The Parakeet Handbook – Review and Giveaway – Winner has been selected and contacted

This sweepstakes is over and the winner has been contacted.  Thanks everyone who entered!  

The Parakeet Handbook (Barron’s Pet Handbooks) is a great book to have on hand, whether you’re a novice or experienced owner. If you’re thinking about getting a budgie I would recommend reading both this book and Parakeets For Dummies.

For the potential parront there is a section about considerations before buying, and for the novice owner there are tips about cage set up, care and feeding and other basics.

I think the best section is the table of dangers, which highlights a lot of the dangerous items in the home, some that I hadn’t even thought of, such as a parakeet getting stuck behind books on a shelf. Also there is a great chapter on parakeet diseases and how to prevent them, and also what you can do at home to help support treatment.

The writing style is easy to read and the book is well-organized with a comprehensive index in back for easily locating what you need to find at any given time. There are a lot of pictures throughout, which of course I enjoy!

There are only a couple of issues I have with this book, one is that in several spots she mentions giving parakeets gravel to aid digestion, and I am strongly against that practice because parakeets do not need grit to break down food.

Additionally, I feel she doesn’t accurately capture the dangers of having candles or cigarette smoke around birds, candles are noted as a danger for burning only in the table of dangers, when in fact being in the same room as lit candles will almost certainly kill a parakeet.  For cigarettes, she mentions ventilating the room if someone smokes in the same room as the bird, which I find very alarming, maybe she didn’t want to offend smokers, but cigarettes should never be smoked anywhere near a parakeet. If someone in the household smokes every effort should be made to smoke outdoors and to wash hands thoroughly before handling a budgie or any bird.

Those few reservations aside, I do recommend this book for its wealth of information.

On to the giveaway!  This is sponsored by me and I will contact the winner after the end of the sweepstakes, midnight, Thursday 2/2 and will request the name and address, prize will be mailed by Amazon.com directly.  Open to the US only this time, 18 and over. The link will take you to the rafflecopter widget for entry.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER – subscribing is an entry option if you want to do that step first below!

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Winter woes – dry houses and dry budgies

As we moved from fall to winter this year temperatures started dropping significantly, and so did our indoor humidity.  We have gas heat with baseboard radiators, it’s not as drying as forced air heat can be, but using our Analog Hygrometer by Western Humidor we could see that the humidity levels were sinking rapidly.  We think a comfortable range is about 40-55 percent humidity and the house was dropping well into the 30 percent range.  Not only is this bad for the humans, but it is very uncomfortable for budgies.

We began using our Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier – Mini Cool Mist Water Bottle Humidifier Offers Perfect Portable Solution for Home, Office, Hotel, and More, which puts out a surprisingly good amount of humidity, and we prefer it to purchasing a big traditional humidifier (like a Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier – Premium Humidifying Unit with Whisper-quiet Operation, Automatic Shut-off, and Night Light Function) for a couple of reasons. One because big humidifiers are harder to maintain and would need vigilance and lots of cleaning to keep mold out of the picture and two because of Patrick’s chemical sensitivities, bringing a big new plastic appliance into the house is a challenge.  It would probably end up in the garage for months (at best) off-gassing whatever chemicals it came with.

I also tried using our Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, Digital Timer, Stainless Steel as a humidifier, which you should only attempt if you are going to be home AND your birds will be safe at home in their cage.  This is simple enough to do, just fill the crock with water and set it for a few hours; with the lid off the water should simmer and release steam.  We tried on the low setting and it didn’t do enough to be worth bothering. I intended to try it on the high setting but then we decided to invest in a few more travel humidifiers so it hasn’t been necessary.

That reminds me, I know a lot of folks probably miss being able to use candles, febreeze, diffusers and the like after they get budgies, and one way to safely scent your home would be to put a cinnamon stick in your crock pot while you’re steaming your house.  You can also fill the crock half way, add a few tablespoons of baking soda and turn the crock on low to deodorize a room naturally as well.

So far the budgies seem to be doing okay with winter dryness, however, I could see quite easily that it was taking a toll on their feet.  I neglected to take any pictures, but their feet were starting to look a little cracked and like the skin was peeling up a bit. Nothing drastic that would indicate a medical problem, just a bit like the skin on human hands if you don’t moisturize in winter.

I immediately started googling and found a couple of possible solutions, one of them is to use a tiny bit of Carrington Farms Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, 54 Ounce on their feet. There are a few ways I can think of to get the oil on their tootsies, one is to apply the oil to a finger used for step up, and then sneak attack your thumb onto their feet to apply more on top.  Alternately you could put the oil on a perch and just let them land, or you could hold/towel them and just get the job done.

In doing my research I was warned against getting ANY oil on their feathers as it can impede their ability to fly.  Also I was warned that the coconut oil could give them diarrhea if they ingested it, so I would recommend using sparingly, although I also uncovered evidence that some folks give their parrots coconut oil to eat as a supplement, so like most parrot-related issues there’s bound to be a hot debate over who’s doing what wrong!

The person who warned against the potential for diarrhea suggested using baby lotion instead, but I feel a little uncomfortable about that, since they nom their feet pretty often for personal maintenance I would prefer they were nomming on something that is actually food.

I ordered the coconut oil and also started giving them a shallow dish of water to splash around in inside of their cage (also only while I’m home). They really like running around in water and I usually throw in some spinach leaves or a few small broccoli florets to make it more interesting.  Also that way I can pretend they are eating some vegetables!  This splash pool is in addition to a weekly (at minimum) offer of a bath in the Lixit Corporation BLX0787 Quick Lock Bird Bath and/or hanging greens.

Even though the coconut oil only took a few days to get to us thanks to Amazon Prime shipping, by the time it arrived their foot dryness had completely resolved thanks to walking around in water every day. So, that’s a huge testament to the power of water keeping budgie feet in good condition.

Of course I’m glad to have the coconut oil on hand, and similar to several other occasions where I completely misjudge sizes I certainly have a lot of it – I guess Patrick and I will need to start cooking with coconut oil!

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Just a girl and her coconut oil

Review of the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer

Updated 1/27/2018

It’s now January of 2018 and we finally have a budgie that likes the K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch Small! Our new boy Kevin sits on the heated perch every afternoon for his nap time and you can tell he feel very comfy-cozy. Since he’s a bit smaller than our girls I’m so happy he has the extra heat of a bird warmer. Also I’m so pleased that all of our K&H warmers have been incredible safe and reliable, as this is their third winter in use and we have had no trouble with them whatsoever.

K&H Thermo Perch

We keep our house at a steady 69 in winter, but I know that a lot of folks would find that either too warm at night and/or prohibitively expensive, depending on your type of heating.  We’re also pretty lucky that the parakeets’ cage is in a relatively draft free zone, at least 3 feet away from a window and quite a bit more than that from a door.  It’s probably one of the warmer areas of the house, especially since the bedrooms tend to be on the chilly side.

Anyway, I know that budgies still like a bit more warmth than 68, even though they seem to have adjusted to our indoor winter temperature very easily, so I bought them the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer Small/Medium for a little extra heat.

Last year we had the K&H Thermo Perch, Small and Toby wanted no part of it, and in fact began avoided a full ¼ of her cage just to ensure she never had to land on the perch.  We tried it again this fall, thinking maybe Kelly could influence her in to giving it a try, but instead they both just kept away from it.

Even though Toby has some issues with color-based fear, I decided to try the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer Small/Medium, hoping that gray would not be too threatening and that even if they just occasionally ended up near it playing with a toy, that would be fine by me.

The warmer installs easily, you just have to make sure your cage is near an outlet or have an extension cord handy.  This is an extremely safe heater in our experience; it’s now been on continuously for about a month and always maintains a consistent and comfortable temperature. I wouldn’t hesitate to leave it on if we were going away for a weekend or a longer period of time.

As expected, the parakeets are not really in love with the warmer, they don’t specifically go over to it, or (as the name implies) snuggle up to it at all. But, I put it above a nice corner perch that they could hang out on for a while if they wanted, and I make sure to put fun toys nearby to lure them over.  Thus far they don’t in any way avoid it, and that was my best case scenario, so I’m very happy!  And, they may make the connection at some point and start going over when they feel chilled; a month is way too early to know how they will react by the end of winter.

One thing to watch out for is the power cord that comes out of the cage; it’s wrapped for their safety as far as not being able to chew through the cord, but mine tried anyway.  They love crawling around on the outside of their cage (and trying to sit on top of the Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz) so when we first got the snuggle up Kelly was obsessed with trying to go and chew on the cord. I moved her away several times and now they are both aware that they aren’t supposed to go near it. Of course a couples of times a week I catch them trying to sneak over to it, but as soon as I stand up or make eye contact they hustle away as though to say “me?  I would never!”

My final verdict is a definite go for it – even if your parakeets, like mine, aren’t totally sold on the concept, it gives me peace of mind to know that there’s a source of extra warmth in the cage, and that it’s extremely safe and I can feel comfortable leaving it plugged in and running 24/7 is fantastic.

Hide your hands – Kelly is a teenager – dealing with biting budgies

I have written before about our struggles with Kelly and biting, which were relatively unexpected since she was handfed and socialized by her breeder.  Well, we have just reached the next level of biting mania and willfulness.

There is a period of time during which a budgie is no longer a baby (after their first big molt) and before they are mature (about 1 year old).  During this time they do a lot of testing boundaries, acting out, and generally being defiant. Compounding this issue is that she’s come into breeding condition for the first time, so she’s very territorial and hormonal.

Kelly launched herself into this period with some real flair. She went from being scared of being on the couch one day to trying to burrow into it and shred the seams the next, she also decided that the dining room table wasn’t scary anymore and, in fact, needs to be turned into match sticks.  So, I can see that we are going to be doing a lot of “time outs” over the next few months.

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couch ostrich

The worst part is that the occasional biting has shifted in to high gear and is serious limit-testing.  I had a few bad moments the other day where I was surprised by it and ended up doing more of a frantic flap than a gentle roll to put her off balance.  She seems to know where the softest spots are and digs in.

We’ve pretty well failed on every method of deterrence so far, including: blowing on her lightly, saying no, putting her back in the cage, gently rolling our hands to keep her off balance and/or just not reacting to bites.

The crazy thing is that she only hates hands, you can put your face next to her and no matter what she will never bite it, she can even be trusted to groom eyebrows and have access to your nose. There is simply a major disconnect between the hands and the rest of the body.

I considered leaving her alone for a while but she loves being with us, she always wants to be on her people and preen our hair or explore our sweatshirts and it’s obvious that she enjoys interacting with us as much we enjoy her. And enjoy her we do, I hope that I don’t sound too Kelly-negative, she is so much fun and I wouldn’t change her for any other budgie.

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Going forward, I’m going to take a two-pronged approach, 1st I’m not going to step her up any more unless it’s in the context of structured reward-based clicker training. She needs a distraction as soon as she’s on the hand or she starts biting immediately and hopefully with the clicker training we can extend that period of time until she doesn’t bite at all. 2nd In case the hand issue is based in fear I’m going to work on allowing her to explore my hands when they are flat down on a surface and do not move at all. This may end up in me getting bit many more times as she examines the various textures of a hand, but hopefully it will help her become more comfortable with them.

Toby was pretty easy to convince that hands are benevolent bird-like objects, if we crook a finger at her and “nod” it she nods right back, beaks the fingernail gently and pins her eyes like she is greeting another bird (it IS as cute as it sounds).   Kelly, so far, is just not having it, but I know we went through this with Toby too; she did not bite this hard though.

Anyway – this has been sort of a rambling post.  The points are primarily that many parrots go through a “teenager” like phase where they are quite unmanageable and you may wonder where your sweet baby has gone. This is okay; they need to assert their independence and they will go back to being their nice selves after a while.  Also, sometimes even though a budgie has no reason to be a biter they are, and all of the tried-and-true methods of dealing with biting may fail – this is okay, just have patience and keep trying, and if you need to give up because you are too frustrated, that’s fine too, you can accept your budgie on their terms.  Biting, in my opinion, is not a valid reason to rehome a budgie, unless they are injuring other members of their bird-flock and simply must be single birds. Even in that case, actually, if you have the space and means to house them separately then please do that.

So, wish us luck and if you’ve got any other ideas let me know!

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Putting together a first aid kit for parakeets

The start of a year is always a good time to sort of take stock and see if there’s anything I could be doing better.  One such thing this year is that we’ve been pretty blasé about being prepared for any parakeet mishaps or illnesses.  So far so good, there have been no major injuries or health conditions, but I know that any pet is really just a ticking time bomb.

For my peace of mind, I want to put together a budgie first aid kit with some basic necessities, so we will be prepared for minor emergencies.  (Obligatory warning: I am not a vet and I am not suggesting anyone skip seeing a vet – nor am I giving medical advice.) Here are some of the items that I’ll start with

Of course you can skip all the guesswork and just purchase a First Aid Kit for Birds, but I think I’d prefer to build mine piece by piece so I familiarize myself with each item, instead of having an emergency and opening the box for the first time in a panic.

If I’m missing something that is an essential 1st round item please let me know in the comments below!

Products in this post:

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Healthy Weight for Budgies

I’ve been watching my waistline and trying to get fit lately and it made me reflect on my parakeet’s weight. Similar to humans, there is a target range for budgie weight that relates to optimal health.  This range is about 1.1 to 1.4 ounces (or 25 to 36 grams).

It may seem sort of impossible to weigh a flying target that amounts to less than a package of 2 Reese’s peanut butter cups, but it’s actually pretty easy.  Some folks get an official Bird Scale, which comes with a perch and should be very simple for a large parrot to use, but for a small parrot like a budgie, I have found it’s easy enough to use a basic Food Scale (and some Spray Millet).

Toby is very happy to do a photo shoot on the scale for treats, you can see that the scale shows she appears to be at the upper limit of healthy weights, but I didn’t weigh her at the best time of day so it was a bit elevated.  For the most accurate weight reading you will want to weigh your parakeet after their first morning poop but before they have had breakfast.

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It’s quite common for budgies to become obese, particularly if they are sedentary and stay at home in their cage most of the time.  Also a lot of commercially available seed mixes are high in fats and it can be extremely difficult to get parakeets to eat healthy (just like people!).

This is another reason I would advocate strongly for allowing your budgies to be flighted; this will really help them get the exercise they need to maintain a healthy weight.  If you choose not to have flighted budgies then please make sure yours have the largest cage possible/lots of toys to play with and when outside of the cage you encourage them in physical play.  Either way your budgie should have the biggest cage you can manage and a suitable number of toys and perches.

So – what are the health risks associated with obese budgies?  The big one is liver disease/fatty liver. Liver disease occurs because birds store excess fat in their livers, and over time an obese bird’s liver tissue is replaced with fat, compromising the liver function.

The symptoms of liver disease could be difficult to detect at first or confused with other diseases, they include (but are not limited to) loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, depression, distended abdomen and lethargy.

The best way to avoid fatty liver disease is to help your budgie maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle, and offer a diet that includes a good quality seed mix (like Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets) and depending on your preference, pellets (Roudybush Nibles) as well as vegetables and fruits.

As long as you are keeping an eye on your parakeet’s weight and offering a good diet and lots of opportunities for exercise your parakeet should be able to easily avoid the perils of putting on a few ounces.

Additionally, thinking of the holiday season, it may be particularly tempting to feed your parakeet some human treats, or even things like crackers, cereal etc, but they don’t need it and it’s not good for them.  Since it should be pretty easy to avoid I recommend not feeding any “human” food at all outside of veggies and fruits.

A tale of three vacuums – one of the most important items in the war against parakeet mess

Parrot ownership, even with smaller birds like budgies, can be quite messy. They love to throw seeds and hulls all over the place, as well as feathers, pieces of toys, anything they can shred…essentially anything a bird can be messy with, it will be quite delighted to do so. One of Toby and Kelly’s favorite pastimes is to throw whatever they can lift and then watch it fall.

To deal with the resulting mess we deploy an army of 3 vacuums, each with a specific purpose.

iRobot Roomba 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner:
Roomba goes out every weekday between 2pm and 3pm and vacuums as much of the house as it can before going back to base. What’s great about this is it means we don’t need to vacuum the entire house every day, and since it’s scheduled for mid-afternoon, we humans don’t have to listen to it work. The downside is that it can’t go where the cages are because there’s a small step up between hard wood and tile floors. Even if it could get up there is wouldn’t work out, I tried Roomba in their area once and the vacuum hit the cage so hard that it moved. There’s no way I would subject the parakeets to that every day! It does drive a foot or two away from their cage and they hustle over to the side and yell at it until it goes away, which is cute, and also a nice common enemy for them to bond over. Although it can’t get under their cage Roomba takes the edge off of our duties as budgie mess does not tend to stay in one spot. Even on days where they haven’t been out yet I’ll come home to find feathers in the bedrooms.

The iRobot Roomba 650 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner does take some care to maintain, we’ve had ours for many years, you’ll need to invest in replacement parts, like brushes and filters, and you do have to clean it weekly at a minimum. I believe we’ve even had to replace the motor on ours. It can also be annoying, if you’ve left any doors ajar it will trap itself and just keep going for hours/until the battery runs out. It’s also not very smart and might go vacuum the same room every day for a week straight.

Even considering the downsides, I think Roomba is a valuable addition to our arsenal.

Shark Rocket Ultra-Light Upright (HV302):
A few days into having Toby with us we realized we needed to have a dedicated bird vacuum that we could use conveniently every day in the cage area and kitchen. It had to be lightweight and easy to store but have really good suction and capacity. We started out with a dust buster but that wasn’t really cutting it for getting into crevices and all the way under the cage, and it stopped holding a charge after just a month or so. I have a feeling it just wasn’t up to the herculean task of cleaning up after birds.

We ended up purchasing the Shark Rocket Ultra-Light Upright (HV302) and it is fantastic. It’s corded, which I thought would annoy me at first, but we just keep it tucked out-of-the-way behind a door and it stretches where it needs to go. The attachments are awesome for getting under the radiators and it picks up everything as it should. It’s bagless and the canister is see-through. I find that we can go a couple of weeks without emptying.

We run this every day in the dining area where the cage it and usually extend into the kitchen as well as the hallway next to the cage. It only takes a few minutes a day but makes a huge difference between relatively clean floors versus tracking seeds and feathers everywhere.

Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away (NV501):
This vacuum is the big gun. It has an array of attachments, including an upholstery tool that will pull any tiny speck of dirt out of your couch. The canister pops off the base so it can be carried easily around the house and the smaller head attachment is good for both hard surface floors and carpets. Against with a clear cylinder canister it’s easy to tell when you need to empty and so satisfying to watch it fill up.

Unlike our daily vacuums, this guy only comes out on the weekends when we clean house, it is extremely thorough and powerful and easy to maintain.

Recently I dropped about 5 pounds of seed and pellets on our kitchen floor and after salvaging what I could we vacuumed up the rest, the Shark made quick work of it and probably would have been happy to chow down on the full amount.

The shark also does a great job during heavy molting times and has really good suction for getting tiny feathers from under tables, chairs, couches and oh just everywhere (since everywhere is where they are!).

Depending on your needs you can’t go wrong with any of these vacuums; I think all three are a great system to keep parakeet (and everyday human) mess under control.

One big note about safety, please don’t ever vacuum with your budgies out of the cage. I saw a terrible story once about a parakeet that got sucked up in a vacuum, thankfully it survived with medical intervention but hat’s a vet bill that’s pretty easily avoided by keeping birds at home when vacuums are out. I’m going to assume that most parakeets are not huge fans of the vacuum anyway and probably feel safer in their cages instead of battling the great noisy beast!