Using a food trough as a parakeet toy box

When we purchased Toby’s new Flight Cage it came with a set of plastic trough style Feeder Cups, which I knew immediately I wasn’t going to use. Not only do plastic feeders encourage bacteria growth, but they were also difficult to get in and out of the cage. In fact, I’m not sure how you would keep water clean in them at all without quite a bit of difficulty. So, I bought a set of my preferred Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls, put away the plastic tray feeders and didn’t think about them again for a few months.

Fast forward to Patrick and I cleaning out the parakeets’ toy and perch cupboard. It’s terrible, like a totally embarrassing toy hoard, someday I’ll post a picture! Anyway, every so often we go through and toss out stuff that got put away but most likely the birds wouldn’t really use, or toys that are fairly beat up.

He noticed the food trays and decided to try hanging one off the outside of Kelly’s cage and then put a bunch of little toys in it for her to throw out. What’s in there are some pieces that came off old toys, like a vine star from a Christmas toy, a large wooden bead, etc. But also, some Baby Links and Vine Balls. All together it’s a bunch of little items with different shapes, sizes and textures as well as varying degrees of difficulty to pick up and throw.

Kelly typically has a short attention span and doesn’t play with toys much. But, she will happily spend time picking up and throwing out every single one of the items, and then when you load it back up she’ll do it all over again. She’s our obsessive biter, so anything that keeps her occupied and relatively happy is a major win for us!

Even if your parakeets don’t need something to obsess over, the little trough of foot toys would be fun for even the most well-adjusted parakeet. Who hasn’t seen their parakeet drop a feather or piece of food and then watch with intensity as it falls to the ground? Sure, it can get a little tedious picking everything back up and resetting, but it’s totally worth it in the name of parakeet fun and enrichment!

Budgie FAQ – commonly asked budgie questions

Q. What size cage does a budgie require?
A. The best answer here is to get the largest cage you can afford and keep in mind that most budgies prefer a cage that is longer than it is tall because of the way they fly. Also, bar spacing of 1/2 inch is key, anything larger and you can run the risk of budgie escape or injury. A cage size of 20 inches long, 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide is the minimum for a single budgie while a pair should have no less than 30 inches long, but the same depth and height.


Q. How long do budgies live?
A. Budgies can live anywhere from 2 years to 15 years depending on diet and quality of care. A good average is 6 years. Many budgies also die prematurely in home accidents such as attack by other household pets and injury from common dangers such as windows and mirrors.

Q. What’s the best material to put at the bottom of the cage?
A. Many budgie owners use newspaper (black and white pages only), paper towels or craft paper at the bottom of the cage. Home Keet Home thinks all of these options are good as they allow you to monitor the quality of your budgie’s poop. In our house we use cut-to-size liners from Amazon. This is totally a convenience item versus a necessity but it makes our lives easier!


Q. Will my budgie learn to talk?
A. Maybe, although generally not without a lot of effort on your part. Also boys are more likely to talk than girls. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is easier to teach a single budgie to talk rather than a pair or more.

Q. How much sleep do budgies need?
A. Budgies need 10-12 hours or sleep per night. Some can get by on less by supplementing with naps during the day, but they really should have at least 10 hours of dark per night.

Q. What temperature should a house be for budgies?
A. Budgies will typically adjust pretty well to a wide range of temperatures. Budgies that live in outdoor areas can even tolerate temperatures in the 40 degree Fahrenheit range as long as there is a source of heat and they are not exposed to wind. In the home, a suggested range would be 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they are not to cold or too hot. Of great importance is avoiding drafts, which are very dangerous to budgie health.

Q. What’s the best diet for a budgie?
A. This is a hotly contested issue. Many budgie parents believe that pellets offer complete nutrition and any other base diet is a recipe for disaster. We disagree, feeling that natural seed is a better base diet than processed food. Home Keet Home is not a veterinarian and does not substitute consulting your vet, but we think that going close to natural diet makes sense. We free feed a quality seed mix and some pellets mixed in as a base diet and then offer vegetables and fruits daily.


Q. Should I get one budgie or two?
A. This is a tough one. Budgies are flock birds and feel safer in groups, but if you are home a lot and want to bond closely with your budgie then it’s easies to do so with one. I think that starting with one is fine and then use your judgement to let you know if your new friend is lonely or scared.

Q. How can you tell the sex of a budgie?
A. The best way to tell the sex of a budgie is its cere (above the beak). In mature budgies a female will have a chalk white, pale blue, or tan – dark brown cere depending on breeding condition. Males will have a solid pink or very dark vibrant cere. There is some variation on this based on coloring, and juvenile budgies are different as well. The important thing is to do your own research instead of listening to a pet store employee, they are frequently either totally misinformed or may want you to believe that the budgie in question in a boy which is a frequently preferred sex for a pet budgie.

Q. How can I tell if a budgie is young?
A. A young budgie has bars down the top of its head meeting up with the tip of it’s cere. These are referred to as “baby bars”. They also have fully black eyes with no sign of an iris. This can also vary by color mutation but with a standard blue or green budgie they are very reliable markers.

Q. Should I clip my budgies wings?
A. For my household the answer is no. We feel that budgies are built to fly and should be able to have free flight in the home for at least 2 hours per day (typically more). But, we were willing to totally bird-proof our home and take tons of precautions for their safety. If your circumstances differ you might consider either confining your birds to a single room for free flight or clipping them. Some budgies may need to be continue to be clipped if they never learned to fly as babies and are unable to learn as adults. Many budgie owners report that it is easier to tame a clipped bird and then let the wings grow out. Fortunately clipping is not generally a permanent situation, the clipped feathers will fall out upon molting and grow back restoring full flight. We do recommend that clipping be done by a professional, or at the very least that you learn how to clip your birds from a professional before attempting at home.

Q. What gear does a budgie need?
A. A budgie needs lots of stuff for basic health as well as enrichment. Some basics are cage, food and water bowls, variety of perches, toys etc. Check out our post on start-up budgie costs for a comprehensive list.

Q. I have never seen my budgie drink, is he okay?
A. Budgies are prey birds and drinking puts them in a very vulnerable position. Until your budgie is totally comfortable in your home you probably will not catch him drinking. Instead he will wait until he’s alone and feels safe to take the chance. Access to clean water is very important to budgie health, and it’s vitally important that you do not give them distilled water.

Q. My budgie won’t bathe, what do I do?
A. There are many different ways that budgies bathe. Not all budgies will take to a single kind of bath. Perseverance is the key here, and you can always resort to lightly misting them if they are seriously water averse.

Q. My parakeet is losing tons of feathers, what’s happening?
A. Unless your budgie has a feather disorder , he is molting, which is a very normal process by which a budgie sheds old feathers and replaces them with new. Molting occurs two times a year or more and can be triggered by changing seasons.

Q. My budgie’s cage came with plastic perches, do I need any other perches?
A. Absolutely. Please provide a wide variety of natural wood perches as well as those made of other materials. Perches should have varying widths to encourage foot health. We don’t recommend keeping any of those plastic perches.

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – mission success!

After our first total fail at parakeet nail clipping I sought help from my favorite Facebook Parakeet Group. It’s not usually my first instinct to crowd source ideas on social media but I was feeling so stumped and dejected by the abject failure that I really needed some other humans to help before I tried clipping a parakeet’s nails again.

I got tons of advise that ranged from taking the parakeets to a vet so we wouldn’t break their trust with us, to don’t take them to a vet for a nail clipping because they will probably have a heart attack and die!  So, we could safely assume that the answers lay somewhere in between those two extremes.

One thing that most folks agreed on is that trying to use the previously purchased Small Animal Nail Scissors was a terrible idea, and that it would be much easier to use regular small Fingernail Nail Clippers meant for humans. Another tip that I thought we should try was covering their faces while they were toweled to keep them calmer and reduce our risk of being bitten.

I also knew that we needed to separate the parakeets for the nail clipping and take the “patient” to another room where they wouldn’t distract each other. This meant that the other human would need to stay in the “waiting room” with the parakeet on deck to keep them quiet. We were thinking that a ton of flock calling would be just as bad as being in the same room.

We split up and Patrick took Toby to our bedroom and shut the door. I initially heard some flapping and evasion tactics but Patrick managed to secure her and make sure the towel (truly a cloth napkin) covered her face. From the other side of the door I heard the occasional snip of the nail clippers and some irritated squawking. After what felt like an eternity Patrick emerged triumphant! He managed to clip every single one of her nails, even though she was a squirmy worm, her head being covered meant she did eventually grow calmer, and using the human nail clippers was 100 times easier.

Next up was Kelly, she and Patrick came back out so quickly that I felt sure he had given up but again it was a rousing success!  Apparently with her head covered she gave up pretty quickly and stayed quite calm.

I should add that Patrick also feed them some Spray Millet under the towel after every couple of nails to keep the experience somewhat positive.

Both Toby and Kelly were pretty mad immediately after the clipping, but Kelly forgot the whole ordeal after just a couple of minutes (except when she couldn’t dig her claws into our couch to pull herself up anymore!).  Toby, on the other hand, has decided to hold a grudge, but weirdly not against Patrick.  She’s mad at me, which I really can’t figure out since I had nothing to do with it. I have known her to stay mad for several days, but I’m determined to win her back over!

To sum it up, the keys for us were separating the parakeets, toweling them with their heads covered, giving them lots of millet, and using small human nail clippers. Patrick did such a great job that I don’t think we’ll need to worry about it again for a while, but it’s such a relief to know that we can manage to get the job done! It’s also really nice to not have parakeets getting their nails stuck in our shirts all the time 🙂

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Foraging for the wild cucumber

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