Taming and socializing part 2 – parakeet’s out of the cage, what’s next?

Your parakeet is out of the cage and looking at you like, “okay, what’s now? Amuse me people!” Some folks recommend taking your parakeet to a small, safe, room and shutting the door for these first interactions – that didn’t work for us, mainly due to the layout of our house, but in the end it was to our benefit, Toby will only hang out in the kitchen, dining room, and living room and I believe that’s because those are the rooms she was first introduced to. If she goes anywhere outside of that zone it’s either because she’s looking for one of us, or she feels like challenging the bird that lives in the bathroom mirror.

What also works in our favor on this issue is Toby’s fear, she was very reluctant to go exploring by herself, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the floor. But, she did expect us to be fully available for his entertainment and security detail.

It may go without saying, please don’t leave your parakeet unattended while she’s out of the cage, particularly in these early times. There is no limit to the number of ways a parakeet can hurt himself in your home. I would say this goes double for parakeets with clipped wings, since they don’t have the ability to get themselves out of trouble by flying.

We set out to make areas outside of the cage that would be fun to Toby and would be clearly “hers”. We also spent a lot of time working with Toby on flying back and forth to each of us, and practicing stepping up, but felt like time out of the cage should also be at her leisure to enjoy flying and playing.

This pursuit began with the acquisition of the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Parakeet Park Playground – which was only interesting to Toby if we were playing with it too, and was sort of a bust for us, although a perfectly nice product. She might have found it more interesting if her wings were clipped.

So, we moved on to the Kaytee EZ Care Activity Center Playground for Small Birds, as it comes out of the box it is wildly inappropriate for a small bird like a parakeet, but as you see below we quickly loaded it up with a ton of perches and toys, it’s very easy to hop around this way. On days that aren’t too hot we keep it in front of our big living room window so they can look outside, which they both enjoy (unless there are crows around).

Another window area was created using a Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Large 36-Inch, Colors Vary and a couple of other small toys that are suspended securely from the ceiling. This is another favorite spot of both parakeets. Especially on nice days when the window is open and they can yell at all the outdoor birds.

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Can you tell we have a ton of comfy perches?

Because it takes me a while to learn anything, I bought another table top stand, similar to the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Big Steps Playground, which was another utter fail. Toby is just as happy if I throw some toys out on the dining room table or couch.

A note about using your body as a perch – we were very permissive with Toby initially about where she was allowed to be on our bodies.

We were so excited about her not being afraid of anymore that we didn’t want to put any restrictions on Toby at all, and ultimately created a situation where she felt she was the alpha of our flock. I encourage you not to invite your parakeet to sit on your head or to perch on your glasses, even though it’s inarguably adorable. I ended up having an issue with Toby repeatedly trying to “preen” away some broken capillaries on my eyelids and trust me it is not desirable.

I’ve become aware that some people have parakeets who are happy to sit with them and watch tv or just chill out, if I ever find out what that’s like I’ll post an update! For now, both of our budgies are in constant motion while they are awake.

The TL:DR of this post is: once your parakeet is out of the cage keep a very close eye on him and expect to keep him amused, both by working on his skills, and also by having clearly designated areas for him to explore and use for play.

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Taming and socializing your parakeet – Part 1

The first day or two after bringing Toby home we were full of conflicting emotions – excitement about finally having a bird and crushing guilt because she was clearly terrified.

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She came home from a large chain pet store at about 11am on a Saturday, moved into her new cage, and sat in the same place without moving for about 8 hours straight before finally exploring enough to find food and water.

Part of the challenge of buying a parakeet that hasn’t been hand fed is that not only does your new parakeet simply not like you; he actually thinks that you are a predator, just because your eyes happen to be on the front of your head (instead of on the sides, where they should be, obviously). In our experience, she is also only accustomed to listening to soft pop, and will have some serious anxiety about television noises for at least a couple of weeks.

So, the first goal is to convince your parakeet that you do not intend to kill and eat him. The way to do this is get a nice comfy chair and sit next to your parakeet’s cage for about 30 minutes, as many times as day as you can. Talk to your parakeet so he gets used to the sound of your voice, or sing if you’re so inclined.

You’ll know your parakeet is comfortable with your presence near the cage by his body language and behavior. He will be relaxed and will go about his business preening himself, eating, playing etc.

The next stage is to show your parakeet your hand, don’t put it in the cage yet, put it near the cage and let him think about it, you may have to do this over a period of several days before your hand stops being alarming.

I read a theory somewhere that a parakeet ends up thinking that a human’s face is a bird, and the hands are two additional birds, and that the body is some fantastic moving perch. If you think about it that way, it’s easy to see why the hands would have to be accepted and deemed non-threatening separately from the face and body.

Once your parakeet is more comfortable seeing your face and hands you can start putting your hand in the cage, with the Prevue Pet Products 3351COCO Park Plaza Bird Cage, Coco Brown you can easily swing open one of the bowl access doors and use that opening to minimize the risk of your parakeet panicking and ending up outside the cage.

Don’t try to touch your parakeet, put your hand somewhere neutral in the cage and allow him to get used to it, he will eventually get curious enough to explore on his own. Of course I would advise that you speak encouragingly to him throughout the whole process.

You should also use these occasions to give millet to your parakeet, or offer him a handful of bird seed, parakeets are intelligent and he will quickly come to associate you and your hand with treats and fun.

One of the best random traits of the parakeet is that if you press your finger lengthwise against his lower tummy he will automatically step up onto your finger. With the parakeet still in his cage, start practicing stepping up to get him used to the mechanics, and he will learn to regard your finger as an safe place to perch. Say “step up” each time you practice, and soon you won’t have to touch him to achieve the desired result, just offer your finger a short hop away and give the verbal command.

We worked with Toby inside her cage for about 4 weeks before we felt comfortable trying to take her out and trusted that because she knew who we were, and wasn’t scared of us, we would be able to get her back in the cage on our hands, or bribe her back with millet. This was compounded because unlike a lot of birds available for purchase, it turned out Toby’s wings had never been clipped, and she came home to us fully flighted.

If you bring home a bird whose wings have been clipped I would recommend a different approach that involves taking the bird out of the cage after a few days and encouraging him to get used to being gently and respectfully handled (with a lot of treats also).

For the first few weeks of living with Toby, every time I came home it was clear she did not recognize me immediately and would react with fear. I would go about my business, chatting with her all along about my day, and then gradually she would realize who I was and become excited to see me. Now, of course, it’s a totally different story, as soon as I get home Toby rushes to greet me and tap her beak against my finger through the cage bars, and then demands to be let out for play.

Final note, if you’re attuned to your parakeet’s body language you’ll know when he’s ready to advance to the next step, and soon you’ll be able to take him out of the cage and let him stretch his wings, but be sure to go at his pace, even if it sometimes seems he will always be scared of you, he won’t.

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What’s in my bird seed?

This is my beautiful bin of air-tight seed, it’s a mix of one commercial brand of seed plus two seed mixes I buy from a local bird center, because I am a mad scientist of bird feeding.

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Every morning I lovingly scoop pellets and then this seed mix into two separate bowls, usually while sweet-talking the parakeets about what a fantastic breakfast they are about to enjoy, and then…..

this morning I found these living in my magical seed mix.

It turns out they are Saw Toothed Grain Beetles, and I should check out my cereal boxes, because apparently they are very crafty and can chew through packaging. In this case I’m sure they hitch-hiked with one of my various seed mixes.

This bin is currently in the freezer,  I think the outdoor birds are going to have Christmas in July and I have some new seed coming tomorrow – the price of the shipping exceeded the cost of the seed, which is still a small price to pay not to deal with any more beetles!

Hopefully the parakeets enjoy Kaytee Forti Diet Pro Health Food for Parakeet, 5-Pound, I think I’m done mixing for a while.

Preparing for parakeet – cage setup

For me, setting up a home for our first parakeet had a fun sense of expectation, like Christmas Eve or a small slice of what it’s like for new parents setting up a nursery.

The first thing you need is a cage – we chose the Prevue Pet Products 3352COCO Park Plaza Bird Cage, Coco Brown (seen above), which is a great quality cage with a lot of features, like the double-locking front door and bowl holders that swing out for easy feeding and watering.  It worked out really well for socializing, as you can see in the picture.  The seed catcher also helped minimize messes.

Ultimately this cage did not work for Toby because she refused to go below the level the of the food cups, so instead of a 18″ x 18″ 49″ cage, he lived in a 18″ square block. Our second parakeet, Kelly, also ended up living in this cage and it worked out much better for her.

For the bottom of the cage, you can certainly line with newspaper but I really like Bird Cage Liners – Large Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 60 Pound Paper, they can catch a lot of liquid without anything seeping through (expect some water bowl spills), and it couldn’t be more convenient to take off the top sheet every day or so.

You’ll want to get a supply of food, seeds or pellets are the main options, or some combination of the two.  I’m planning a post solely on that issue, so my suggestion is to buy whatever your bird has been used to eating. The trauma of the move will throw him off enough, without trying to get him onto another food immediately.

Parakeets need a few different kinds of perches, and perches of varying sizes which all serve a different function for their feet and beaks.  Here are examples of the types you will want to provide:

Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Medium 32-Inch, Colors Vary
Polly’s Desert Sands Bird Perch, Medium
Prevue Pet Products BPV1020 Cosmic Crunch Bird Perch, Small

We have used all of those perches and they’ve worked out well for my parakeets.  One thing to watch out for when buying perches or toys is the size. Many items are meant for larger parrots but it can be hard to tell, so always look at the dimensions and carefully read the descriptions.

Your budgie will also need to start out with a few basic toys. They may come home without having learned to play with toys, but you can show them what to do easily. They learn very quickly and have a natural inclination to play. Toys are also critical for beak maintenance, preening instinct and satisfying the limitless drive to chew.

Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy
JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary
Paradise Toys Small Cotton Preening Ring, 5-Inch W by 7-Inch L

When you’re setting everything up, keep in mind that depending on where your parakeet came from he may not know how to move around on the cage bars and he may not be able to fly depending on how his wings were clipped. So, have an eye towards making the cage easy to get around – the comfy perches are great for mobility, if you buy the longer perch it can create a flexible ramp leading to the food and water bowls and other toys and perches. Try to think about how your parakeet will move around the cage – you’ll be able to make adjustments once you have him home, of course, but it’s not always so easy when there’s a bird in the cage!

Just a couple of items left, one is some type of Penn-Plax® Banana & Berry Cuttlebone & Mineral Block Combo for Birds, 2-Pack which they chew on to fill in on some gaps in their diet and also to keep their beaks in check.

For socializing and treats you’ll want Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count, your parakeet may not know it right when he comes home, but this is his favorite treat.

Finally Lixit Wide Mouth Bird Bottle, 10-Ounce, which is not a necessity and I would not recommend completely replacing  a standard bowl of water, but it’s a nice addition. Both our parakeets strongly prefer drinking from the bottle versus the bowl.  You do have to be vigilant about making sure they are in good working order, they can get stopped up easily.

So, that’s all you need…except it’s really a pretty big investment.  Your parakeet may cost approximately $25, but the start up gear can easily run $400-$500. On top of that, you’ll need (and want) to replace the toys and perches at a pretty steady rate.

For my final note I wanted to give an estimate on what you can expect to spend monthly on your parakeet upkeep (not including start up costs) and I think it’s probably pretty close to $40-$50 – I like to have extra toys and perches on deck so I can switch things out when I think the keets are getting bored. My husband thinks I am on the very high end of reality, and believes we spend closer to $30 average per month, with some months much less. Toby and Kelly think we should stop worrying about it and just keep our wallets open!

Related content: I finally worked up a real-world estimate of what getting prepared for your parakeet will cost. Spoiler alert: it’s not $500! 

 

 

Selecting your parakeet – picking out a healthy, happy new budgie

So – you’ve done all your research, or at least read Parakeets For Dummies, you’ve purchased and set up your cage, and you’ve decided it’s time to find your parakeet and bring him home. Picking a parakeet out is a lot of fun, but it’s also important to take care in making a final selection.

Or, in my case, you turn to your husband and very dramatically say you can’t live one more day without having a bird!

There are a lot of different ways you can find a parakeet, you can search on Facebook or Google for local parrot rescues and I would wager all of them have fistfuls of parakeets that need a good home. You can also search locally for hand fed parakeet breeders, which we’ll discuss further down the line.

For our first budgie we wanted to start with as young a parakeet as possible, and we wanted to try bonding with him as an “only child”, most rescues will not allow you to adopt single parakeets if you have no other birds at home, because of their strong desire to be part of a flock.

To that end, over a two-day period we made the rounds of every big box pet store in our area and cased each joint for their juvenile parakeets.  We were looking for the following characteristics specifically.

  • A parakeet that had all of the bars on his head, indicating he had not gone through his first molt at approximately 4 months of age.
  • A cere that looked as though it would develop to be more blue than beige – in hopes of having a male parakeet. I know now I was a bit wrong-headed about this, in a budgie as young I was looking for a solid pink cere would have been a boy. This is how we ended up with a girl!
  • Fully black eyes with no hint of an iris, which is another indicator of a juvenile parakeet.
  • Temperament-wise, a parakeet that was not attacking other birds, but also who was clearly not bonded to another parakeet.
  • No indicators of poor health, not puffy or overly sleepy, clear eyes and nares, feet in good condition, well-groomed and alert.

Also, it’s a good idea to assess the condition that the parakeets are living in – do they have access to clean water and perches, some toys, and do any of the other birds in the cage look ill? Parakeets, even in a pet store environment, should seem pretty happy; you want to see lots of playing and singing.

It took us four stores to find our parakeet, she was the youngest we had seen in any of the locations, and through she didn’t seem afraid or traumatized, she was also clearly not best pals with anyone yet.

We found an employee and let them know we were ready to purchase. I was mildly alarmed by the fact that they didn’t ask whether we had everything needed to house and care for a parakeet, even if only to sell us on a few more items!

Instead, we watched in semi-horror as our new family member was caught with a net and unceremoniously deposited into a cardboard box, $20 later and we were on our way, driving home listening to the sound of parakeet nails slipping around on cardboard and probably both wondering what the heck we had just done….

Reservations aside, it was time to introduce Toby (named after both the demon in the Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension series and the put-upon HR Rep in The Office: The Complete Series to her new home.

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Toby’s first day home

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