The importance of a flock to a parakeet – as demonstrated by watermelon

You might have seen my post last year about things Toby was terrified by. One of the main offenders was watermelon, the sight of which so traumatized her last year that she retreated to her cage and could not be coaxed out for the rest of the day. Now last year at this time Toby didn’t have Kelly, and I wasn’t aware yet of the importance of a flock.

Fast forward to this year, I decided to try watermelon again because Kelly is a total fruit nut, and is not afraid of the color red.

I did my usual routine of getting out their plate and the fruit and putting on a good show of eating it myself and exclaiming over its goodness. Kelly came over to my shoulder first and was very excited, and then lo and behold here comes Toby, who is so blasé about being confronted with something red that you’d think she was a different budgie entirely.

Offering her a little piece while she was on my shoulder did cause her to recoil a bit, but Kelly was more than happy to stick out her tongue and test the melon for edibility.  Discovering that it was, in fact, awesome, Kelly got even more worked up and immediately hopped down to the kitchen counter and started eating the watermelon before I was done cutting it up.

Toby immediately followed suit, and they both proceeded to eat more of any fruit or vegetable than I think I’ve ever seen before!  They ripped larger pieces into shreds, carried some off and dropped them all over the place. Not a snack for the mess-averse, but I feel it is well worth it to see them really enjoying a treat.

It might be easy to see how this illustrates the importance of keeping more than one parakeet.  Solo, Toby was terrified of so many things that limited her life and her enjoyment of her surroundings.  No matter how bonded she was to her humans, there was absolutely no way that we could fill that role in her life.  She needed another parakeet desperately to be the leader and to show her things were okay.

This was even further reinforced for me on the same evening, they were getting settled in to bed and going through their recent nightly routine.  They are both molting, and once I start dimming their light they head up to the top perches in their cage and take turns preening and feeding each other (before it devolves into fighting over who’s going to sleep where).  Spying on them during these quiet bonding moments I know that Patrick and I could absolutely never fill that void for Toby the way Kelly does. And instead of taking something away from us, it just makes our flock stronger because everyone’s needs are being met in a way that they weren’t when we were just a flock of three.

Toby and Kelly’s phantom foot injuries

Weeks apart, Toby and Kelly both managed to scare me half to death thinking that their feet were bleeding.  I’m sure unintentionally, they taught me a good lesson about how to respond to a medical emergency, whether real or perceived.

Toby took the first round, I had just put a plate of cucumber mush into their cage, she hopped on the plate, and then jumped back off.  As she bounced around the cage I saw a bright red, wet dot on her toe!  Now, mind you I have no idea how a parakeet could cut their foot on a plate of grated cucumber mush, but if anyone was going to find a way it would be Toby.  That girl trips all over her own feet every day.

IMG_5104

Anyway, I immediately went to level 10 on the panic scale, like most parakeet owners, I’ve heard the statistic that ‘keets can die from losing just 12 drops of blood, and this looked like bit fat drop number 1! I yelled out to my husband that he needed to come immediately because Toby’s foot was bleeding, he leapt off the couch and joined me in the kitchen and reminded me that I should grab my Styptic Powder from our 1st aid kit. I was literally in such a state I don’t know if I would have gotten that far, so much for being calm in a crisis!

I grabbed the powder and ripped open the package, quickly reading the directions as I went.  But, as my initial panic was fading, I noticed that the drop of blood hadn’t changed on Toby’s foot, or fallen off or anything, which seemed pretty suspicious.

Pointing it out to Patrick, we decided that since she wasn’t in immediate danger of exsanguinating we should get her to wash her foot off and see what the heck was going on.  I poured a shallow dish of water and we lured her in to splash around with some millet.

As soon as she hopped in the water the red dot floated away and there was nothing at all wrong with her toe underneath!  Huge sigh of relief, but what the heck was it in the first place??  I poured out some of their food on a white piece of paper and noticed that here and there were tiny pieces of something red which were clearly the culprit!  It makes so much sense now, that she got her foot wet in the cucumber and then, hopping onto the papered floor of their cage, got a small bit of discarded food stuck to her toe!  It just happened to be colored for maximum bird mommy panic.

IMG_4969
possible offenders

 

Sidebar, the reason I’m so susceptible to thinking their feet are damaged is because Toby and Kelly both have a tendency to bite each other’s feet. No one HAS ever actually drawn blood, but if someone’s feet look bloody that’s where my mind goes immediately and it feels so plausible.

Next up, several weeks later, was Kelly.  I had just woken them up for the day and saw a dried-looking patch of red on her foot that I simply could not explain.

I can proudly say I reacted with somewhat less panic, but did call Patrick over and instead of grabbing the styptic we first went for the plate of water and millet trick.  She happily splashed around for a few moments and the red splotch faded, to my great relief.

Then I remembered that I had fed her strawberries for the first time the previous evening and it looked like a total bloodbath!  I didn’t notice any stains on her foot at the time, but I had noticed the tip of her tail and her head had a couple of red marks, so I must have just missed the foot splash.

The lesson learned here, for me, is twofold.  First it reinforces how important it is to have first aid supplies on hand.  But second, and most important, it reminds me that keeping a level head and assessing a situation before reacting with any rash treatment is so important.  I’m relieved that I didn’t treat them with anything they didn’t actually need, even though delaying to assess the (perceived) damage made for some tense moments!

IMG_5250
strawberry bloodbath

PetSmart

Kelly goes AWOL from the cage in a daring bid to reunite with the love of her life

For several months Kelly has been having a love affair with the dining room table; more specifically, a love affair that involves trying to chew it to bits.  In a bid to protect the table from Kelly AND Kelly from the table I have draped the edges in paper towel, then bought a tablecloth, and THEN had to put paper cage liners underneath the tablecloth.

At any rate, aside from a few episodes of intensely trying to get back to the table’s edge I thought Kelly was pretty much over the relationship, until the day I accidentally left one of their food bowl access doors open….

Every morning when I wake up one of my first tasks is to refresh the parakeets’ food and water; sometimes I swap the bowls around in the 3 available holders, just to keep life interesting.  That morning was such a time; I removed the top food bowl, dumped it and refilled, and then put it back in a lower slot.  Unwittingly, I also left the top door unlatched and merely pushed close to the cage.

Fast forward to the early afternoon, I frequently check in on the birds during the day using my security camera (MiSafes 1280x720p HD C303-1 Mini Wireless Surveillance Camera with Microphone Speaker with 2 Way Talk Remote Monitoring Motion Alert for iOS & Andriod App, Black).  If I’m feeling stressed out I find it calming to listen to them singing along with music or even yelling at each other; sometimes I just take a peek very quickly to make sure they are both doing okay.  I’m only about 20 minutes away from home during the day, so if I saw that one of them was stuck on a toy or otherwise distressed I could get to them pretty quickly.

So, I opened my camera app, and noticed Toby right away, which is almost always the case since blue is much easier to spot than off-white. But, I couldn’t find Kelly for the life of me. I zoomed in as much as possible on the feed and searched every corner of the cage and she was invisible.  After a few minutes I decided she must be behind a toy taking a nap. I closed the camera app and promptly forgot about it until I got home.

As I approached the cage I realized the food door was ajar by quite a bit, and immediately realized what I had done. But I knew the door hadn’t been open by that much, I would certainly have noticed that and if I missed it my husband would have before he left for work.

IMG_3692
The door ajar – and the guilty party in the background

I saw both budgies were in the cage and began praising them lavishly and at great length for being such good girls and staying in the cage when I wasn’t home.  I noticed that Kelly was being more standoffish than usual and Toby was acting a bit odd too, she came to the open food door to greet me but acted very cute and sheepish and didn’t come out of the cage. I thought maybe they were just freaked out that the door had been open all day; you never can tell what’s going to throw a parakeet into an emotional crisis!

Then I happened to glance down at the floor and saw this pile of table edge scraps

IMG_3693

And I knew at once that Kelly had left the cage, spent some quality time with her true love, the table edge, and then put herself back home.  The tablecloth doesn’t have any damage at all, so I have to assume that she crawled up under it and hung on while chewing.

My guess is that she either went back to the cage when the robot vacuum came out at 2pm, because neither budgie likes him whatsoever.  Alternately, their avian lamp is on a timer to go off at 3pm, so she may have made a connection that I come home after that light goes off.  Or possibly she just tired out and got hungry for actual food.

Regardless, it’s another huge warning to me that these guys are smart and I need to be on my game!  I’m so relieved that they didn’t get up to anything dangerous, I’m pretty sure that Toby didn’t even leave the cage, but next time we probably wouldn’t be that lucky.

 

Encouraging your budgie to work for her food by foraging

I read an article recently called “Are we killing the natural instincts of the budgerigar” which put me on notice that no matter how many stimulating toys I provide, or flight time, or any material object, I have been ignoring a major component of my parakeet’s mental and physical health. That component is foraging for food.

You should read the whole article, but to condense, the experiment they are conducting in an aviary setting changed the budgies over from eating readily available seeds in shallow bowls that are refreshed every day, to serving food in deep bowls and not refreshing constantly, so the budgies would have to dig for their food. It also involves spreading the remaining seed on the aviary floor at the end of the cycle, instead of throwing it out, so that the budgies could sift through it again, simulating the ground foraging their wild cousins do, as well as getting much more use out of the provided seed.

The article inspired me to make some changes, because I am of course one of those people who feeds every day and discards every day, meaning the chances for foraging are extremely limited.

My big change was to take out the grate at the bottom of the cage. It took a couple of days, but the budgies love going down there and hunting through the seed hulls that fall out of their bowls. This also means that when I serve them vegetables they can go down to the cage floor and “forage” around in them. Like the green pepper shown above. They love ripping off all the seeds and then coming back to go through them all over again.  Right now they have a cup of torn romaine lettuce that they are digging through and throwing all over, and then going back to forage around in the lettuce leaves.

I also tried scattering what was left of their seed bowls on the ground of the cage, which would be okay a couple of times a week but really caused a mess explosion, due to the dramatically increased likelihood of hulls being blown out of the cage.

My next steps are to create more foraging opportunities. I always see foraging toys for big parrots, but I think for the little guys it may have to be a little more DIY.  Here’s a great idea for a foraging mat just made out of a doormat, and here’s another post about making a bunch of different foraging toys – some seem to be for bigger parrots, but there are some awesome easy things the the blogger suggests, even something as simple as covering the food bowl with a paper towel that the parrot has to remove before eating.

IMG_4900
Foraging 101

For higher up foraging, we are going to get back into using our Creative Foraging Systems Ball and Kabob, 5-Inch. If we put some shredded veggies in the ball the budgies will spend the bulk of their day pulling them out, whether they eat them or not, so at least mentally there’s the simulation of working for your food.

img_3760

The importance of foraging and digging through food also reinforces my decision to switch to a mostly seed diet, with pelleted diets a budgie would have even less opportunities for foraging.  And with Dr. Harvey’s parakeet food (Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag) there are a lot of different items in the blend to be foraged through and pushed aside to find the favorite morsels, and then throughout the day more and more of the less desirable items are consumed.

Overall, I want to be more cognizant of how I could be making it harder and more rewarding for Toby and Kelly to find food, after reading that article I’m certain I can do better at meeting their need to forage.

img_3508
Foraging for the wild cucumber

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Top 10 reasons owning budgies is like going to a gentleman’s club

  1. Budgie names are usually cute and easy to remember
  2. The budgies can touch you, but you can’t touch them
  3. Budgies dance in cages for your amusement, but they would do it anyway if you weren’t there
  4. They only pay attention to you if you give them a lot of want they want (millet)
  5. It’s hard to keep them off the (curtain) pole – see pic above
  6. They will probably lose interest in you and move on to the next customer
  7. Budgies need time in between “shows” to preen and chat
  8. They really seem to like shiny things
  9. It’s way more expensive than you thought it would be going into it
  10. Sometimes at night there’s a cover
img_0923
Do you like what you see, gentlemen?

Video – could you listen to this flock calling parakeet for 2 hours straight?

We had a little warm spell recently and it brought a lot of outdoor birds out of their hiding spots to chirp and enjoy the nice days.  It has also made Kelly want to communicate with them desperately, so she’s been flock calling to them every morning for hours straight. I know that in a week or so she would realize they aren’t going to talk back and stop trying, but in the interim we have this incessant yelling.

Before getting a budgie (or any bird), listen to this on a loop for 2 hours and decide if you can take the noise!  Please excuse the weirdly-sized video and the water noise in the background, she stopped yelling as soon as she saw the camera so I had to run the water to get her going again!