Does molting make a parakeet sick?

Molting is a very difficult time for parakeets, most of them do it a couple of times per year; typically it would be a spring/summer and a fall/winter molt. Toby is very lucky and molts approximately every 6 weeks, this is pretty common for indoor living parakeets, with the temperature being fairly even it messes up their natural triggers.

During the molting process, which takes a few weeks, the parakeet loses a significant portion of feathers and grows them back. Seeing the piles of lost feathers under the cage every day can be alarming, but it doesn’t seem to be the worst part of the process for the parakeets. At least Toby and Kelly aren’t that bothered by it, even when they are losing more feathers per day than I would have thought they had in the first place!

The part that seems to be much harder on our parakeets is growing in the new feathers, and this stage is where, in my experience, the parakeets can seem to be quite ill.

Both Toby and Kelly, during the time of popping out a lot of feathers, will have about a 24 hours period where they have many classic symptoms of budgie sickness.

This involves listlessness, disinterest in eating, puffing up, napping on both feet, loose poop, general malaise and crankiness. It typically hits them in the early afternoon, they rally right before bed, and then the next day they are pretty “off” as well without seeming as close to death’s door. The first few times this happened to Toby I was absolutely certain she was going to die at any moment.

One nice thing is that the parakeets are very solicitous to each other when they are afflicted. Usually they argue passionately every evening about who will sleep highest in the cage (hint, it’s going to be Kelly), but when someone is not feeling so hot they sleep close together without any argument at all. In the daytime too, the parakeet that’s feeling good hangs out near the molting parakeet and tries to regurgitate to her and make sure she’s doing alright.

During these times we make some extra effort to use our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, which we should be using regularly anyhow, and try to tempt them to eat millet at least. It’s best, I think, to just let them stay in the cage on these days and get the rest they need for the hard work of growing out feathers.

The only real recommendations I can make are to get used to your parakeet’s molting procedure and try to assist as much as possible. If he lets you, scritch his head to help to pin feathers, and offer frequent baths in whatever capacity he accepts. Let him have quiet days when needed and help him relax and get extra rest. Most importantly, try not to stress about it too much yourself, it’s hard to see them during a tough time, but they will come through it. Your vacuum, however, may never be the same…

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Clipped vs. flighted parakeets

As I’ve relayed before in a fabulously embarrassing post about the night Toby escaped – she came to us fully flighted, which we did not expect. It didn’t really change our taming plans at all, because she was not a handfed baby we anticipated spending weeks with her in her cage getting adjusted to people and the concept that we weren’t interested in eating her. Also, I’d already read up on the debate and decided that we would keep Toby as a flighted bird.

It’s always seemed very natural to us for Toby to fly, but it did change our lifestyle dramatically. She spends about 2 to 2.5 hours out of the cage most days, minimum, and during that time we don’t typically eat or have drinks in glasses without lids, we never cook with her out and we are always very careful about opening and closing doors and being aware of where she is hanging out. If we want to have a mug of coffee in the mornings we make sure the mug is tucked away somewhere instead of out in the open. Initially, we were more lax; the no food rule happened after Toby landed in my bowl of cereal one morning and then tried to climb in my mouth for another taste!

We also have to be careful about making large arm gestures with Toby out of the cage; it’s too easy to tap her mid-flight.

All of the precautions have been totally worth it for us, the feeling I get when Toby comes flying to find me in another room is priceless, and it’s easy to see that flying is the best part of her day and, in my opinion, integral to her existence as a bird.

I think it’s helpful also for her to be able to go back to her cage when she’s scared and generally to know that she can get herself out of trouble and never ends up somewhere she doesn’t want to be.

Having Kelly come to us clipped has been a wildly different experience. In some ways it’s been good to skip over a bit of the taming process. Even if she was not handfed, we’ve be able to handle her as much as we wanted, and she would have very little choice in the matter. Which sort of bothers me, actually, I don’t like thinking that we are just imposing ourselves on her.

It’s also sad that she can’t get where she wants to go – she attempts flight and can only glide (somewhat) gently to the floor, any time she’s out I’m usually trying to guess where she wants to go and put her there, and then trying to guess when she’s bored, or when she needs to go home and eat or drink. I feel like her free will outside the cage is nonexistent.

I can’t say how much I’m putting my feelings into this, but I think that Kelly sees Toby flying and is really frustrated that she can’t follow. So, having just one clipped bird or multiple clipped birds together might be a lot easier, maybe they don’t know what they are missing in that case, and they are equally able.

Kelly’s not being able to fly also seems more dangerous to me because she can’t get herself out of some situations. She’s jumped off the window perch a few times and landed behind the kitchen sink faucets. Or she ends up on the floor and can’t get back up to the cage or play gym. We’re always there to help her back up or get her out of whatever mess she’s in, but in the long term I’m sure we would relax and accidents could happen. Also sometimes with Kelly’s light color you can hear her head ground-ward but can’t quite find her right away. Fortunately she enjoys walking around on the floor!

The other piece of this is that just because Kelly is clipped and was handfed doesn’t means she likes people, so far she mostly regards us as over-bearing inn keepers. She needs us for basic necessities but she’d prefer if we left her alone otherwise.

Currently Kelly is going through her first molt, she’s lost the bars on her head already and every day we’ve got a blanket of feathers on the ground around the cage. We’re hoping that some of her previously clipped feathers are part of the molt and she’ll have more mobility soon. It may seem counterintuitive, but I think that once she can fly and really hang with Toby she may start to find us a fun perching option instead of an unavoidable mobility aid.

Much like the great seed vs. pellet debate, people on both sides of this issue are quite convinced that their way is best, and least dangerous for the parakeet. I think that having flighted budgies does mean making a lot of adjustments, but parronthood in general equals huge household changes, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it to make sure your parakeet can fly both for his physical and mental health.

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only one of these birds chose to pose for the picture

10 ideas for parakeet enrichment

When I mention enrichments you might just think about larger parrots, but parakeets need to have new and interesting experiences too. They are very bright and it’s important to keep their brains active and working on new ideas and objects. Here are a few of the enrichments that we’ve done with our budgies.

    • Paper Towels or Toilet Paper tubes – some parakeets may happily run right through these whole, but you can also cut them into smaller rings that are run to chew, toss around and drop. Also an empty cereal or oatmeal box can be cut in half for a hideout.
    • Baby teething rings that snap together – (Bright Starts Lots of Links Accessory Toy) Parakeets will enjoy chewing on the hard plastic and these are great to hang off perches, either alone or changed together. You may even see some ring gymnastics. A ring hung off a perch is also a good brain teaser, figuring out how to slide it off and throw on the floor can be quite a puzzle.
    • Use the floor or a table – changing the venue sometimes makes an old toy exciting again. I also like to scatter some Seed or Pellets around on any flat surface with toys and let then “forage”.
    • Hold a half empty bottle of water sideways, tilt it gently side to side to make a wave. This fascinates my parakeets to no end, and they love to try and go after the drops of water on the inside of the bottle.
    • Throw on a hooded sweatshirt and let them explore your hood and chew your drawstrings. If the sweatshirt has a kangaroo pouch show them the opening and let them go through or think about it. One of our parakeets is tremendously neophobic and won’t really do much adventuring, but even thinking about a new situation is beneficial. A similar approach could be using a folded sheet of paper as a tent, not only is it a pop-up cave but a great opportunity for paper destruction.
    • Foraging food ball (Creative Foraging Systems+E487 CFS Fillable 3-Ball and Kabob Pet Feeder) – load this up with shredded lettuce or kale and millet, even if you parakeet won’t eat vegetables he’s going to have a fantastic time teasing them out of the ball and throwing them to the floor. You could put any kind of vegetable or fruit in there, they would all be equally fun to get out.
    • window perches – There are hours of entertainment to be had in sitting and watching the world, especially if there are other birds outside! Toby and Kelly both love watching the outdoor birds and weather, expect lots of yelling and watch out for crows and other things that can scare your fids (feathered kids).
    • Vegetables and fruits in new and exciting ways – If you always offer veggies diced, try giving a whole broccoli floret or thin strips of carrots or apple.
    • Play new sounds for your parakeets to learn – We love this R2D2 mix for parakeets that has all the screeching noises removed. Toby and Kelly have to hear it about 8 times in a row before they start trying to mimic, but you can see them paying attention and thinking about it. We haven’t had any big successes yet, but we have the two least melodic budgies ever, so yours will probably do better!
    • Come find me – If you have a flighted parakeet who can be trusted out of his cage alone for short periods of time, leave the room and call to him to come find you – Toby will methodically fly around the house seeking us out and she’s always so proud when she reaches her goal!

As long as you’re introducing new objects and concepts you are doing a great job enriching your parakeets and keeping their lives interesting. Even something as simple as a water bottle or a piece of paper can keep a budgie’s mind active and engaged.

Final thoughts on vacationing away from the budgies & a review of the Misafes Mini Security Camera

Well, I made it through vacationing away from the parakeets, and it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I expected.

We were on a cruise and my original expectation was that on port days I would have cellular service, which turned out to be completely untrue. I ended up purchasing a package of wifi minutes on the ship, but I was never able to send/receive text messages or make calls. I emailed my mom as soon as I could to let her know, but everything was going perfectly well at home anyhow. She spent at least an hour there every day so the parakeets got some time out of the cage, and I know that she worked with Kelly on stepping up and not biting, which we have been struggling with. I was worried about losing ground with her while we were gone, but instead I think my mom made real progress.

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What, me a biter? I’m far too sweet!

As expected, the only one with any trouble was me, which was why we bought the MiSafes Mini 1080p HD Wireless Day & Night Wi-Fi Camera for iPhone iPad Android (Black) before leaving. With Amazon Prime’s two day shipping I was able to purchase it during a freak out just a handful of days before the cruise.

Set up was a breeze, you plop the camera where you want it – it even includes a couple of mounting options, then download the misafescam app and pair the device to your phone. The picture is good, even in its normal quality mode, and you can switch to HD. The camera is in a fixed position which was perfect for our needs; we set it up to get a full view of the cage and were good to go. You could also insert an SD card and record, which I haven’t done since I’m only using it to peek in at them.

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This is the pic in normal mode

I love that there is a two-way speaker option so I can hear the birds singing away, we tested the ability to talk to them through the app and it worked, but I haven’t used it, thinking that could be pretty confusing for them. The night vision works very well too, although it’s a little creepy when they have their eyes open in the dark, you can see pinpoints of light.

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demon eyes in the dark!

The camera was comforting, although I didn’t use it as much as I planned due to the cellular issues. The ship’s wifi was not speedy and I wasn’t able to get the camera to connect every time. I also wound myself up the first night, we were staying in Miami and I had horrible cell service in out hotel room and no wifi. I checked on the parakeets at about 7:30pm and expected them to be bedded down for the night, instead they were still engaged in their nightly bouncing around before bed/fight for perch dominance routine.

I promptly lost service after that and wasn’t able to check on them until hours later, imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios of it getting to dark and them being stuck on perches they didn’t like, or having night terrors and me not being there to help them. When I finally got it to connect again they were absolutely fine, sleeping exactly where they usually do.

So – outside of external issues the camera has been fantastic. Even now that we are home I like to take a look at what they are up to during the day. If I ever felt like I didn’t need to look at them we could easily use this as a security camera, there’s an option to have it alert you if there’s movement in its field of vision, so I could see pointing it at the door and setting up that notification.

When we got back from the trip the ‘keets had a relatively brief period of readjustment where they seemed to be out of sorts and looking for my mom. Toby in particular kept flock calling when we were all in the same room. This has mostly worn off although I think Toby is still feeling a little mad at me it’s getting better every day.

At any rate, based on the level of anxiety I was feeling before we left I was pretty ready to write off taking week-long trips for a while. now that we are back I can see that a lot of my stress was unwarranted, the birds were totally fine, and I was as well!

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reunited and it feels so good!

The parakeet instruction sheet I left for my mom when we went on vacation

–  The mail is on a hold until X/X so it might be delivered that day or Saturday, but before that you don’t have to check the box every day
– Plants will have been watered so they will be fine on their own
– Dehumidifier is running right into the basement sink & does not need to be emptied
– Garbage does not have to go out to the street

– I’m going to leave the little living room light on (the one on the wall), just leave that on the whole time, we have been lately because they have had a couple of fights in the middle of the night and they need light so they don’t freak out.

– Their curtains (dining room) we will just leave open, the front ones we’ll leave mostly shut to minimize heating the house. The dining room light we will leave off. They can just have a daylight sort of day 

– The bowl water please refresh with filtered tap daily.

– Food –wise, they get one tablespoon of the pellets and two tablespoons of seed in each bowl. I usually stir it around in the hopes they will accidentally eat pellets. Every day just throw out what’s left from the day prior and start fresh.

– When you let them out you can move the play gym over so it’s on the hardwood floor still but near the big cage, that way Kelly can jump over by herself. She will try to fly to the perch by the sink window and she can’t make that, so please keep a close eye on her and when she needs help just hold your finger about 5 inches above the floor and say step up, she should jump up and then I usually hold her near whatever I think she was trying to get to and see if that’s what he wanted.

– Kelly WILL definitely bite you, especially if you try to move her from someplace she doesn’t want to leave. She bites harder than Toby but doesn’t break the skin. If she does bite hard and you can avoid yelping, we are trying to just say “no” and remind her to be gentle, but don’t retreat.

– The tray system under the cage is heavier than it looks. You have to take off the security flap and set it aside – then be sure to use both hands to slide out the tray with the paper liners and set it on the floor. Unfortunately you can’t just pull it most of the way out, in my experience. I’ve been removing the top sheets and discarding every day, but it could go a couple of days without being removed, I’m sure.

– If the birds are out and you don’t mind doing it, I usually take a damp paper towel and try to wipe down any perches with poop on them every day, especially where Toby sleeps on the brown wood perch her poops pile up every night. But also the other perches and toys, and every few days I wipe down the grate at the bottom because they walk around down there sometimes. If you try doing that while Toby is in the cage she’s definitely going to get territorial and attack your hand and/or the paper towel but it’s doesn’t hurt it’s just annoying.

– There’s a stick vacuum in the little blue room for doing under/around the cage. It’s not cordless but it stretches far enough. You don’t have to vacuum every day but every few would be good, I mean obviously you can use your discretion, it gets pretty gross.

– Millet as much as you want. Kelly only sort of gets it, she likes millet when she’s in the cage but doesn’t seem to care when he’s out.

– Toby still likes to have her head scritched or to scritch herself against your pinkly if you put it through the cage bars but you have to watch out for Kelly, she doesn’t quite understand it and will push Toby out of the way to bite your finger. She’s not aggressive about it, I’m pretty sure he thinks that is what Toby is doing and she’s just mimicking.

That looks like a lot, but it really only takes about 15 minutes a day 🙂