(parakeet) girl fights

As regular readers know, I have two female parakeets (Toby and Kelly) living together in a little sorority. This is far from ideal, female parakeets tend to be more aggressive and territorial than their male counterparts. Typically you would want to either have multiple males, who would be great “bros” and just hang out and play or a male/female pairing, in which the male would naturally take a back seat and let his lady have her way.

If you want to have a larger flock than two: a. I’m very jealous because I wish my house was full of parakeets and b. from what I understand you can have a large flock of just males and they will be very happy, or almost any amount of males and females, as long as it’s an even number so everyone can pair off if they want to have close a bond with just one other parakeet.

In my experience with two females, you get a minimal amount of hanging out together, preening and regurgitating, but mostly it’s either playing separately or squabbling over various resources, regardless of the relative scarcity of the resources in question.

I don’t have the biggest flight cage on the market, but it’s certainly large enough for two to live comfortably.  I also have three water sources and two food bowls, but it really doesn’t matter, whatever Kelly has Toby wants, and vice versa.

Usually these disputes are resolved with a minimum of screaming, beak-banging displays of ownership and the occasional sword-fight of beaks, but on a rare occasion we have had some real knock down drag out melee style battles. Most recently they were fighting over a small toy while Patrick was working from home, the yelling was so loud he came out of his office to check on them and witnessed Toby tackle Kelly at the top of the cage, they both fell to the bottom and proceeded to roll around on the floor looking like something out of a cartoon.  He broke it up by speaking sharply to them and also removed the toy.

It also doesn’t help that Kelly has been in breeding condition, which Toby somehow manages to never go fully into, thank goodness.  I have to be so careful about not giving them any toy or hut that is nest-like or can easily be perched on and defended.

I made precisely that mistake with this Sea Grass Hut, which was on a play gym, so I rationalized that limiting their time with it would keep it from becoming an embattled object.  For a while they would play on it and hang out very companionably, looking every bit like a little girl gang.

parakeet girl gang

Of course as Kelly got further into nest mode the sea grass hut became “hers” and she began defending it viciously.  The last incident she bit Toby’s toe hard and I was concerned she had caused a serious injury, Toby immediately retreated to the cage and wouldn’t put weight on that foot.  There was no visible damage and after a short while Toby was totally back to normal. The sea grass hut was immediately removed and no other item has created quite that much ire.

A lot of people, many of them parakeet experts who I respect, would say that Toby and Kelly should never be housed together, and that the aggression will inevitably escalate until one of them becomes a murderer.

I do have a Small Vision Bird Cage as well as our original Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage that they could be separated into if the need arose, but the times they are so sweet to one another makes me want to keep them together. Also I know they like sleeping in the same cage (once finished with their perch dominance routine) and I believe it makes them feel safer. As much as they squabble when they are “at home” they really do enjoy each other’s company.  I have to accept that I’m perpetuating a potentially dangerous situation, and I need to be able to live with my decisions if something does go drastically wrong someday.

Weighing the options I think the risk is worth the reward, knowing how unsettled Toby was when she lived alone and how much Kelly has enhanced Toby’s ability to try new things and explore. In a perfect world I would get them each a mature male boyfriend and expand the flock, but with my husband’s allergies there’s no way he could handle the 100% increase in feathers!

parakeet girl fight
we fight!
parakeet girls kissing
but we also love!

Toby gets her way for one night – parakeet molting is tough business

We’ve been going through our spring molt here, Kelly went first and Toby shortly after. Initially, Kelly was taking it pretty well, but she had a weekend where basically all systems shut down and she went into a serious rest mode.

She was very listless and puffy and we were even having a hard time convincing her to eat millet. She’s usually very active, but spent a couple of hours sitting on my shoulder. Even though Patrick kept reminding me that this happens every time, I was thisclose to calling the vet.

To help her out with possible tummy trouble we dosed their drinking water with Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, which is part of our parakeet first aid kit. We also had their Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W on for the entire day so she could soak up the full spectrum lighting and make sure she was able to synthesize her vitamin D. As a side note: even if your birds are near a nice big window you still need to provide full spectrum lighting, as window glass blocks out the rays that your budgies need most.

We also kept things relaxed and quiet around the house and went out for a while to give her time to rest fully in a nice calm environment, and also so she wouldn’t feel obligated to try and come out to be with us and wear herself out.

For Toby, on the other hand, this was the best day of her life; she played on the play gym and dominated every toy and perch, all of the resources were hers!

But the best part was that Kelly, who is usually very standoffish about physical contact, didn’t have the will to resist Toby’s snuggling advances.  When bed time came around, Toby plopped herself right up against Kelly and proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes preening every single inch of her, while Kelly alternately tolerated it or tried to weakly fight off the grooming!

Toby was SO efficient that the next morning when Kelly sat on my shoulder and started preening a shower of black dots came off of her like dandruff.  I’m not ashamed to say that we immediately freaked out, put some on a white sheet of paper and grabbed a magnifying glass, thinking they were bugs!  It turns out that Toby released every single one of Kelly’s pin feathers and what was raining off of Kelly were the keratin sheathes.

Kelly started to rally shortly after but did stay quiet for a couple more days, at least once she was eating and pooping regularly I felt like we were safe to just keep watch over her and monitor at home.  Now of course she’s back to her regularly scheduled program of hand-biting and making Toby keep her distance!

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Kelly says molting is NO FUN!

The time Toby proved her intelligence by biting my face

If I was going to recommend a single item of clothing to every budgie owner it would be a hooded pullover sweatshirt (Hanes ComfortBlend EcoSmart Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt Ash LARGE). Put one of these on around a budgie and suddenly you are a parkour dreamland, your pockets, the folds of the sleeves, the hood itself, all of these are fodder for exploration, climbing and swinging!

But the best part of all, without a doubt, are the drawstrings of your sweatshirt. They must be subdued through lots of domination, and their ends can be chewed happily for hours.

Because of the delightful chewy properties of the drawstrings I usually try not to wear sweatshirts that have aglets on the ends. I don’t want the parakeets accidentally eating any plastic or chewing on metal that could be unsafe.

All of my usual sweatshirts were in the wash so I threw on my Lakeshore Winery  hoodie, and Toby immediately honed in on those plastic aglets! She was chewing away happily so I pulled the drawstrings away from her and tucked them into the front of the sweatshirt, whereupon she promptly bit my face and flew off in a very exasperated fashion.

I was really impressed that she made that connection, not just that the fun item had disappeared, but that I had taken it away and she was mad at me, and also understood that my hands were a part of me. She didn’t bite hard, mind you, just a nip to show that she did not appreciate having her toy taken away.

To make an even greater show of her intelligence, the following day I was wearing the same sweatshirt with the drawstrings tucked in – she landed on my front, climbed up to my neck and pulled them back out!

I have a tendency to think of Toby as a sweetie who’s fearful but eager to please, so it’s a good reminder to me that she’s always thinking and plotting. It also makes me realize that I need to up my game on providing enrichments for these two and make sure they have enough of an outlet for their smart little parrot heads 🙂

Embarrassing vignette – the time we almost killed a parakeet on her first day home

This story actually begins more than a year before we almost killed Kelly. Back in the day I was pretty chill about mice in the house. We would get the humane traps(Grandpa Gus’s Mouse Trap Tubes – Live Catch & Release Humane Mice Tunnels – 4 Pk), catch mice and throw them in the back yard. I used to have a weird old open-front shed in my backyard and I put some socks, catalogs and tortilla chips in there, and I would throw the mice in the shed.  One year we chucked about 13 mice out, or possibly the same mouse 13 times…

Anyway, this détente with the mice ended shortly before we got Toby. We were making tea one evening, I opened the dishwasher, and there was a living mouse among the glassware in the top shelf, frozen in terror. That was just too great an infraction to suffer, so, the dishwasher was replaced and the mice were no longer gently captured and tossed out into the yard. I bought a bunch of snap traps (Mouse Traps (Pack of 12) sorry) and deployed them. We got the dishwasher mouse in the dishwasher before replacing the dishwasher and set another couple of snap traps, one on each side of the refrigerator in the narrow alleyway between fridge and cabinet (this is the gun in act 1, by the way).

We snapped a few more mice and the siege seemed to be over, but I left the traps, because of Toby. If you google mice and parakeets you’ll find loads of stories about rodents trying to eat bird food, scaring parakeets at night, and in worst case scenarios, biting & killing budgies or eating their feet (!).  Just thinking about rodents attacking my baby budgie in the middle of the night was enough to keep me laying down snap traps indefinitely.

Not only had Toby never had her wings clipped, but she also came with a crazy aversion to going near the floor.  You can lure her down there with some Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count or toys, but mostly she’s like a kid playing the floor is lava game. So – I’m probably projecting the ending of this story at this point, but the thing is, we forgot about the traps, no one ever went near them and if we noticed them, it was with relief that Toby was protected.

Fast forward 8 months, Kelly came home, having recently had her wings clipped for the first time.  She spent the afternoon chilling out in her cage and the next day I was out of town. I felt horrible missing her first whole day, but my mom and I had a day trip to the city planned that we had been looking forward to for months, and we had purchased non-refundable transportation tickets etc. Also, I tend to be the nervous nell between Patrick and I, so I think we both felt like it might be better if I wasn’t there fretting about everyone’s well-being.

That night when I got home, Patrick told me the following story, he let Kelly out of her cage to spend some time with her, and Kelly, not realizing she couldn’t fly (she never did accept that) launched herself into the air, hit the broadside of the refrigerator and slid down to the floor!  Patrick dashed over and shoved the snap trap away JUST as Kelly was about to investigate the peanut butter lure, ie: get her noggin snapped.

I can’t even imagine the crushing guilt we would have felt if we killed our new budgie on her first day home. As it was we both felt absolutely horrible, and I think Patrick probably lost a few years of his life in that instant. I have to give him a lot of credit for remembering immediately the danger lurking in that narrow space.

So – my stomach still turns a bit when I think about mice eating our parakeet’s feet, but we went back to a humane trap. Kelly never made that exact flight pattern again – she only needed to hit the fridge one time before learning that it was not, in fact, a portal to another dimension – but she certainly hit practically every surface in the house over the next several months.  She would fly off somewhere and wander around until I found her and brought her home.

I guess the lesson here, beyond the obvious don’t have snap traps or other kill traps for small animals around your budgies, is that every parakeet is different. Ultimately we felt like parents who have their first baby and it’s an angel who never gets into anything, and then the second kid comes along and is a total whirlwind demon baby.

Still, I’m really glad we didn’t murder Kelly on her first day home, and I hope that the next time you endanger or scare your babies, which happens to all of us, you think of me and my mouse traps and feel a little bit better knowing we’re all out there making mistakes.

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Interviewing a professional pet sitter for parakeets

I had this great idea a while back that Patrick and I should take a family vacation with my mom and stepdad. We decided on a destination and dates, and then my mom and I started worrying immediately about who would care for our pets. As you know from prior vacation-related posts on the blog, my mom has taken care of the budgies when we travel, and she does an amazing job of looking after them and letting them have free time outside of their cage. But, I had to go into this knowing that a professional service would not spend upwards of an hour at my house every day! This may be offensive to other pet owners, but I felt that finding a pet sitter for parakeets would be even more challenging than dogs or cats.

We started researching pet sitters and found someone through word-of-mouth that came highly recommended – and even better, I discovered she is a bird owner herself with loads of avian experience. The only problem was that she wasn’t responsive to email and her voicemail was full. Both my mom and I chatted with her separately and she sounded perfect on the phone, but we couldn’t get to the point of scheduling consults and it was getting frustrating and a little worrisome. I have a feeling this may be one of those situations where the pro has the best intentions, but probably has a full slate of clients and can’t take anything else on, whether she wants to admit it or not.

So, back to the googling board, I found the CAPPs website and a link to a sitter who looked like she might cover my area. I sent a message and heard back within a few hours, which made feel comfortable. We were able to work out a time for her to come over very easily and within a couple of days had the consult.

Of course I’ve never interviewed a professional pet sitter before, but she made it very easy and had her own intake sheet with all of the questions listed that she needs to do her job. These ranged from the details of feeding and watering, to whether we have a security system and if she would be responsible for taking out garbage or bringing in mail. She also provided me with a vet release to sign as well as a contract detailing her liability and what would happen in a variety of situations, like potential animal bites etc. She counter-signed the documents as well and left me with copies for my records.

My favorite clause is that if something goes wrong and she has to get a locksmith to open my house I will be responsible for the cost of the locksmith – I love knowing that no matter what happens she’s going to get in there and take care of my babies!

She has over 200 clients that are mostly vacation (versus day-to-day dog walking) and more than 500 individual animals. She also has a staff of 4 and was prepared to talk about her scheduling system, how billing is handled, and how credit card information and personal details are secured.

I don’t think she is completely familiar with budgies, but she has cared for parrots before, I was delighted that she seemed interested in watching them and asking questions about their behavior, particularly once she realized they were interested in watching her too!

We talked about whether or not they should come out of their cage, because at present they are not trained to go back in at our command. The sitter usually would stay in a 30 minute block of time ($20 per session) and there is no way to guarantee the parakeets would go back home in that time frame, especially if they’ve been stuck at home for a few days! So – she’s going to see how it goes, and if she’s got a few blocks of time she will let them out and charge me the additional after the fact, which I’m totally fine with. We let her know that she can also use millet to lure them back home if needed!

Overall she seemed extremely organized, responsible, and very professional; but at the same time warm and friendly. I can’t imagine a better mix of traits for someone you entrust with the lives of your pets. We still have a ways to go before vacationing, but I feel very relieved to have this sorted out, not that I won’t worry about them every day anyway, but at least I feel secure that they will be in very good hands.

Buying a tablecloth for your budgie

As I’ve mentioned, Kelly recently got over her fear of everything and is now quite a handful, more precisely, a handful of constantly chewing beak.  Which is totally normal, parrots are machines built for destruction, and the only saving grace of a budgie is its small size and (relatively) weak beak.  If Kelly was an African Gray or a Macaw I would probably have no wood furniture or door frames left at this point.

Since she can’t take it to that extent, Kelly limits herself to chewing on approved toys for the most part, but the exception is the edge of our dining room table.  Toby went through a brief table-mania last year, but was easily dissuaded from the pursuit.  Kelly, not so much, she is determined to turn that thing into matchsticks one chomp at a time.

I can’t even be mad at her for it, seriously, it’s what she’s meant to do, so it’s on me to find a workaround and shooing her away 500 times a day isn’t cutting it.  Also, I don’t know what varnish or veneer is on the table, and I don’t want her to slowly poison herself chewing on the wood.

My first idea was to take a long sheet of paper towels and drape it over the edge in question, weighting it with a couple of toys. This worked well, both Kelly and Toby enjoyed climbing up and down the hanging paper towel and it distracted from the table itself.  But, I’m not feeling that style of home décor, so a more permanent solution was needed.

I decided to buy a tablecloth, I’m pretty sure this is the first tablecloth I have ever purchased.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of money, but I was looking for something that would be visually appealing to both the parakeets and the humans, and seemed durable.

We ended up with the ColorBird Solid Cotton Linen Tablecloth Waterproof Macrame Lace Table Cover for Kitchen Dinning Tabletop Decoration (Rectangle/Oblong, 55″*102″, Linen) in sage green, which is a color that Toby likes. Taking it out of the box I noticed immediately that the fabric is nice and tightly woven and has a sheen to it, which has been great, it’s really easy to just wipe poops off of it, and small amounts of liquid don’t sink through. Also because of the tight weave it will take the budgies a while to destroy. It can be machine washed and line dried and that may be easier to manage than it currently is wiping down the table all the time.

I also like the lace edging. I know I’ll have to make sure they don’t eat it, but they will enjoy ripping it apart. It seems sort of odd to buy a nice item knowing that it’s basically going to be treated as disposable, but it will certainly be cheaper to replace than a whole table. Also, if they only attack one side I can rotate the tablecloth a few times for maximum use.

Hopefully this will be a good save for the table, I’m sure in a few weeks Kelly will figure out she can climb down and underneath and I’ll have a whole new set of issues.  Coming soon, presumably, a post about getting rid of our dining room table and turning the entire house into an aviary 🙂

Which sexes of budgies get along best

If I was starting fresh with zero parakeets right now, choosing which sex to get would be very easy. I would get two males, no question. A pair of males will almost always get along well, and I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone laying eggs and accompanying issues like becoming egg bound.

A male/female pairing might work, but the female could end up bullying the male and being overly territorial, and I really don’t want to breed parakeets. So, if they mated and began laying I would have to do stuff like steal eggs, boil them and return them to the cage so that they could have the experience of taking care of the eggs, without actually having baby parakeets.  I feel uncomfortable just thinking about doing that.  I know there’s no guarantee that would actually happen, and by not providing a nesting box and keeping daylight hours limited I could possibly avoid laying, but it’s just things I do not want to deal with as a parront.

Female/female is what we have now, and it’s working out pretty well.  Despite the fact that many people will tell you two females is impossible and they will kill each other, Toby and Kelly hang out together all day, preen each other, flock call when they are separated and generally seem to enjoy each other’s company.

But, they are both territorial, so from dawn till dusk (or later!) we do have intermittent squabbles that are usually about food bowls or toys. The key to keeping these relatively civil is to have a big enough cage for everyone to have their sense of space, and also to duplicate the important stuff. We have two food dishes, two waters and two perches for sleeping at the top of the cage.  They’ve been living together for over 6 months now and no one has ever drawn blood, so I consider that a success.

So – two female budgies can live together in my experience, which is, of course, limited to these two budgies.  We did also discuss this with the Rensselaer Bird Center staff when we took Kelly home, and they stated that in all their many years of breeding and housing budgies, two females had only ever had to be separated one time.  Like many of these issues, I’m sure it comes down to the individual bird, but you can sway it towards the positive by providing optimal living conditions.

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