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 budgie 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 freaked out after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were alarming 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 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 Night Lights 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 Mineral Block and Cuttlebone 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.

Feeding your parakeet: seeds vs. pellets

Before bringing home our first parakeet I had already decided that I would start Toby off on a seed-based diet, to make her transition from the pet store easier.  There are so many conflicting reviews on Amazon that I ended up buying two well-rated seed blends and then mixing those together.  They were F.M. Brown’s Encore Parakeet Food, 5-Pound and Kaytee foraging grassland parakeet.

Those were going fine as far as Toby was concerned, but I started doing more research and read about how seeds are not sufficient nutrition for parakeets, not only are they full of fat but they also don’t have enough vitamins and minerals, and parakeets on a seed-based diet may have much shorter lives than those on a pellet-based diet.

Of course as someone who just fell in love with parakeets the thought of consigning mine to an early death was horrifying!  I immediately purchased a bag of ZUPREEM 230301 Fruitblend Small Keet Food, 2-Pound, which Toby ardently hated. She doesn’t really like fruit and won’t eat anything that has an unnatural color so it was a huge misstep.

Back to the drawing board – and thank goodness these are all relatively inexpensive products, so it’s not a hardship to do some experimentation and I heartily recommend it.

My next try was Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Crumbles, 44-Ounce, which I thought was the smallest possible pellet available from Roudybush, although it turned out I was wrong (kind of a trend) and it was too big for Toby to deal with. So, I bought the Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of his diet.

We began reducing the percentage of seed and adding in pellets at about a 50% ratio, but it just didn’t feel right cutting seeds out entirely. Doing some more research, I found that there’s not enough evidence for me that pellets are really nutritionally complete, and more than that, if it’s bad for me to eat a diet of processed foods, then why would it be good for my parakeet?

I also started reading about how a pellet diet could be very detrimental to a bird’s mental health. Thinking about it this way, if someone told you tomorrow that you were just going to eat bland oatmeal every day, every meal, for the rest of your life, how would that go over with you?  What do you think that would do to your overall happiness?

Especially as it relates to parakeets, their beaks are designed to hull seeds and their bodies are designed to process them.  It just doesn’t seem right to me to take that away completely.

As it stands now, I’m feeding one tablespoon of Roudybush nibbles pellets per day with two tablespoons of Kaytee Forti Diet Pro Health Food for Parakeet, 5-Pound, this is doled out in two bowls and I discard everything every 24 hours. I know I’m throwing away a lot of pellets and unhulled seeds, but I’d rather know for sure that they have enough food instead of adding more on top of a pile of hulls.

We do also offer a fruit or vegetable every day in addition to the pellets and seeds, they get some interest, hopefully enough to supplement their diet and provide some mental enrichment too.

I haven’t gotten interested yet in going the homemade route, sprouting seeds and mixing up batches of super healthy ingredients, but check back with me in a year or so and I might be there.

Until then, this is what we feed and so far so good!

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Ultimately, what to feed your parakeet is a very personal decision and everyone has to come to their own conclusions about what they think is best. Toby got a hull stuck in her throat in spring of this year and for about 24 hours I thought she was probably going to die. Thankfully we were able to help her dislodge it, but I walked away from that experience pretty adamant that we were switching to pellets and I would never look back.

It didn’t stick, obviously, because I think that a life of just eating pellets would probably be so unsatisfying for her that the risk is worth it.

Good luck to everyone making these choices, they are certainly not easy, and I can’t say that even now I think one way or the other is correct or “the best”, everyone can only do what feels right to them, and what works for their household.