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 would 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.

Making a hanging bath for your parakeet

Recently I realized that I keep writing about and recommending trying a bath of hanging greens for parakeets without actually giving instructions for how to make the bath.  I know for my husband and me there was definitely some trial and error involved, and the errors could involve some parakeet injury, so here are some best practices for making a hanging bath.

  • At the grocery store, get a bunch of greens and a package of bamboo skewers (commonly used for grilling, like these: Kabob skewers PACK of 500 8 inch bamboo sticks made from 100 % natural bamboo – shish kabob skewers – (500)). As far as the greens go, what you really want is a good sturdy leaf that will stand up to some abuse without tearing immediately. Equally important is the stem width, they have to be thick and not prone to shredding. We really love kale for baths, and also mustard greens.
  • Once home, wash the greens thoroughly
  • Take a stem and poke a hole through the thickest part with the bamboo skewer, repeat this process for 4 or 5 leaves, until you have a good bundle of greens.
  • Thread the leaves on whatever attachment you have handy, we are using one that came from an inexpensive toy (JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary). You could also use paper rope (Outus Raffia Paper Craft Ribbon, 1/ 4 Inch by 100 Yards) and tie it securely to a spare metal toy clip, or a plastic clip. Whatever you have that you can hang will be fine.
  • Wet the bundle of greens thoroughly – get them soaking and be prepared to soak the bottom interior of your cage. If you use paper at the bottom that is not water resistant it would be best to remove that entirely to make for easier clean up at the end.
  • Hang the bundle from the interior top of your cage; if possible, position is near some perches for a jumping off point. Hopefully your parakeets will instinctively “get it”, but if not, don’t be discouraged, just keep offering the greens and they will probably explore them eventually. I also try to leave the greens in the cage for a couple of hours and will refresh them with a spray bottle.
  • Parakeets are definitely fans of a routine, so try to offer a bath in the same sequence each week. We get home from the grocery store, put everything away and then it’s bath time. I find that a series of steps that are done in front of them the same way every time helps them know what to expect and really aids in getting them excited.

And finally, here is Toby enjoying her bath, this is not as “into it” as she typically gets, I think she was being a little camera shy, but you can see how it’s suspended and how she moves around the bundle in a way that she couldn’t if it was laying on a flat surface.

What do you do if the lights suddenly go out?

It was a Sunday evening in February, about 5:30pm. The budgies were enjoying their last half hour of time outside the cage, all the curtains were shut for their safety, since it was pitch dark outside.  My husband and I were watching tv when I got a text from our local police department, warning of potential localized power outages due to fire department activity involving a transformer. I immediately felt a surge of panic, if the lights went out, how in the world would I get the parakeets home safely?

We sprang into action and they were fortunately cooperative about going right to their cage.  We never ended up losing power, but it left me wondering: if there’s a blackout how will they deal with complete dark? They are used to at least having night lights on at all times to help combat the possibility of night frights.

I’ve always wanted to get a whole house generator like the Generac Guardian 7030 16 Circuit LC NEMA3 Aluminium Enclosure 9/8kW Air Cooled Standby Generator, but at that price point it’s a major investment, and I knew I needed to figure something out for the short term possibilities.

Particularly since, and this is a bit embarrassing, I know that we have flashlights, but I couldn’t tell you where they are, or whether the batteries are good. So – if the power goes out we’d be stumbling around with just the light of our smart phones, which is clearly the start of a horror movie.  Add a couple of panicked parakeets into the mix and I think you’re in for something potentially gory.

To avoid any Saw-like outcomes I went online and started looking for something I could have on deck for sudden power loss. I found the The American Red Cross Blackout Buddy the emergency LED flashlight, blackout alert and nightlight, pack of 2, ARCBB200W-DBL and at about $14 it was a lot easier on the wallet than the big generator.

These emergency flashlights have recharging batteries and three modes, the first is nightlight mode, the second is flashlight mode and the third is emergency mode. When the power goes out the flashlight senses the interruption in power and turns on as an emergency light.

A few things I really like about this product are that the plug is intelligently placed so the flashlight can be plugged into the bottom outlet without covering the top. Also, the plug can be folded into the back of the flashlight to make it comfortable to carry around.  The lights are nice and bright too, which you’d want in an emergency.

The major downside to this product is that it has a very strong plastic smell. A few of the reviews note that it dissipates after a few days, but we’ve had ours for a couple of weeks and they are still quite fragrant.  Of course this means they are quarantined in the hallway with everything else that has to off-gas before coming into the house proper. They are currently not doing us very much good. I don’t think the smell would be as big an issue in most households, we just happen to have some serious restrictions in place.

Even with the downside I do recommend this light, particularly since your budgies probably like a nightlight anyway, this kills several birds with one stone. Or, rather, renders the birds safe from killing… (ha! probably should have had a dad joke warning there)

I still worry, even though I can go grab my emergency flashlight from the hallway in a pinch, what would it be like if we had a major power outage? Particularly in winter, I don’t have a secondary source of heat beyond our gas furnace and the parakeets won’t tolerate a rapidly dropping temperature very well. My short term plan would be to corral them into their travel carrier (Prevue Pet Products Travel Cage for Birds and Small Animals, Green) and put a fleece blanket over it to conserve their body heat. If we were going to have a longer outage then I guess we’d have to decamp to my mom’s house (that’s your heads up mom!), where there is a generator.

We’ve been lucky lately, in the past several years I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve lost power. Even in those instances it was for no more than half an hour. But, I do want to prepare for the inevitability of disaster (not being dramatic at all) and the emergency lights feel like a good first step.

Please don’t use nonstick cookware with parakeets in the home

A pretty common question that new parakeet owners have is whether it’s safe to continue using nonstick or Teflon pans. The bottom line is that nonstick cookware and parakeets don’t mix. Nonstick cookware is coated with a synthetic polymer called PTFE, Teflon is PTFE, it’s the trademarked name that DuPont uses for the polymer.

The message that marketers want you to hear that is Teflon and other PTFE coatings are only dangerous at high heats, some studies say that the dangerous fumes are only released at upwards of 500 degrees.  This is not the case, here’s an infographic about common cooking temperatures and what chemicals are released and it seems pretty clear that you can risk bird death at typical cooking temperatures.

Now, even if you don’t have birds and don’t ever intend to have them I would still encourage you to get rid of your nonstick cookware, mostly because I’ve come to believe that anything that will kill a bird suddenly will probably harm me over time (canary in a coal mine, anyone?) and also because human beings have been known to come down with flu like symptoms after Teflon use, it’s actually called “Teflon flu”.

I’ve seen several people on social media encouraging new bird owners to continue using nonstick and saying “just don’t ever burn anything”, and they’ve done the same for 800 years and never had an issue. Well, I have a couple of questions for them, one is that may be fine for you, but why would you encourage a new bird owner if there’s even the slightest risk?   How will you feel when they come back in a week or two lamenting the loss of their bird?  Also, who has ever set out to burn something?  Perhaps in your household no one ever distracts you while you’re cooking, but I don’t see how there’s even the slightest way you can guarantee nothing will ever burn in your kitchen.  It seems like I burn something every time I make dinner and I can assure you I didn’t plan for that to happen!

If you are stuck with your nonstick for the time being while researching or saving up for a new set of cookware then please:

  • Never preheat nonstick cookware at a high heat, especially with nothing in it – always heat at the lowest possible temperature
  • Vent your kitchen by opening a window and blowing the air out and/or use your stove’s exhaust fan
  • Move your birds as far away from the kitchen as possible, in a large home this may not be an issue, but for people like me who live in small houses or apartments, there is literally nowhere that’s far enough away

Really though, PLEASE give up the Teflon, birds with Teflon toxicosis experience scorched lungs and ruptured blood vessels and it sounds like an absolutely horrible and terrifying way to die.

When you are buying your new cookware be sure to avoid Teflon, PTFE, PFOA and nonstick that doesn’t specifically reference being free of those polymers. I think sometimes manufacturers put the word nonstick on products hoping that if consumers don’t see “Teflon” they will think a product is safe, but remember Teflon is just the trademark that DuPont uses for the chemical, it is not the only thing that is dangerous.

Some safe cookware is stainless steel (Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set) or cast iron (Outdoor Gourmet 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set). I can’t use cast iron with my glass stove top, so I made the switch over to stainless. Ceramic is also a good bet, I love my ceramic insert crock pot (Hamilton Beach 33473 Programmable Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, Silver).

My bottom line is that you’ve gotten your pet budgie, you love him, you spent a substantial amount of money on getting him all set up – so why wouldn’t you spend a bit more to safeguard him against a KNOWN and scientifically proven bird killer?

 

Next level budgie bath tip

I have written a post of tips for getting your parakeet to take a bath, and I’ve also written a review of a great bird bath, but there’s a super-secret next level tip that I want to share with you today.

Kelly recently decided that she needed a bigger bath than the Lixit Corporation BLX0787 Quick Lock Bird Bath, so I found her a Rubbermaid food storage container (Rubbermaid TakeAlongs 4 Cup Rectangle Food Storage Container, 3 Pack)that, when filled halfway with water, is the perfect depth for her to feel like she can get wet but she can always touch the bottom.

Actually, that’s a good point; did you know budgies cannot swim?  They are basically incapable of it, although some might float for a moment or two.  The lack of webbed feet or any other method of gaining momentum in water renders them unable to swim in a capable fashion. This is why a lot of people lose parakeets in drowning accidents; open toilets are a particular killer.

So always monitor your parakeets at bath time, which of course you would anyway since it’s crazy cute.

Here is Kelly enjoying her bath – Toby decided to drop in as well, but she really refuses anything except hanging greens as a bath these days.

And here’s the pro tip: in every one of the bath shots my head was just about a foot away, on the same level, and I was continuously telling Kelly what a good girl she is and what a good bath-taker! Fortunately my husband was kind enough not to get my head in the photo shoot.

Yes, it’s true, Kelly won’t seriously bathe unless someone is there providing constant verbal encouragement, but when I do it, she’s mad for the bath, so super excited and she gets much more soaked than Toby ever manages.

I’ve come up with two possible reasons this works:

  1. She does respond very well to positive encouragement in any context, but both of them do that, they get very perked up and alert if you tell them what good girls they are.
  2. It may just be the presence of my head, since parakeets are prey birds the “watering hole” would be a very dangerous spot, so perhaps my head is seen as a lookout that makes it safe for her to let her guard down.

Either way, if you are struggling to get your budgies to take a bath it can’t hurt to try! And, yes your face gets a lot of spray; it’s a bit like sitting in the “splash zone” at a SeaWorld show, but anyone who has fought to get their budgies washed up knows that this outcome is well worth it!


10 tips for optimal bird cage placement

  1. Budgies like to be part of the family, so place the cage in a central location where they will get lots of visitors and interaction.
  2. Budgies are prey and retain those concerns even when living in your home, place the cage against a wall or in a corner so they feel secure.
  3. They will also feel safer if you put the cage up at about your chest level. Because they are naturally tree dwellers, they feel safer up high and being near the ground makes them feel very vulnerable to attack from above.
  4. Put the cage somewhere they can see out a window and they will likely get hours of enjoyment watching other birds and nature. Conversely, they may be scared of what they see out the window, particularly large birds or lots of traffic, so I wouldn’t recommend putting the cage directly up against a window where they can’t ignore it. Another caveat is to make sure they are NOT exposed to direct sunlight; they have no sweat glands and can overheat very quickly. Also, make sure there are no cold drafts in winter.
  5. If at all possible do not put their cage where they can see a television. The images can be scary to them and the flickering lights and noise can have a very detrimental effect on their sleeping habits.
  6. Try to avoid the kitchen because of the fumes, I hope you don’t have non-stick cookware, but even regular cooking smells and smoke can be bad for your parakeet’s respiratory systems.
  7. The bedroom should also be avoided if possible, for a couple of reasons. One is that even though a child’s or an adult’s bedroom might seem like a place where a lot of time is spent there are most likely better and more trafficked areas. Two is that parrots, even parakeets, create a fair amount of air pollution via molted feathers, dust, dried poop, seed hulls etc. Breathing these things in is generally not going to be a problem, but deep-breathing every night while you sleep may cause some health issues, particularly in people who have preexisting breathing issues or allergies.
  8. Never put a bird cage on top of a refrigerator or anything else that vibrates. Apparently this can make budgies feel so insecure they lose their minds.
  9. Budgies need 10-12 hours of sleep per night so make sure the cage is somewhere that’s relatively calm and dark at night.
  10. Watch out for AC and heating vents – you never want to have hot or cold air blowing directly at your budgies.

Taken all together these seem like a pretty tall order, but you do the best you can and adjust if you see your parakeets having issues. For example, my cage is kitchen adjacent and only against 1 wall, so I’ve definitely failed on perfect placement, but unless I completely renovate my home’s floor plan it’s the best option we’ve got!

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