Concerns about flighted budgies escaping the house or hurting themselves

Escaping the home:
One of the biggest reasons I see given for clipping parakeets and other small parrots is the fear that they will get out of the house and be lost forever. It’s a valid fear, a parakeet that flew out of the front door would be in a total panic, and they are not suited to any kind of bad weather, nor do they have the skills to fend for themselves in the wild. So, if they get out they are going to react in terror and will almost certainly not have the sense to land somewhere close and wait for you to save them.

I don’t think this is a reason to clip your budgie though, I think this is a reason to commit yourself to not allowing that to happen so that your budgie can have the best life possible with you. It’s clear to me that an animal that’s designed to fly needs that outlet for physical and mental heath. Also, a budgie is relatively easy to keep flighted in the home due to their small size, they don’t need a ton of room to have satisfying flights, and they aren’t really interested in distance flying, short burst and loops of the living room are enough to leave them worked out and happy.

The way that we’ve worked it out so our parakeets are safe flying indoors with very limited risk of escaping is a system that we refer to as air-locking, and it is a bit like staying safe on a space craft.

If you’re the first person home at the end of a work day, you can feel free to enter through the front door, since the parakeets would never be out of their cage with no one at home. If you’re anything other than the first person entering the home, then the rule is you go in through the garage.

First you open the garage door and enter, then shut that door, after that you enter a hallway and shut that door behind you. Finally, you come in through the kitchen and shut that door.

That’s a series of three doors and if you follow the procedure of always closing doors behind you there is literally no way a bird could escape any further than one room away. Maybe you don’t have that many doors in between your birds and the outside world. In that case coordinate with the humans in your house to set up a workable schedule or rules for entry.

Injuries in the home due to flight:
I’m not going to say these are totally avoidable. Toby once conked herself on the noggin pretty good flying into a window at full speed. Fortunately she was okay after a couple hours of rest.

But, it makes me sad to read that people are afraid their birds will fly into furniture or kitchen appliances. The bird knows how to fly, and he know how not to smash into things he can see. That’s what he is all about. Toby is such an expert flier that she can purposely buzz your head – only touching you with the tip of her tail. She can also hover mid-air for short periods of time, and I’ve seen her fly through the slats in our dining room chairs. If your body was capable of all these magical acts, don’t you think it would be important to use it that way?

I have a feeling that when a small parrot’s clipped wings are growing back it can be alarming for a bird-parent to watch them learning to fly, it’s a bit clumsy, like human children starting to walk. Just because a baby is going to fall when he learns to walk would you discourage him from ever trying?

Of course you should put decals on windows that don’t have screens on the interior. Windows with screens are fine in our experience; although we had to do a lot of training about not chewing window screens they are a very convenient landing spot and apparently very fun to grip.

I think that a flighted bird can get himself out of a lot more trouble than he can get himself into. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Toby fall off something because she wasn’t paying attention while playing. A clipped bird would fall straight to the floor, but Toby rights herself mid-fall and zooms off. She also never ends up anywhere she doesn’t want to be, and she can always go home for food, water, rest or if something scares her (which is a frequent occurrence!).

It’s up to you:
The issue of flighted budgie safety is really down to how much you are willing to commit to make it possible. Will you be vigilant while your parakeet it out of the cage? Can you make it second nature to never be careless about opening doors to the outside/are you willing to put decals on your windows and otherwise bird-proof your home?

Further, can you always watch your step and be aware of your budgies so you don’t injure them? This also includes being careful about shutting doors, as you never know when someone’s following you. Can you limit when you cook and/or eat and drink things that would be dangerous to your parakeets?

Putting it that way may better highlight the life changes that you need to make for your bird’s safety. In my opinion, although it may seem inflammatory and harsh, if you cannot make these commitments then please think long and hard about whether parakeets are the right pet for your family. That is how highly I rank the important of flight to their overall well-being. Please note that I’m referring to parakeets only, I am not familiar enough with any larger parrot to make judgments about whether they are happy without flight.

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We are so excited for Kelly to fly soon!

Parakeet perch dominance – night fights

Toby and Kelly are fervent lovers by day – well, not in the most literal sense of the word, but they follow each other around all day. Toby grooms Kelly, Kelly regurgitates to Toby and except for a couple of spats it’s generally a pretty gross parakeet lovefest.

During the day they even nap side by side very comfortably, it’s really cute, especially since during nap time they both “talk” in their sleep.

Night sleeping is a different matter entirely, there are three perches that one would think would be acceptable for a comfortable evening’s rest, two are at the same height, and one of them can certainly fit two sleepers, but no, there must be one parakeet to rule them all by sleeping higher than the other!

So although by day our budgies are besties, all bets are off as soon as the lights start to dim, and the cage becomes the venue for a battle royale of perch dominance. They start yelling at each other furiously and engage in some very serious beak warfare. Usually someone ends up falling to the bottom of the cage with a heavy thud at least once before the battle has ended. I should note that “yelling” in this context means a steady stream of terribly cute angry peeping noises.

For months the only way it ever ended is with Kelly on the top perch and Toby on one that’s slightly lower, and even after they were in position Kelly would angrily vocalize at Toby to keep her in place. Recently though we’ve had nights where Kelly ends up lower or where they both end up on the same perch. We always leave one dim light burning so that if they decide to reopen perch negotiation in the middle of the night they can see to do it.

I’ve thought about splitting them up for bed time, especially since it feels wrong to watch them engaged in what frequently appears to be a death match, but apparently this is very common behavior – if you’ve got 2 or more parakeets you’re going to have night time battles for dominance, and much like many other issues, the only one with a problem is me! The parakeets are fine and the results of the fights may even help solidify the terms of their relationship.

Also, Toby hasn’t had a single night terror since they started sleeping in the same cage, and that’s totally worth the 15 minutes of squabbling every night.

Parakeet perch needs

Your parakeet probably spends the bulk of his time at home in his cage so it’s important that it’s comfortable and entertaining – perches are a big part of cage design and budgie happiness. Health-wise, your budgie also needs a variety of perches in different sizes to keep his feet limber and also different materials, some for rest and some for keeping his nails and beak trimmed, and others to fill in his nutritional needs. When you start trying to balance all of these needs against the amount of room available in your cage it becomes apparent that a. bigger is better for cage size and b. rotating perches is key to keep your budgies needs met without over-crowding the cage.

Most bird cages come with a single smooth dowel-type perch that runs the length of the cage, we keep ours in but it’s important that it’s the only smooth, round perch in the cage, as they don’t provide enough foot exercise or any other stimulation. A bird who has only doweled perches will probably find himself with atrophied and painful feet.

Here are some examples of important kinds of perches to invest in for your parakeet’s health and well-being.

Mac’s Creations Small Manzanita Perch – although these can also be smooth they have a variety of widths in one perch which is great for parakeet foot-limbering. My budgies also enjoy chewing on the narrow ends and climbing from one branch to another. You can find suitable branches outdoors and use them as perches; however you must be careful to do research beforehand on which trees are safe for your birds. You also have to take special care to clean branches you bring in. I’ve looked into the process and it just feels safer and like a lot less work to purchase a natural perch that I know is approved for parakeet use.

Living World Pedi-Perch, Small – these perches have a rough texture and varying widths as well. They are good for general variety, and they also help your budgie keep his nails trim and his beak ground down and polished. Parakeet’s nails and beaks keep growing all the time and it’s important for them to have hard surfaces to keep them maintained. You can avoid having to trim your parakeet’s nails yourself or having it done professionally if you provide these sorts of perches.

Polly’s Cuttlebone Calcium Bird Perch, Small – I love these, they not only provide a rough surface for nails and beak, and also for exercising feet, but they are intended to be broken down and eaten over time. They provide calcium which parakeets need for overall health – similar to the way calcium helps humans keep their bones strong; it helps parakeets with beak, nail and feather strength. There is not a ton of calcium in a typical parakeet diet, so supplementing is a big help. Calcium deficiency can also lead to night terrors.

Ecotrition Snak Shak Chewable Perch, Small (P-84006) – We have had this Snak Shack edible branch a couple of times, it’s made from 100% edible material such as alfalfa, honey and seeds, but it looks like a branch! The fact that it’s a perch, a chew toy, and also good for exercising the feet with different textures makes is a home run for us.

Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Medium 32-Inch, Colors Vary – I’m fully obsessed with these, I recommend buying every size and using them in different applications, both inside the cage as well as on play gyms and hanging window perches. They are bendable and were a major help with both our parakeets when they first came home. Neither of them knew how to climb around on the bars of their cages and we used a long comfy perch to make the interior of the cage navigable for a parakeet who might otherwise be scared to hop, fly or climb. They are also hand washable and hold up to a lot of abuse. Parakeets will also enjoy trying to pull them apart since they are woven fabric.

Polly’s Desert Sands Bird Perch, Small – This type of perch is really essential in my opinion, they comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colors, some have deep divots and some are smooth with less of a natural look, they are all useful. Right now we have a manufactured sand perch as well as the more natural looking Polly’s Dessert sands. These help with foot exercise again and well as keeping nails trimmed and beaks ground down and polished. The parakeets love sitting on one of these and just chewing away.

There are a lot of other types of perches, foraging, shredding, flat perches for resting and perches that are also toys, and since you have to rotate pretty frequently to reduce boredom there’s really no harm in storing up some extras (spoken like a true shopaholic).

One caveat is to watch out for the dimensions, with parakeets you will probably want to stick with perches that are marked as small or extra small, this is both so the length will be appropriate for you cage and also so the width is suitable for budgie feed. Specifically the width should be somewhere between 3/8″ to 3/4″ with a sweet spot of about 1/2″. Anything much more than 3/4″ will be too big for their comfort.

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…