A letter to Toby on her second Gotcha Day

Dear Toby,

Oh how things have changed since you came along! I’ve loved birds since I was a little girl, but I never thought I’d be able to have one of my own. I was at a bit of a low point when we got you, struggling with some personal issues and I can’t say how much I needed a lift.

As unbearably cheesy as it sounds, I was lifted on your wings. Taming you gave me a whole new purpose and a reason to look forward to coming home at the end of a work day. Moreover, thinking about you made me happy any time of day. You were a unifying force of positivity for my husband and me as we worked together to make sure that you were happy, safe and comfortable. We discovered that we both loved planning your environment for maximum enrichment and spending time training you and cajoling you into being part of our flock.

I remember how scared you were when you first came home, and the utter joy I felt when you started to open up and relax. Discovering your sense of humor and your sass came shortly after, but also the realization that you felt very connected to us, and wouldn’t go anywhere that your flock didn’t want to go.

Now that you’re a very grown up girl you certainly have your own sense of self and what you’ll allow, but you’re also a good listener and so eager to learn. I love that you are calming down some and starting to perch on a finger for longer times, rather than landing and flitting off to your other important business.

I’d like to say that you’re a great big sister to Kelly, but since you tried to chew off her foot and pull out her feathers I really can’t go that far! I think she’s been good for you, and taught you loads of birdy stuff that you didn’t manage to learn at PetSmart, so I hope you keep trying to love her a bit more.

Above all I want to say thank you for bringing me light and joy. I have truly enjoyed these two years together and I look forward to many more! Thank you also for forgiving your “papa” and I for all our many mistakes, I’m sure we’ll come up with more every year 🙂

Budgies and mirrors – our take on the great debate

When we first got Toby I was pretty convinced that mirrors in cages were a bad idea. There’s tons of anecdotal evidence that having a mirror in the cage greatly reduces the likelihood that your new parakeet will bond with you. This is because they think the bird in the mirror is a part of their flock, and a non-tame budgie will almost always prefer the company of his own kind. Bonding with a mirror bird can mean the budgie will spend hours a day singing to the mirror, bopping heads, and potentially even attempting to feed the mirror through regurgitation.

This kind of bond can make the budgie unmotivated to ever come out of the cage and interact with you. I mean, why would he want to if his best pal can’t come out too?  It may also make the budgie more territorial and protective of his cage, if he thinks he’s defending another bird. In some extreme cases, attachment to a mirror can result in a budgie getting stuck in a feedback loop. In that instance, since the mirror budgie never breaks the loop of action and reaction, the real budgie can interact with the mirror to the detriment of their own health; potentially resulting in dehydration and starvation. Now, that’s super extreme. I would not expect that to happen to 99% of budgies with mirrors.

But, I would anticipate that the vast majority of solo budgies’ ability to be tamed would be impacted by a mirror friend. When bringing home a new budgie I would recommend leaving mirrored toys off your shopping list.

All of those warnings aside, we did recently get a mirror for Toby and a mirror for Kelly as a bit of a trial run. I’ve been feeling increasing bad for Kelly since she and Toby split up, she’s clearly lonely in the cage and I was worried about her becoming depressed about not being able to get to Toby. Since we can’t get a new roommate for Kelly until November due to my travel schedule we talked about it and decided to try adding a mirror so she wouldn’t feel as alone. Toby got one too because that’s how we roll, like giving your kids an even number of presents on the holidays, you can’t do for one without doing for the other!

I’m pleasantly surprised by the experiment so far. Neither parakeet has gotten overly attached to their mirror bird. Kelly spends some time hanging out near hers daily singing to it, but hasn’t gotten too into interacting. Toby plays with the beads on her mirror and occasionally seems interested in what she sees, but typically gets distracted in short order and wanders off to play with something else. There’s been no impact on their readiness to come out of the cage when the doors are opened, which may be because there’s a real bird to come out and play with. Neither bird has gotten more territorial than they already were about their cage either. Although to be fair they are quite territorial anyway!

It eases my mind a bit to know that while we are at work they each have a facsimile of a pal inside the cage with them. I hope that it helps them feel secure and like they are not alone. I still do think that mirrors are not for every bird, and that some may take it much more seriously than ours. If you’ve got a tame budgie that might be a bit lonely while you’re out of the house I don’t see any harm in giving a mirror a try. I would recommend watching closely to make sure it isn’t creating a problem, and be ready to pull the mirror out at the first sign of an issue that would be detrimental either mentally or physically

Molting Toby takes a good bath – finally!

My flock and I live in upstate New York and we have been having the weirdest weather lately. Right at the end of August it got chilly and we had to turn our heat on for a week. As soon as the temperature dropped Toby and Kelly started on a pretty serious fall molt. Of course, by the time they were out of that molt it was mid-September and the temperature, insanely, was about 90 degrees! So, what else is a girl to do but start molting all over again.

Needless to say it’s been a solid couple of months now of feather-covered floors, sneezing humans, and itchy, cranky budgie ladies. I offer them a variety of baths on the regular, especially when they are molting, usually about twice a week. At least 50 percent of the time they completely ignore the bath, and even if they do give it notice sometimes it’s just to run through the water.  Kelly will still only take a good soak if I stand right next to her and give her constant encouragement!

Regardless of their level of interest I just keep plugging away, offering the baths and then dumping them out. Every weekend we buy a bunch of carrots with the tops still on, or some other type of green that’s good for hanging and make a hanging bath. Well, it’s a good thing we like to eat carrots because lately even that has been a total waste!

Finally Toby must have reached the depths of her molting despair and decided that a bath would be just the thing. We constructed the hanging bath and she immediately jumped on it and got the most thorough soaking she has had in months. I tried to get some good pictures but it’s tough when she’s in constant motion and puffed up like a weird broken birdy.

So, what’s the point of the post then? I guess it’s just that you have to keep trying. Even when something stops working, like the hanging bath that used to be so reliable for us. Don’t give up, keep offering them the healthy food options and the things they need, and eventually they will take you up on it. I know sometimes it might seem like a waste of your time and resources to have what you give them rejected over and over, but it matters that you do it, so don’t lose heart!

Dealing with your parakeet’s flock favorites

In my experience parakeets can be pretty fickle in all matters. One day they love spinach, the next day they won’t touch it…same deal with certain toys, perches and even favorite hangouts. It also extends to flock favorites that are humans! It can be a pretty harsh feeling when the parakeet that was your best friend one day favors someone else the next and Toby’s been playing some games with my heart lately!

Ever since Patrick clipped her nails (which she HATED) she has been a little mad at me and absolutely obsessed with him. It makes zero sense, I had nothing to do with the clipping and yet somehow earned all the blame. At any rate, if he and I are both available to her she wants to be on his shoulders at all times and completely eschews me, or even worse, acts like I’m trying to take him away from her and starts biting me.

She had been very interested in him for weeks to begin with and then he cut off all his hair, exposing his ears at all times, and now she’s even more in love!

As soon as she hears him stirring in the morning she starts flock calling to him loudly, and then once he’s in the same room the calling out intensifies. He has to greet her immediately, and if she can’t come out to be with him she goes a little nuts, yelling and flying around inside her cage.

He’s totally frustrated with the whole thing and considers it unwanted attention, which drives me nuts! He works from home a few days a week and the incessant yelling is not at all compatible with his work on the phone. Not only that, but when she’s out and on his shoulder she gets very excited and vocalizes super loud in his ear, which he finds really painful.

We have talked about it and would both understand the obsession a little better if we thought there was a “romantic” component, but she’s not in breeding condition and there’s no evidence that she’s seeking any kind of physical satisfaction.  Just a friendly shoulder and the companionship of an ear.

I’m trying hard to be chill and just ride this out, she’s been exclusively a fan of his for a few weeks at a time before, but this is stretching out into the month plus category of shunning!  She’s still a good girl for me, and if Patrick’s not around we can be friends, but all bets are off once he walks through the door. I suppose for now I have to take the friendship that I can get, and know that her affection will loop back around again to me at some point

Watch this (cage) space – new parakeet coming in November

I was hoping after some time apart Toby and Kelly would end up back together in a much bigger Flight Cage. That isn’t really panning out. They are much safer living separately and I think we’ve finally accepted that Toby is way too territorial to have a roommate. But, where this leaves Kelly is fairly lonely and missing Toby’s company, even if it meant her feet were going to get bitten off! Enter a new parakeet to hopefully be a new roomie for Kelly and an overall good addition to the flock.

Of course as a person who struggles with delaying gratification I would love to go out and snap up a baby boy yesterday!  Unfortunately, I have to travel quite a bit for work in the next couple of months, so November is looking like the most responsible time to get a new budgie.

We really messed up when we got Kelly by not quarantining her in a separate room from Toby.  Not only did we take a huge risk of exposing Toby to disease, but we also took away from ourselves the opportunity to spend one-on-one time boding with Kelly. As a consequence, although she likes us, she doesn’t feel the same sort of connection that Toby does. At the time it seemed much more important that Toby have company immediately, but now we feel that a proper quarantine would have helped.

When we get the new parakeet in November we are going to quarantine in the room furthest away from Toby and Kelly’s cages. I am not 100% sure whether I’m going to keep him in the Small Vision Bird Cage or the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, the usable space seems about the same to me, assuming the new kid isn’t a ground dweller!  That way we’ll have time to make sure he’s healthy, and also spend lots of time bonding and proving how awesome humans are. Side note: is it really bad that I have two parakeets but four cages?

I’m similarly unsure where we are going to get him from. I know that we want a boy, and I’m not opposed to getting a mature fellow who needs a new home. At this point I’m thinking we will explore our options and pick whoever “speaks” to us most!  We did that with Toby and it worked out really well. I’m also waffling back and forth on whether I want to get him from somewhere that he will come clipped. It didn’t work to our advantage on taming Kelly that she was clipped, but again, primarily because we squandered our chance to bond solo.

Anyhow there are some interesting days and shake-ups ahead so stay tuned!  Also, please keep your fingers crossed that this new parakeet will be able to bunk in with Kelly or Toby after quarantine, because I really don’t want to end up taking care of three separate cages!

Vultures visit my street – and remind me why cages next to windows are a bad idea

We had some excitement near our house recently, there was some nice fresh roadkill across the street and a wake of vultures showed up to have a feast and party.  Toby’s reaction provided me with a good reminder of why we don’t keep our bird cages next to windows!

Patrick first noticed the vultures on Saturday morning when one swooped low going over our house. First there was just one, but by the time they figured out how to land near the street, there were 6 vultures fighting over whatever poor animal had gotten hit by a car.

Of course as bird lovers we were fascinated! Particularly by how much like a flock of parakeets they were. Just like Toby and Kelly they were always on alert for danger, and they fought over food just like our budgies too. A few vultures were always sitting on top of a tree keeping lookout.

We kept moving from room to room trying to get the best vantage point, and my husband was snapping tons of pictures.

Since it was a Saturday morning Toby and Kelly were out and about doing there own thing, we hadn’t been paying much attention to them, and they really hadn’t paid us much mind either. Then while I was standing next to our big front window Toby came over to see what was going on, and the poor thing froze in terror as soon as she spotted the vultures.

Now mind you, these vultures were not 10-20 feet away, they were all the way across the street and down quite a bit, but she just absolutely went still as a statue frozen in place with her eyes wide wide open.

I tried soothing her with my voice and she didn’t budgie. I even tried getting her to step up by pushing my finger against her tummy and she didn’t move a muscle! I probably could have petted her wherever I wanted and in that moment staying still so the vultures didn’t see her would have remained top priority!  Of course that wouldn’t have been very kind, and instead I immediately closed the curtains and removed, in her mind, the threat of the vultures coming to get her.

As soon as the curtains were shut she was able to move again and went back to her home cage, shaking off the fright quickly.

It made me so glad that our bird cages aren’t next to that big window or any windows with a direct view of the outside world. Even though you might think it’s fun for your parakeets to watch the world go by, and it probably is 90% of the time, the other 10% is full of stuff going by that’s going to scare them. Like vultures, other predators, or even “silly” stuff like a hard wind blowing leaves around.

We humans all know that the flock is safe at home behind glass, but Toby’s reaction to those vultures really drove home for me that the parakeets don’t have that on board assumption of safety, so it’s important that we help them feel safe by using good judgement in cage placement.

 

Raw cauliflower – Could it be nature’s most perfect shredding toy?

I always try to serve the parakeet a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, but they do tend to eat the same things we are eating. For example, if we have a pepper they get the pepper head and seeds. Apparently we don’t eat a lot of cauliflower, because I bought a head  this week and gave raw cauliflower to the parakeets for the first time, and they were in love!

The hope when trying a new vegetable is always that they will give it a nibble and maybe be more likely to try it the next time around. They were a little wary of the cauliflower at first, I gave them a few big florets and also chopped some up in small bits. Very rapidly they discovered that not only was it tasty, but it was an amazing shred experience. They really enjoyed hooking their beaks into the crevices in the cauliflower and then tugging until they broke pieces off.

They would do this to each floret until it was almost smooth with nothing else to hook into. I know they mostly threw the cauliflower around but I’m sure they couldn’t have avoided eating some of it as well.

I gave them more raw cauliflower a few days later to see if it was a fluke and they went crazy for it again, this time I did mostly larger florets and they had a ball shredding them. They also enjoying picking them up and pretending they were heavyweight champions of the world, throwing the florets at each other and off the top of the cage.

We did have some territorial food issues, Kelly certainly felt like she was queen of the cauliflower. That’s pretty typical and I guess a good sign that they both really loved it.

This was as insanely messy snack, which would be the only downside. Because they started throwing pieces large and small I ended up with what looked like a chunky coating of snow on the interior of Toby’s cage floor as well as the floor below, some on the walls and even under the radiators!

I think that I might try giving them a whole head someday to see what they would do with it, maybe for someone’s birthday treat.  Otherwise I think that reasonable amounts of cauliflower will definitely be in our regular rotation from now on.