Introducing our parakeets – when Toby met Kelly

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home. We picked her up at the Rensselaer Bird Center and bought the below travel carrier while we were there, since the carrier we had previously purchased (A and E Cage Co. Soft Sided Travel Bird Carrier) was regarded as a potential house of horrors by Toby, who would not go anywhere near it.

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lovely, non-terrifying travel carrier

The RBC was kind enough to send us home with about a pound of the food that Kelly had been eating and recommended that we offer her food and water bowls on the floor of her cage, in addition to the bowls higher up, because she was used to ground feeding. I can’t say enough about how amazing the RBC was at answering our questions and giving us tips on easing Kelly’s transition and how to handle introducing the two of them.

Off we went with our new baby. It was a totally different experience, Kelly seemed unfazed by everything, she enjoyed looking out the car windows from the safety of her carrier and was relaxed the whole way home.

Once we arrived home we put Kelly in her starter cage, we always intended that Toby and Kelly would move in together, but worried that Toby might be territorial since she was used to living alone.

Because we had seen so much of Kelly and knew her to be an adaptable and fearless gal we expected she would have an easier transition than Toby, but it was actually very similar. Kelly sat in the same spot for about 8 hours without moving and then made her way down to find her food just before bed time. Based on our experiences I recommend bringing home a new parakeet as early in the day as possible so they have time to do the “sit and stare” and then relax a little bit before going to sleep in a strange place.

Toby – who we thought might be terrified of another parakeet given her fearful nature was immediately entranced by Kelly. She stared at Kelly for hours, no signs of fear or aggression, just fascination. We did notice that for the first few days Toby really packed in the food, as though Kelly was somehow going to steal it from the other cage.

The first day we keep them both inside their individual cages, Toby had gotten her last flight time as an only child earlier that morning and we thought seeing each other was excitement enough for day one.

Our plan was to have them out separately for the next few weeks so they could get to be friends in a more controlled way. It didn’t work out; Toby would get over stimulated and bite Kelly’s feet through the cage bars constantly, no matter who was in or out. Kelly apparently either enjoyed it or didn’t have the sense to stay towards the middle of her cage and so the pattern continued. It was very upsetting for me to watch, but they were both perfectly happy to keep doing it.

In order to save Kelly’s feet from excessive chomping we only waited a couple of days before bringing them out at the same time, with the hope that Kelly could at least defend her feet or hop away a bit better. Of course that raised other concerns about Toby have a clear advantage in being able to fly, whereas Kelly had been clipped pretty thoroughly and could only try to take flight and then sort of crash land with no control over her course.

Toby was quite over-excited the first few times they were out together, she would attack Kelly and then fly away repeatedly. No one sustained any damage, but I did break up a couple of fights, even though I knew they had to sort out who was going to be the top bird, it was too hard to watch.

Over a week or so Toby calmed down and they were able to play on the play gym at the same time, or hang out on the window perch without a constant battle for dominance. The next issue was that Toby got very intent about wanting to be with Kelly all the time, and if she couldn’t spot Kelly in the other cage he would flock call to him loudly and incessantly.

Have a mentioned that Toby is a little intense? She’s earnest and sweet, but tends to be serious and utterly determined and does not let things go.  She was mad at my husband once for months due to a minor infraction.

We had let Toby and Kelly want out in each other’s cages and it went well, and then one day when my husband was home from work he decided to just rip off the Band-Aid and move them in together. It was way earlier than we anticipated, but she was right, it was time. Toby felt much better having a roommate and was able to relax, as much as it’s possible for her to! Kelly had been used to living with her siblings at the bird center so didn’t mind having company, and was glad to move up to the bigger cage.

I know that we are all happier for having added to our family. I’m sure some parakeets are perfectly fine being solo but Toby was absolutely not one of them, I know she’s enjoying life a lot more now, and we are really glad we took the chance!IMG_0854

Finding and bringing home our second parakeet

After about seven months with Toby as a solo parakeet I was pretty certain that we needed to add in a friend for her, but not everyone in my household was convinced. My husband was concerned that two parakeet should be way too much noise and upkeep.

Even though Patrick was staunchly undecided with leanings towards “absolutely not” I went ahead and started looking for hand fed parakeet breeders in our area. I knew that I didn’t want to devote another month (minimum) to taming a parakeet, and a hand fed baby would already be comfortable with humans and being handled.

After looking around on Craigslist and doing some Google searching I hadn’t come up with any solid local breeder leads.

I remembered that while we were at Petsmart picking out Toby we had been approached by another customer and we talked about birds for a while. She indicated that the best resource in our area by far is the Rensselaer Bird Center, which is a few towns over from where we live. So – I told Patrick that we should do some recon, visit the RBC and ask if they knew of any local breeders, and to my surprise he agreed to go.

That weekend we fired up the GPS and off we went, walking in to the RBC for the first time I felt a bit like I had gone to heaven, we immediately saw a senegal and a timneh grey hanging out on top of some cages, and after we tore our eyes away from them we realized there were birds everywhere of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were for sale, some were boarders, and many had come with their owners just to hang out. For someone like me who’s obsessed with parrots but doesn’t get a lot of face time with them it was a really magical experience.

Also, everyone in the store was incredible nice, warm and friendly; we couldn’t even tell the difference between the staff and the customers because they were all so welcoming. We we were greeted by someone who asked if we needed help, I explained I was looking for information on local hand fed parakeet breeders and she said….

“I just hatched a batch of babies, want to see them?”

YES, yes I do, thank you 🙂 we were led into a back room with an incubator full of tiny fluffy parakeet babies, most of who were on a very strict feeding schedule. The woman offered to put all of the babies that were old enough into a small bin so we could sit with them and pick one out. How could we possibly say no to that?

Patrick ended up picking out our parakeet; he was immediately drawn to the oldest baby, who seemed regal and not at all timid or afraid. Kelly very much still has an air that, even though she may occasionally deign to be silly, she is quite above us all.

We were able to come back as often as we liked to get Kelly used to us, which was amazing, and I brought my mom and stepdad over once too so they could meet our new family member. Knowing that we would be able to take her home in 3-4 weeks gave us ample time to get prepared, and we were sure to set the cage up and put it near Toby’s cage to help her get the idea that there might be a next door neighbor on the way.

I sort of expected some blowback from Patrick since he was railroaded into getting the new parakeet (even if it wasn’t my fault!), but once you see a bucket or baby parakeets you just can’t say no.

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home, get her settled in, and then worry about how the introduction to Toby would go – which is coming up in another post.

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Kelly at the RBC

Leaving the parakeets for vacation

Coming up soon we are going on our first vacation since getting the parakeets. It’s a cruise, and neither of us has been on one before. Usually at this point pre-vacation I would be bouncing off the walls with excitement and pretty much packed already but I am dragging my feet because I’m sad and nervous about leaving the “babies” behind.

I’ve seen a few alarming Yahoo questions where people ask things like “I’m going away for a week, can I just leave my parakeet extra food?” and thankfully responders always tell them that is a horrible idea. Not only could the parakeet somehow ruin his water/food and die waiting for you to come back, but how sad would that be for the poor parakeet(s) sitting alone waiting for you to come home?

We’re very lucky that my mom can come by every day and refresh their water bowl (even though they also have their Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz) and food and she even feels comfortable letting them out of their cage and hanging out until they are ready to go home, so they won’t miss out on too much free time. She absolutely loves animals and has a natural ability to get along with them, which is a major bonus for us! If my mom wasn’t available, or we were traveling together, I would hire a professional pet sitter with avian experience to come very day. I have a line on someone already and we’re doing a consult this fall, I definitely want to have a back up plan in place.

One of the things we have done while away on overnight trips is set up lights on vacation timers, I don’t like the idea of plunging the birds randomly into darkness, even though we do have a bunch of night lights, but in winter I don’t think they would appreciate going to sleep at 4:45pm when the sun goes down. Going away in summer I’ll just leave the curtains open and let them keep a natural day cycle. If left to their own devices they will usually put themselves to bed around 6:30 – 7pm.

I also laid in a supply of new toys and we plan to make some big switches a couple of days before we go so they have new stuff to play with and an updated layout to think about. I wouldn’t recommend waiting until right before you leave to make changes, you never can tell what toy or perch will randomly terrify a parakeet. Also, I don’t trust them not to hurt themselves on some things, and I like to monitor their interactions with new toys. That might sound over the top, but if you start reading reviews of parrot toys it seems like almost every product on the market has caused a bird to hurt itself.

So, they’ll have adequate light and some awesome new toys to occupy themselves, and my mom coming every day to take care of food and water and for some play time. There’s nothing for me to worry about at all right? Then I guess I’m just worried about me!

I have to admit I’ve seriously considered purchasing MiSafes Mini 1080p HD Wireless Day & Night Wi-Fi Camera for iPhone iPad Android (Black) so I could check on them whenever I wanted – although that might get expensive data-wise once I’m in international waters. Update – I totally bought that webcam and will review upon our return 🙂

When I was first looking into getting parakeets I read somewhere “how do people with birds go on vacation”, and the half-joking answer was “they don’t” And while I’ve been pretty devoted to 1 or 2 getaways per year in addition to traveling for work, I wonder if those times are coming to an end for a while. On the other hand, I know getting away and disconnecting can be very important, and I don’t want to discount how much that matters to both me and my husband.

I’ll update after we’ve actually gone on the trip and then I should have a much better idea of where my head is at. In the interim, I know we’re covering all the angles and the parakeets will probably have a great vacation from us!

Deciding to get Toby a parakeet of her very own

There came a time we had to admit we just weren’t satisfying all of Toby’s social needs, and likely there was no way we could. Additionally, we had created a situation where Toby felt responsible for being the leader of the flock, and it was clearly putting a lot of pressure on her trying to control and protect us.

The larger cage alleviated some of her frustration, but still, once she was out of the cage she wasn’t enjoying things as she had before. Instead of playing on the play gym or watching out the window, she would spend most of her time out repeatedly flying into our faces, and she had begun biting a lot more. She also developed the habit of landing on my glasses and biting my eyelids. The intensity of her interactions with us was heightened, not that she wanted to hurt us, just that we weren’t doing the right thing that would make her feel comfortable.

This happened every single time she was let our of the cage, unless you could engage her with a treat or a toy, and even that wouldn’t last long.

We both had to admit that being around Toby wasn’t too much fun for us anymore and she seemed to be pretty unhappy too. I am sure that some of it had to do with spring-time bird craziness, but more than that it really seemed like Toby needed something from us that we couldn’t provide, and her focus on us needed to be split onto someone else who would be able to reciprocate in ways we couldn’t.

I didn’t want to go through the whole process of taming a Petsmart parakeet all over again, I felt that with Toby in the house it would be way too difficult to split our attention evenly between taming someone in one cage (a huge time commitment) and making sure that Toby didn’t lose out on any of our attention. So, I started researching hand fed parakeets, which are fed by humans in their first weeks of life instead of by their parent parakeets. This doesn’t necessarily make them socialized, but by the time you take a hand fed parakeet home it does not think you are a predator, which is a huge leap!

Finding and bringing home Kelly is a story for a different day, but her presence in the house immediately helped Toby find balance and, I think, really helped Toby feel secure. Even better, Kelly is naturally dominant and self-assured, which took a lot of pressure off of Toby.

Initially we felt so sure that we wanted to just have one parakeet, even after reading all of the evidence that parakeets are flock animals and really shouldn’t be solo pets. I still don’t regret the way we went about it, easing in with one parakeet and developing that strong bond was an experience I wouldn’t trade, but I can say that I now believe parakeets are not meant to live alone, they need other birds to feel secure and socially fulfilled, no matter how strong their flock bond is with the humans in their lives.IMG_0854

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Will my parakeet poop on me?

Yes!

Shortest blog post ever 🙂

Seriously though, your parakeet will definitely poop on you and everything else. Parakeets poop about every 5-10 minutes. They even poop in their sleep! The good news is that their healthy poops are generally soft but dense, you can pick up a fresh poop just by touching it with a paper towel, and dried poops can be vacuumed or swept up easily.

Parakeet poop also does not stain, at least any fabric that I’ve worn around them so far. Do I suggest you throw on your best silk kimono before hanging out with birds, probably not, but you also don’t need to start sheeting yourself and everything else with plastic.

The house-wide poop issue applies more to parakeets that spend a lot of time out of their cages, and parakeets that are fully flighted, since a clipped parakeet will tend to hang out wherever you put him. The popular hang out spots for our parakeets all have some sort of easy to clean or disposable poop-catcher underneath, which cuts down on a lot of clean up.

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underneath our kitchen window perch

On other spots that are not technically for the birds but get a lot of visits we’ll keep some folded up squares of paper towel to deal with poops as needed. The parakeets like to hang out with us on the couch, or on the table while I’m working at my laptop.

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the toys are a sad attempt to discourage them from chewing on my keyboard!

If they are running around on the floor together we come in after them and clean up anything they leave behind.

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code brown in aisle six

Larger parrots can be trained to poop only in certain spots, so when they have to go they return home (or to a specific perch) to do their business. I think that technically it might be possible to train a parakeet that way, they do have a “tell” of fluffing up a little bit right before they poop.  You could conceivably watch out for that, put him back on a perch each time and then reinforce with a treat/clicker training techniques. It would certainly take a lot of effort and vigilance and I’m not sure it would be worth it, the parakeet having to take a break in his fun time so often versus the relatively minor inconvenience of the poops.

I mentioned in an earlier post it’s probably not a great idea to encourage your parakeet to hang out on your head, even though it’s cute. Poop is another part of that warning. It’s easy to remove the poop should it occur, especially once dried, but I can see how there would be a level of “ick” involved for some.

Into every ‘keet life some poop must inevitably fall, but one you get over the initial weirdness of having to deal with bird poop it becomes just another part of your clean up routine.

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obligatory poop picture
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Toby pooping on a draft about poop

Products in this post are copious amounts of paper towel

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Moving on up – Toby gets a new house

Toby started out in the Prevue Pet Products PR33511 Park Plaza Flat Top Black&44; 18 X 18 X 49, a cage that I still love for its many great features. The large front door with two locking mechanisms for added security is both smart and functional, making it very easy to get in and out of the cage with new perches and toys, and easy to bring out your bird. Also the food/water bowls swing outward for quick removal and refills. The seed catcher helps to contain mess, and the grate and tray system is elegantly designed and makes clean up a total snap.

Unfortunately, the shape of the park plaza was just all wrong for our first parakeet. In theory, Toby should have been utilizing the full vertical length of the cage to enjoy her gambols. In practice, she refused to go very far below the food dish, and if she ended up on the bottom of the cage accidentally she would zip right back up to the top. The only way she would go lower intentionally was if you sat on the floor next to her and told her she was fine.

Of course we migrated all of the toys and perches towards the top of the cage to accommodate her neuroses and it was starting to get very unbalanced. Beyond that, not using the lower half of the cage meant that Toby really didn’t have enough room to stretch out, and she started to let us know with a lot of yelling and very intense wing flapping. Additionally, with Toby not having clipped wings, an 18″ length wasn’t enough for her to get even a short flight in cage. I hate to guess at her motivations, but I believe she was very frustrated by this, and it made her quite desperate to get out of the cage whenever she could. Also because she wasn’t getting adequate exercise and moving around enough, she had so much energy to burn off when she did come out that she made a poor companion. And finally, she started resisting going back to the cage when play time was over, and it turned into a battle every time to convince Toby she should go home and take a break.

I think some of that was also due to not having any company in the cage, but that’s a story for another day.

I had the thought rattling around in my head that Toby really deserved a much bigger cage that would be better suited for her personality (this may also have been part of my master plan to add at least one more parakeet). I anticipated some push back from my husband on adding a larger cage to our dining area, since we’re already pretty limited on space. So,  I brought it up very casually and to my surprise Patrick had already been thinking about upgrading Toby as well. He had not, however, been thinking about adding any more parakeets to the mix….

We went on a hunt for a suitable cage and found the HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage with Cart Stand at Doctors Foster & Smith, which added 10″ in length and allowed for a lot more freedom of motion, and also stood up much higher meaning Toby would use every square inch. You can see in the picture below what a major space upgrade this was. I love that on this cage the top opens up and it has this amazing little “porch” that comes out above the main door, those two features alone make the whole cage worth it, the parakeets get so much use out of them and they can get in and out very easily. The tray system is very well-designed and includes security to make sure you don’t end up with any escapee birds while cleaning.IMG_0693

When installing your parakeet in a new cage it’s a good idea to not pressure her into moving too fast, especially with a neophobe like Toby. To help in the process, we put the new cage together with her watching to get her interested and then put it next to her current cage. Over the next few days we let her explore the cage of her own volition, where she found new toys to play with and a couple of old favorites as well. We didn’t wait too long before moving her in completely and taking away the old cage, but if she had been exhibiting reservations about it we would have held off until she was comfortable.

Toby loves living in the new cage and we did see an immediate positive impact on her behavior. We could fit a much greater variety of toys in the new cage which helped with boredom, and the added space meant she could get a lot more exercise in house. Even though the new cage is much larger, it’s so attractive that it just feels like a piece of furniture.

We held on to the Park Plaza cage and it came in very handy as our second parakeet’s quarantine/starter cage. Kelly is much more adventurous and got use out of the whole cage, and since she is clipped she didn’t need as much space to spread her wings out.

The HQ Victorian is more than big enough for two parakeets to live comfortably. I think we could fit at least one more in there, but we are currently pretending that we’re going to stick with just two birds at a time.

Parakeet night terrors/night frights

Night terrors, which you’ve probably heard of in human children, also happen to many species of parrots. Cockatiels seem to be most commonly afflicted, but it can happen to parakeets as well so it’s important to be prepared.

One can almost never be entirely sure of the origin of the night terror, it could be that the parakeet is waking from a bad dream, or that he opened his eyes during the night and saw a scary shadow or a bug. They are definitely primed to be scared after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were scary for both of us. I would be woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of Toby crashing around in her cage, flying around madly and blindly into the cage bars without being able to stop herself. This can be extremely dangerous because a parakeet can severely injure himself, possibly fatally.

I’m lucky that our house is all on one level and I’m not very far from the cage at night, even though it’s in the dining area. I really don’t know what to suggest to someone who’s birds sleep on a different floor than they do, short of a baby monitor, although that might seem excessive!

At any rate, I would wake up to the sounds of Toby crashing around and bolt out of bed to the dining room. To calm the parakeet down you must bring up the lights a bit and speak very gently to him – as soon as the lights come up enough he will probably stop flying around, but he may seem dazed and not recognize you.

I never advocate putting your hands in the cage after dark, so I don’t advise taking your bird out to comfort him. I firmly believe that in this state there’s no guarantee he will know who you are and find your touch comforting instead of more alarming. I did, after a particularly awful fright, feed Toby a little millet through the bars to lure her out of a bad spot.

The best way to handle it, at least for us, has been to leave the lights glowing just a bit more brightly than usual and once the parakeet has settled down and is in a safe place to go back to sleep, go back to bed and try to calm yourself down enough to sleep.

Also, it’s a good idea to have a nightlight or two for your parakeet to help them not be so scared when they wake in the middle of the night. We went a little overboard with iTimo Baby Night Light, Led Night Lights Plug In, Kids Nightlight With Dusk to Dawn Sensor, Portable Nightlights for Adults Nursery Soother Hallway Bathroom Restroom Bedroom Decor, Pack of 4 and for a while the kitchen looked like an airport runway. We’ve since scaled back to a more reasonable amount.

I’ve read that night frights can also be a symptom of calcium deficiency so if you find your parakeet having continued issues make sure you have a Zoo Med Mineral Block Original Formula Banquet Bird Food, 1-Ounce and watch out for feeding excessive amounts of spinach which binds with calcium and can lead to a calcium deficiency.

Toby had four night terrors in the first 8 months we had her, three of those we were not able to determine the cause (although I suspect mice), and one of them was absolutely my fault. I came out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and because I had my glasses off I stood next to her cage for a prolonged period trying to find her. She of course woke up and completely freaked out, who wouldn’t with some lunatic starting at you while you sleep?

Toby hasn’t had a night terror since we got our second parakeet, Kelly – I’m not sure if having a roommate makes her feel more secure, she does always want to sleep where she can see Kelly. Actually I think Toby would prefer to sleep snuggled up to Kelly, but Kelly’s not having any part of that!

The bottom lines are that you should have night lights and a mineral block for your parakeet, but they may still have the occasional unexplained night fright. The only thing you can do is get to the cage as quickly as possible, turn up the lights a bit, and speak soothingly to your parakeet until he calms down.