I have a bad day, and then pass it on to Toby

Ordinarily Toby and I are best pals. She’s always happy to see me when I get home from work and very interested in having her fair share of undivided attention and time touching our beaks (well one beak and one nose) together and nodding our heads. But, I sometimes forget how sensitive the parakeets are to my moods and how important it is to keep my energy calm and even around them.

It’s sort of a gross story; there will be blood, so if that’s an issue for you then please read no further!

As background information, my lips are always super chapped; I know that chapstick is an addiction and I’m fully comfortable saying that I am hooked. Yesterday I hadn’t done my usual insane number of reapplications and on my drive home I was marveling that my lips didn’t feel that bad. I ran my teeth gently over my lower lip and, apparently having dislodged some dry skin, my lip started bleeding.

Not in a polite ladylike manner, but in a serious business, you better have some tissues steady stream. Of course I don’t have tissues, I don’t have an errant fast food napkin, and I don’t even have a clean sheet of paper to blot my lips on. Starting to panic a bit as the blood kept flowing I debated pulling over but realized I wouldn’t be any better off the side of the road. So, I used the only resource available and began dabbing my lips gently against my hands and arms to ineffectively mop the mess.

By the time I got home the bleeding had mostly stopped, but my arms were decorated with bloody lip prints up to my elbows! I’m laughing about it today, but yesterday I sat in my driveway for a couple of minutes trying to collect myself, called my husband and then felt like I was calmed down enough to go in the house.

I was SO wrong, both Toby and Kelly immediately knew that something was up – I scrubbed down at the sink and they were creepily quiet, not begging to come out at all. I approached and Toby was all tight-feathered and wary and Kelly retreated onto her sleepy perch and seemed quite prepared to ignore me entirely.

Once I opened their cages they both hunkered down in Kelly’s and wouldn’t even come out when I put their afternoon snack of blueberries on top of Toby’s cage.

Their attitude was, by this time, feeding my negative energy since I now felt stung by the rejection. I got changed into workout gear for the afternoon and inadvertently made the whole thing worse by putting on a t-shirt with striped sleeves, knowing full well that Toby does not abide stripes! The next time I tried to approach her she didn’t just back away she went after my hand aggressively to tell me to get the heck out.

I hung my head in shame and retreated to watch some reality television. Of course as soon as Patrick got home I started whining to him that Toby wouldn’t give me the time of day. He immediately pointed out that I was probably traumatizing her with my shirt, and upon changing she found me much more palatable.

Belatedly, I got in my requisite beak-tapping, head nodding ritual time and we have a pleasant evening. And if nothing else it’s a good reminder that parakeets are much attuned to their humans’ feelings and moods and they have their own set of preferences and interesting aversions.

Also, I learned to keep a box of tissues in the car and finally threw out the striped shirt. I certainly never thought I would be taking fashion cues from a budgie!

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!

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.

Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets

Sharing human food with parakeets

I was at our favorite pet store recently and met a relatively new parakeet owner who asked “do your parakeets eat human food?” Thinking  I knew what she meant I said “YES” and prepared to brag about how Toby and Kelly love so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, although it certainly took some doing to get to that point. Before I could get the words out she followed with, “because we’ve tried to get ours to eat Saltine Crackers and Potato Chips and she is just not interested at all”.

By the time I had gotten over my surprise about the direction the question took we had moved on to something else. So, I regret that I didn’t get the chance to tell her that salt is not great for budgies, and that while the occasional nibble of a cracker or chip won’t strike them dead, it’s not good for them and they don’t need it, even as a “treat”.

My husband and I have been strict from the start about not sharing food for human consumption with the budgies, especially from our own plates. If I’m preparing a salad I put aside items that I know they will like, but they are never fed at the same time as we are, and I always make a show of prepping their food on their plates. This reinforces that their food is different from ours, even if it’s technically okay for them to eat, and that they shouldn’t expect to sneak treats from our plates.

It might be tempting and seem cute to share your food with your budgies, I know we want to share all of our lives with them and give them loads of enrichment and spoiling. But aside from salt there are a ton of things that we eat that they don’t need or are intolerant of. In my opinion the more they can avoid processed human foods the better.

Also, if you make a habit of allowing them to eat “safe” foods from your plate you may be sending a strong message that your food is fair game. And beyond the potential annoyance of fighting with your budgie every time you want a snack because she doesn’t understand she can’t have cheese; you could end up with a very sick bird.

Another good reason to keep parakeets away from your plates and cups is the potential ahem fallout. As we know, parakeets poop pretty often (as frequently as every 5-10 minutes). Although seasoned parakeets parents have typically gotten over any issues they may have had about dealing with the nice and tidy parakeet poops, I’m going to assume that no one really wants to ingest them. So, outside of parakeet health, that’s a pretty compelling reason to keep mealtimes separate and otherwise let your parakeets know that they are not welcome to dine directly from your dinner plate.

This can be a bit more difficult with Drinking Glasses and Coffee Mugs, but it is very important that your parakeets do not drink sugary or caffeinated beverages. We sometimes still struggle with making sure the parakeets aren’t interested in our Saturday morning coffee. I usually hide mine under an overhanging kitchen cabinet and take sips while they aren’t paying attention!

I’ve seen several “cute” videos of parakeets having water out of human Drinking Glasses and it always makes me cringe. Parakeets can’t swim, if they lose their balance on a cup’s edge and tip in head first they will likely drown if no one pulls them out. So, although it may be cute when your parakeet does it while you are present and providing supervision, it could be devastating if you have a glass of water out and leave the room for a few minutes.

Sidebar: I feel like I’m coming perilously close to shaming people in this post and that’s really not my intent. If your parakeet has died in such an incident I don’t want you to feel guilty or beat yourself up over it – these things can happen to anyone. I’m thinking about it now and I know I have a glass of water in my kitchen sink that someone could easily drown in. Toby and Kelly have never gone in the sink but goodness knows they surprise me every day! So, no one’s perfect, and even when we know all the right things to do something is still going to slip through the cracks.

Anyway, much like food-sharing we have the twin issues that many of our beverages are bad for them to begin with, and we additionally don’t want to drink poop.

Patrick and I switched to bottled water for a number of reasons shortly after getting parakeets, one of those reasons was to protect our clean drinking sources from parakeets.  But it’s hard to feel good about burning through tons of plastic bottles, even if they are being recycled.  Also – water just doesn’t taste that great in plastic.  So, I recently got these Glass Water Bottles which are our new favorite thing!  Not only are they poop-safe, but we’re saving a ton on buying water bottles every week, water tastes great in them, and they stay colder longer out of the refrigerator.

Bottom line stuff is do the best you can to keep your parakeets out of your people food and beverages and I think you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle/potential heartache. Also, you’ll avoid eating and drinking parakeet poop, which is pretty indisputably a good life goal.

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – an exercise in futility?

In this household we’ve tended to subscribe to the theory that a parakeet with an adequate variety of properly-surfaced perches should not need any human intervention with keeping their nails trimmed. Recently we’ve taken notice that Toby and Kelly have lost interest in their own nail maintenance, and it might be time to face the specter of clipping a parakeet’s nails.

When I was putting together our first aid kit for the parakeets I included a set of Nail Clippers Scissors, they can be used for any small animal , but birds are on the list, and it does seem like it would be easier to clip with that than a traditional human nail clipper.  I also did my due diligence research on how to towel a small bird to keep it still, and to make sure never to cut too high up on the nail because you can hit the blood vessel.  If you do hit the blood vessel you want to have Styptic Powder or at least Corn Starch on hand to help stop the bleeding. Parakeets can bleed out pretty quickly, so getting a handle on any bleeding is important.

So, theoretically it seems possible to trim their nails, if not like a great time. Over the past year I’ve gone through phases of trying to get them comfortable with the appearance of the scissors so they aren’t a scary item, and they are always intrigued by them instead of frightened.  This may sound crazy but we’ve also periodically made a big show of clipping our own nails in front of them and filing our nails. The parakeets always get very excited by this process and are eager to jump onto our hands and inspect what we are doing.

Of course this didn’t translate at all to our cutting their nails, and every time we approach them with the nail scissors they act like we have lost our minds. Seriously, they are not even scared they are deeply offended and completely unwilling.

Patrick was very sneaky one day and managed to trim a single nail of Kelly’s by distracting her while she was perching and putting the scissors up behind her. That’s really the sort of trick you only get to use once before they are wise to it!

This past weekend we decided to give it a real try. I got out a cloth napkin and we managed to gently burrito Kelly in it; we did also try for Toby but that was not happening. Although Toby and Kelly like us and consider us part of their flock, they aren’t particularly tame. We don’t really try to teach them any “tricks” and they are not the kind of parakeets to enjoy a snuggle.

At any rate, we had our little Kelly burrito and the nail scissors, but she was wriggling like a fish, her tiny feet were bicycling like mad and to top it all off since we were acting on the spur of the moment, Toby was trying to jump on Kelly’s head to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was a total disaster. There was no way to safely cut anything in the midst of all that ridiculousness and we let Kelly go in short order. I know this is horrid but we haven’t tried again. Thus far they can still walk properly on flat surfaces and they aren’t getting stuck in any toys or on our clothing. We are keeping a close eye on the situation, but I think we’re going to continue with the wait and see, and hope that they pick up the ball again on their own nail maintenance!

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!