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!

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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. Here are the items you should expect to get for your initial cage setup.

The first thing you need is a cage – we chose the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage (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, she lived in a 18″ square block. Our second parakeet, Kelly, also ended up living in this cage and ended up absolutely hating it because it was too small for her to fly in at all.

For the bottom of the cage, you can certainly line with newspaper but I really like Custom Cut Bird Cage Liners, 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 whether his wings were clipped and how severely. 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 a Cuttlebone or Mineral Blocks which they chew on to fill in on some gaps in their diet, particularly calcium.

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

So, that’s all you need…except it’s really a pretty big investment.  Your parakeet cage setup may cost approximately $25, but the start up gear can easily run $400. 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! 

Picking a parakeet – selecting 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 (nostrils), 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 the put-upon HR Rep in The Office: The Complete Series to her new home. Picking a parakeet can be both fun and stressful. In the end I recommend taking your time and making a choice based on the character of the budgie, rather than the color.

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Toby’s first day home

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