The parakeets eat popcorn for the first time

I am all about feeding the parakeets new and interesting foods, although of course only parakeet-safe stuff. There aren’t too many human snacks that we can share with our parakeets, but popcorn is on the approved list. The only caveat is that it can’t be the salty, buttery awesomeness like you get at the movie theater or from a bag of microwaved popcorn. Plain old popcorn is the ticket.

We’ve had a Presto Hot Air Corn Popper for years – it’s the same brand that I grew up with and it’s so easy to use. You put the corn kernels into the well, plug it in and wait until they pop. It’s a bit noisy as the air heats the kernels but in a few minutes it’s all over and you have a beautiful bowl of pristine popcorn. Our favorite kernels are Snappy White Popcorn and we have some on hand at all times. The best thing about the air popper is that you don’t have to worry about burning oil on the stove top or washing a greasy pan afterwards. It’s a great way to make a healthy snack for humans or parakeets.

Because of my concerns about the noise, I hadn’t made popcorn literally in the two years since we got Toby. Pretty silly, right? We recently decided to try it out and see how traumatized the parakeets would be – which was, as it turns out, zero traumatized.

Although that didn’t mean they quite knew what to do with the popcorn once it was popped. Kelly enjoyed ripping a few pieces apart while Patrick held them, but once they were on a little plate in her cage she totally lost interest. Toby was very suspicious of the end product and didn’t even venture to lick a piece of popcorn.

No worries though, parakeets are notoriously reluctant to try new things so I’m not really put off. Now that we know they aren’t scared of the noisy Air Popper there will be a lot more popcorn opportunities in our house. So, we will offer them a little bit each time and see if the idea catches on; if not, at least it’s something unusual for them to think about, which is always an enriching experience.

Giving the budgies their own room

I’ve always been an advocate for keeping budgies in the center of your home where they can be a full participant in your daily lives. So, it may seem odd that I’m going to try giving the budgies their own room now after years of advising otherwise! I do have some good reasons, first, here’s what’s wrong with our current set up.

My house is relatively small and only one floor. We have just under 1,000 square feet, which is perfectly fine for two adult humans. With the small size and open floor plan, the budgies’ cage set up is currently in spitting distance of both the kitchen and living room.

our current budgie set uphow close our cages are to the kitchenIt’s okay for them to be this close to the kitchen, which is typically not advisable, because we use all bird-safe cookware, and frankly don’t cook that much or elaborately anyhow!

Although their health is fine, it’s become sort of a pain over the years for we humans, and we’d like to be able to turn on the kitchen light after 7:30pm on occasion!  Also, it’s tiresome sneaking around your kitchen if you want a glass of water in the middle of the night.

In addition to our human gripes with the set up, I think the parakeets would be better off in a quiet, darker and less trafficked area for sleeping. It might also help us shake Toby and Kelly out of breeding condition if they could truly get 12 hours of darkness, which I am increasingly sure they aren’t getting with their current living arrangement.

Also, it will get them further away from doors that open to the outside world, and that’s always a good thing! I can fully bird-proof their new room, and won’t have to worry about anyone landing in a kitchen sink, or under the reclining couch.

Another factor is Toby’s continuing obsession with Patrick. Her desire to scream in his ears and preen his eyeballs can be hard for Patrick to deal with (understandably). The unhappy result is the parakeets sometimes spend more time in their cages on the weekends than I would like, so that Patrick can live his life without being harassed constantly. If they can be out with me in a separate bird-friendly space it would be a huge help.

what will be the budgie's roomThis is the room that will be theirs.  It’s actually the master bedroom in the house so lucky them!  Currently it’s my home office space and laundry line/drying rack. To prep this room we are removing the dining table and other pieces of furniture, and then we will add some window perches a new light fixture and a dimmer switch so I can keep up with their nighttime routine.

They will still be welcome in the rest of the house and I will keep their play gym in the space their cages used to be. I don’t anticipate losing any time with them after the switch. I work full time outside the home, but the proposed bird-room is where I work on the blog, and a comfortable space for humans to hang out. I could definitely see myself chilling in there with them after work every day and on the weekends.

Another bonus is that it will help contain the parakeet feathers and allergens, which have increased exponentially with the addition of Kevin.

If it doesn’t work out we can very easily reverse the change, but I think it’s worth a shot!

I’ll post an update after we make the switch.  I wanted to also thank everyone who helped me by commenting on my Facebook post when I was trying to decide what to do. There was pretty much a 50/50 split on whether it was a good idea, but I found that everyone’s input helped a lot!

New parakeet fitting in update – how Kevin is faring with the girls

On our last Kevin update, I recounted the horrible evening we had trying to get everyone settled down for bed. We’ve done some tweaking since then, and now Kevin and Toby are living together in one cage with Kelly next door. Being a new parakeet fitting in is probably never easy, but Kevin really has his work cut out for him with our two ladies.

First, we spent a few days with everyone living mostly peacefully in a single flight cage. There were evening battles and Toby and Kelly would mix is up a couple of times a day, but they left Kevin out of it and it was going pretty well. So well, in fact, that I cleaned out the HQ Victorian Top cage and put it away in a closet, therefore damning myself with the universe, since the very next day everything fell apart!

It was a Sunday morning and we had several errands to run, so instead of letting the birds out right away I left them in the cage while we had our morning coffee and got ready to go. Well, Toby and Kelly began an epic battle that was reminiscent of last summer’s death matches. Toby went after Kelly, knocking her to the ground where they proceeded to roll around trying to kill each other, breaking apart only to have Kelly hop after Toby starting the whole thing over again. It’s bad enough just to have the two of them try to murder each other, but Kevin being in the middle of it was just added horror and he flitted around trying to stay out of their way.

We let them out, got everyone calmed down and I quickly rolled the HQ Victorian back out, once Toby and Kelly get into this mode it’s just not safe to leave them alone together. I didn’t want to delay the inevitable. But, we knew that night time would still be a major issue because Kelly does not like being alone. We covered the side of her cage that faces Toby and Kevin’s for a  couple of days and she calmed down eventually. Now they all seem to understand who lives where, and ultimately except for the addition of Kevin it’s exactly the same configuration as before.

Poor Kevin has been a total angel throughout everything. He’s very intelligent, you can see him constantly observing the girls and thinking about how to navigate life with them. He always defers to either girl on matters of who should eat, who will sit where, basically in all things he lets them go first and then hangs back until it’s his “turn”.

I’ve been worried about him since we brought him home, because he wasn’t playing with toys, singing, or eating enough. In the couple of weeks since he’s been out of quarantine I’ve seen him playing and eating more, and then in one single day last week he ate millet that we offered him, tried some broccoli, AND started singing again! He’s not singing very often yet, or consistently eating millet or vegetables, but it was such a relief that he’s coming around to life with us. We are still working on human acceptance, so far I can tell he likes it when we speak or sing to him and tell him what a good boy he is.

On several occasions I’ve seen him think about hopping on my hand or shoulder, and he’s not ready to make that leap yet. But, he’ll get there soon enough.  He also has one flight feather grown back in and he does exceptionally well with short flights. I think when he’s got all his feathers back he’ll be the best flier out of all of them!

As far as fitting in with the girls I was just so wrong about how it would go (of course). Isn’t there an expression about making plans and the universe laughing? I assumed that if Kelly had a friend who would reciprocate affection to her she would stop fixating on Toby. But, she’s equally as focused on Toby and obviously it’s going as poorly as it ever has!  Kelly has been more consistently aggressive to Kevin as well, especially when they are in the same cage alone, she doesn’t take to him at all.

Toby, as expected, doesn’t want much to do with him, but tolerates his presence as long as he doesn’t get in her way. As far as possible inroads, they have been spotted playing with the same toy, one at the bottom and one at the top, so that’s good! They do pretty well at bed time too, with some very minor squabbles that fizzle quickly once Toby realized Kevin isn’t interested in fighting.

I know it’s way too early to call it a fail, which it isn’t no matter what happens because Kevin is such a joy. But I don’t think he’s going to fix any of the inter-bird relationships that we already had going so wrong. He was very ready the first day out of quarantine to start bonding with them, he tried regurgitating to Toby and getting close and has been rejected over and over again. Now having adjusted his approach he may win them over on the long run.

Some folks may disagree with me, but what Kevin has shown more than anything is that I don’t want to have any more girl parakeets. I know that it varies greatly by bird, and some girls, like Toby, can be very nice. But listening to Kevin sing and watching him be so sweet and thoughtful, it’s a totally different parakeet experience. I feel bad bringing him into this environment where it’s tough to be a part of the flock. Right now he’s a bit of an outsider, I’m confident that he’s reasonably happy and figuring things out, but it’s not ideal.

Still, we adore him and we are enjoying him so much! Since Toby is so obsessed with Patrick I’m hoping that Kevin and I can bond. Kelly will still be the odd bird out, but that may be her lot in life. She’s very intense, overbearing, cranky and out of step with everyone.

As much as I now have diminished (realistic?) expectations for Kevin, I’m excited to see how he develops, both in his flock relationships and his personal development as he gets more comfortable at home.

Parakeet weight update – have Toby & Kelly slimmed down?

Our new parakeet, Kevin, seemed shockingly small to us when he first came home. Compared to Toby and Kelly he was as light as a feather. We naturally felt that he was underweight, but since he was having such a hard time with trust we didn’t think we could get him on the Food Scale for a weight in. We weighed Toby and Kelly instead and, to our horror, found that they were overweight! Looking up healthy parakeet weight, you will find a few different ranges, some say 25-36 grams is the healthy range, while others say 30-40 grams. I should mention that all of our parakeets are the smaller Australian parakeet, versus the larger “English” budgie.

Toby and Kelly knocked it out of the park, with Toby weighing in at 43 grams and Kelly at a whopping 55 grams!  Ouch! I immediately renewed my commitment to healthy feeding. Right now they are on a mix of Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine, Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets. The Harrison’s high potency is not a forever thing, Harrison’s recommends switching over to pellets with the high potency and then switching to Harrison’s Adult Lifetime Super Fine which is for long term feeding.

I am still completely on the fence about pellets in general. I’m not sure that they are part of my long term feeding plan. But, I’ll try anything to see what works best for our flock!

In addition to changing up our food mix, I also recommitted to feeding fruits or vegetables every day, and that’s been going well! I think I enjoy watching them play around on a plate of veggies as much as they enjoy doing it. I’m not convinced they are eating all that much of it, but as long as they throw the food around and get some enrichment I’m good.

It’s been about a month since we made the changes, and while they haven’t shed enough grams for a stunning before and after photo I’m happy with the progress. Toby is down to 40 grams, and probably at a healthy weight for her. Kelly dropped to 50 grams, which is percentage-wise a substantial loss.  We will keep working on her, but I do seriously think that she has a bigger frame than Toby and Kevin and should probably weight more.

Kevin decided it would be okay to get on the scale and originally weighed in at 23 grams, which is too low, but I think he was scared to eat well in quarantine. Also I’m pretending that the weight of his missing flight feathers would have gotten him into a non-danger zone of being underweight!

Now that he’s been out of quarantine for a few weeks he is up to 29 grams, which is a nice and respectable, but still quite slim.

I’m hopeful that we can keep Kevin and Toby where they are and maybe help Kelly lose a few more grams. The parakeets are all bunking in together at this point and I think that having in-cage companionship during the day may help encourage all of them to play more. Fingers crossed that it keeps going well, but it’s great to see that a few changes can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy parakeet weight!

Bed time is a total nightmare with three budgies!

After several days of all three cages out in the main living area Patrick and I were more than ready to consolidate parakeets and get back down to two cages. Kevin’s quarantine cage was more than half blocking the hallway to the bedroom and bathroom so you’d have to sort of sidle past. Not only was this a pain for us, but we were definitely waking Kevin up every time we went from the living room to the rest of the house after 7pm! Little did I know that reducing the number of cages would result in a budgie bed time nightmare for all of us.

The first surprising decision we made was to move Toby into Kelly’s flight cage and put Kelly and Kevin in the HQ Victorian Top cage.  Everyone seemed to enjoy using that cage during the day, choosing to nap in there and hang out on the porch like they used to. It was always Kelly’s favorite cage too, we only upgraded her because she seemed so agitated we thought she needed a larger space, but it turned out she was just generally dissatisfied being separated from Toby, even if it was for her own safety!

So, we picked a morning and reduced the three cages down to two, and Kevin found his new favorite spot on a  perch between them. We changed things up in every cage, trying to shake them all up and reduce any feelings of ownership or territoriality.

Kevin looking very handsome prior to the budgie bed time nightmareThe first day went swimmingly. They moved between cages and had a great time hanging out together and negotiating their lives as a flock of three. Kevin is still doing a lot of observation, and refuses to get involved in petty arguments. Toby likes to try and intimidate other birds from eating, but Kevin very calmly stands his ground and they typically end up eating out of the same bowl! It’s funny how he can be passive but at the same time he usually gets what he wants without being violent.

Soon the whole day had passed and it was time for everyone to bed down. I decided to try having Kevin sleep in with Toby in the big cage, because he is so chill about everything I really don’t have to worry about her being too aggressive with him, where as I had still seen Kelly aggressing on him a bit.

As soon as the lights dimmed I realized we had a bit of an unexpected issue. Kevin wouldn’t settle down! He kept climbing up and down the side bars closest to Kelly. I intuited that he wanted to be with Kelly and moved him to Kelly’s cage, leaving Toby alone.

Well, that didn’t work. Kelly was agitated and wanted to be in the next cage over with Toby. I would have been okay with letting her burn off the energy and giving up but she started biting the cage bars, which makes this absolutely infuriating clangy bang noise that drives me up a wall.

I then moved Kelly into Toby’s cage. That didn’t work for two reasons. Toby attacked Kelly immediately and Kevin got very upset that he was all alone.

So – I moved Kevin into the flight cage with Kelly and moved Toby into the cage on the left by herself.

At this point both Kelly and Toby are upset. Kelly because they are separated again and Toby because she can’t settle down, there are two toys higher than the perches in the HQ Victorian so she has to try to sleep on them, and can’t get comfortable, shockingly, on the narrow ledge of a mirror top.

It was like the most deranged shell game ever. Finally after about an hour of shuffling them around like a moron I stuck them all in the flight cage and decided to let them sort it out. Toby and Kelly battled noisily for about half an hour, because although there were at least 4 places to sleep at the exact same level they both needed to be on a small Y-perch. Kevin stayed completely out of it on another perch entirely, but I’m sure it wasn’t restful.

Finally they settled and Toby fell asleep with one foot on the perch and one foot on a cage bar. I’m guessing that she relaxed her grip when she fell into a deeper sleep because not an hour later she biffed off the perch and had quite a nice little night terror, her first in well over a year! The lights went back on and I spoke to her a bit less than sweetly until she was calmed down.

After that point we were mostly quiet except for some little squawks and angry noises. I kept one ear open all night expecting to hear another night terror, but all was quiet and everyone was undamaged this morning, at least physically!

Irrationally, perhaps, I think we are going to try having them sleep all together again, and possibly even hang out together in the flight cage when we leave the house. I know it’s taking a risk with Toby and Kelly getting in fights still, but I am so tired of Kelly being miserable that I think they need another shot at working it out. I hate leaving Kevin in the middle of it, but he’s pleased to be around budgies and I’m not sure he minds.

I’ll keep a sharp eye on everything as it develops, of course, and be ready to make adjustments and shuffle them around, but at this point I think I need to give myself a bit of a break and let them try to get it sorted! I can’t have another budgie bed time nightmare like that one at the very least.

Introducing our new parakeet to the flock

Kevin finally made it through quarantine! It was harder and a lot less fun than we all anticipated and it makes me so glad that he has made it through and can be with the flock. Of course, introducing parakeets can be a tense situation, so the relief at his getting through quarantine was immediately followed by anxiety about merging him into the flock of Toby and Kelly.

This was compounded by the fact that Toby and Kelly can be pretty tough customers. They live separately now because of some violent interactions between the two of them and I was worried they would immediately attack Kevin. When we introduced Kelly to Toby we took it too fast, so this time the process was a lot more measured and thought out, although probably still a bit too speedy.

First, a few days before the official end of quarantine we started moving Kevin’s cage out into the dining area where Toby and Kelly live for half hour blocks of time. This way everyone could check each other out and learn a bit about the new guy. The change in Kevin’s demeanor was immediate, as soon as he saw other budgies he clearly felt a lot better about life. He was preening himself, making little noises, and eating in front of us. It was like a magical switch was thrown that turned him back into a parakeet! As soon as he would go back into his quarantine room he would go right back into fear mode, unfortunately.

After a few days of letting them see each other from the safety of their own cages, we allowed Toby and Kelly to come out and inspect Kevin more closely.

Introducing parakeetsThis may not have been the best idea, but it worked well in this situation. Toby and Kelly felt like they were in control of everything and Kevin was still so thrilled to feel safe that he tried to pack the preening of several weeks into a 45 minute period. Even when the girls got a little aggressive through the bars he didn’t react back at all, which was perfect.

Finally the day came where they could all be out together. We introduced everyone in Patrick’s home office space, a room that no one wants to be in (least of all Patrick haha)! That didn’t last long, Toby and Kelly wouldn’t stay in that room, even with millet, and kept flying back to their home base. We gave up on that in short order and put Kevin out with them on top of the cages in the dining room.

introducing parakeetsIt was utterly nerve-wracking!  They were SUCH bad girls! Toby immediately chomped on his head and tried to bite his wings. Kelly kept tugging (hard) on his tail feathers any time he was in range of her beak. When the girls began working together to corner him I thought all of my worst nightmares about his assimilating into the flock were coming true!

Patrick kept reminding me that they needed to figure out whether Kevin was a threat to them, and also to put him in his place and make sure he knew that they were top dogs. Kevin was perfection, no matter what they did the first day he didn’t react at all, just tried to observe them. He quickly realized that he couldn’t put his back to either of them and stood at the corner of one of the cages watching. He was still quite delighted to be out with them, even if it looked to me like a miserable time!

Toby got scolded several times for exceedingly ungracious behavior, and when we put them all in their homes for the evening Patrick and I couldn’t quite sort out whether we felt it went well or horribly!

The next day we decided to move Kevin’s quarantine cage into the bird area so they could observe each other at all times. They came out all together again and it did go better, although there was still a lot more violence than I would have liked I could see that they were testing him. If provoked, Kevin would make a small show of fronting back, but not actually fight, it’s awesome.

For his part, even if he had to watch his back, the transformation in Kevin was incredible! He was making sweet noises and flock calling, moving around, preening, and acting like the lovely guy we picked out at the pet store.

Every subsequent day has been even better, they still treat him a little like an outsider to their girl club, but Toby and Kelly have accepted his presence and don’t try to pull his feathers out (as much). Kevin is a fantastic addition to the flock and we couldn’t be happier with his attitude and his willingness to go with the flow. He and Kelly should be combining households soon and I think it’s going to be great for both of them.

introducing parakeetsIt’s a relief to have gotten through the initial introductions with no bloodshed! I’m excited for Kevin to get his flight feathers back so that they can fly together, and for he and Kelly to be roommates, which I hope will be good for both of them.

Kevin rounds out his quarantine as sadly as he started

Kevin has been quite sad in quarantine, and we will all be happy to see him out of it! We had high hopes for using the time to bond with him but Kevin remains very resistant to our human wiles and trickery, although he will happily take our millet.

The plan was to use quarantine for human-loving boot camp. We’ve been spending time with him every day in our own ways. Patrick focuses on basic training, teaching Kevin how to navigate a cage and how to play. Cage navigation training was a rousing success, play has not worked out very well so we’ll be relying on Toby and Kelly for that. Patrick has also gotten Kevin used to being handled by people, and has clipped his nails, given him a light bath, put coconut oil on his dry beak, cere and feet, and filed down his beak just a tiny bit.

The good news is that Kevin is easy about being manhandled, he rarely bites and usually only struggles for a moment before letting you maintain him. He is also a good flyer, his clip was done very well at Benson’s  before he came home and he can fly well enough, but not expertly. He is even able to make it three feet off the floor.

My “training” focus with Kevin has been more about getting him used to being with people. I have him sit on me and feed him millet, talk softly to him and close my eyes around him. I also try to go into his room and move around and do people stuff so he knows that “people” doesn’t always equal people making you do things you don’t want.

Happily, after a week or so, Kevin recognized the cage as his home and his safe spot, which is awesome. It also means that every time we take him out he is fairly desperate to get back to his cage! So, that’s a bummer. But, I’m glad that he has someplace he wants to be at least.

The sad parts are that Kevin hasn’t started making much noise yet and he doesn’t play. He flock calls with Toby and Kelly for about 5 minutes every day but that’s about it. He doesn’t engage with any toys and typically just hangs out in one spot every day, only moving around to eat a few times and when we move him.

I feel very confident that he’s healthy and will be joining Toby and Kelly soon. His poop is perfection, his eyes are clear and bright, his nares are clear as well. His cere, beak and feet look awesome with no sign of mites. He is not fluffy or truly lethargic, he’s just scared to move! If I had any hint of sickness I would extend quarantine, but he looks to be a very well boy.

If Kevin really is about two years old, then it’s no wonder he’s finding this so difficult. He has always lived in an aviary with I would bet no less than 20 other parakeets at a time. It must be absolutely terrifying to be alone. We’ve tried playing budgie noises and videos for him, but he didn’t enjoy it. Patrick is off from work for Kevin’s last week of quarantine, so we’ll do a final push on human acceptance and then get down to the business of assimilating him into the flock.

I’m not anticipating a ton of issues, we’re going to do the introductions in a neutral room that no one feels ownership over. Kelly and Toby are at least mildly aware that there’s another bird in the house, and they seem very interested in meeting him. In the end, we got Kevin to enhance the flock life, and not with the goal of his being our best friend in the whole wide world. So, if he does well with the girls and starts feeling more safe to be himself we will consider it a rousing success!