Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets

Using a professional pet sitter for parakeets

Regular readers know that over the winter I researched local pet sitting services, interviewed a sitter and hired her for our summer vacation. I had a great feeling about her at the time, but leading up to our trip I got increasingly anxious about leaving Toby and Kelly with someone totally untested. It didn’t help that I kept seeing horror stories of people leaving their parakeets in the care of close family members and coming back from weeklong trips to find them near death or worse.

I worked myself into a pretty good state over the whole thing. Particularly after all the chaos of them staying at my mom’s for a few days and then having to separate Toby and Kelly into two cages after their bad fight that left Kelly with a bloody foot. I updated the pet sitter that they shouldn’t be out at the same time – to me, this stacked the deck even further against her. How would a woman who had limited experience with birds in the first place handle letting them out one at a time and getting them back into their proper cages?

It got to a point that I think I would have canceled the whole trip if I’d had the foresight to purchase travel insurance! No such coverage existed and off we went, but only after I harassed the pet sitter several times in the week leading up to vacation to confirm all the details. I even made an agreement with a colleague that she would get into my house somehow if I couldn’t verify that the sitter was taking care of the parakeets.

The first day of vacation I checked on the parakeets several times using my Misafes security camera, they were fine all day of course but I only made it until about 4pm before breaking down and asking the pet sitter how it went via text. She related that they had both had some time out of the cage, Kelly was very easy to get back in, and Toby was harder but very sweet and sat on her shoulder.

Huge sigh of relief, the details were precisely what I would have expected from my girls and it made me feel relieved that the pet sitter had actually been there and that the parakeets were being taken well care of, not just having food and water changed and being ignored.

I didn’t text the pet sitter every day after that (just a few more haha), but I did spy her a couple of times on the Misafes security camera. I never watched long because that would seem a bit creepy to me, but every time I saw her she was taking care of the parakeets and seemed totally engaged in what was going on with them.

The trust that she was building with me helped me enjoy the rest of our vacation with only minimal concerns about the parakeets physical and mental well-being, but on the flight home everything started creeping back in. I wondered what condition I would find the cages in, whether the parakeet’s perches would be covered in poop, or if our Bird Cage Liners had been removed every couple of days.

We opened the front door and what I saw absolutely astonished me. Not only were the cages scrupulously clean, as though I had been at home the whole time following my cleaning schedule, but she left a detailed checklist showing what maintenance had been done each day, and the coup de grâce was a short note written every single day with any notable information about how they had behaved and/or particularly adorable moments.

Now, given the choice between the two I would still love to have the pet sitting service my mom typically provides, not only does she spend hours of time at my house waiting for the parakeets to tire out but she’s also an extremely economical choice (read: free). For the times I can’t “hire” my mom, hiring the professional pet sitter was the best decision I ever made and I would strongly encourage anyone to do their research and utilize a professional pet sitting service over leaving the care of your parakeets to neighbors, friends, or in some cases, even relatives.

And, not to be totally grim, but if something had gone terribly wrong it’s much more comfortable to be devastated by something a professional did and be able to file a complaint and never utilize their services again, instead of having to see the person who you blame for the death of your birds every year at Thanksgiving.

The parakeets break up and separate households

In my post about parakeet girl fights I acknowledged that keeping two territorial females together was taking a risk. At that time, the reward of Kelly and Toby having each other for comfort and company in the same cage was worth the risk of injury from their frequent squabbles over toys and space. Well, my hubris caught up with me on this one and they are currently trying out living solo.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of upheaval for the budgies, I was away on business, and working late hours leading up to that, we made some major changes to the arrangement of our house and then they had to move to my mom’s house for a few days and the travel and change of scenery were very stressful for them.  Additionally, Kelly seems to be getting deeper into breeding condition versus moving out of it, we’ve been missing bed times lately and I’m sure that hasn’t helped.

I should also mention that Patrick and I been extremely stressed out lately, and I firmly believe that they know how we are feeling and it influences their behavior. Whether it’s true they can see our energy or not, or whether they can read facial expressions and body language, I know they are hip to what is going on with their humans.

So, overall they have been ramping up the violence while everything is in chaos around them, and I cannot blame them. I’m typically very rigid about my routine, it’s what makes me happy every day, and they are obviously  used to it as well.

The day before they went to my mom’s Kelly shredded one of Toby’s flight feathers, Toby was defending the porch on their cage and pushing Kelly towards the edge, so Kelly grabbed onto Toby’s feathers to try and pull herself back up. I was there and broke up the fight before major damage was done, but Toby’s feather has a bit of a different shape now.

This all leads up to the final straw fight – I got home from work one day and immediately noticed Kelly’s feathers on the floor. She’s not molting so that was a red flag, and the pattern of the feathers was wrong for that anyway, they were clumped together and as soon as I picked them up I realized they had been pulled out of her. I felt a pit in my stomach as I started examining the cage and the budgies for blood or other signs of damage.

Toby was all clear, but Kelly had dried blood on her foot and a cut. Thankfully it wasn’t actively bleeding so I didn’t have to worry about her bleeding to death, but it came as a sad shock that they had really hurt each other.

I let them out of the cage so that I could try to clean Kelly up a bit and make sure she was really okay, they continued going after each other and fighting, even after they had the entire house at their disposal.

With vacation coming up in just 3 days (thanks for that timing, babies) I knew that they needed to be in separate cages, at least while we were away. There was no way I could trust them to be together 24/7 without someone just coming in once a day to feed and water them. Not to mention how bad I would feel for the pet sitter if she came in to a blood bath and had to deal either with emergency medical needs due to injuries or worst case scenario, a body and a murderer.

Fortunately I had Toby’s old cage in the garage, so I pulled that out and spent the next couple of hours washing it down several times and stocking it with toys and perches. I now have justification for my excessive toy and perch hoard, since I had more than enough on hand to rig out an entire cage!

I moved Kelly into the Prevue Park Plaza since she had lived in it most recently during her quarantine last summer, but she did not tolerate the space. It’s not ideal for parakeets since it’s an 18” square but quite tall. She must feel very cramped and panicky in there because she just runs back and forth on the bottom looking for a way out.

Almost immediately I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but leaving her there to see if she would mellow out, Patrick and I went off to Petsmart to see if I could find a better option for her. They didn’t have any cages that I liked well enough to invest the money, unfortunately.

While we were still at Petsmart I checked our MiSafes Security Camera feed and I could see on our security camera app that even though it was night time dark, there was a white shape running rapidly along the floor off the cage, so before we even got home I had decided they were just going to have to sleep together that night and I would try Toby in the Prevue Park Plaza the next day.

Once we got home we let them out for a few minutes to try and get Kelly settled down and then moved her back to the big cage with Toby. There was some squabbling before bed, but nothing out of line, thank goodness.

The next morning I lured Toby into the Prevue Park Plaza and shut her in, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t start freaking out like Kelly!  She lived in this cage the first 7 months we had her, so there was a good chance she would accept it, even if it wasn’t ideal.

While she seemed confused about what was going on she settled in pretty quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Before we go away I still need to make some modifications so they both have enough perches and enough to do, but it is a HUGE relief that I don’t have to worry about them killing each other while we are gone.

As far as a long term plan – once we come back from vacation I want to keep them separated for another week or so until we get back into a routine and everything is finally calmed down and on their schedule. They can still be out for flight time together so that’s a bonus and they will get socialization time then.  Once we feel comfortable we will try having them live together again and see if their time apart hit a reset button, as I’ve read that it can.

If not then they can continue living separately, as much as I don’t want to maintain two cages. Alternately we might consider adding in a male parakeet to try and break up the tension. As much as Toby and Kelly occasionally like each other, Toby more bonded to me at present, and Kelly really hasn’t bonded to anyone. My theory is that if she had a bond with someone it might take her aggression down a notch, but experts can feel free to weigh in and tell me I’m dreaming!

Taking the parakeets for a car ride

We had the previously mentioned central air conditioning project happening at our house early this week, so the parakeets made their way over to my mom’s house for a bit of a vacation. It turns out I was way too cavalier about the process of moving them, and it was extremely stressful both for the humans and the parakeets.  It all worked out in the end, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes on this one, especially since the level of stress was exponentially greater than the length of the drive, which was only about 15 minutes!

The plan was to move them in our Small Vision Cage – which I had originally purchased with the intent to get them some time outside this summer. It seemed to me like a good size for both of them to have space to perch and move around, but small enough to comfortably fit in the car.  In the weeks leading up to the outing I introduced them to the Small Vision Cage and had them go into it and play with a favorite toy or enjoy some Millet. But, I didn’t do enough, and I never took them outside. By the time it occurred to me that I should get them used to the outside world it was the day before they had to decamp, and we felt that if they were traumatized by the back yard it would be that much harder to get them into the little cage when we needed to.

I should have devoted much more time to getting them used to the Small Vision Cage. Over a period of weeks I should have shut them in it repeatedly and I should have taken them outside in it.

Instead, the morning of the move came and after giving them loads of time to fly around and (theoretically) tire themselves out we lured them into the Small Vision Cage.  As soon as I shut the door they panicked. Toby went crazy climbing the bars around and around looked for a way out and Kelly immediately started doing the acrobatic tricks she used to when she was in her starter cage (park prevue) which she found way too small for her liking.

I had already packed a bag with their food and water bowl, Night Lights, Millet, and the Lixit Water Bottles rode in the cup holders of our car. As soon as I saw how badly they were taking the Small Vision Cage I realized we needed to get this done quickly. Patrick and I grabbed their main cage and stowed it in the trunk of his car – thank goodness for the surprisingly roomy Honda Fit – and we went back in to grab the budgies.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, we live on an extremely busy street near a highway entrance. The posted speed limit is 40 but night and day we’ve got people flying down the road going much faster. It can be scary even for a human, and the parakeets freaked even more once we got outside. Kelly had the equivalent of a night terror and thrashed back and forth careening around in the little cage and hitting all the walls and Toby in the process.  This, of course, set Toby off and she started flapping around madly as well.  At one point Kelly landed on the bottom of the cage (which I had padded with a towel) and her wing stuck out at such an odd angle I was sure it was broken – although I was wrong.

I made a fast dash to get them in the car where it would at least be quieter and had Patrick run back to the house for any kind of towel I could cover them with. He came out with a dish towel that only covered two sides, but I felt like we ought to just get going and get this over with.

I should have had a properly-sized cover ready and should never have taken them out of the house for the first time on the busy side with the cage uncovered.

The car ride was a total nightmare. Kelly alternately flew around like a crazy lady or tried to bite Toby. Toby at first was okay perching but kept getting displaced by Kelly and ended up clinging to the cage bars staring at me like I had betrayed her in the worst possible way!

Arriving at my mom’s house we hustled them in and put their main cage in the house as quickly as possible. Letting them out of the little cage we ascertained almost immediately that although they were shaken they were not at all injured as I had feared. Patrick and I spent about an hour with them making sure they were calm and settled in – I do think that having their regular cage made them feel immediately at home. They wanted to take a nap after they calmed down, so after we knew they were comfortable and not freaking out any more we left them to rest.

Over the next few days I’m pretty sure they had an amazing vacation, like a human kid who’s goes to grandma’s they got loads of attention and flight time and had a great time checking out a new environment. My mom’s guest room has windows onto her beautiful yard and bird feeders, Toby and Kelly spent hours watching the birds and I think they may have picked up a couple of new sounds too!

At our house it was way too quiet and very sad!  I even missed cleaning up after their mess, and especially in the mornings it was a bit bleak not having them there to wake up and start the day with.

Soon enough it was time to bring them home, and this we did with a couple of modifications that made it a lot easier, but still not at all fun!

We decided to split them up, Toby would ride home in the Small Vision Cage since she tolerated it better, and Kelly would ride in the Kaytee Travel Carrier she originally came home in, but completely covered with a (clean) dish towel.

Getting Toby into the Small Vision Cage was extremely easy.  She is so darn sweet it slays me, and she was not remotely suspicious when we lured her in with some Millet.  She took being closed in a lot better this time around, probably because she didn’t have Kelly amplifying her fear.

Kelly  refused to go in the Kaytee Travel Carrier. When we arrived at my mom’s we had joked that Kelly would be easy to stow because she could easily be grabbed. Well, Kelly took that memo and decided to take a stand. We tried holding her, perching her on our hands, luring her with Millet and she wanted nothing to do with any of it.

We ended up putting a huge spray of Millet in the Kaytee Travel Carrier and then stood there with our eyes closed for about 5 minutes pretending we were asleep until she relaxed enough to go in after the millet. Finally we were able to close her in and get the show on the road.

Kelly did a million times better being fully covered and didn’t panic or cause any harm to herself at all. I think being in the smaller cage and being covered helped her feel secure, she made little singing noises almost the whole way home and seemed very content.

Toby did fantastically well solo in the Small Vision Cage with just the front covered. At time she seemed anxious but she never panicked and I think being able to see and interact with me helped her stay calm.

I should have put consideration the first time around into their personalities and I should NEVER have kept them in the same cage for travel in light of the fact that they are both territorial females who would naturally attacked each other when they were under duress.  

Arriving home we set them back up as quickly as possible and let them out. We were all joyous at their home-coming; they flew back and forth from human perches to window perches and let us know they were very happy to be home.

The next morning Toby greeted me with a song before I was even in eye-line of their cage and was so excited to see me she escaped when I took out their water bowl for a refresh 🙂 we were happy to have them come out and say hello again even though it’s not part of our normal routine.

I can’t believe we have to leave them again in just a few days for vacation, and I’m increasingly nervous about the pet sitter, even though I’m sure she will be great. But, I’m so glad to have this behind us – and hopefully it will be a long time before the parakeets have to take a vacation from our home again!

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.