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 ūüôā

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 budgie 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 freaked out after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were alarming 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 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 Night Lights 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 Mineral Block and Cuttlebone 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.

Taming and socializing part 2 – parakeet’s out of the cage, what’s next?

Your parakeet is out of the cage and looking at you like, “okay, what’s now? Amuse me people!” Some folks recommend taking your parakeet to a small, safe, room and shutting the door for these first interactions – that didn’t work for us, mainly due to the layout of our house, but in the end it was to our benefit, Toby will only hang out in the kitchen, dining room, and living room and I believe that’s because those are the rooms she was first introduced to. If she goes anywhere outside of that zone it’s either because she’s looking for one of us, or she feels like challenging the bird that lives in the bathroom mirror.

What also works in our favor on this issue is Toby’s fear, she was very reluctant to go exploring by herself, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the floor. But, she did expect us to be fully available for his entertainment and security detail.

It may go without saying, please don’t leave your parakeet unattended while she’s out of the cage, particularly in these early times. There is no limit to the number of ways a¬†parakeet can hurt himself in your home. I would say this goes double for parakeets with clipped wings, since they¬†don’t have the ability to get themselves out of trouble by flying.

We set out to make areas outside of the cage that would be fun to Toby and would be clearly “hers”. We also spent a lot of time working with Toby on flying back and forth to each of us, and practicing stepping up, but felt like¬†time out of the cage should also be at her¬†leisure to enjoy flying and playing.

This pursuit began with the acquisition of the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Parakeet Park Playground Рwhich was only interesting to Toby if we were playing with it too, and was sort of a bust for us, although a perfectly nice product. She might have found it more interesting if her wings were clipped.

So, we moved on to the Kaytee EZ Care Activity Center Playground for Small Birds, as it comes out of the box it is wildly inappropriate for a small bird like a parakeet, but as you see below we quickly loaded it up with a ton of perches and toys, it’s very easy to hop around this way. On days that aren’t too hot we keep it in front of our big living room window so they can look outside, which they both enjoy (unless there are crows around).

Another window area was created using a Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Large 36-Inch, Colors Vary and a couple of other small toys that are suspended securely from the ceiling. This is another favorite spot of both parakeets. Especially on nice days when the window is open and they can yell at all the outdoor birds.

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Can you tell we have a ton of comfy perches?

Because it takes me a while to learn anything, I bought another table top stand, similar to the Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Big Steps Playground, which was another utter fail. Toby is just as happy if I throw some toys out on the dining room table or couch.

A note about using your body as a perch – we were very permissive with Toby initially about where she was allowed to be on our bodies.

We were so excited about her¬†not being afraid of anymore that we didn’t want to put any restrictions on Toby at all, and ultimately created a situation where she felt she was the alpha of our flock. I encourage you not to invite your parakeet to sit on your head or to perch on your glasses, even though it’s inarguably adorable. I ended up having an issue with Toby repeatedly trying to “preen” away some broken capillaries on my eyelids and trust me it is not desirable.

I’ve become aware that some people have parakeets who are happy to sit with them and watch tv or just chill out, if I ever find out what that’s like I’ll post an update! For now, both of our budgies¬†are in constant motion while they are awake.

The TL:DR of this post is: once your parakeet is out of the cage keep a very close eye on him and expect to keep him amused, both by working on his skills, and also by having clearly designated areas for him to explore and use for play.

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