Keeping ants out of parakeet cages

I’m betting that one of the last things a parakeet parent wants to see is a line of ants trooping into their bird’s cage and stealing food! Ants are a common household pest and can be very difficult to eradicate. While I have never had ants go directly for my parakeets’ cages, I have fought many a war against them and I always come out the victor! Here’s my recommendations for getting rid of ants in a way that is safe for your parakeets.

First, as soon as the weather starts to warm up get a jug of TERRO Perimeter Ant Bait and follow the directions to surround the perimeter of your home. Of course if you don’t live in a single family detached home you may have to skip this step. I feel like it creates a first wave defense to deter the ants, although it will need to be reapplied periodically throughout the warm months, especially if you get a lot of rain.

While you’re going around your house with the Terro, look for cracks and crevices that ants could crawl in and possibly access your home. These can be sealed with Caulk or Great Stuff.

You can also take a peek at your trees for early carpenter ant activity. If the carpenter ant colonies outgrow their home trees they may come looking to take up residence inside your walls (eww), so if you see any your can lay out Terro traps at the base of the trees. I use both the Terro Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits as well as the TERRO Outdoor Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stakes . It won’t take out a whole colony but it does keep their numbers in check. We have also had several trees close to our house removed because the ants were out of control. I’ve used these traps mostly for carpenter ants, but they will work on any variety.

Once you’ve laid all your outdoor traps and can focus on interior protection I recommend going around all your windows on the inside and caulking gaps here too. If you use caulk on the interior of your home make sure your parakeets are in a separate and well-ventilated area or outside of the house entirely. Caulk can have dangerous and deadly fumes. You can also keep stricter rules about cleaning and food storage during summer months. I’m never truly lax at any time of year, but during summer I make sure food is always put away and that food garbage from snacks etc. is always cleaned up promptly. A cup with juice residue left out by a human being could be a juice bar for a conga line of ants in short order!

This also applies to parakeet feedings of fruits and vegetables. My parakeets do a fair amount of food flinging. It is a key part of the daily routine to check walls and floors for food scraps or smears. It’s also important to keep the floor clean with daily vacuuming or sweeping for dry spills and wiping down for wet.

Even with all these precautions it is quite likely that ants are going to pass through your house at some point, and it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong or are “dirty”.

Once you’ve got ants you will want to try and follow them to find out where they are coming in and out of your house and see if you’ve got an obvious breach. It’s tempting to seal that up right away if you find it, but don’t! First, whether you find the access point or not, get some TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and lay them in the ants’ path. Things are going to get gross after that, as the word gets out to the colony that there’s this awesome sugar well free for the taking. It’s tempting to want to kill all the ants you see at the trap but don’t. It is imperative that you leave the trap and the ants alone while they are actively feeding and taking poison back to the colony.

After a few days the activity will drop off and once you are no longer seeing ants at the trap you can go ahead and seal up any access point you had found. Otherwise just remove the traps at that point; you don’t want to draw in a totally different group of ants if they are just wandering around.

The TERRO Liquid Ant Baits have no discernable odor and are safe for use in the home but your parakeets should not be in contact with them. So, no putting any variety of Terro trap in their cages and if they are floor wanderers be VERY careful about that too. You could try taking them to another room for a few days when they are out or block off the traps to budgie access by hiding them under a heavy book.

If you prefer not to use a poison at all you can get Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) instead. DE is a natural powdery substance made up of phytoplankton. It is completely non-toxic and even edible for mammals, but when an insect with an exoskeleton comes into contact with the DE it’s lights out! The DE pierces the exoskeleton and the insect dries up and dies.

One summer I was at my with end with a colony of carpenter ants trying to move into my house, it turned out they were coming in under my baseboard heat radiators. I didn’t feel comfortable having the traps near the radiators, even thought they weren’t on at the time, so I bought a bag of DE and a powder dispenser to lay it down under the radiator. Then once the ants were dead I was able to easily vacuum up the DE powder and the ant carcasses.

You can lay down a ring of DE around the base of your parakeet cage if you have ants that are climbing up to steal your parakeet’s food. This would be much safer than having poison close to their cages and even if they land in the powder it should not cause them any harm. I have even heard of budgie owners treating their parakeet for mites or lice with DE and applying it directly to the bird. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and I am not providing treatment recommendations for your budgie. Please seek the advice of a professional vet if you have any questions about medical treatment for your parakeet. Home Keet Home accepts no liability for anything with which you treat your parakeet).

There are loads of other natural remedies that insist ants won’t cross a line of cinnamon, or mint, or you can drown them in dish soap. I’ve tried them all over the years and for my part prefer the efficiency of the TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and/or DE. I hate to say that I have murder in my heart, but when it comes to ants I am guilty as charged, particularly if it means ants bothering my parakeets!

 

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – mission success!

After our first total fail at parakeet nail clipping I sought help from my favorite Facebook Parakeet Group. It’s not usually my first instinct to crowd source ideas on social media but I was feeling so stumped and dejected by the abject failure that I really needed some other humans to help before I tried clipping a parakeet’s nails again.

I got tons of advise that ranged from taking the parakeets to a vet so we wouldn’t break their trust with us, to don’t take them to a vet for a nail clipping because they will probably have a heart attack and die!  So, we could safely assume that the answers lay somewhere in between those two extremes.

One thing that most folks agreed on is that trying to use the previously purchased Small Animal Nail Scissors was a terrible idea, and that it would be much easier to use regular small Fingernail Nail Clippers meant for humans. Another tip that I thought we should try was covering their faces while they were toweled to keep them calmer and reduce our risk of being bitten.

I also knew that we needed to separate the parakeets for the nail clipping and take the “patient” to another room where they wouldn’t distract each other. This meant that the other human would need to stay in the “waiting room” with the parakeet on deck to keep them quiet. We were thinking that a ton of flock calling would be just as bad as being in the same room.

We split up and Patrick took Toby to our bedroom and shut the door. I initially heard some flapping and evasion tactics but Patrick managed to secure her and make sure the towel (truly a cloth napkin) covered her face. From the other side of the door I heard the occasional snip of the nail clippers and some irritated squawking. After what felt like an eternity Patrick emerged triumphant! He managed to clip every single one of her nails, even though she was a squirmy worm, her head being covered meant she did eventually grow calmer, and using the human nail clippers was 100 times easier.

Next up was Kelly, she and Patrick came back out so quickly that I felt sure he had given up but again it was a rousing success!  Apparently with her head covered she gave up pretty quickly and stayed quite calm.

I should add that Patrick also feed them some Spray Millet under the towel after every couple of nails to keep the experience somewhat positive.

Both Toby and Kelly were pretty mad immediately after the clipping, but Kelly forgot the whole ordeal after just a couple of minutes (except when she couldn’t dig her claws into our couch to pull herself up anymore!).  Toby, on the other hand, has decided to hold a grudge, but weirdly not against Patrick.  She’s mad at me, which I really can’t figure out since I had nothing to do with it. I have known her to stay mad for several days, but I’m determined to win her back over!

To sum it up, the keys for us were separating the parakeets, toweling them with their heads covered, giving them lots of millet, and using small human nail clippers. Patrick did such a great job that I don’t think we’ll need to worry about it again for a while, but it’s such a relief to know that we can manage to get the job done! It’s also really nice to not have parakeets getting their nails stuck in our shirts all the time 🙂

How long can parakeets be left alone – dealing with human absence

Once a person becomes owned by parakeets, whether a single or a flock, it is hard to think about leaving them for any length of time. But, humans frequently have commitments that take them away from home for more than a business day, whether that’s traveling for work, visiting family or even being in the hospital. On the other side of the coin, parakeet owners may still wish to take either short or long trips for pleasure and I think that’s okay. Having any sort of pet doesn’t necessarily mean you should never want to leave your home again!  But, the question is, how long can parakeets be left alone safely?

I don’t think that parakeets should be left alone for more than a weekend, or two nights. There are too many things that can go wrong and even though none of them may have ever happened, you can’t predict the first time your flock will have a night terror. Or when your parakeet is going to get stuck in a toy and need help getting out. Or when they will decide to bathe in the drinking water, or throw all the seed out of a bowl. Even if none of this has ever happened before it could the moment you step out the door for your first weekend away!

That all sounds pretty dire, and sort of conflicting with my belief that having parakeets shouldn’t chain you to your home! The way I live it is that the parakeets are never alone for more than 24 hours, that’s what I’m comfortable with. Anything greater than that and either my mom comes over, or if she’s unavailable the professional pet sitter comes. Having these resources is key, and I highly recommend working out a plan for who can take care of your parakeets before you actually need them! That way in case a medical or other emergency takes you away from home you’re just a phone call or text away from having your parakeets care covered.

There are steps you can take before going away to reduce the likelihood of disaster and assure that your parakeets are almost guaranteed access to food and water. One is to look at your cage with a critical eye, if there are any toys with small crevices, or ropes that a little parakeet foot could get stuck in, swap them out for something else. Also, think about their routine, are they used to having you close curtains for them every night?  Would it be scary for them if the curtains were left open?  If that’s the case, you may wish to keep them closed and use Light Timers to signal morning and evening. In general I think light timers are a good thing to use while on vacation or otherwise to build a routine.

Additionally, your parakeets will almost certainly miss the noise and bustle of the humans in their household – so make sure to leave the tv or radio on, or better yet, get an Amazon Echo .  Using the Amazon Echo I can turn music on for the parakeets when I get up in the morning and turn it off at their bedtime, no matter where I am.  It helps them keep their usual day time rhythm.  If I had a smart home I could also use the Amazon Echo to adjust lighting and even heating and cooling.

A way for you to feel better while you’re away is to invest in a Wireless Security Camera – using the camera with its app on a smart phone you can take a peek at your parakeets either day or night and make sure they are A-Okay.  You can even use the camera’s microphone to talk to your parakeets.

As far as the basic necessities go, make sure to have multiple sources of both food and water, that way if one is compromised they will still have access. We like to provide the following:

          • For both food and water – Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls, these are non-porous (as opposed to plastic) resist staining and are good at reducing the slimy or scummy feeling on the inside of a plastic water bowl. They are also very easy to clean.
          • Silo Bird Feeder – this reduces the likelihood of all of the food being compromised by poop or kicked out of a bowl. Although it probably does not reduce the chances to zero. I would have this in addition to bowl(s) of food.
          • Silo Waterer – just like the silo feeder, this helps ensure a clean source of drinking water that is much less likely to be contaminated.
          • Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz – Either in addition to the silo and bowl of water or instead of the silo. There is a greater risk of mechanical failure with these because the ball can get lodged in the metal tube, meaning it could be full of water without the ability to actually dispense any. These also require fairly frequent cleanings due to slimy buildup, and you have to be very careful to clean thoroughly, which isn’t easy because of the small size.

The first time you leave your parakeets is bound to be nerve-wracking. Once you’ve got your systems in place for feeding and watering, and you feel good about their physical safety it does get easier. Ultimately the question of how long can parakeets be left alone is a very personal one and depends on what you are comfortable with, there aren’t any easy answers!

A summer treat for parakeets – fresh corn on the cob

If you’re anything like me, a portion of your time at the grocery store is spent hunting for fruits and vegetables to try feeding your parakeets.  Actually, they’ve probably helped me increase my intake of that portion of the food pyramid, if I’m cutting something up for them I usually make that my afternoon snack as well! A few weeks ago I noticed that ears of corn were on sale at 5 for $1.00 and thought that fresh corn on the cob for parakeets would be both economical and fun.

I’ve tried feeding them frozen corn before that’s been brought up to room temperature and they wanted nothing to do with it, but I know parakeets can be really fussy so I didn’t let that dissuade me from trying fresh.

Preparation is easy, just husk the corn as you usually would, and set aside the interior husks, we will use them for something else.  Once the corn is husked wash it thoroughly and then take a knife to shave off some kernels of corn.  No need to cook the corn at all, raw is perfect.

The first time we presented Toby and Kelly with fresh corn they were not quite sure about it and took some time to regard it and discuss.

They eventually decided to give it a go and were thrilled with the fun of both eating the corn and throwing the kernels everywhere, of course.

The next week I decided to get them another ear of corn and as soon as they saw the ear they freaked out with excitement and were all over it immediately. I have seen other parakeets eat corn right off the cob, but Toby and Kelly like for it all to be shaved off for them. I don’t mind taking that extra step if it means more of the corn gets eaten.

As for the corn husks that you set aside – those should go outside to dry in the sun – after which they will look something like this…

The dried husks can be used shred toys and can be given as they are or tied into other toys or woven etc. I had not originally made the connection, but that’s what one of their favorite toys from Drs. Foster & Smith was made of, the woven corn husk toy.

I offered Kelly a strip to play with on the window perch and she was tentatively very pro-husk, they weren’t quite dried so I’ll have to take some additional pictures after they are destroyed!

For just 20 cents the parakeets have a great fresh snack, the enrichment of throwing around kernels and digging in them, and then the additional enjoyment of a homemade shred toy.  For a summer time treat, corn on the cob for parakeets really cannot be beat.

Toby moves to the big house

After waiting several weeks for the HQ Victorian Top cage that was solidly back-ordered, I finally canceled the order and decided to get the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White so that we could get Toby out of the small Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage and alleviate some of my guilt over her situation. It turns out the new flight cage is even more spacious than I imagined, which may be causing Toby some anxiety, but ultimately may mean that she and Kelly could be roommates again.

The new cage arrived just a couple of days after I ordered it, and I set to work immediately unboxing the pieces, wiping everything down and theoretically organizing it all by spreading it across the kitchen floor.

Quality wise, I knew it wasn’t going to be up to the level of the HQ Victorian Top, since the price-point was about $70 less, and it definitely is lighter-weight and much less like a piece of furniture. But, it’s reasonably well constructed and extremely functional. Right out of the box I noticed a few of the bars were bent all out of shape, we were able to put it to rights, but I’m sure I could have called the manufacturer and asked for a replacement front panel.

Once Patrick got out of work for the day we set to the task of assembly. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo I expected to get it put together in short order. But, one of us spent about 30 minutes looking for a tool that was totally unnecessary (not it!) and so we spent about an hour and a half total.

so many pieces!

Once together, we realized this was a much more spacious cage than the Victorian Top, having greater length and width. We didn’t have much time that evening to try and introduce the parakeets to the new cage, but they did watch us put it together with great interest.

Over the next few days I started migrating toys and perches to the new cage and we tried, without putting on a lot of pressure, encouraging Toby and Kelly to explore the new cage.  They are not in love with it so far, but it’s a totally different color and shape than either of the cages they are familiar with, so I can understand.

The following Saturday we moved the rest of Toby’s belongings from her old cage to the new flight cage and that was that. She went in with very little protesting when it was time for bed, but spent a ton of time wandering around in the cage looking for the best place to sleep. Strangely it also disturbed Kelly who would not settle down for hours – which is very unusual for her.

It’s so much room that we may try having them sleep together or even spend some days together, at present they don’t like hanging out in it even when the other cage is closed, but we’ll get them used to it at some point!

I’m pleased to have Toby out of her old cage and into something where she can really flap her wings and get some exercise. Also, this leaves me an extra cage for quarantining someone new, should that occur at any time in the next few months!  At that point (following quarantine) even if they can’t live three together we can have a single and a double and the parakeets will be able to choose the living arrangements.

Toby’s new cage – our first traditional flight cage

Toby and Kelly have been living single for several weeks now and it’s still going great. They are both getting good rest, individual attention and have enough time to play without someone else bothering or attacking them. I had ordered Toby a new cage from Doctors Foster & Smith a while ago, but it was back-ordered and the fulfillment date just kept getting pushed out further and further. So, I finally decided to cancel the order and get her a traditional flight cage.

At first, we thought we would get another HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage, which has served us well for a long time. I love that it looks like a nice piece of furniture, instead of just a utilitarian bird cage. Also, it’s really solid and not at all flimsy, which is something that bothers me about the Vision Small Bird Cage that we used for a car ride. I know a lot of people love Vision cages because they contain mess and are easy to clean, but it just doesn’t feel like a permanent bird home to me.

Anyway, it initially seemed like a no-brainer to just buy another HQ Victorian Top and put Toby’s new cage right next to Kelly’s existing. I ordered the cage and didn’t even notice the back-order warning when I checked out (ooops!), so it wasn’t until 5 days later that I started wondering why it hadn’t shipped, and then realized I would still have to wait another month for delivery!

I thought about canceling at that point, but Toby has been such a good sport about living in her old Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage it’s really unbelievable. She goes right in at the end of the day and doesn’t even appear bothered that she can’t fly in her home cage. Because she’s being so chill about it I felt like we could wait the month.

Fortunately she’s continued to be a solid citizen about her living arrangement, because once the month passed the fulfillment date jumped again by two weeks! I know this has nothing to do with Doctors Foster & Smith, I’m sure it’s down to manufacturing delays for the cages themselves, but it was sort of a bummer realizing that not only were we delayed again, but I really couldn’t trust the new date either.

We were still pretty set on holding out for the HQ Victorian Top, but I started thinking about how much it would be a bummer to lose out on the flat top of the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, which I use every day to keep food and water out when Toby and Kelly are out playing. We also put baths up there and toys for them to play with one top of the cage. The Victorian Top cage is really cool for them to hang out on, but it doesn’t have utility space the way the Prevue Park Plaza does.

Since I had all the extra time waiting on the HQ Victorian it allowed me to really second guess the decision, and decide that we would all be better served by getting a good quality flight cage with a flat top.  Enter the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White, which is made by a company I already trust, and looks like it will be a great home for Toby.

The only thing I’m not thrilled with are the included plastic food and water bowls. I think that plastic bowls tend to get dirtier faster and don’t get as clean as stainless steel. I found these Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls which solve that issue. I like that they are a two part system so I can hang them wherever and just remove the bowls for filling and cleaning.

Because we have Amazon Prime it should be here in just a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to report on the cage set-up and how Toby likes her new digs.  Hopefully our first traditional flight cage will be a winner!

The best treats for a parakeet

It’s natural to want to give your parakeets treats, the same way you would a dog or cat. But, they are quite different animals, and there certainly aren’t as many treats on the market for a parakeet as there are for a mammal pet.  I frequently see people mention the Honey Bird Treat Sticks as a popular treat – with some folks even giving their parakeets a stick every week. There isn’t anything wrong with those treats, per se, but I don’t think they are the best treats for a parakeet.

Parakeets can certainly eat honey, but they really shouldn’t have a lot. Even sugary fruits have to be limited, so a real sugar like honey should be a rare treat indeed.  Also, if your parakeets really get hooked on the honey treats they can start rejecting normal seed and demand sugary treats all the time.  Maintaining a healthy budgie weight is critical to long-term good health, and trying to break a parakeet of a sugar habit would be a frustrating nightmare!

Honey can be very useful to help perk up an ailing parakeet and get the some extra energy and calories to burn. I think that honey should be reserved for an emergency treat, you could even keep a Honey Straw or two in your parakeet’s first aid kit.

If, like me, you don’t want to introduce honey as a regular menu item here are some other ideas for the times you want to spoil your parakeets a little bit.

    • No treat list would be complete (or accurate!) if it didn’t include Millet. Spray millet is almost universally regarded by parakeets as the ultimate in pleasure food. If your new parakeet doesn’t realize yet this is his favorite food he will soon. Millet doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value to it so it really should just be used as a treat. I know there are a lot of Miller Spray Holders on the market so you can put a whole spray of millet in the cage with the parakeets, but I don’t recommend going that route. I think that if millet always comes from the humans it’s a much more powerful bonding and training tool.  Also millet readily available in the cage is the equivalent of me having a limitless bag of Doritos in my cube at work, no good would come of that for my health and I don’t think that unlimited millet will do your parakeets any health favors either.
    • Vegetables and occasional fruits. I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy because your parakeets currently won’t even look at a slice of cucumber without having a panic attack, or ignore it completely. And I’m telling you (virtually guaranteeing) that if you are persistent and keep offering the good stuff multiple times a week in a variety of different ways and/or mixed with seed and millet you will eventually wear them down and have a pack of veggie-lovers! The absolute key is persistence.  You can’t say after a month of trying that they hate vegetables because that is not long enough. These little guys can be more stubborn and fearful than one could possibly imagine.
    • New toys and perches. The great thing is that even though we might all joke around about “spoiling” our parakeets it really can’t be done! They need new toys and different perches regularly to keep their brains active and bodies exercised.  So, if you were going to spend $4 on honey treats, why not spend it on the JW Pet Company Activitoy Lattice Chain Small Bird Toy instead?  I’ve had that toy rotating in and out of cages for the past 2 years, which is comparably a really great value!  I’ll put links at the end of this post to a few inexpensive and awesome toys.
    • Your time and attention. Really the best treat of all. Even if you’re still in the taming process and they can barely tolerate the sight of you, sit by their cage for 15 minutes and sing them a song. Every day when I get home from work my first instincts are to start tidying up the house, make the parakeets a snack and generally get on with the million and one things I have to do. But, I make it a point to make eye contact and greet them, let them out of their cages, and stay put. For as long as they are interested in jumping on my head, screaming in my ear, or chewing on the seams of my shirt, I chill out and just hang. Sometimes I talk to them about my day or theirs, and sometimes we are quiet together. Thinking about it now, even though it can feel painful to slow it down and stop being productive, it’s one of the best things I do both for the parakeets and for me.

I’m sure there are a million other ways to treat your ‘keet, but that’s my shortlist of relatively healthy and inexpensive (or free!) best treats for a parakeet.