Feeding your parakeet: seeds vs. pellets

Before bringing home our first parakeet I had already decided that I would start Toby off on a seed-based diet, to make her transition from the pet store easier.  There are so many conflicting reviews on Amazon that I ended up buying two well-rated seed blends and then mixing those together.  They were F.M. Brown’s Encore Parakeet Food and Kaytee foraging grassland parakeet.

Those were going fine as far as Toby was concerned, but I started doing more research and read about how seeds are not sufficient nutrition for parakeets, not only are they full of fat but they also don’t have enough vitamins and minerals, and parakeets on a seed-based diet may have much shorter lives than those on a pellet-based diet.

Of course as someone who just fell in love with parakeets the thought of consigning mine to an early death was horrifying!  I immediately purchased a bag of ZuPreem FruitBlend Flavor Pellets, which Toby ardently hated. She doesn’t really like fruit and won’t eat anything that has an unnatural color so it was a huge misstep.

Back to the drawing board – and thank goodness these are all relatively inexpensive products, so it’s not a hardship to do some experimentation and I heartily recommend it.

My next try was RoudyBush Crumbles, which I thought was the smallest possible pellet available from Roudybush, although it turned out I was wrong (kind of a trend) and it was too big for Toby to deal with. So, I bought the Roudybush Nibbles, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of her diet.

We began reducing the percentage of seed and adding in pellets at about a 50% ratio, but it just didn’t feel right cutting seeds out entirely. Doing some more research, I found that there’s not enough evidence for me that pellets are really nutritionally complete, and more than that, if it’s bad for me to eat a diet of processed foods, then why would it be good for my parakeet?

I also started reading about how a pellet diet could be very detrimental to a bird’s mental health. Thinking about it this way, if someone told you tomorrow that you were going to eat oatmeal every day, every meal, for the rest of your life, how would that go over with you?  What do you think that would do to your overall happiness?

Especially as it relates to budgies, their beaks are designed to hull seeds and their bodies are designed to process them.  It just doesn’t seem right to me to take that away completely.

As it stands now, I’m feeding one tablespoon of Roudybush nibbles pellets per day with two tablespoons of Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Parakeet Food, this is doled out in two bowls and I discard everything every 24 hours. I know I’m throwing away a lot of pellets and unhulled seeds, but I’d rather know for sure that they have enough food instead of adding more on top of a pile of hulls.

We do also offer a fruit or vegetable every day in addition to the pellets and seeds, they get some interest, hopefully enough to supplement their diet and provide some mental enrichment too.

I haven’t gotten interested yet in going the homemade route, sprouting seeds and mixing up batches of super healthy ingredients, but check back with me in a year or so and I might be there.

Until then, this is what we feed and so far so good!

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Ultimately, what to feed your parakeet is a very personal decision and everyone has to come to their own conclusions about what they think is best. Toby got a hull stuck in her throat in spring of this year and for about 24 hours I thought she was probably going to die. Thankfully we were able to help her dislodge it, but I walked away from that experience pretty adamant that we were switching to pellets and I would never look back.

It didn’t stick, obviously, because I think that a life of just eating pellets would probably be so unsatisfying for her that the risk is worth it.

Good luck to everyone making these choices, they are certainly not easy, and I can’t say that even now I think one way or the other is correct or “the best”, everyone can only do what feels right to them, and what works for their household.

Update, we later completely abandoned pellets and now feed a mixture of Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Dr. Harvey’s Best Parakeet Blend. For our flock seeds vs. pellets ended with seeds as the winner, of course with additional fresh vegetables and fruits!

One flew out of the parakeet’s cage

We made tons of mistakes as new parakeet owners, but one night we managed to make pretty much all the mistakes in about a 45 minute period.

It was about one week after Toby came to live with us, and everything had been going great, we’d made a huge commitment to spending time sitting near her cage talking to her, and we had even begun putting a hand in the cage to let her adjust to us and get to know our hands as friendly visitors.

Our first major fail had been ongoing up to that point, we hadn’t been taking very much care to make sure Toby went to sleep early.  Currently, both birds start relaxing with the curtains closed at about 6:00pm and we start dimming the lights at 7:00pm. On the night in question, however, I arrived home about 8:30pm and the house was still brightly lit and Toby was playing while watching Patrick make his dinner.

I hung out with Patrick in the kitchen and we get on the subject of some changes we thought would really enhance Toby’s experience in the cage, and then we made the extremely poor decision to make those changes that evening. To contrast, now when we make changes in the cage we always do it in the morning so the parakeets have a ton of time to adjust before bedtime, you really never know what’s going to freak them out.

To my recollection we had decided to switch around two perches so Toby could get around more easily, as she was struggling with learning to climb around on the cage bars.  Patrick’s hands went in first and I kept a close watch on the door – Toby went to a corner and seemed totally fine (in retrospect, Toby seemed like she was absolutely terrified).

Patrick ran into a snag in moving one of the perches and I made the critical error – putting one of my hands in the cage as well. Toby immediately decided her chances for survival were greater outside the cage and bolted for freedom.

Now what we had on our hands was a fully flighted, completely terrified, mostly feral parakeet lose in the house. She didn’t trust us, she had no training in sitting on our hands, she was not skilled enough to be able to get back in the cage even if she wanted to, and worst of all, she had no experience with millet or any other treat and we had no method of coaxing her to us and then back in the cage.

Imagine trapping a sparrow, putting it in your house, and then trying to convince it to enter a very specific, small doorway. Oh and also it’s 9pm at night.

I shut every door possible, but this still left Toby with the hallway, kitchen, dining area, and living room. All I can say about what happened after this is we basically lost our minds for 30 minutes.  In a total panic we followed Toby around the house trying to catch her with our hands, throw a towel over her (!!! so glad that didn’t work), or just generally tire her out enough to grab her, which was a total joke.

She ended up on top of the refrigerator, the living room curtain rod, behind/underneath the entertainment center, inside a sound panel suspended from the ceiling, and everywhere but on us. I’m sure it seemed like all her nightmares come to life having two huge predators chase her around and roust her out of whatever refuge she took.

I finally grabbed a sheet and used it to shepherd her into the kitchen/dining area and away from the living room.  She even landed on top of her cage a few times but just had absolutely no idea how to get back in – which I’m sure she desperately wanted to do to get away from us!   In retrospect I have no idea why we panicked so badly – there was really no time urgency and yet we behaved as though we had to get her back in the cage immediately.  It would have been much better to take a step back and give her 15 minutes to calm down and think – or at least for us to calm down and think.

She finally perched on top of a stained glass window in our dining area and stayed put. At this point a lightbulb went on for me and I said “you know, I’ve read that if you press your finger into her tummy she will have no choice put to step on it”.

Toby eyed us warily as we lifted her entire cage onto the dining room table with the door facing her. Then Patrick approached gingerly and pressed his finger lengthwise against Toby’s stomach, right above her feet. She immediately stepped up and as we all held our breath, Patrick conveyed her about two feet into his cage and shut the door.

The ordeal ended with Toby cowering in the corner of her cage until she went to sleep and Patrick and I having a stiff drink to wash down our shame.

We were ultimately fortune that Toby didn’t trust us at all yet, otherwise I’m sure we would have broken that. As it was we didn’t notice any change in her behavior the next day, just a lot of changes in us and a lot more respect for her boundaries.

Summary of mistakes:
– Parakeet up too late
– Over-confidence in bird’s level of comfort with cage adjustments
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout in the evening
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout with parakeet in cage
– Putting multiple people’s hands in the cage at the same time
– Not knowing how to read the parakeet’s body language
– Panicking about the bird being out and forgetting essential basics

 

 

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 Parakeet Park – 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 PrevueSmall Parrot Playstand, as it comes out of the box it is fairly 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. But we knew that we must set on a course of taming a parakeet!

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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.

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.

Next up: Taming a Parakeet: Part 2

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Taming a parakeet – Toby is almost there!

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.