Interviewing a professional pet sitter for parakeets

I had this great idea a while back that Patrick and I should take a family vacation with my mom and stepdad. We decided on a destination and dates, and then my mom and I started worrying immediately about who would care for our pets. As you know from prior vacation-related posts on the blog, my mom has taken care of the budgies when we travel, and she does an amazing job of looking after them and letting them have free time outside of their cage. But, I had to go into this knowing that a professional service would not spend upwards of an hour at my house every day! This may be offensive to other pet owners, but I felt that finding a pet sitter for parakeets would be even more challenging than dogs or cats.

We started researching pet sitters and found someone through word-of-mouth that came highly recommended – and even better, I discovered she is a bird owner herself with loads of avian experience. The only problem was that she wasn’t responsive to email and her voicemail was full. Both my mom and I chatted with her separately and she sounded perfect on the phone, but we couldn’t get to the point of scheduling consults and it was getting frustrating and a little worrisome. I have a feeling this may be one of those situations where the pro has the best intentions, but probably has a full slate of clients and can’t take anything else on, whether she wants to admit it or not.

So, back to the googling board, I found the CAPPs website and a link to a sitter who looked like she might cover my area. I sent a message and heard back within a few hours, which made feel comfortable. We were able to work out a time for her to come over very easily and within a couple of days had the consult.

Of course I’ve never interviewed a professional pet sitter before, but she made it very easy and had her own intake sheet with all of the questions listed that she needs to do her job. These ranged from the details of feeding and watering, to whether we have a security system and if she would be responsible for taking out garbage or bringing in mail. She also provided me with a vet release to sign as well as a contract detailing her liability and what would happen in a variety of situations, like potential animal bites etc. She counter-signed the documents as well and left me with copies for my records.

My favorite clause is that if something goes wrong and she has to get a locksmith to open my house I will be responsible for the cost of the locksmith – I love knowing that no matter what happens she’s going to get in there and take care of my babies!

She has over 200 clients that are mostly vacation (versus day-to-day dog walking) and more than 500 individual animals. She also has a staff of 4 and was prepared to talk about her scheduling system, how billing is handled, and how credit card information and personal details are secured.

I don’t think she is completely familiar with budgies, but she has cared for parrots before, I was delighted that she seemed interested in watching them and asking questions about their behavior, particularly once she realized they were interested in watching her too!

We talked about whether or not they should come out of their cage, because at present they are not trained to go back in at our command. The sitter usually would stay in a 30 minute block of time ($20 per session) and there is no way to guarantee the parakeets would go back home in that time frame, especially if they’ve been stuck at home for a few days! So – she’s going to see how it goes, and if she’s got a few blocks of time she will let them out and charge me the additional after the fact, which I’m totally fine with. We let her know that she can also use millet to lure them back home if needed!

Overall she seemed extremely organized, responsible, and very professional; but at the same time warm and friendly. I can’t imagine a better mix of traits for someone you entrust with the lives of your pets. We still have a ways to go before vacationing, but I feel very relieved to have this sorted out, not that I won’t worry about them every day anyway, but at least I feel secure that they will be in very good hands.

Buying a tablecloth for your budgie

As I’ve mentioned, Kelly recently got over her fear of everything and is now quite a handful, more precisely, a handful of constantly chewing beak.  Which is totally normal, parrots are machines built for destruction, and the only saving grace of a budgie is its small size and (relatively) weak beak.  If Kelly was an African Gray or a Macaw I would probably have no wood furniture or door frames left at this point.

Since she can’t take it to that extent, Kelly limits herself to chewing on approved toys for the most part, but the exception is the edge of our dining room table.  Toby went through a brief table-mania last year, but was easily dissuaded from the pursuit.  Kelly, not so much, she is determined to turn that thing into matchsticks one chomp at a time.

I can’t even be mad at her for it, seriously, it’s what she’s meant to do, so it’s on me to find a workaround and shooing her away 500 times a day isn’t cutting it.  Also, I don’t know what varnish or veneer is on the table, and I don’t want her to slowly poison herself chewing on the wood.

My first idea was to take a long sheet of paper towels and drape it over the edge in question, weighting it with a couple of toys. This worked well, both Kelly and Toby enjoyed climbing up and down the hanging paper towel and it distracted from the table itself.  But, I’m not feeling that style of home décor, so a more permanent solution was needed.

I decided to buy a tablecloth, I’m pretty sure this is the first tablecloth I have ever purchased.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of money, but I was looking for something that would be visually appealing to both the parakeets and the humans, and seemed durable.

We ended up with the ColorBird Solid Cotton Linen Tablecloth Waterproof Macrame Lace Table Cover for Kitchen Dinning Tabletop Decoration (Rectangle/Oblong, 55″*102″, Linen) in sage green, which is a color that Toby likes. Taking it out of the box I noticed immediately that the fabric is nice and tightly woven and has a sheen to it, which has been great, it’s really easy to just wipe poops off of it, and small amounts of liquid don’t sink through. Also because of the tight weave it will take the budgies a while to destroy. It can be machine washed and line dried and that may be easier to manage than it currently is wiping down the table all the time.

I also like the lace edging. I know I’ll have to make sure they don’t eat it, but they will enjoy ripping it apart. It seems sort of odd to buy a nice item knowing that it’s basically going to be treated as disposable, but it will certainly be cheaper to replace than a whole table. Also, if they only attack one side I can rotate the tablecloth a few times for maximum use.

Hopefully this will be a good save for the table, I’m sure in a few weeks Kelly will figure out she can climb down and underneath and I’ll have a whole new set of issues.  Coming soon, presumably, a post about getting rid of our dining room table and turning the entire house into an aviary 🙂

Which sexes of budgies get along best

If I was starting fresh with zero parakeets right now, choosing which sex to get would be very easy. I would get two males, no question. A pair of males will almost always get along well, and I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone laying eggs and accompanying issues like becoming egg bound.

A male/female pairing might work, but the female could end up bullying the male and being overly territorial, and I really don’t want to breed parakeets. So, if they mated and began laying I would have to do stuff like steal eggs, boil them and return them to the cage so that they could have the experience of taking care of the eggs, without actually having baby parakeets.  I feel uncomfortable just thinking about doing that.  I know there’s no guarantee that would actually happen, and by not providing a nesting box and keeping daylight hours limited I could possibly avoid laying, but it’s just things I do not want to deal with as a parront.

Female/female is what we have now, and it’s working out pretty well.  Despite the fact that many people will tell you two females is impossible and they will kill each other, Toby and Kelly hang out together all day, preen each other, flock call when they are separated and generally seem to enjoy each other’s company.

But, they are both territorial, so from dawn till dusk (or later!) we do have intermittent squabbles that are usually about food bowls or toys. The key to keeping these relatively civil is to have a big enough cage for everyone to have their sense of space, and also to duplicate the important stuff. We have two food dishes, two waters and two perches for sleeping at the top of the cage.  They’ve been living together for over 6 months now and no one has ever drawn blood, so I consider that a success.

So – two female budgies can live together in my experience, which is, of course, limited to these two budgies.  We did also discuss this with the Rensselaer Bird Center staff when we took Kelly home, and they stated that in all their many years of breeding and housing budgies, two females had only ever had to be separated one time.  Like many of these issues, I’m sure it comes down to the individual bird, but you can sway it towards the positive by providing optimal living conditions.

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When will my parakeet talk?

This is a very similar post to when will my parakeet let me pet him, in that the answer is typically “don’t count on it”.   Many parakeets may learn to mumble a few garbled words, but fewer will be intelligible and barely any will have the clarity and vocabulary of a Disco the parakeet.

There is some correlation between budgies that learn to talk and sex, boys tend to be a lot more vocal in general, have sweeter songs, and a greater capacity for speech. When we first brought Toby home we thought she was a boy, I knew some about how the color of the budgie’s cere can be used to determine the sex, but I didn’t know that it was different when they are juveniles.  So, I should have been looking for a baby with a solid pink cere which would have absolutely been a boy, instead all I knew was boy=blue, not that young hens typically have light blue ceres with white around their nares (nostrils).

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hindsight 20/20, obviously a baby girl!

The employee at the pet store where we got Toby also said it looked like she was a boy, of course I know now that pet store workers typically have no specialized knowledge, and though the employee was well-intentioned, he probably knew about as much as we did about parakeets.

Anyhow, the result was that we brought home a girl thinking she was a boy, and even though she proved to be mostly quiet over the next couple of months we tried and tried to teach her to speak a simple two word phrase. We held her close to our mouths and made sure she was watching while we slowly sounded out the same words over and over and I’m sure she thought she’d been brought home by lunatics. When that failed, we moved on to playing YouTube clips on repeat of phrases, with the same lack of any result.

When we brought home Kelly we knew sooner that she was a female, and in the past six months we have mostly focused on trying to teach them any sort of cool sound, like playing the Lyre bird, which Toby really responds to and also this reel of R2-D2 noises with the screeching taken out.  Patrick thinks he hears them do some R2-D2 on occasion, but I’m not sure about that.

If you have a young male budgie he may be quite inclined to speak, if you repeat the same words and phrases often ie: “pretty bird” he might even pick them up on his own.  I’ve heard also that many females are capable of learning words.  I think it must depend mostly on the individual parakeet’s interest level, with a better chance of interest in males vs. females.

Originally we were pretty invested in Toby learning a word or two, and working with her on that dovetailed neatly with getting her hand tamed anyway, but if your budgie doesn’t seem interested in learning to speak then I would waste a lot of time on it, there are tons of other fun things you can teach your budgie and their natural vocalizations are (in my opinion) pleasant enough anyway.

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Review of the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer

Updated 1/27/2018

It’s now January of 2018 and we finally have a budgie that likes the K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch Small! Our new boy Kevin sits on the heated perch every afternoon for his nap time and you can tell he feel very comfy-cozy. Since he’s a bit smaller than our girls I’m so happy he has the extra heat of a bird warmer. Also I’m so pleased that all of our K&H warmers have been incredible safe and reliable, as this is their third winter in use and we have had no trouble with them whatsoever.

K&H Thermo Perch

We keep our house at a steady 69 in winter, but I know that a lot of folks would find that either too warm at night and/or prohibitively expensive, depending on your type of heating.  We’re also pretty lucky that the parakeets’ cage is in a relatively draft free zone, at least 3 feet away from a window and quite a bit more than that from a door.  It’s probably one of the warmer areas of the house, especially since the bedrooms tend to be on the chilly side.

Anyway, I know that budgies still like a bit more warmth than 68, even though they seem to have adjusted to our indoor winter temperature very easily, so I bought them the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer Small/Medium for a little extra heat.

Last year we had the K&H Thermo Perch, Small and Toby wanted no part of it, and in fact began avoided a full ¼ of her cage just to ensure she never had to land on the perch.  We tried it again this fall, thinking maybe Kelly could influence her in to giving it a try, but instead they both just kept away from it.

Even though Toby has some issues with color-based fear, I decided to try the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer Small/Medium, hoping that gray would not be too threatening and that even if they just occasionally ended up near it playing with a toy, that would be fine by me.

The warmer installs easily, you just have to make sure your cage is near an outlet or have an extension cord handy.  This is an extremely safe heater in our experience; it’s now been on continuously for about a month and always maintains a consistent and comfortable temperature. I wouldn’t hesitate to leave it on if we were going away for a weekend or a longer period of time.

As expected, the parakeets are not really in love with the warmer, they don’t specifically go over to it, or (as the name implies) snuggle up to it at all. But, I put it above a nice corner perch that they could hang out on for a while if they wanted, and I make sure to put fun toys nearby to lure them over.  Thus far they don’t in any way avoid it, and that was my best case scenario, so I’m very happy!  And, they may make the connection at some point and start going over when they feel chilled; a month is way too early to know how they will react by the end of winter.

One thing to watch out for is the power cord that comes out of the cage; it’s wrapped for their safety as far as not being able to chew through the cord, but mine tried anyway.  They love crawling around on the outside of their cage (and trying to sit on top of the Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz) so when we first got the snuggle up Kelly was obsessed with trying to go and chew on the cord. I moved her away several times and now they are both aware that they aren’t supposed to go near it. Of course a couples of times a week I catch them trying to sneak over to it, but as soon as I stand up or make eye contact they hustle away as though to say “me?  I would never!”

My final verdict is a definite go for it – even if your parakeets, like mine, aren’t totally sold on the concept, it gives me peace of mind to know that there’s a source of extra warmth in the cage, and that it’s extremely safe and I can feel comfortable leaving it plugged in and running 24/7 is fantastic.

Hide your hands – Kelly is a teenager – dealing with biting budgies

I have written before about our struggles with Kelly and biting, which were relatively unexpected since she was handfed and socialized by her breeder.  Well, we have just reached the next level of biting mania and willfulness.

There is a period of time during which a budgie is no longer a baby (after their first big molt) and before they are mature (about 1 year old).  During this time they do a lot of testing boundaries, acting out, and generally being defiant. Compounding this issue is that she’s come into breeding condition for the first time, so she’s very territorial and hormonal.

Kelly launched herself into this period with some real flair. She went from being scared of being on the couch one day to trying to burrow into it and shred the seams the next, she also decided that the dining room table wasn’t scary anymore and, in fact, needs to be turned into match sticks.  So, I can see that we are going to be doing a lot of “time outs” over the next few months.

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couch ostrich

The worst part is that the occasional biting has shifted in to high gear and is serious limit-testing.  I had a few bad moments the other day where I was surprised by it and ended up doing more of a frantic flap than a gentle roll to put her off balance.  She seems to know where the softest spots are and digs in.

We’ve pretty well failed on every method of deterrence so far, including: blowing on her lightly, saying no, putting her back in the cage, gently rolling our hands to keep her off balance and/or just not reacting to bites.

The crazy thing is that she only hates hands, you can put your face next to her and no matter what she will never bite it, she can even be trusted to groom eyebrows and have access to your nose. There is simply a major disconnect between the hands and the rest of the body.

I considered leaving her alone for a while but she loves being with us, she always wants to be on her people and preen our hair or explore our sweatshirts and it’s obvious that she enjoys interacting with us as much we enjoy her. And enjoy her we do, I hope that I don’t sound too Kelly-negative, she is so much fun and I wouldn’t change her for any other budgie.

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Going forward, I’m going to take a two-pronged approach, 1st I’m not going to step her up any more unless it’s in the context of structured reward-based clicker training. She needs a distraction as soon as she’s on the hand or she starts biting immediately and hopefully with the clicker training we can extend that period of time until she doesn’t bite at all. 2nd In case the hand issue is based in fear I’m going to work on allowing her to explore my hands when they are flat down on a surface and do not move at all. This may end up in me getting bit many more times as she examines the various textures of a hand, but hopefully it will help her become more comfortable with them.

Toby was pretty easy to convince that hands are benevolent bird-like objects, if we crook a finger at her and “nod” it she nods right back, beaks the fingernail gently and pins her eyes like she is greeting another bird (it IS as cute as it sounds).   Kelly, so far, is just not having it, but I know we went through this with Toby too; she did not bite this hard though.

Anyway – this has been sort of a rambling post.  The points are primarily that many parrots go through a “teenager” like phase where they are quite unmanageable and you may wonder where your sweet baby has gone. This is okay; they need to assert their independence and they will go back to being their nice selves after a while.  Also, sometimes even though a budgie has no reason to be a biter they are, and all of the tried-and-true methods of dealing with biting may fail – this is okay, just have patience and keep trying, and if you need to give up because you are too frustrated, that’s fine too, you can accept your budgie on their terms.  Biting, in my opinion, is not a valid reason to rehome a budgie, unless they are injuring other members of their bird-flock and simply must be single birds. Even in that case, actually, if you have the space and means to house them separately then please do that.

So, wish us luck and if you’ve got any other ideas let me know!

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When will my parakeet let me pet him?

I saw this question posed recently in a social media group and it made me wonder how many new or prospective budgie owners think they are going to have a snugly cuddly relationship with their parakeet.

I’m not saying it never happens; we’ve all seen videos of a parakeet lying down in someone’s hand enjoying a neck and head rub and looking like they are in total ecstasy.  Much like the budgies with insane vocabularies (Disco, for example) those cases of the snugly parakeet are the exception and not the rule.

Here’s the thing though, that’s okay.  It simply isn’t natural for a parakeet to want to be petted, it’s great if you adopt the rare parakeet that does, or if you hand raise a parakeet and he grows up feeling comfortable with your touch, but if you have the average budgie that isn’t very snugly, that’s okay too, and it doesn’t mean you have failed at having a good relationship with your parakeet.

An additional factor is that similar to dogs and cats, each parakeet has his own personality and overall ability to be tamed. I had a cat once who loved having her tummy rubbed, and another cat who would take your hand off for even suggesting it.  Our Petsmart bird Toby was way more comfortable with people and hands after living with us for 6 months than Kelly is, and Kelly was hand-raised by expert bird breeders who handled her every day.

Most parakeets that start out feral will become comfortable with perching on your hands, shoulders, head etc. (with a lot of hard work on your part). They will be happy to play with you and preen you. Fewer than that will be okay with you lightly rubbing their necks and heads.  Even fewer than that will accept more touching.

I’ve posted before about the theory that a parakeet regards your hands as other birds, having nothing to do with your head. From that perspective it makes a lot of sense that they would never accept being petted, since why would one bird pet another?

A further complication is that you can accidentally stimulate your parakeet sexually by touching his back, since that’s something they associate with mating. Not surprisingly, it can be very frustrating for a bird to be stimulated in that way without having a mate, and unless you are trying to breed parakeets you don’t want them to be in season anyway.

Bottom line takeaways are:

  • If you want a cuddly pet a parakeet may not be a good choice for you
  • Your parakeet may never be interested in being petted or touched, no matter what you do, he may even react out of fear every time you approach with your hands, and that’s okay
  • You can still have a fulfilling relationship with your parakeet if he does not fit into your definition of “tame”, and lack of being able to cuddle him does not constitute a failure on your part.