Realistic start up costs for a budgie

In my first post on this blog I made a bit of a wild claim as to how much I felt start-up budgie costs would be.  Recently I’ve been wondering whether I was close at all and decided to do a bit of research and some basic addition. This post assumes you are purchasing nothing secondhand and you don’t have any existing supplies.

  • First and most important is cage selection, I have heard a lot of good reviews of Vision brand cages and I would always endorse getting the largest cage possible, so I’m picking the Vision Bird Cage Model L01 – Large for my scenario (this cage is approx. $85). I have the HQ Victorian top bird cage with cart stand (approx. $200). So clearly there is a big range here, and of course I’ve chosen higher end cages, which may not be in everyone’s budgie budget.  In this instance I will say you need to anticipate a minimum spend of $70.
  • Next up is food. You’ll want to get some of whatever your budge is accustomed to eating, let’s assume he has been on a seed-based diet because that’s very common, especially for a pet store. An example would be Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb, and that’s about $11 for 4 pounds. You might as well get Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count while you’re at it because you’ll need it for treats and to help you in taming your budgie (if feral).  The millet is approximately $7. Most bird owners these days also offer their parakeets pelleted food, and a very common brand is ZuPreem. I don’t recommend feeding anything with unnatural color and so I’ll start with the ZuPreem Natural with Added Vitamins, Minerals, Amino Acids Small Bird Food, 2.25 lb and get a 2.25 pound bag for $13. Total food spend is $31
  • On to perches – your cage will probably come with one or two, but they will undoubtedly be either round plastic or smooth doweled wood. You can leave them in if you like, but parakeets need a lot more variety in perch size and material. This is for foot exercise and nail maintenance, and also for chewing and mental stimulation. Perches should not exceed ½ inch in diameter, or your budgie will have trouble getting comfortable. You are going to buy the Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture – Iona Natural Wood Y-Rack 2-Piece Set for Birds for $10, the Living World Pedi-Perch, Small for $11.50 and the Living World Nature’s Perch, Small for $15.20. There are a million different kinds of perches, fun chewy perches and mineral perches, with all sorts of shapes and sizes. And these should be rotated fairly regularly so your initial spend should by no means be considered your lifetime spend. Total start up is approximately $36
  • Toys are another extremely important facet of initial cage set up. Every parakeet needs them, and especially those who may need taming. If a parakeet is confined to his cage for the bulk of his time he absolutely needs an outlet for physical activity, mental stimulation, and destructive chewing. Much like with perches the toy options are almost limitless. Let’s assume that you need a minimum of three toys to start with.  First I recommend the BIRD KABOB Bird Toy, Mini Max ($7) which provides hours of chewing fun. Next something like the JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary for about $5; this toy is deceptively simple, being just a series of interlocked rings, my parakeets adore this and like going through the rings acrobatically or just chewing them and ringing the bell repetitively.  Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds coming in at $12.50 which I’ve written a whole separate review about because my budgies are obsessed with it.  Much like the perches, toy options are vast and start-up cost is just the beginning of spending!  Total is $24.50
  • This item is completely optional – there are a lot of different ways to handle the bottom of the cage lining material. Many people use newspaper (black ink pages only) or even paper towel. I like to use Bird Cage Liners – Small Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 40 Pound Paper. Not only does it allow me to easily assess my budgies’ poop condition (and therefore their health) but it also resists absorbing water spills and makes clean up a total snap. I can’t imagine not having them. Cost depends on cage size approx. $35
  • Another semi-optional starter item is the Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz. I can practically guarantee that within a few days of parakeet-ownership you will realize that it is nearly impossible to keep their water from being contaminated by poop, food, and/or bathing. You should still maintain the traditional water bowl, but having the lixit bird waterer means that you do not have to worry about a clean supply of drinking water. You should buy as many of these as you have budgies so they don’t fight over it (in theory!). Minimum cost $12.50
  • Living World Cuttlebone, Large, Twin Pack provides absolutely essential calcium and minerals and is very inexpensive to boot! Cost $3.50
  • And finally – the budgies!! I’m hoping you’re starting with two so that they feel less afraid and have a pal, I know it will be harder to tame them, but I don’t think you’ll regret it.  Depending on where you get your parakeets they are either a small donation to a rescue, or up to $50 each for a handfed baby. I will hit sort of in the middle and say that you spent $40 for your two parakeets.  $40

Done conservatively, that comes to about $250 dollars.  That is far less than my original estimate of $400, but still a pretty substantial chunk of change.

Of course, that does not include everything that you will either find is a necessity down the road (like a 1st aid kit) or replacement toys and perches.  Also, almost every bird owner discovers they need a dedicated vacuum or some type for budgie mess.  You will probably also end up buying an air purifier (we have the Winix WAC9500 Ultimate Pet True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave Technology), both for your budgie’s health and for yours once you realize the amount of dust and other air contaminants that come with birds.

Also not accounted for is an Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W these provide full spectrum UVB and UVA lighting which parrots need to synthesize vitamin D3.  They cannot get these types of light through windows – so even if you think your budgie is technically getting “enough light” because they are near a big window, they are not getting the full spectrum which they need for physical and mental health.  Buying the lamp and bulb at Amazon will run you another $65.

For such a small thing budgies need a lot of gear for optimal physical and mental health. Far from being just an ornamental pet to keep in a cage, budgies are complex and extremely intelligent creatures and they deserve to have their basic needs met, or hopefully exceeded.

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Embarrassing vignette – the time we almost killed a parakeet on her first day home

This story actually begins more than a year before we almost killed Kelly. Back in the day I was pretty chill about mice in the house. We would get the humane traps(Grandpa Gus’s Mouse Trap Tubes – Live Catch & Release Humane Mice Tunnels – 4 Pk), catch mice and throw them in the back yard. I used to have a weird old open-front shed in my backyard and I put some socks, catalogs and tortilla chips in there, and I would throw the mice in the shed.  One year we chucked about 13 mice out, or possibly the same mouse 13 times…

Anyway, this détente with the mice ended shortly before we got Toby. We were making tea one evening, I opened the dishwasher, and there was a living mouse among the glassware in the top shelf, frozen in terror. That was just too great an infraction to suffer, so, the dishwasher was replaced and the mice were no longer gently captured and tossed out into the yard. I bought a bunch of snap traps (Mouse Traps (Pack of 12) sorry) and deployed them. We got the dishwasher mouse in the dishwasher before replacing the dishwasher and set another couple of snap traps, one on each side of the refrigerator in the narrow alleyway between fridge and cabinet (this is the gun in act 1, by the way).

We snapped a few more mice and the siege seemed to be over, but I left the traps, because of Toby. If you google mice and parakeets you’ll find loads of stories about rodents trying to eat bird food, scaring parakeets at night, and in worst case scenarios, biting & killing budgies or eating their feet (!).  Just thinking about rodents attacking my baby budgie in the middle of the night was enough to keep me laying down snap traps indefinitely.

Not only had Toby never had her wings clipped, but she also came with a crazy aversion to going near the floor.  You can lure her down there with some Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count or toys, but mostly she’s like a kid playing the floor is lava game. So – I’m probably projecting the ending of this story at this point, but the thing is, we forgot about the traps, no one ever went near them and if we noticed them, it was with relief that Toby was protected.

Fast forward 8 months, Kelly came home, having recently had her wings clipped for the first time.  She spent the afternoon chilling out in her cage and the next day I was out of town. I felt horrible missing her first whole day, but my mom and I had a day trip to the city planned that we had been looking forward to for months, and we had purchased non-refundable transportation tickets etc. Also, I tend to be the nervous nell between Patrick and I, so I think we both felt like it might be better if I wasn’t there fretting about everyone’s well-being.

That night when I got home, Patrick told me the following story, he let Kelly out of her cage to spend some time with her, and Kelly, not realizing she couldn’t fly (she never did accept that) launched herself into the air, hit the broadside of the refrigerator and slid down to the floor!  Patrick dashed over and shoved the snap trap away JUST as Kelly was about to investigate the peanut butter lure, ie: get her noggin snapped.

I can’t even imagine the crushing guilt we would have felt if we killed our new budgie on her first day home. As it was we both felt absolutely horrible, and I think Patrick probably lost a few years of his life in that instant. I have to give him a lot of credit for remembering immediately the danger lurking in that narrow space.

So – my stomach still turns a bit when I think about mice eating our parakeet’s feet, but we went back to a humane trap. Kelly never made that exact flight pattern again – she only needed to hit the fridge one time before learning that it was not, in fact, a portal to another dimension – but she certainly hit practically every surface in the house over the next several months.  She would fly off somewhere and wander around until I found her and brought her home.

I guess the lesson here, beyond the obvious don’t have snap traps or other kill traps for small animals around your budgies, is that every parakeet is different. Ultimately we felt like parents who have their first baby and it’s an angel who never gets into anything, and then the second kid comes along and is a total whirlwind demon baby.

Still, I’m really glad we didn’t murder Kelly on her first day home, and I hope that the next time you endanger or scare your babies, which happens to all of us, you think of me and my mouse traps and feel a little bit better knowing we’re all out there making mistakes.

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Video – could you listen to this flock calling parakeet for 2 hours straight?

We had a little warm spell recently and it brought a lot of outdoor birds out of their hiding spots to chirp and enjoy the nice days.  It has also made Kelly want to communicate with them desperately, so she’s been flock calling to them every morning for hours straight. I know that in a week or so she would realize they aren’t going to talk back and stop trying, but in the interim we have this incessant yelling.

Before getting a budgie (or any bird), listen to this on a loop for 2 hours and decide if you can take the noise!  Please excuse the weirdly-sized video and the water noise in the background, she stopped yelling as soon as she saw the camera so I had to run the water to get her going again!

Budgies/parakeets do not need grit

There are several species of bird that need grit (like Manna Pro Poultry Grit, 5-Pounds) added to their diet to aid in digestion. For example, adult chickens need grit; they swallow their food whole and the grit they eat sits in their gizzards and helps break down larger pieces of food or hard-hulled seeds. Many chicken owners use ground oyster shells for grit, which also provides much-needed calcium to the chicken.

Years ago, after noting that many birds needed grit, it became widely accepted that budgies must need grit too, and it was quite common to offer household pet parakeets grit.

This is, we now know, wildly unnecessary. Unlike chickens, budgies hull their seeds before they eat them, meaning there is nothing hard to break down once it reaches their crop. Also, when they are eating other foods they use their beaks to break it down, so there is again no need for grit assistance.

Beyond just being completely unnecessary, gravel can be detrimental to your budgie’s health. Because of the way the budgie digestive system is designed, there’s a good chance the grit will get stuck in their bodies instead of excreted, and this will cause blockages and potentially death.

Budgies DO need additional calcium like the oyster shell grit would provide, but this can easily be achieved by offering Penn Plax Cuttlebone Natural 6 Pack and/or Zoo Med 26384 Bird Banquet Fruit Mineral Block, 1 oz/Small. You could also feed your budgie crushed eggshells for calcium.

So, grit is one thing you can remove from your shopping list, which is always nice!

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PetSmart

Interviewing a professional pet sitter for parakeets

I had this great idea a while back that Patrick and I should take a family vacation with my mom and stepdad. We decided on a destination and dates, and then my mom and I started worrying immediately about who would care for our pets. As you know from prior vacation-related posts on the blog, my mom has taken care of the budgies when we travel, and she does an amazing job of looking after them and letting them have free time outside of their cage. But, I had to go into this knowing that a professional service would not spend upwards of an hour at my house every day! This may be offensive to other pet owners, but I felt that finding a pet sitter for parakeets would be even more challenging than dogs or cats.

We started researching pet sitters and found someone through word-of-mouth that came highly recommended – and even better, I discovered she is a bird owner herself with loads of avian experience. The only problem was that she wasn’t responsive to email and her voicemail was full. Both my mom and I chatted with her separately and she sounded perfect on the phone, but we couldn’t get to the point of scheduling consults and it was getting frustrating and a little worrisome. I have a feeling this may be one of those situations where the pro has the best intentions, but probably has a full slate of clients and can’t take anything else on, whether she wants to admit it or not.

So, back to the googling board, I found the CAPPs website and a link to a sitter who looked like she might cover my area. I sent a message and heard back within a few hours, which made feel comfortable. We were able to work out a time for her to come over very easily and within a couple of days had the consult.

Of course I’ve never interviewed a professional pet sitter before, but she made it very easy and had her own intake sheet with all of the questions listed that she needs to do her job. These ranged from the details of feeding and watering, to whether we have a security system and if she would be responsible for taking out garbage or bringing in mail. She also provided me with a vet release to sign as well as a contract detailing her liability and what would happen in a variety of situations, like potential animal bites etc. She counter-signed the documents as well and left me with copies for my records.

My favorite clause is that if something goes wrong and she has to get a locksmith to open my house I will be responsible for the cost of the locksmith – I love knowing that no matter what happens she’s going to get in there and take care of my babies!

She has over 200 clients that are mostly vacation (versus day-to-day dog walking) and more than 500 individual animals. She also has a staff of 4 and was prepared to talk about her scheduling system, how billing is handled, and how credit card information and personal details are secured.

I don’t think she is completely familiar with budgies, but she has cared for parrots before, I was delighted that she seemed interested in watching them and asking questions about their behavior, particularly once she realized they were interested in watching her too!

We talked about whether or not they should come out of their cage, because at present they are not trained to go back in at our command. The sitter usually would stay in a 30 minute block of time ($20 per session) and there is no way to guarantee the parakeets would go back home in that time frame, especially if they’ve been stuck at home for a few days! So – she’s going to see how it goes, and if she’s got a few blocks of time she will let them out and charge me the additional after the fact, which I’m totally fine with. We let her know that she can also use millet to lure them back home if needed!

Overall she seemed extremely organized, responsible, and very professional; but at the same time warm and friendly. I can’t imagine a better mix of traits for someone you entrust with the lives of your pets. We still have a ways to go before vacationing, but I feel very relieved to have this sorted out, not that I won’t worry about them every day anyway, but at least I feel secure that they will be in very good hands.