Snuggle huts – worth the risk to parakeet safety?

In our early days of having Toby I was searching around for toys and perches on Amazon and came across the Prevue Snuggle Hut. There are a lot of variations on these type of “tent”, some have hard sides covered in fabric, like the snuggle hut, and others have three soft sides, there are different types of fabric and different ways to connect them to your cage. They all follow the same theme of providing a nice snuggly hiding spot for your bird.

Theoretically, this is awesome, parakeets are easily freaked out by a wide array of things so having a safe space that’s soft and dim and cosy is a boon to their feeling of security. Also, snuggle huts are super fun to play on and in; budgies can cling to the sides and top, and play peekaboo on the interior. The fleecy sides can be preened and the thicker sturdier fabric interior can be chewed and pulled.

I purchased one for Toby and installed it in her cage; she was so cute going in and out of the tent and she clearly loved hanging out inside of it. Unfortunately, I noticed she was also wedging herself between the tent and the cage bars, on the sides and on the top of the hut. She was able to get out every time, but I thought of the hours that she spends by himself when we are at work and it just didn’t sit right with me, so I quickly took the snuggle hut back out and stored it away in our toy cabinet.

Afterwards, I started reading up on the dangers of snuggle huts and similar products. Because of parrots propensity to rip and tear any material they will frequently rip open the seams on these tents, and some budgies and larger parrots then wedge themselves inside the walls of the snuggle hut. If the owner is home and can get them out quickly enough this might result in a successful rescue, but there are a lot of cases where a parrot has been seriously injured or died.

Also because of the shredding habits parakeets may end up ingesting fabric while tearing apart their snuggle huts. Ingesting fabric can lead to an impacted crop. Here again you are looking at either a death or in this cage an expensive surgical procedure to remove material from the crop.

Since these tents could be fairly hard to access once in the cage you could have the best intentions to maintain it and make sure there are no holes or loose threads, but it would be very difficult to inspect the entire tent on a daily basis.

Outside of the risks of physical harm, a snuggle hut could also seem like a nesting space to a parakeet, and if you are not trying to breed your birds that’s just a bad idea!

I recently came across our old snuggle hut as I was cleaning out some toys that the parakeets don’t love, so I decided to put it on our play gym for a few days. Of course both Toby and Kelly were immediately infatuated with it – they both spent tons of time crawling in and out of the tent as well as on the outside. They are so stinking cute playing hide and seek that I wish I could put the snuggle hut right back in the cage. Especially for winter, it seems like it could be a nice place for a nap or even night-time sleeping.

For us, though, the risks are too great to outweigh the benefits. If you currently have a snuggle hut or any similar product in your cage, or are thinking about getting one, I strongly encourage you to do some research and read some of the stories of people who lost their parrots to hut-related injuries. In a couple of days I plan to take our snuggle hut down and finally throw it out, in the mean time I’ll certainly make sure they only have supervised play time around it an I’ll inspect for loose threads and dangerous tears after every play session.

The good news is that you can also find budgie-safe huts made out of sea grass or very heavy canvas. Here’s a couple of sea grass huts available at Amazon, the Prevue Naturals Sea Grass Snuggle Hut or the Seagrass Tent Bird Toy .

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holes after just a few hours of play, could easily be widened

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Trying a screen for nighttime – ensuring a good night of sleep for parakeets

In a previous post, I mentioned my concern that the budgies aren’t getting the best possible sleep.  This is both because they are in a high traffic area of the house, which makes sense during the day time, and because Toby won’t tolerate being covered at night.

I had the idea a while back that we should try using a room divider so even if they could hear us after bed time at least they wouldn’t be woken up by seeing us move around.  And as a bonus it might make it easier for us to access our kitchen after 7pm!

We decided on the ACME 02285 Naomi 3-Panel Wooden Screen, Natural Finish, hoping that since it was made of just wood and paper it wouldn’t smell too much (aggravating Patrick’s issues with new furniture).  We also bought a used screen to try and reduce that new furniture smell further.

Of course it still stank to high heaven, of oranges surprisingly! It’s not allowed in the house yet, right now it’s in a hallway between our kitchen and basement thinking about what it did.

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Also in quarantine is an office chair

I have no idea when it will be “house ready” but I’ll be sure to post an update about whether it helps the parakeets and the humans have better evenings.

Budgies and the importance of clean and readily available water

Ensuring access to clean water:
Budgies need access to clean water, which can be a challenge, since like their larger parrot cousins they enjoy throwing food in their water bowl, or bathing in it, or pooping in it. All of these activities, while super fun for the bird, can impact their ability to access clean water when they need it, and you don’t have to be an avian vet to know that drinking water with poop in it is a bad idea.

There are some things you can do to help make sure your budgie has the clean water he needs. First, I recommend putting a flat perch above the water bowl to block a lot of stuff falling into the water. We currently have this clam-shaped perch doing the job, but you could also use something like a lava ledge. These are both good types of perches to have anyway, so strategic placement is a great way to get double the benefits.

Also, you should be refreshing your budgie’s water at least once a day, but I feel like that’s a bare minimum commitment. I refresh first thing when I get up (at the same time as feeding) and also when I get home from work. Additionally, if I see they’ve made a mess of it I will switch out the water as needed when I’m home.

Another way to ensure a clean source of water is to use a Lixit Bird Waterer – which our parakeets strongly prefer drinking from anyway. These totally remove the danger of water becoming contaminated with poop, but you do need to wash them on a regular schedule, AND it’s vital that you check them every ay to ensure they are functioning properly. If the little ball gets stuck they can be completely full of water but inaccessible. Because of the risk of “mechanical” failure I do not recommend abandoning the bowl of water completely. We have two Bird Waterers in the cage, so there’s no waiting in line (in theory) and the bowl of water that’s being refreshed at least two times a day. So, access to water should never be an issue for our parakeets!

Is tap water safe for budgies?
My feeling is if you can provide a filtered source of water that would be best. I know that municipal water is “clean” and tested routinely for human safety but at least where I am it is still fairly hard water, which means it has a high content of minerals. I don’t believe that just because the water is deemed safe for human consumption means it’s safe for a parakeet, considering our relative size differences and the rate at which we process things. If simply being near a lit candle or ingesting avocado can kill a parakeet, then why take the risk for potential impact of long-range exposure to what’s in tap water?

If your family is like mine you’re not drinking tap water yourselves anyhow. We have the ubiquitous Brita Pitcher in our refrigerator. We also have a Faucet Mounted Water Filter attached right to our kitchen sink, this is the water that the budgies typically drink. Each filter is good for 200 gallons, so they don’t have to be replaced every five minutes and it’s very easy to switch back and forth from filtered to tap. The downside is that you cannot run hot water through the filter.

We also wash the parakeet’s fruits and vegetables in the filtered tap water, and when I wipe down the cage or scrub toys and perches I use filtered as well. We had the filter on the tap before the budgies, but I do think it’s an essential piece of our parakeet gear and it makes it very easy to water and clean up after them without taking extra steps.

Access to clean water is just as essential to parakeet health as it is to a human’s, so making sure that your budgies don’t have to worry about where their next drink is coming from is a key part of responsible budgie parenthood.

Important note: Never give your budgies distilled water to drink. Distilled water has no minerals in it and even though that might sound like the purest and best thing it is actually very dangerous to your parakeet’s health and very acidic. It’s not recommended that humans drink distilled water frequently either.   

Concerns about flighted budgies escaping the house or hurting themselves

Escaping the home:
One of the biggest reasons I see given for clipping parakeets and other small parrots is the fear that they will get out of the house and be lost forever. It’s a valid fear, a parakeet that flew out of the front door would be in a total panic, and they are not suited to any kind of bad weather, nor do they have the skills to fend for themselves in the wild. So, if they get out they are going to react in terror and will almost certainly not have the sense to land somewhere close and wait for you to save them.

I don’t think this is a reason to clip your budgie though, I think this is a reason to commit yourself to not allowing that to happen so that your budgie can have the best life possible with you. It’s clear to me that an animal that’s designed to fly needs that outlet for physical and mental heath. Also, a budgie is relatively easy to keep flighted in the home due to their small size, they don’t need a ton of room to have satisfying flights, and they aren’t really interested in distance flying, short burst and loops of the living room are enough to leave them worked out and happy.

The way that we’ve worked it out so our parakeets are safe flying indoors with very limited risk of escaping is a system that we refer to as air-locking, and it is a bit like staying safe on a space craft.

If you’re the first person home at the end of a work day, you can feel free to enter through the front door, since the parakeets would never be out of their cage with no one at home. If you’re anything other than the first person entering the home, then the rule is you go in through the garage.

First you open the garage door and enter, then shut that door, after that you enter a hallway and shut that door behind you. Finally, you come in through the kitchen and shut that door.

That’s a series of three doors and if you follow the procedure of always closing doors behind you there is literally no way a bird could escape any further than one room away. Maybe you don’t have that many doors in between your birds and the outside world. In that case coordinate with the humans in your house to set up a workable schedule or rules for entry.

Injuries in the home due to flight:
I’m not going to say these are totally avoidable. Toby once conked herself on the noggin pretty good flying into a window at full speed. Fortunately she was okay after a couple hours of rest.

But, it makes me sad to read that people are afraid their birds will fly into furniture or kitchen appliances. The bird knows how to fly, and he know how not to smash into things he can see. That’s what he is all about. Toby is such an expert flier that she can purposely buzz your head – only touching you with the tip of her tail. She can also hover mid-air for short periods of time, and I’ve seen her fly through the slats in our dining room chairs. If your body was capable of all these magical acts, don’t you think it would be important to use it that way?

I have a feeling that when a small parrot’s clipped wings are growing back it can be alarming for a bird-parent to watch them learning to fly, it’s a bit clumsy, like human children starting to walk. Just because a baby is going to fall when he learns to walk would you discourage him from ever trying?

Of course you should put decals on windows that don’t have screens on the interior. Windows with screens are fine in our experience; although we had to do a lot of training about not chewing window screens they are a very convenient landing spot and apparently very fun to grip.

I think that a flighted bird can get himself out of a lot more trouble than he can get himself into. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Toby fall off something because she wasn’t paying attention while playing. A clipped bird would fall straight to the floor, but Toby rights herself mid-fall and zooms off. She also never ends up anywhere she doesn’t want to be, and she can always go home for food, water, rest or if something scares her (which is a frequent occurrence!).

It’s up to you:
The issue of flighted budgie safety is really down to how much you are willing to commit to make it possible. Will you be vigilant while your parakeet it out of the cage? Can you make it second nature to never be careless about opening doors to the outside/are you willing to put decals on your windows and otherwise bird-proof your home?

Further, can you always watch your step and be aware of your budgies so you don’t injure them? This also includes being careful about shutting doors, as you never know when someone’s following you. Can you limit when you cook and/or eat and drink things that would be dangerous to your parakeets?

Putting it that way may better highlight the life changes that you need to make for your bird’s safety. In my opinion, although it may seem inflammatory and harsh, if you cannot make these commitments then please think long and hard about whether parakeets are the right pet for your family. That is how highly I rank the important of flight to their overall well-being. Please note that I’m referring to parakeets only, I am not familiar enough with any larger parrot to make judgments about whether they are happy without flight.

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We are so excited for Kelly to fly soon!

Parakeet perch dominance – night fights

Toby and Kelly are fervent lovers by day – well, not in the most literal sense of the word, but they follow each other around all day. Toby grooms Kelly, Kelly regurgitates to Toby and except for a couple of spats it’s generally a pretty gross parakeet lovefest.

During the day they even nap side by side very comfortably, it’s really cute, especially since during nap time they both “talk” in their sleep.

Night sleeping is a different matter entirely, there are three perches that one would think would be acceptable for a comfortable evening’s rest, two are at the same height, and one of them can certainly fit two sleepers, but no, there must be one parakeet to rule them all by sleeping higher than the other!

So although by day our budgies are besties, all bets are off as soon as the lights start to dim, and the cage becomes the venue for a battle royale of perch dominance. They start yelling at each other furiously and engage in some very serious beak warfare. Usually someone ends up falling to the bottom of the cage with a heavy thud at least once before the battle has ended. I should note that “yelling” in this context means a steady stream of terribly cute angry peeping noises.

For months the only way it ever ended is with Kelly on the top perch and Toby on one that’s slightly lower, and even after they were in position Kelly would angrily vocalize at Toby to keep her in place. Recently though we’ve had nights where Kelly ends up lower or where they both end up on the same perch. We always leave one dim light burning so that if they decide to reopen perch negotiation in the middle of the night they can see to do it.

I’ve thought about splitting them up for bed time, especially since it feels wrong to watch them engaged in what frequently appears to be a death match, but apparently this is very common behavior – if you’ve got 2 or more parakeets you’re going to have night time battles for dominance, and much like many other issues, the only one with a problem is me! The parakeets are fine and the results of the fights may even help solidify the terms of their relationship.

Also, Toby hasn’t had a single night terror since they started sleeping in the same cage, and that’s totally worth the 15 minutes of squabbling every night.