Celebrating a “Gotcha Day”

Before parakeets I had never heard the term Gotcha Day, which means celebrating the day you got a pet instead of the day it was born. This is a cute alternative to celebrating a birthday when you don’t know the date your pet was born. For birds, celebrating their birthday is usually called their Hatch Day instead, or the day they came out of their egg. It’s weird, but even though we got Kelly from a local breeder I don’t know her hatch day.  I just never bothered to ask at the time, and it didn’t occur to me until much later that I should have found out so we could celebrate her hatch day properly!

We are fast approaching Kelly’s first Gotcha Day and I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past year of her life.

When Patrick first picked out Kelly at the RBC she was a couple of weeks older than the rest of her clutch and seemed so calm and composed in comparison to all the little half-feathered babies. We knew we wanted a confident parakeet who didn’t seem afraid of the world the way Toby was, so Kelly looked like a natural fit. We hoped she was a boy but felt that even if she was a girl things would work out.

Taking her home was a way different experience than bringing home Toby, who came home in a carboard box. Kelly was riding in style in her Travel Carrier and was curious about everything she saw outside the car window. We were shocked at how fearless she was and how interested in the world.

Once she was home she was definitely intimidated by her new surroundings and spent her entire first day motionless on a single perch, but after that she quickly adapted and began doing crazy baby acrobatics in her cage and demanding to be let out very frequently.

Which was our first big challenge, not having had a clipped parakeet before we had no idea how much work it would be to keep her safe and help her not be so frustrated when she saw Toby flying every day and couldn’t stay with her.

As Kelly matured we realized we had a biting budgie on our hands (literally!).  And while we were dealing with her aggressive tendencies we also realized that having a much more adventurous budgie meant making more modifications to the house. So far we’ve protected our dining room table successfully and had to swap around all of our artwork after she became obsessed with chewing wood frames.

Coming up I think we’re going to have to change out a ceiling lamp she’s recently taken a shine to, and of course we are still working on the biting. It’s like parents who have the first kid and it’s an angel who stays in one place and is very sweet, and then have a second kid who’s into everything and comes as a total surprise!

But, as I always add, there are so many things to love about Kelly that it really outweighs the negatives. Even if it causes me anxiety, I love her adventurous spirit and that she encourages Toby to try new things. I like how great she is at being a parakeet, she keeps her nails and beak in great shape all on her own and even helps me keep the cage clean by picking poops off the bars. She’s a good eater who’s always willing to try something new, and she’s extremely healthy.  As much as she likes biting us, she also does enjoy being part of the family. She’s always interested in what we’re doing and wants to be with us, probably more than Toby, who is a bit of a home body.

So – a very happy Gotcha Day to Kelly, I’m so glad that she came home with us!

Planning for the parakeets to take a vacation

Patrick and I realized recently that our entire central air system has to be replaced. Patrick went up in the attic one day to try and clean out the air handler, and when he realized it was full of mold (!!!!) the decision was made for us.  Especially with the parakeets and the increasingly hot summer weather here, we feel like we have to have the AC. The only issue is, the job takes three days, and the budgies most definitely have to decamp for the length of the job. I hadn’t ever thought about how stressful moving parakeets would be, but I’m certainly feeling it now.

Originally I wasn’t even thinking along the lines of having to move them at all, but we are going to have the ductwork and the vents shifted so the whole system will be more efficient, and that means cutting new holes in the ceiling, and not just generating a ton of dust, but also probably contaminating our main floor air with the ceiling air, which is highly suspect!  Even without the air issues, there will be a lot of activity and noise in every area of the house, and keeping them in a state of high alert and fear for three days just seems cruel.

I am crazy lucky that there wasn’t even a question of where they would go. While the sales rep was still talking to us about our various options I was speedily texting my mom to make sure the budgies could have her guest room for a short stay!  She has cats, but they can easily be shut out of that room, and I LOVE that she doesn’t burn candles or use any plug in fragrance or incense etc., which would be a huge deal breaker for budgie visitors.

Of course since she said yes I’ve been panicking about being separated from them, which is crazy because I travel for work and we’ve vacationed before and my mom has taken care of them in our home!

All sorts of crazy thoughts about what if they have a night fright and she doesn’t wake up, or what if the cats break in and knock over their cage?  I could “what if” myself into a padded cell on this one, and I’m sure all the while the parakeets would be totally fine and probably enjoy the change of scenery.

My mom even offered to let me stay over and sleep in the room with them, but since they go to bed at 7pm I think I’ll be fine staying at home!

So, in the coming weeks I will be away 2 nights for work, then the parakeets will be away 3 for the AC, then Patrick and I will go for 5 nights on vacation, and we’re using the pet sitter for the first time. After all that I’ll be ready to camp out near their cage and never leave home again or let them go anywhere!

As much as I wish I could keep them with me the whole time, I am so grateful that they have somewhere to go that’s safe and clean and where they will be cared for diligently and interacted with as much as they are at home, if not more.

Biting budgies – Kelly’s progress with hand aggression

This past winter Kelly’s juvenile hand biting, which initially seemed like very normal parakeet exploratory biting, turned into major hand aggression.  She was simultaneously going through her “teenage” phase, entering breeding condition for the first time, AND having a really heavy molt. We struggled with her very sharp and painful biting which we were almost completely unable to dissuade her from and which caused several bruises and even broken skin!

Fortunately I think we are coming out of the woods, after a final sharp escalation.

Shortly after I wrote the initial post in January, Kelly got much worse. She no longer limited her aggression to hands but would unpredictably bite any piece of you she could grab.

It was becoming difficult to trust her enough to interact with her at all, but at the same time we could tell she wanted to be with us, and would get more upset if we ignored her.

This culminated in a moment where Patrick lost his patience and almost his nose!  He had Kelly out on his hands and was working with her and the clicker, trying to increase the time between landing on his hand and biting it. She was feeling particularly aggressive that day and bit him, latching on very hard.

Patrick made the HUGE mistake of putting his face right up to her and sternly saying “NO”, whereupon she promptly bit his nose, hard enough to draw blood. Patrick put her down immediately and went to the bathroom. I think in that moment it was probably the best way to handle it, he didn’t give her the gratification of a reaction, but he did stop working with her, which may have been her intent in the first place.  Sometimes you just have to do the best you can in these situations.  He cleaned it off a bit and I asked for his permission to take a picture (in case he forgets when he sees this post – he said YES!).

Once he calmed down we talked about what happened and agreed that there was no way to blame Kelly for the nose bite. Patrick reacted in an aggressive way towards Kelly and it was reasonable to expect her to react in kind.

After that we decided to go all the way back to the beginning and treat Kelly like we would treat a new feral parakeet. We limited her interaction with hands and started by placing one hand at a time facing her through the cage bars. She would react aggressively every time by banging her beak against the bars, nodding her head very rapidly and trying to reach through the bars to bite the hand. We would keep the hand still and not move at all until she stopped of acting aggressively and went back to her usual routine.  Doing this a few times a day made a huge difference, in short order we saw a drastic reduction in the amount of time she would spend acting aggressively when presented with a hand.

I also started putting my hand in the cage with millet, the same way I would with an un-tamed parakeet and let both budgies eat millet while perched on my finger. As soon as Kelly started biting I would take away my hand and the millet.

While working on her in-cage we continued to really back off on pushing her outside the cage. We continued to allow her to hang out on us and explore our pockets and t-shirts, but tried to keep our hands out of it completely.

After a few weeks of these tactics combined we have seen a huge improvement.  I know that some of it is because she’s coming out of breeding condition and made it through her uncomfortable molt, but I think the big driving force was finally getting her adjusted to seeing our hands as non-threatening.

Recently she’s been stepping up with minimal biting that’s delivered much more gently.  She’s also stood on my hands a couple of times without biting at all, while I basically held my breath waiting to see what would happen!

She doesn’t see our hands as friendly birds the way that Toby seems to, but I think we are finally over the hump of having her accept that she can’t get rid of our hands, and they are not a threat, and sometimes quite helpful, if not desirable playmates.

(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!