A letter to Kelly on her second Gotcha Day

I cannot believe it has been two years since Kelly came home with us. It simultaneously feels like no time at all and forever. Celebrating a budgie gotcha day is a good time to pause and reflect on what your little friend has brought to your life. I wrote a letter to Toby on her second gotcha day and thought I would continue the tradition with Kelly. Given all the time I’ve spent writing about Kelly’s penchant for biting everything in sight (especially humans) you might think this post would take a turn for the negative. But, there’s much to admire about this little lady too!

the second time we saw KellyThis picture is from the second time I ever saw Kelly, when she was still a baby being weaned at the Rensselaer Bird Center. How could this little baby not steal your heart?

What I most admire and appreciate about Kelly is her sense of adventure. She’s the first one to expand a territory, discover something new, and show Toby and Kevin that there’s nothing to be scared about. This enhances the other budgies’ lives immeasurably. Even if there are prices to pay for having a bold spirit in your flock (like chewed up tables and painting frames), it’s totally worth it to have a fearless flock leader.

Kelly's recent fascination with the microwaveIf I’m being honest, it also keeps me on my toes in a way that I enjoy. Kelly is engaged with the house and the world around her in a way that Toby and Kevin aren’t.  They are perfectly content to stay on their loops (little Westworld reference there), but Kelly wants more from life.

I also love how this engagement applies to the human members of the flock too. Even when all she wants to do is test our skin strength, Kelly is the budgie who is most reliably interested in being with her people. Sure, most of the time it devolves into an attempted mole removal, but when you walk up to Kelly’s cage she is super excited to see you and wants to hop on your shoulder and be part of your action.

Can I pierce this ear for you ma'am?In her calmer moments she does also love preening hair and eyebrows and chilling out. Kelly is a total mama’s girl, nothing wrong with that! She will pal around with Patrick if I’m not home, but I’m the clear winner of favorites at present, which I would never turn down.

Lastly, she is a special beauty. I mean it is hard to look at her precious angel face, even while she’s chewing up the grocery list, and not want to just coo endearments at her. I have to assume there’s some kind of intentional delicate balance at work here, like, I can get away with “this much” absolute evil as long as I look like an angel that flitted down to earth.

Gorgeous angel budgieA very happy second gotcha day to Kelly. Thank you for keeping me on my toes and biting your way into my heart!

Taming Kevin – two steps forward and one back

From the start, Kevin has been a hard sell as far as human companionship is concerned. Once he was introduced to Toby and Kelly we humans hung back for a bit. It seemed more important that he get along well with the budgies and find his sweet spot in the bird flock, so taming our male budgie was put on the back burner.

Kevin has done so well fitting in with our girl budgies. It took some time for them to stop trying to bite his head, but now he’s got this great vibe going. I’m not sure how he negotiated it, but they both seem to respect him without requiring much violence at all. It’s rare to see him fight with anyone, but he somehow manages to get his way. And he’s so happy most of the time! He sings all day and tries to feeds the girls, even though they are not having it.

He has intense conversations with inanimate objects, sings along to the radio and tv (his favorite show is Intervention), loves taking baths and trying new foods. Now that he’s been through a big molt he has almost all his flight feathers back and he is definitely the fastest flyer of all three. Sometimes he even has to take extra loops to slow down before landing. Kevin is basically the perfect pet parakeet, except he thinks that his human family is not to be trusted!

Patrick tried working with Kevin pretty intensely when he was in quarantine to no avail. I had hoped that once Kevin saw that Toby and Kelly basically treat me like a human play gym he would loosen up a little bit. And he has, but it is taking months.

Kevin will step up when asked, and then tends to look for his first chance to escape. We’ll go on for weeks of me asking him to step up a few times a day and then all of a sudden he’ll land on my shoulder, or randomly decide to beak my nose or glasses. I, of course, get excited thinking we’ve made a break through, and then he goes back to alternately ignoring me or acting like I’m very suspicious!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled he’s happy, and I’m sure I should be even more thrilled to have such a polite and shy young man, as a counter point to my crazy, brash girls. But, I do look forward to building a bond with Kevin and showing him how cool his human flock can be.

I’m grateful that these little guys have a nice long life span; I should have a lot of years to make friends. Lately I’ve been working with him much more and using my old standby Millet. It’s a bit square one as far as taming goes, but hey, whatever works! I hope that continuing to have him associate me with the possibility of treats will eventually unlock a bit more trust.

I am constantly counseling patience when budgie owners express frustration with their standoffish birds. It’s hard to take my own advice, but I’m confident that if I keep on the steady treat-giving path we’ll get there!

How do you not want to be friends with this guy?

The budgies have their own room – finally!

Quite a while ago I started thinking seriously about moving the budgies into their own room. I did some crowd-sourcing and readers were split on whether it was a great idea or would be a total disaster. I got hung up and probably too concerned about the outcome, considering it wouldn’t have to be a permanent situation! Toby’s continuing obsession with her “papa” pushed the issue and we finally decided that we all needed a bit of space. At long last the budgies have had their own room for several weeks now.

In their new room, Toby, Kelly and Kevin have their cages, and they also have a fun play zone with the Java tree and a hanging Boing.

after waffling about it for ages the budgies have their own room!java tree in the budgies new room

Hanging boing in the budgies new roomThey really enjoy all of the added play space. I’m working on a way to get them better window access, but we’re not all the way there yet.

I was worried that this would keep them separate from the humans and they would be isolated, but in practice it’s expanded their territory, which is awesome!  After a few days they were very comfortable flying back and forth from their room to their play area with Playstand where the cages used to be in the dining room.

playstand where the cages used to beThey will spend literally all day chilling out on the Playstand, and at their window perches in the kitchen and living room. I keep the food cups full and it’s convenient having the table right there to put fruits and vegetables out and water so they don’t get thirsty.

So, the budgies are definitely not isolated and in fact they get even more time out of their cages then they used to. Having their cage space separate from the play zone made for an unexpected expansion of “neutral territory” so there’s been a reduction in knock down drag-out fights between the girls. We are still struggling with Toby being unable to leave Patrick alone and she will defend him like he’s her property, but we are now well into springtime so I am sure hormones are a factor.

As I had hoped, they are getting a lot better sleep now too. We are able to put them to bed between 6:30pm and 7pm and since they are farther away from the kitchen and living room I don’t have to worry as much about keeping them up cooking or watching television. It’s also nice that on the rare occasion we burn something in the toaster over I don’t have to fret about smoke inhalation.

Patrick’s allergies have been easier to manage since the move, but I do have to admit that I feel like I’ve got a lot more to clean up after, since they have increased their territory and mess zone. Toby has had one night terror since the move and I was able to hear it and respond really quickly, so that’s not much different either.

So far so good! The positives of much better sleep for the budgies and being able to make an ice cream sundae after 7:30pm for the humans are worth the increased cleaning for sure! Sometimes it does feel like it’s the budgies’ house and we are just living in it, but I suppose that was inevitable once they outnumbered the humans.

My budgies make me proud with some very responsible behavior

My husband had his tonsils out last Tuesday. Tonsillectomy is pretty regularly done on little kids, who, I presume, heal more quickly or otherwise just take it better. Anyway, leading up to the surgery everyone we told was basically like “this is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever experienced in your life”. Or would tell us an awesome horror story about rupturing or death. As we came up on the surgery date I worried about Patrick having a horrible recovery, but also increasingly about how the whole budgies with sick humans thing would pan out.

With the exception of Kevin, who’s still quite shy with us, the rest of the flock can be extremely in your face. Toby especially with Patrick, and particularly in springtime! I knew that if they bothered Patrick while he was recovering they would be stuck in their cages, but I hate doing that. Since I was working from home the days after his surgery it seemed particularly unfair to keep them cooped up all day.

The afternoon we got home from his procedure we installed Patrick on the reclining couch and I decided to try letting the budgies out. Honestly I was feeling a bit scared and stressed, and wanted some cheering up and company.

Before I let them out I asked them all to calm down and I gave them a talking to. This will sound a bit silly, but making eye contact with all of them I said, “Your papa doesn’t feel good, and I need you to leave him alone. Don’t look at him, don’t jump on his head and don’t scream in his ears, go it?” I repeated the messaging a few times and…

They have left Patrick completely alone. Toby has landed on his head twice in the last several days and has not screamed in his ears at all. I’ve given them the same talk every day before letting them out.

Now, am I sitting here trying to tell you that my parakeets understand English?  No, definitely not.

I think it’s a combination of things. One is that it’s extremely unusual for me to make them settle down before they get out of their cages, so they may have been tipped off immediately that something was different. Also, I call my husband Papa to them all the time, and since budgies do have a concept of naming they may actually connect the dots on “papa” being a person.

More than that though, I think it’s down to their sensitivity to what’s going on with their flock, which includes humans. I think it could also be related to their super awesome sight, which may give them an enhanced ability to see that Patrick is in pain.

No matter how they managed to behave so responsibly, I appreciate it beyond words. Their company has been such a major source of comfort to me while Patrick has been recovering that I would have been much worse off it they ended up getting grounded!

Using AviCalm for an aggressive budgie

I should have known from the moment we laid eyes on Kelly that she was not going to be a warm and gentle soul. She was the first to hatch out of her clutch and, when we first met her, stood looking at her younger siblings with a sort of detached haughtiness that was certainly a sign of things to come. But, Patrick was drawn to her immediately so I bit my tongue and we chose her for our flock.

As a juvenile budgie, Kelly kept her rage under wraps, she had been clipped and seemed to understand that she needed her human flock for mobility assistance. We had fun building her ramps and bridges, but Kelly was more interested in taking off and seeing how far she could go before thumping to the floor.

Once she molted her way into flight and adulthood all bets were off. Even before she was fully mature she started chomping at us any chance she could get. Not really limiting her biting to territory issues, Kelly liked to preen you gently for a few moments and then start biting! Flying in the face of some common budgie wisdom, Kelly seemed to bite either for her own amusement or just inherent anger. We’ve tried all the many many tips for a biting budgie, which is pretty well documented on the blog already, and only succeeded in making her angrier.

So, it’s not a huge issue to keep our anger-inducing human selves away from Kelly and let her live her best budgie life. But where I feel bad for her is that she can’t seem to make it work socially with other budgies. I thought she and Toby had issues because they are two adult females, so we brought in Kevin and Kelly’s pretty much equally aggressive to him. He doesn’t escalate the way Toby does, thankfully, but still, no solace in the friendship of budgies.

Kelly can’t live with them because she’s got a nasty tendency to bite feet to the point of physical injury, but she doesn’t understand why she’s relegated tjo her own cage (mansion) at the end of the day. The result of that frustration was the recent mania for biting the cage bars, which we mostly managed to stop by providing an insane amount of things to chew and destroy.

TL:DR Kelly didn’t seem to be very happy, and I felt terrible for her.

Enter AviCalm. I was doing research one day about how to help an angry parrot and stumbled across this product. AviCalm is a supplement that is put in the budgie’s food or water and when ingested, helps with calming them down. AviCalm can be used on screamers, feather pickers, chewers and aggressive birds in general.

There are dosing suggestions by size on the packaging; we have been using half of the recommended dose for Kelly for about a month now. While she’s certainly not turned into a snuggle buddy, I have to say that AviCalm has helped immensely with her aggression.

Patrick and I are starting to be less afraid when she lands on us, I’ve even tried stepping her up a few times and while I’ve gotten bit for it, she hasn’t broken skin in weeks. Biting is still a likely eventuality, but it’s not with the same ferocity she used to dole out on a daily basis.

She even landed on my head and preened my hair yesterday without biting at all; I literally almost cried.

Beyond helping with her aggression towards us, I think that Kelly is feeling a lot better and calmer. She’s been way less fixated on Toby and has been able to relax by herself and play. Kevin loves singing and Kelly has been joining in, which is incredible.

The biggest change has been our bed time routine. We used to have to chase down Kelly and battle to get her in her cage every night. She would obsess over Toby and fight with her through the cage bars until we sometimes resorted to gently nabbing her in a pillow case.

Not anymore! Now I ring the bell for bed time and she is FIRST in her cage and goes right to the perch where she gets her reward. Even if Toby and Kevin are monkeying around, Kelly knows what the objective is, completes it immediately and even seems happy to do it! It’s amazing to not feel like we are torturing her every evening.

Reviews of AviCalm seem pretty mixed; based on my experience I heartily recommend giving it a try if you’re dealing with a difficult budgie. At the half dose we still see all of Kelly’s personality, she’s feisty, likes to explore and wants to assert her dominance, but we take the edge off of the incessant biting and obsessive behavior. Obviously I’m not a parrot psychiatrist, but I do think that Kelly is happier on the supplement.

That reminds me! Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian nor am I providing medical advice for your budgies. I am merely providing a review of my own experience with a product. YMMV. This post was not sponsored by AviCalm, but as usual the links are affiliate links.