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Also in quarantine is an office chair

I have no idea when it will be “house ready” but I’ll be sure to post an update about whether it helps the parakeets and the humans have better evenings.

Budgies and the importance of clean & readily available water

Ensuring access to clean water:
Budgies need access to clean water, which can be a challenge, since like their larger parrot cousins they enjoy throwing food in their water bowl, or bathing in it, or pooping in it. All of these activities, while super fun for the bird, can impact their ability to access clean water when they need it, and you don’t have to be an avian vet to know that drinking water with poop in it is a bad idea.

There are some things you can do to help make sure your budgie has the clean water he needs. First, I recommend putting a flat perch above the water bowl to block a lot of stuff falling into the water. We currently have a Polly’s Comfy Clam Bird Perch, Small doing the job, but you could also use something like a Govine Parrot Bird Cage Perches Round Wooden Coin Stand Platform. These are both good types of perches to have anyway, so strategic placement is a great way to get double the benefits.

Also, you should be refreshing your parakeet’s water at least once a day, but I feel like that’s a bare minimum commitment. I refresh first thing when I get up (at the same time as feeding) and also when I get home from work. Additionally, if I see they’ve made a mess of it I will switch out the water as needed when I’m home.

Another way to ensure a clean source of water is to use a Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz – which our parakeets strongly prefer drinking from anyway. These totally remove the danger of water becoming contaminated with poop, but you do need to wash them on a regular schedule, AND it’s vital that you check them every ay to ensure they are functioning properly. If the little ball gets stuck they can be completely full of water but inaccessible. Because of the risk of “mechanical” failure I do not recommend abandoning the bowl of water completely. We have two Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz in the cage, so there’s no waiting in line (in theory) and the bowl of water that’s being refreshed at least two times a day. So, access to water should never be an issue for our parakeets!

Is tap water safe for budgies?
My feeling is no,if you can provide a filtered source of water that would be best. I know that municipal water is “clean” and tested routinely for human safety but at least where I am it is still fairly hard water, which means it has a high content of minerals. I don’t believe that just because the water is deemed safe for human consumption means it’s safe for a parakeet, considering our relative size differences and the rate at which we process things. If simply being near a lit candle or ingesting avocado can kill a parakeet, then why take the risk for potential impact of long-range exposure to what’s in tap water?

If your family is like mine you’re not drinking tap water yourselves anyhow. We have the ubiquitous Brita 10 Cup Everyday BPA Free Water Pitcher with 1 Filter, White in our refrigerator, I don’t use that water for the birds because I think it’s too cold. We also have a DuPont WFFM100XW Premier Faucet Mount Drinking Water Filter, White attached right to our kitchen sink, this is the water that the parakeets drink. Each filter is good for 200 gallons, so they don’t have to be replaced every five minutes and it’s very easy to switch back and forth from filtered to tap. The downside is that you cannot run hot water through the filter.

We also wash the parakeet’s fruits and vegetables in the filtered tap water, and when I wipe down the cage or scrub toys and perches I use filtered as well. We had the filter on the tap before the budgies, but I do think it’s an essential piece of our parakeet gear and it makes it very easy to water and clean up after them without taking extra steps.

Access to clean water is just as essential to parakeet health as it is to a human’s, so making sure that your budgies don’t have to worry about where their next drink is coming from is a key part of responsible budgie parenthood.

Important note: Never give your budgies distilled water to drink. Distilled water has no minerals in it and even though that might sound like the purest and best thing it is actually very dangerous to your parakeet’s health and very acidic. It’s not recommended that humans drink distilled water frequently either.