Budgies and sleep needs

If you’ve done a bare minimum of research about parakeets you’ve already read that they need 10-12 hour of sleep per night to be healthy. Beyond just needing the sleep, they also need that length of time in dim lighting so that they don’t start wanting to breed.  Our parakeet’s cage is near a big window, so we close that curtain around 6pm and start turning down their main light shortly after. They are usually fast asleep by 7:00pm or 7:30pm at the latest if they are being willful about having just a few more minutes to play.

That length of time in the dark and quiet can be pretty hard to achieve in a busy household – it’s also kind of paradoxical, because the recommendation that your parakeet’s  cage in the center of the action so they feel like part of your flock is very incompatible with needing a lot of rest!

I’ve thought about using our old Prevue Pet Products 3351BLK Park Plaza Bird Cage, Black Hammertone as a sleeping cage in another room, but I have several reservations about that. One is that it would take potentially months to get them used to that kind of routine. Also, since Toby is so neophobic, there isn’t really another room in the house she feels comfortable in, so that would be a huge hurdle. And finally, since we’ve decided (at least for the short-term) to keep taking vacations, I would hate to get them used to a different sleeping cage and then mess up their routine when we go away, potentially resulting in sleepless nights.

Unless we move, or make major changes, we are stuck having the birds bed down in their main cage, which is in our dining area. Unfortunately, it’s open to the rest of the “public areas” of the house, including the kitchen and the living room where we watch television in the evenings. Thus far both parakeets seem really well-adjusted to it, we turn the lights way down when they go to bed and we watch television at a polite volume. They go through a settling in routine and then grind their beaks before nodding off. Fortunately, they aren’t in eye line of the television, I’m sure that’s a huge help. I also try to be respectful and not watch content that would wind them up during the day, so I avoid musicals, loud fights scenes and anything with a lot of bird or other animal noises.

It’s really not ideal for any of us, especially if the humans want to go get a snack in the kitchen after dark, we can’t turn on the overhead lights so it’s all down to the refrigerator light! Although this has probably helped curb some late night snacking so I shouldn’t complain.

A lot of the sneaking around would be alleviated with the use of a cage cover at night – I’ve tried Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Universal Bird Cage Cover, Large, Black, which goes over the top of the cage, but Toby wants no part of it, she panics and has a terror response, flapping around the cage wildly with immense potential to hurt herself. I think anything black is going to be a deal breaker for her; it’s one of the many things she just doesn’t tolerate. I haven’t found one yet, but if a cover exists that attaches magnetically to the sides so the top is still open, and the fabric is white or light in color she might go for that.

The other thing I’ve considered is getting a room divider that we move in and out – although I’m not sure how Toby would take to that either, it would be a great visual block that doesn’t actually touch the cage. The only thing that’s holding me back on that one is that Patrick’s severe allergies mean he’s sensitive to new items, many products go through a period of “off gassing” once they are out of their box and in your home, during which time they smell very strongly of whatever paint, varnish, or other material was used to coat or polish them.

I certainly couldn’t risk buying something wood like the Rajasthan Antique Brown 4 Panel Handcrafted Wood Room Divider Screen 72×80, Intricately carved on both sides making it fully reversible, highly versatile. Hides clutter, adds décor, & divides the room even though it’s gorgeous and functional. New wood furniture tends to have a very strong smell for months if not years, but something like the Coaster 4-Panel Elegant Room Divider Screen, Ivory Fabric, Metal Frame might work since it’s metal and fabric. It’s really a matter of having the expendable funds to buy something that is a risk for both parakeet and husband acceptance. It also means finding a place to store it during the day, and in a small house that’s not easy.

In the meantime I think we’re doing the best we can to ensure the budgies get the rest they need, and any sleep lost during the night is probably made up with the numerous cat naps they take during the day.

Whipping up a new mix of parakeet food (and dumping it all on the floor)

As you know, I like to mix up batches of various seeds and pellets to try to hit most of the parakeet’s dietary needs without taking away from their drive to forage. I’ve been running low on my current blend and wanted to try something new. I also needed to replace a storage container, I threw out the one pictured in my post about grain beetles in my seed both because someone put scotch tape on the interior and I couldn’t get all the residue off, and also I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that no matter how well I cleaned it, there might still be beetle eggs in there somehow.

I purchased the OXO Good Grips POP Big Square 5.5-Quart/5.2 Litre Storage Container; I had looked carefully at the dimensions, but it turned out to be way bigger than what I intended to buy.  Down the road I may replace it with something easier to scoop out of, but for now it’s fine. I like that you get a really tight seal with the pop top, it seems much more airtight than a ziploc seal.

To fill it, I wanted to start with a base of Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, because I do believe that pellets are an important part of the parakeet’s diet. Make sure to get the Nibbles size for parakeets, in my experience the Crumbles are way too big.

Next I looked for a new seed mix, I’m always on the hunt for the best food for the parakeets, and Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb has some really great ingredients, and fabulous reviews. As soon as I opened up the bag I fell in love with the smell of this seed, it’s fruity and a little sweet, but very natural. I hand fed the parakeets some of it as I was putting this together and they took to it immediately. Sometimes it’s best to put in just a little of a new food mixed with old to make the adjustment easier, but I don’t have any concerns about them eating this at all.

Finally, I wanted to add in something they’ve already been enjoying, the F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival Parakeet Food, 2-Pound. I know a lot of people use this blend just as a treat because there’s a lot of fruit, but I love to add it in to my every day mix. I don’t think my parakeets touch many of the interesting bits, so for us it’s just awesome foraging and exposure to different shapes and colors.

I added all of the products to my excessively large OXO storage container and made some really lovely seed art –

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And then I attempted to stir it up – which was a challenge because of the depth of the container. I worked at it with a long stirring spoon for a while and then had the genius idea to gently shake it up. I popped the lid shut and turned the container in all directions – including upside down, which is when this happened.

As it turns out, the airtight lid is not strong enough to hold when turned upside down. Which probably should have been anticipated.  No judgements please, but the floor had just been cleaned the day before, and I really didn’t want to throw away that much money, so we salvaged what we could and vacuumed up the rest.

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the final product

I’m excited to have a new mix and I’m guessing the budgies are going to love it – fixes for next time include a smaller storage container and less vigorous shaking!

5 tips for getting your budgie to bathe

Since becoming a parakeet parent I’ve been on a mission to figure out a way to ensure regular baths. We started out with JW Pet Company Insight Bird Bath Bird Accessory, which would have been really cute, but was a total fail. Toby couldn’t figure out how to get in the bath, and when she landed in it accidentally she acted like it was a cruel trick. So, we started trying other options with varying degrees of success, as always your mileage may vary.

I also want to note that seeing a bathing budgie for the first time can be a little disconcerting, they puff up to the extreme and hold their wings out at odd angles, looking a little bit broken and very intense about the activity.

  • Misting – we purchased a tiny misting spray bottle and filled it with comfortable temperature water; I held it above Toby’s head and misted. She behaved as though I was punishing her for some terrible transgression and this was the worst torture I could have devised.
  • Run a sink at a low pressure – I held my hands out with the palms up under the stream and splashed gently around in the water. Toby would come stand on my hands and walk around in the water. She drank copious amounts but never seemed inclined to walk under the waterfall.
  • Water bowl – very similar to the bath we started out with. No one wants to go near a bowl of water, either a food bowl, cereal bowl or small ceramic bowl.
  • Shallow dish with leafy greens and water – huge hit with Kelly, she was initially wary but as soon as I lured her into the dish (with millet) she immediately fluffed out and started rubbing her tummy and face all over the greens. She hasn’t flipped completely over yet but gets her front very wet. If the whole plate is too intimidating you could also try some wet lettuce leaves held in your cupped hands.
  • Hanging wet leafy greens – This is what works best for Toby, hang some wet kale or celery tops from the ceiling of the cage and she is a mad man for bathing. The key is making sure the greens are secured really well, because she hangs from them as she bathes.

Bath time is so important and helps the parakeets feel good and healthy, especially when molting. Keep experimenting and you’ll find a method that works for your parakeets, and even when it fails the experience is still an enrichment!

We subsequently tried a Lixit quick lock bird bath and the review of that can be found here.

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Does molting make a parakeet sick?

Molting is a very difficult time for parakeets, most of them do it a couple of times per year; typically it would be a spring/summer and a fall/winter molt. Toby is very lucky and molts approximately every 6 weeks, this is pretty common for indoor living parakeets, with the temperature being fairly even it messes up their natural triggers.

During the molting process, which takes a few weeks, the parakeet loses a significant portion of feathers and grows them back. Seeing the piles of lost feathers under the cage every day can be alarming, but it doesn’t seem to be the worst part of the process for the parakeets. At least Toby and Kelly aren’t that bothered by it, even when they are losing more feathers per day than I would have thought they had in the first place!

The part that seems to be much harder on our parakeets is growing in the new feathers, and this stage is where, in my experience, the parakeets can seem to be quite ill.

Both Toby and Kelly, during the time of popping out a lot of feathers, will have about a 24 hours period where they have many classic symptoms of budgie sickness.

This involves listlessness, disinterest in eating, puffing up, napping on both feet, loose poop, general malaise and crankiness. It typically hits them in the early afternoon, they rally right before bed, and then the next day they are pretty “off” as well without seeming as close to death’s door. The first few times this happened to Toby I was absolutely certain she was going to die at any moment.

One nice thing is that the parakeets are very solicitous to each other when they are afflicted. Usually they argue passionately every evening about who will sleep highest in the cage (hint, it’s going to be Kelly), but when someone is not feeling so hot they sleep close together without any argument at all. In the daytime too, the parakeet that’s feeling good hangs out near the molting parakeet and tries to regurgitate to her and make sure she’s doing alright.

During these times we make some extra effort to use our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, which we should be using regularly anyhow, and try to tempt them to eat millet at least. It’s best, I think, to just let them stay in the cage on these days and get the rest they need for the hard work of growing out feathers.

The only real recommendations I can make are to get used to your parakeet’s molting procedure and try to assist as much as possible. If he lets you, scritch his head to help to pin feathers, and offer frequent baths in whatever capacity he accepts. Let him have quiet days when needed and help him relax and get extra rest. Most importantly, try not to stress about it too much yourself, it’s hard to see them during a tough time, but they will come through it. Your vacuum, however, may never be the same…

Changing seasons – comfortable temperatures for budgies

We had a very hot summer here in New York, Patrick and I historically haven’t used our central sir conditioning very much, some years we just tough out the heat, and others we install a window unit or two and blow around cool air on particularly warm days.

Life with budgies definitely changed that habit! Like a lot of animals, parakeets don’t have sweat glands, and when they overheat they don’t have too many ways to cool themselves down. Mostly, you’ll see them hold their wings out from their bodies to get some air flow going, which is something they also do when they are feeling very aggressive.

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Am I mad?  No, just hot!

This summer, we found that we needed to use the central AC most days, but we kept it at 78 degrees, which was relatively comfortable for all parties, without breaking the bank on energy usage. If you’re using window units or fans around your parakeets, please don’t have direct cold airflow on the parakeets.  That goes for central AC vents as well. Additionally, if you have ceiling fans any fan without blade guards you will not want to use those when your budgies are out and about, as they can get seriously injured or killed being struck by a fan.

Budgies do best in temperatures that range from 65-85, but the key is about keeping the temperature relatively steady. A rapid 20 degree swing in either direction would be hard for them to cope with, but over a period of days/weeks they will adjust to increasing or decreasing temps.

As I write this it’s towards the end of September and looking at the weather forecast I’m expecting to turn on my heat towards the beginning of next week, usually we humans would tough out the first cold overnight dips, but the parakeets are not going to be comfortable at 64 degrees or lower; last winter we kept the house at a steady 68, which Toby seemed happy with.

So – an overheated budgie holds his wings out from his body to get some air flow to his “armpits”, what does a chilly budgie do? He fluffs all his feathers out to trap more heat between them, which looks a lot like preening behavior or sick budgie behavior. We only saw Toby do this a couple of times last winter, on days that were exceptionally frigid.

A parakeet is a warm weather bird that can acclimate reasonably well to a range of temperatures, but in addition to keeping them warm enough in winter you should also keep an eye on the humidity, they are happiest in 60-70% humidity, which certainly feels too damp for us. We shoot for 50% and keep track of it with an AcuRite 00613 Indoor Humidity Monitor. Budgies without enough humidity can get dry, cracked feet, among other things, so you can also make sure your budgie is getting a bath in winter, or at least getting his feet wet to help with scaliness.

Another way to help your budgie regulate his temperature in winter is with a K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch – Small 10.5″. The recommendation is to put it in the top 2/3 of the cage, so hopefully your parakeet will choose to sleep on it overnight and keep warm in dropping temps. We tried using this last year and Toby wanted nothing to do with it – avoided it like the plague. This year I thought perhaps Kelly would like it and show Toby there was no imminent danger, so I installed it directly below the most coveted sleeping perch.

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See heated perch above and to the right – theoretically helping to dry this post-bath budgie

They were fine with its existence all day; although no one wanted to touch it, but come lights out Toby would not settle down and basically acted like she couldn’t get to her sleeping perch because this hideous heated monster was in her way. We have a hard and fast rule now about not putting our hands in the cage after “bed time”, so all I could do was unplug the vile thing and hope that was the issue.

Toby did settle down shortly after, although I’m not sure whether I can truly draw a correlation or whether she was just exhausted. Either way, I took it out the next morning. We may end up using it like we did last year, when we installed it very low in the cage and just hoped that some of the small amount of heat radiating out would help. There are tons of great reviews of these; I think it’s a useful and safe product, Toby is just to fearful for it to work out as intended. It comes in two textures, I purchased the sand-like option, which I would also recommend, I read several reviews of parrots not being able to get a grip on the smooth version.

When it actually gets cold I’m going to buy and try the K&H Manufacturing Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Small/Medium Grey – I am sure that since it’s gray Toby will want nothing to do with it, but at least I could put it somewhere that’s not near sleep town and maybe Kelly will enjoy it, or Toby will accidentally end up near it once in a while. I’ll report back after we’ve given tried it out.

Bottom line on parakeet temperatures is to watch out for rapid swings in either directions and you should be okay. I’ve seen parronts reporting that they keep their homes in the low 60’s in winter and their budgies adjust, and I’m sure that not everyone has central air conditioning in summer, or even necessarily window AC units. Keep in mind that if you’re uncomfortable with the temperature they probably are too, and you should be good to go.