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!

Facts about parakeet hearing and how it impacts life in the home

Similar to eyesight, parakeets have a really fantastic sense of hearing in ways that differ from humans.  The most noticeable difference is that you may never see your parakeet’s ears, since they are internal, versus the human’s exterior ear.  Perhaps if your parakeet takes a really thorough bath you might glimpse their ear holes, but I’ve never seen them on either of my budgies!

All of the research I’ve done indicates that parakeets can hear roughly the same range of sounds as humans, maybe a little better, but this doesn’t explain to me why Toby and Kelly will spend hours flock calling to birds outdoors that I can only faintly hear, or would have to go outside to hear.

What may be a factor is their relationship to sound, they have much more perfect pitch than I do, and they can store sound in their memory more effectively than I can.  (*source www.little

Their proficiency at memorizing sounds in sequence helps them learn to mimic human speech and snippets of music, or in the wild to learn calls that are specific to them and other birds.  There is evidence that parrot parents name their children with specific sounds and that those sounds are used for that parrot for their entire life.

I read anecdotal evidence once that suggested this talent could extend to pet parakeets.  A woman named Laura had a single male parakeet with an incredibly large vocabulary – she decided to get him a friend and introduced a second parakeet, which she did not name. A short while later, she found that her first parakeet had begun calling the new friend “Laura” while preening her or snuggling at night. It’s touching to think that the male parakeet loved his owner so much that he named his new friend after her. Although I suppose it’s equally possible he just didn’t know any other names, it’s still pretty good evidence that he had a concept of naming. (I will keep trying to find the link to this story again, I haven’t been able to and I apologize that it’s not credited.)

My female parakeets have zero interest in mimicking human speech or most sounds they hear.  When Kelly came home she had some new noises that Toby hadn’t heard, but instead of adding each other’s sounds to their lexicons they settled somewhere in the middle and now we can’t tell the two of them apart by their calls.  I wonder if it’s because they are so solidly a flock that they have their own agreed upon language of sounds.

I know that they make the same call frequently, and with varying degrees of urgency.  When Toby and Kelly are playing in different places they will call out to each other every so often to touch base. If one doesn’t respond the other calls louder or goes to find them.  When my husband or I go to the bathroom sometimes one of the budgies will get anxious and start calling to us, if we don’t come back or respond they do the same thing and come to find us and make sure we are okay.  For me, that’s wonderful proof that we are part of their flock too, even if we don’t speak the same language!

Parakeets can also be easily startled by loud or unexpected noises, so that’s something to watch out for, especially with new parakeets in the home that may be spooked already, it’s nice to keep things quiet and relaxed for them.  This probably relates back to their lives in the wild as prey, it would certainly be beneficial to be on your guard and ready to escape from danger.  Another way this links back to eyesight is after dark it’s especially important not to scare them with loud noises, since they can’t reassure themselves that everything is okay using their eyes.

There are a lot of ways that you can engage your parakeet using their sense of hearing that are fun for both of you, and even if they never mimic a single sound it’s still enriching to expose them to new sounds and sound patterns.  Have fun exploring new music with your parakeets, maybe you’ll end up having the same favorite song 🙂

Click here to read our post about parakeet eyesight

Facts about a parakeet’s sense of sight & how you can use them to your advantage

You may know some of the basics about a parakeet’s sight and eyes, but do you know how you can use this information to help bond with your budgies?

  • Parakeets have very sharp vision, superior to humans. As prey animals this would help them watch out for anything that’s ready to attack. Because their eyes are on the sides of their head they can’t really see directly ahead of them, but they do get a much better wide view. At home, you may notice your parakeet looks at you or whatever it’s focused on with just one eye. This is particularly noticeable when they drop something and tilt their heads to watch it fall.
  • Parakeets can also see ultraviolet light, which we cannot. This means that they see lots of stuff we don’t, particularly in regards to color. It helps them decide who to mate with by looking at which parakeet has the best and most vibrant feathers. Since they don’t have a very keen sense of smell or taste they can also detect which fruits and vegetables are rotten and which are good to eat by sight.  This probably explains why your parakeets may have an aversion to certain colors or patterns; they could just be way too intense. Some folks think that parakeets amazing UV sight also allows them to sense what mood their humans are in, almost like seeing an aura. I know that when I come in from work angry my parakeets react to me differently, and I completely believe that they are reading my energy somehow.  Being aware of your energy when you approach your parakeets can really help your interactions with them.
  • Your parakeet’s eyes change in appearance as he matures. Baby and juvenile parakeets have fully black eyes, with no detectable iris ring around the edges. As your parakeet grows up, you’ll see the iris start to come in very faintly at first, and then over time it becomes lighter and more prominent.  A caveat is that some color mutations do not ever develop the visible iris – also color mutations Albino, Creamino and Lutino are born with red eyes.  But, most of the time it’s an excellent way to help judge the age of a parakeet.  Toby is almost two years old and it’s so neat to see how her eyes are developing over time!
  • Once the parakeet’s iris becomes visible it will be easy to see their eyes “pin” or “flash” – this is when the parakeet’s eyes rapidly dilate and contract. We humans don’t have control over our eyes dilating, it happens in response to light.  Parakeets dilate their pupils at will.  Eye pinning is really one of the most helpful ways that you can understand what your parakeet is feeling, they typically do it when they are excited, happy, curious, and/or see something that they like a whole lot. Some do it when they are feeling aggressive and angry, although I have rarely seen it in that context. It may look a bit off-putting or totally unnatural at first, but now that we are accustomed to Toby pinning her eyes it is really so helpful in knowing how she’s feeling and whether she’s excited about, for instance, a piece of fruit or a potential scritch of the neck.
  • Another fantastic way you can use your eyes to communicate to a parakeet is “blinking” them. Early on when we were trolling for baby parakeets at Petsmart, Patrick realized that if he shut his eyes, all of the parakeets would grow calm and start falling asleep. Because they are so instinctually part of a flock, if one parakeet closes its eyes and relaxes they all tend to follow suit. This is useful if your parakeet becomes scared or panicked, you can help them relax by shutting your eyes and relaxing.  Also when you are taming them, when you cast your gaze downward it is less threatening for them. Close your eyes and lower your head and you will seem even less like a predator.  Now I’ve noticed that Toby and Kelly will try to put us to sleep if they don’t want to play with us.  Toby will shut the eye facing me very decisively and then wait a few seconds and open it just a slit to see if my eye is shut.  Mind you the eye on the other side of the head is wide open and ready for action; she is just tired of dealing with “mom”.
  • Also, making eye contact with a parakeet will typically open a line of communication and an engagement. In the early days they may feel safer if you don’t make a lot of eye contact, because they don’t know your intentions. Now, however, if I walk by Toby and Kelly’s cage and don’t look their way they will go about their business, but if Toby and I make eye contact she immediately rushes over to the side of the cage and becomes very excited to tap her beak on my fingernails. So, if I’m hustling out the door and I’m late it’s much better to call out “bye” and breeze out instead of stopping and getting trapped in an endless cycle of adorability.  Conversely, if I want to hang out and they are busy at play I make an effort to engage in eye contact and they will usually come over to where I am to see what’s going on.
  • As amazing as parakeet eyesight is during the day it is terrible at night. This is part of why they are susceptible to night terrors, any small movement that is detected will be alarming because they can’t see what it is and perceive it as a threat. Many parakeet owners cover their parakeets at night to help reduce these night frights.  You can also avoid nighttime issues by providing your parakeets with night lights. Another tip related to poor sight at night time is to never make changes in their cage layout or add new toys/perches right before bed time. Things that sort of freaked them out during the day may seem absolutely terrifying at night, and could cause them to panic.

Hopefully these facts and hacks will help you better understand some of what’s going on with your parakeet’s incredible eyes!  Coming soon, perhaps not surprisingly, a series of posts dedicated to the other senses.