Review of Drs Foster & Smith exclusive woven corn husk toys for parakeets

I recently purchased a big box of new toys for our budgies (more reviews to come!).

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“big” may not be the right adjective

Drs. Foster & Smith is my first choice for buying parakeet toys. They have a massive selection, awesome exclusives, and it seems like there are new items every time I stock the toy drawer.

Additionally, their prices are very reasonable, and if you sign up for emails you’ll be notified of their frequent sales and coupon codes. Shipping is always free once you’ve spent a certain amount, as of this date it’s $19 but I know sometimes it’s higher.

One of the toys in my last order was the woven corn husk toy, small. As soon as I pulled it out of the box I knew it would be a huge hit, it’s got preening, destruction and tarzan-style swinging possibilities all in one toy! It’s held together on a thin steel bar, which is awesome because we can always reuse that once the toy has been thoroughly murdered.

Technically this is a foraging toy, you can put treats inside the little vine balls, but I don’t bother, they love destroying the balls just for the fun of it, so the treat aspect is pretty unnecessary for us.

There are loads of different textures to chew on, Toby likes the vine balls best, but Kelly likes to dig in to harder material, within 24 hours she had already chewed off one of the little wood blocks, but that leaves her with a lot more work to do.

I also love that the rope parts can be pulled through the balls, so when the budgie pulls one end it actually does move through before there is resistance.

My only issue is with the supreme cotton, I’ve seen alarming headlines recently about parrots eating fabric rope and getting huge masses in their crops that have to be surgically removed, this cotton rope seems like it would be a contributing factor to that sort of condition. It’s very loosely bound and fluffy bits pull off pretty easily. Even if they didn’t mean to, I could see a parakeet ingesting bits of this during a preening sessions. There’s even a note about the dangers of birds eating the rope in the product’s description. Fortunately the rope is just tied (not even tightly knotted) at intervals and easy to remove without even using scissors.

There’s so much else to do with this toy that the rope seemed pretty superfluous to begin with, and we’ve got other toys that are dedicated to soft-material preening. Additionally the parakeets can preen each other or the human members of the flock!

So – thumbs up from the humans and the parakeets for this product, and at just $6.99 at the time of this writing, I think it’s an excellent value. I would recommend modifying it to remove the cotton, just to be on the safe side.

Does molting make a parakeet sick?

Molting is a very difficult time for parakeets, most of them do it a couple of times per year; typically it would be a spring/summer and a fall/winter molt. Toby is very lucky and molts approximately every 6 weeks, this is pretty common for indoor living parakeets, with the temperature being fairly even it messes up their natural triggers.

During the molting process, which takes a few weeks, the parakeet loses a significant portion of feathers and grows them back. Seeing the piles of lost feathers under the cage every day can be alarming, but it doesn’t seem to be the worst part of the process for the parakeets. At least Toby and Kelly aren’t that bothered by it, even when they are losing more feathers per day than I would have thought they had in the first place!

The part that seems to be much harder on our parakeets is growing in the new feathers, and this stage is where, in my experience, the parakeets can seem to be quite ill.

Both Toby and Kelly, during the time of popping out a lot of feathers, will have about a 24 hours period where they have many classic symptoms of budgie sickness.

This involves listlessness, disinterest in eating, puffing up, napping on both feet, loose poop, general malaise and crankiness. It typically hits them in the early afternoon, they rally right before bed, and then the next day they are pretty “off” as well without seeming as close to death’s door. The first few times this happened to Toby I was absolutely certain she was going to die at any moment.

One nice thing is that the parakeets are very solicitous to each other when they are afflicted. Usually they argue passionately every evening about who will sleep highest in the cage (hint, it’s going to be Kelly), but when someone is not feeling so hot they sleep close together without any argument at all. In the daytime too, the parakeet that’s feeling good hangs out near the molting parakeet and tries to regurgitate to her and make sure she’s doing alright.

During these times we make some extra effort to use our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, which we should be using regularly anyhow, and try to tempt them to eat millet at least. It’s best, I think, to just let them stay in the cage on these days and get the rest they need for the hard work of growing out feathers.

The only real recommendations I can make are to get used to your parakeet’s molting procedure and try to assist as much as possible. If he lets you, scritch his head to help to pin feathers, and offer frequent baths in whatever capacity he accepts. Let him have quiet days when needed and help him relax and get extra rest. Most importantly, try not to stress about it too much yourself, it’s hard to see them during a tough time, but they will come through it. Your vacuum, however, may never be the same…

Changing seasons – comfortable temperatures for budgies

We had a very hot summer here in New York, Patrick and I historically haven’t used our central sir conditioning very much, some years we just tough out the heat, and others we install a window unit or two and blow around cool air on particularly warm days.

Life with budgies definitely changed that habit! Like a lot of animals, parakeets don’t have sweat glands, and when they overheat they don’t have too many ways to cool themselves down. Mostly, you’ll see them hold their wings out from their bodies to get some air flow going, which is something they also do when they are feeling very aggressive.

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Am I mad?  No, just hot!

This summer, we found that we needed to use the central AC most days, but we kept it at 78 degrees, which was relatively comfortable for all parties, without breaking the bank on energy usage. If you’re using window units or fans around your parakeets, please don’t have direct cold airflow on the parakeets.  That goes for central AC vents as well. Additionally, if you have ceiling fans any fan without blade guards you will not want to use those when your budgies are out and about, as they can get seriously injured or killed being struck by a fan.

Budgies do best in temperatures that range from 65-85, but the key is about keeping the temperature relatively steady. A rapid 20 degree swing in either direction would be hard for them to cope with, but over a period of days/weeks they will adjust to increasing or decreasing temps.

As I write this it’s towards the end of September and looking at the weather forecast I’m expecting to turn on my heat towards the beginning of next week, usually we humans would tough out the first cold overnight dips, but the parakeets are not going to be comfortable at 64 degrees or lower; last winter we kept the house at a steady 68, which Toby seemed happy with.

So – an overheated budgie holds his wings out from his body to get some air flow to his “armpits”, what does a chilly budgie do? He fluffs all his feathers out to trap more heat between them, which looks a lot like preening behavior or sick budgie behavior. We only saw Toby do this a couple of times last winter, on days that were exceptionally frigid.

A parakeet is a warm weather bird that can acclimate reasonably well to a range of temperatures, but in addition to keeping them warm enough in winter you should also keep an eye on the humidity, they are happiest in 60-70% humidity, which certainly feels too damp for us. We shoot for 50% and keep track of it with an AcuRite 00613 Indoor Humidity Monitor. Budgies without enough humidity can get dry, cracked feet, among other things, so you can also make sure your budgie is getting a bath in winter, or at least getting his feet wet to help with scaliness.

Another way to help your budgie regulate his temperature in winter is with a K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch – Small 10.5″. The recommendation is to put it in the top 2/3 of the cage, so hopefully your parakeet will choose to sleep on it overnight and keep warm in dropping temps. We tried using this last year and Toby wanted nothing to do with it – avoided it like the plague. This year I thought perhaps Kelly would like it and show Toby there was no imminent danger, so I installed it directly below the most coveted sleeping perch.

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See heated perch above and to the right – theoretically helping to dry this post-bath budgie

They were fine with its existence all day; although no one wanted to touch it, but come lights out Toby would not settle down and basically acted like she couldn’t get to her sleeping perch because this hideous heated monster was in her way. We have a hard and fast rule now about not putting our hands in the cage after “bed time”, so all I could do was unplug the vile thing and hope that was the issue.

Toby did settle down shortly after, although I’m not sure whether I can truly draw a correlation or whether she was just exhausted. Either way, I took it out the next morning. We may end up using it like we did last year, when we installed it very low in the cage and just hoped that some of the small amount of heat radiating out would help. There are tons of great reviews of these; I think it’s a useful and safe product, Toby is just to fearful for it to work out as intended. It comes in two textures, I purchased the sand-like option, which I would also recommend, I read several reviews of parrots not being able to get a grip on the smooth version.

When it actually gets cold I’m going to buy and try the K&H Manufacturing Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Small/Medium Grey – I am sure that since it’s gray Toby will want nothing to do with it, but at least I could put it somewhere that’s not near sleep town and maybe Kelly will enjoy it, or Toby will accidentally end up near it once in a while. I’ll report back after we’ve given tried it out.

Bottom line on parakeet temperatures is to watch out for rapid swings in either directions and you should be okay. I’ve seen parronts reporting that they keep their homes in the low 60’s in winter and their budgies adjust, and I’m sure that not everyone has central air conditioning in summer, or even necessarily window AC units. Keep in mind that if you’re uncomfortable with the temperature they probably are too, and you should be good to go.

Products and parakeets – with a focus on scents and haircare

I am generally a no muss, no fuss kind of person about my personal care routine. Also, because of my husband’s severe allergies we don’t use many products with scent. Even before parakeets we didn’t have candles, potpourri, plug-ins, Febreeze or any other home fragrance products. We had also cut out harsh chemical cleaners and started using Seventh Generation Free and Clear All Purpose Cleaner, 32 Fluid Ounce to clean in addition to Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Power Home Pro, 8 Count Box, which are a modern miracle.

We also only use unscented laundry and dishwasher detergent, dish soap and hand soaps.

There’s no perfume in the house or scented body products, including all face and hand/body lotions and we don’t use any hair products at home beyond shampoo and conditioner. So, we don’t have hair gel, spray or any other hair treatment products.

The only exceptions to the rule are Avalon Organics Clarifying Lemon Shampoo, 11 Ounce and AVALON COND,CLARIFYING,LEMON, 11 FZ, which had to happen because unscented shampoo/conditioner are just unpleasant, and also Oleavine Antifungal Soap with Tea Tree and Neem for Body, 12 oz, which is a tea tree soap I am just absolutely obsessed with. Something might sneak through occasionally that has an oatmeal or mint scent, but by and large our house is scent free.

Scents and home-fragrance products can be very bad for parakeet health, they cycle air through their bodies much faster than humans, and can be irritated by air contaminants just like people can. We had already installed a few Winix U300 Signature Large Room Air Cleaner with True HEPA 5-Stage Filtration, PlasmaWave Technology and AOC Carbon around the house for my husband’s health, but they are also recommended for parakeets and other birds.

I think we had a much easier time eliminating products before getting parakeets since we started out unscented; the only thing that was hard to part with were our non-stick pans. I’m sure there are people who say they used teflon with parakeets and the ‘keet lived to be 30 years old and was never sick a day in its life, but who doesn’t have an Aunt Myrtle who smoked since she was 11 years old and lived to be 150? I mean, obviously hyperbole, but the exceptions don’t really entice me to chance it.

What prompted me to write this post is my one personal grooming vice, and that’s getting highlights. I get them done about every 8 weeks and it was always sort of a big issue because Patrick can’t handle the chemical aftermath, but now with the parakeets I feel even worse coming home after a bleaching!

I asked my stylist if I would be damaging my hair by washing it the same day as getting it colored and she said no, so as soon as I get home from the salon I hop right in the shower. That cuts the chemical smell but it’s still pretty heavy, so I usually throw on a knit cap (much more comfortable in winter!) before letting the birds out. Toby is constantly on my head and Kelly loves grooming hair too, but I take every precaution to keep them away from my hair for at least day 1, and then after washing again the next day it’s usually so faint that I feel like I’m not a danger to anyone.

Should I stop highlighting my hair? Probably, since it causes my husband discomfort and potentially is bad for the parakeets. Still – I’m not quite ready yet.

I’d love to have some comments from other bird parents- what products do you use and does anyone else feel they can’t live without hair color? If so, what precautions do you take (if any)? Feel free to tell me I’m a lunatic and should stop worrying about it!

Will my parakeet poop on me?

Yes!

Shortest blog post ever 🙂

Seriously though, your parakeet will definitely poop on you and everything else. Parakeets poop about every 5-10 minutes. They even poop in their sleep! The good news is that their healthy poops are generally soft but dense, you can pick up a fresh poop just by touching it with a paper towel, and dried poops can be vacuumed or swept up easily.

Parakeet poop also does not stain, at least any fabric that I’ve worn around them so far. Do I suggest you throw on your best silk kimono before hanging out with birds, probably not, but you also don’t need to start sheeting yourself and everything else with plastic.

The house-wide poop issue applies more to parakeets that spend a lot of time out of their cages, and parakeets that are fully flighted, since a clipped parakeet will tend to hang out wherever you put him. The popular hang out spots for our parakeets all have some sort of easy to clean or disposable poop-catcher underneath, which cuts down on a lot of clean up.

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underneath our kitchen window perch

On other spots that are not technically for the birds but get a lot of visits we’ll keep some folded up squares of paper towel to deal with poops as needed. The parakeets like to hang out with us on the couch, or on the table while I’m working at my laptop.

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the toys are a sad attempt to discourage them from chewing on my keyboard!

If they are running around on the floor together we come in after them and clean up anything they leave behind.

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code brown in aisle six

Larger parrots can be trained to poop only in certain spots, so when they have to go they return home (or to a specific perch) to do their business. I think that technically it might be possible to train a parakeet that way, they do have a “tell” of fluffing up a little bit right before they poop.  You could conceivably watch out for that, put him back on a perch each time and then reinforce with a treat/clicker training techniques. It would certainly take a lot of effort and vigilance and I’m not sure it would be worth it, the parakeet having to take a break in his fun time so often versus the relatively minor inconvenience of the poops.

I mentioned in an earlier post it’s probably not a great idea to encourage your parakeet to hang out on your head, even though it’s cute. Poop is another part of that warning. It’s easy to remove the poop should it occur, especially once dried, but I can see how there would be a level of “ick” involved for some.

Into every ‘keet life some poop must inevitably fall, but one you get over the initial weirdness of having to deal with bird poop it becomes just another part of your clean up routine.

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obligatory poop picture
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Toby pooping on a draft about poop

Products in this post are copious amounts of paper towel

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Parakeet night terrors/night frights

Night terrors, which you’ve probably heard of in human children, also happen to many species of parrots. Cockatiels seem to be most commonly afflicted, but it can happen to parakeets as well so it’s important to be prepared.

One can almost never be entirely sure of the origin of the night terror, it could be that the parakeet is waking from a bad dream, or that he opened his eyes during the night and saw a scary shadow or a bug. They are definitely primed to be scared after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were scary for both of us. I would be woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of Toby crashing around in her cage, flying around madly and blindly into the cage bars without being able to stop herself. This can be extremely dangerous because a parakeet can severely injure himself, possibly fatally.

I’m lucky that our house is all on one level and I’m not very far from the cage at night, even though it’s in the dining area. I really don’t know what to suggest to someone who’s birds sleep on a different floor than they do, short of a baby monitor, although that might seem excessive!

At any rate, I would wake up to the sounds of Toby crashing around and bolt out of bed to the dining room. To calm the parakeet down you must bring up the lights a bit and speak very gently to him – as soon as the lights come up enough he will probably stop flying around, but he may seem dazed and not recognize you.

I never advocate putting your hands in the cage after dark, so I don’t advise taking your bird out to comfort him. I firmly believe that in this state there’s no guarantee he will know who you are and find your touch comforting instead of more alarming. I did, after a particularly awful fright, feed Toby a little millet through the bars to lure her out of a bad spot.

The best way to handle it, at least for us, has been to leave the lights glowing just a bit more brightly than usual and once the parakeet has settled down and is in a safe place to go back to sleep, go back to bed and try to calm yourself down enough to sleep.

Also, it’s a good idea to have a nightlight or two for your parakeet to help them not be so scared when they wake in the middle of the night. We went a little overboard with iTimo Baby Night Light, Led Night Lights Plug In, Kids Nightlight With Dusk to Dawn Sensor, Portable Nightlights for Adults Nursery Soother Hallway Bathroom Restroom Bedroom Decor, Pack of 4 and for a while the kitchen looked like an airport runway. We’ve since scaled back to a more reasonable amount.

I’ve read that night frights can also be a symptom of calcium deficiency so if you find your parakeet having continued issues make sure you have a Zoo Med Mineral Block Original Formula Banquet Bird Food, 1-Ounce and watch out for feeding excessive amounts of spinach which binds with calcium and can lead to a calcium deficiency.

Toby had four night terrors in the first 8 months we had her, three of those we were not able to determine the cause (although I suspect mice), and one of them was absolutely my fault. I came out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and because I had my glasses off I stood next to her cage for a prolonged period trying to find her. She of course woke up and completely freaked out, who wouldn’t with some lunatic starting at you while you sleep?

Toby hasn’t had a night terror since we got our second parakeet, Kelly – I’m not sure if having a roommate makes her feel more secure, she does always want to sleep where she can see Kelly. Actually I think Toby would prefer to sleep snuggled up to Kelly, but Kelly’s not having any part of that!

The bottom lines are that you should have night lights and a mineral block for your parakeet, but they may still have the occasional unexplained night fright. The only thing you can do is get to the cage as quickly as possible, turn up the lights a bit, and speak soothingly to your parakeet until he calms down.

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, 5-Pound 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 230301 Fruitblend Small Keet Food, 2-Pound, 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 Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Crumbles, 44-Ounce, 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 Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of his 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 just going to eat bland 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 parakeets, 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 Food for Parakeet, 5-Pound, 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.