Taking the parakeets for a car ride

We had the previously mentioned central air conditioning project happening at our house early this week, so the parakeets made their way over to my mom’s house for a bit of a vacation. It turns out I was way too cavalier about the process of moving them, and it was extremely stressful both for the humans and the parakeets.  It all worked out in the end, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes on this one, especially since the level of stress was exponentially greater than the length of the drive, which was only about 15 minutes!

The plan was to move them in our Small Vision Cage – which I had originally purchased with the intent to get them some time outside this summer. It seemed to me like a good size for both of them to have space to perch and move around, but small enough to comfortably fit in the car.  In the weeks leading up to the outing I introduced them to the Small Vision Cage and had them go into it and play with a favorite toy or enjoy some Millet. But, I didn’t do enough, and I never took them outside. By the time it occurred to me that I should get them used to the outside world it was the day before they had to decamp, and we felt that if they were traumatized by the back yard it would be that much harder to get them into the little cage when we needed to.

I should have devoted much more time to getting them used to the Small Vision Cage. Over a period of weeks I should have shut them in it repeatedly and I should have taken them outside in it.

Instead, the morning of the move came and after giving them loads of time to fly around and (theoretically) tire themselves out we lured them into the Small Vision Cage.  As soon as I shut the door they panicked. Toby went crazy climbing the bars around and around looked for a way out and Kelly immediately started doing the acrobatic tricks she used to when she was in her starter cage (park prevue) which she found way too small for her liking.

I had already packed a bag with their food and water bowl, Night Lights, Millet, and the Lixit Water Bottles rode in the cup holders of our car. As soon as I saw how badly they were taking the Small Vision Cage I realized we needed to get this done quickly. Patrick and I grabbed their main cage and stowed it in the trunk of his car – thank goodness for the surprisingly roomy Honda Fit – and we went back in to grab the budgies.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, we live on an extremely busy street near a highway entrance. The posted speed limit is 40 but night and day we’ve got people flying down the road going much faster. It can be scary even for a human, and the parakeets freaked even more once we got outside. Kelly had the equivalent of a night terror and thrashed back and forth careening around in the little cage and hitting all the walls and Toby in the process.  This, of course, set Toby off and she started flapping around madly as well.  At one point Kelly landed on the bottom of the cage (which I had padded with a towel) and her wing stuck out at such an odd angle I was sure it was broken – although I was wrong.

I made a fast dash to get them in the car where it would at least be quieter and had Patrick run back to the house for any kind of towel I could cover them with. He came out with a dish towel that only covered two sides, but I felt like we ought to just get going and get this over with.

I should have had a properly-sized cover ready and should never have taken them out of the house for the first time on the busy side with the cage uncovered.

The car ride was a total nightmare. Kelly alternately flew around like a crazy lady or tried to bite Toby. Toby at first was okay perching but kept getting displaced by Kelly and ended up clinging to the cage bars staring at me like I had betrayed her in the worst possible way!

Arriving at my mom’s house we hustled them in and put their main cage in the house as quickly as possible. Letting them out of the little cage we ascertained almost immediately that although they were shaken they were not at all injured as I had feared. Patrick and I spent about an hour with them making sure they were calm and settled in – I do think that having their regular cage made them feel immediately at home. They wanted to take a nap after they calmed down, so after we knew they were comfortable and not freaking out any more we left them to rest.

Over the next few days I’m pretty sure they had an amazing vacation, like a human kid who’s goes to grandma’s they got loads of attention and flight time and had a great time checking out a new environment. My mom’s guest room has windows onto her beautiful yard and bird feeders, Toby and Kelly spent hours watching the birds and I think they may have picked up a couple of new sounds too!

At our house it was way too quiet and very sad!  I even missed cleaning up after their mess, and especially in the mornings it was a bit bleak not having them there to wake up and start the day with.

Soon enough it was time to bring them home, and this we did with a couple of modifications that made it a lot easier, but still not at all fun!

We decided to split them up, Toby would ride home in the Small Vision Cage since she tolerated it better, and Kelly would ride in the Kaytee Travel Carrier she originally came home in, but completely covered with a (clean) dish towel.

Getting Toby into the Small Vision Cage was extremely easy.  She is so darn sweet it slays me, and she was not remotely suspicious when we lured her in with some Millet.  She took being closed in a lot better this time around, probably because she didn’t have Kelly amplifying her fear.

Kelly  refused to go in the Kaytee Travel Carrier. When we arrived at my mom’s we had joked that Kelly would be easy to stow because she could easily be grabbed. Well, Kelly took that memo and decided to take a stand. We tried holding her, perching her on our hands, luring her with Millet and she wanted nothing to do with any of it.

We ended up putting a huge spray of Millet in the Kaytee Travel Carrier and then stood there with our eyes closed for about 5 minutes pretending we were asleep until she relaxed enough to go in after the millet. Finally we were able to close her in and get the show on the road.

Kelly did a million times better being fully covered and didn’t panic or cause any harm to herself at all. I think being in the smaller cage and being covered helped her feel secure, she made little singing noises almost the whole way home and seemed very content.

Toby did fantastically well solo in the Small Vision Cage with just the front covered. At time she seemed anxious but she never panicked and I think being able to see and interact with me helped her stay calm.

I should have put consideration the first time around into their personalities and I should NEVER have kept them in the same cage for travel in light of the fact that they are both territorial females who would naturally attacked each other when they were under duress.  

Arriving home we set them back up as quickly as possible and let them out. We were all joyous at their home-coming; they flew back and forth from human perches to window perches and let us know they were very happy to be home.

The next morning Toby greeted me with a song before I was even in eye-line of their cage and was so excited to see me she escaped when I took out their water bowl for a refresh 🙂 we were happy to have them come out and say hello again even though it’s not part of our normal routine.

I can’t believe we have to leave them again in just a few days for vacation, and I’m increasingly nervous about the pet sitter, even though I’m sure she will be great. But, I’m so glad to have this behind us – and hopefully it will be a long time before the parakeets have to take a vacation from our home again!

Biting budgies – Kelly’s progress with hand aggression

This past winter Kelly’s juvenile hand biting, which initially seemed like very normal parakeet exploratory biting, turned into major hand aggression.  She was simultaneously going through her “teenage” phase, entering breeding condition for the first time, AND having a really heavy molt. We struggled with her very sharp and painful biting which we were almost completely unable to dissuade her from and which caused several bruises and even broken skin!

Fortunately I think we are coming out of the woods, after a final sharp escalation.

Shortly after I wrote the initial post in January, Kelly got much worse. She no longer limited her aggression to hands but would unpredictably bite any piece of you she could grab.

It was becoming difficult to trust her enough to interact with her at all, but at the same time we could tell she wanted to be with us, and would get more upset if we ignored her.

This culminated in a moment where Patrick lost his patience and almost his nose!  He had Kelly out on his hands and was working with her and the clicker, trying to increase the time between landing on his hand and biting it. She was feeling particularly aggressive that day and bit him, latching on very hard.

Patrick made the HUGE mistake of putting his face right up to her and sternly saying “NO”, whereupon she promptly bit his nose, hard enough to draw blood. Patrick put her down immediately and went to the bathroom. I think in that moment it was probably the best way to handle it, he didn’t give her the gratification of a reaction, but he did stop working with her, which may have been her intent in the first place.  Sometimes you just have to do the best you can in these situations.  He cleaned it off a bit and I asked for his permission to take a picture (in case he forgets when he sees this post – he said YES!).

Once he calmed down we talked about what happened and agreed that there was no way to blame Kelly for the nose bite. Patrick reacted in an aggressive way towards Kelly and it was reasonable to expect her to react in kind.

After that we decided to go all the way back to the beginning and treat Kelly like we would treat a new feral parakeet. We limited her interaction with hands and started by placing one hand at a time facing her through the cage bars. She would react aggressively every time by banging her beak against the bars, nodding her head very rapidly and trying to reach through the bars to bite the hand. We would keep the hand still and not move at all until she stopped of acting aggressively and went back to her usual routine.  Doing this a few times a day made a huge difference, in short order we saw a drastic reduction in the amount of time she would spend acting aggressively when presented with a hand.

I also started putting my hand in the cage with millet, the same way I would with an un-tamed parakeet and let both budgies eat millet while perched on my finger. As soon as Kelly started biting I would take away my hand and the millet.

While working on her in-cage we continued to really back off on pushing her outside the cage. We continued to allow her to hang out on us and explore our pockets and t-shirts, but tried to keep our hands out of it completely.

After a few weeks of these tactics combined we have seen a huge improvement.  I know that some of it is because she’s coming out of breeding condition and made it through her uncomfortable molt, but I think the big driving force was finally getting her adjusted to seeing our hands as non-threatening.

Recently she’s been stepping up with minimal biting that’s delivered much more gently.  She’s also stood on my hands a couple of times without biting at all, while I basically held my breath waiting to see what would happen!

She doesn’t see our hands as friendly birds the way that Toby seems to, but I think we are finally over the hump of having her accept that she can’t get rid of our hands, and they are not a threat, and sometimes quite helpful, if not desirable playmates.

Cooking safely with parakeets in the home

I’ve been thinking lately about cooking and how to safely cook around budgies.  They process air much faster than humans so the smallest pollutant can be fatal.  Most people know that things like candles and cigarettes are big no-nos for birds, but there are several things to avoid specifically while cooking.

The big one to stay away from is Teflon pans. It was with some sadness that I got rid of all my non-stick cookware the day Toby came home. It’s safe to use stainless pans, like the Cuisinart 733-30H Chef’s Classic Stainless 5-1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Helper Handle and Cover, although it certainly increases my risk of burning things!  Which, I am joking about, but we make every effort not to introduce cooking smoke into the budgie’s breathing space. It’s not recommended to keep parakeets in the vicinity of a kitchen because of all the contaminants, but with a small house we really don’t have a choice on that.

Because of switching to stainless from non-stick, it may be tempting to rely more on cooking sprays that grease your pans, these are also bad for budgie airways. That’s just a good reminder about any spray, really, from hair spray and deodorants to home scents.

Another big danger zone is your oven. A new oven is deadly to birds, and needs to be run for a long time to release all of its breaking in fumes, which I believe are burning off some coating on the interior of the stove. Basically you either need to remove the budgies from the area and run your oven at a very high temperature several times or if you buy from a local appliance store it’s my understanding you can pay a little extra to have them do this for you.

We are pretty much without our oven at this point, we bought it last fall and thought that we had burned everything off properly, Patrick spent two days at home with Toby in another room and the oven running/house vented, and we were able to use it around Christmas last year, but really didn’t do much with it after the holidays.

Flash forward to this year when we went to heat up a frozen pizza and realized that it still isn’t done giving off fumes.  So, we’ve agreed to skip the oven this winter and work on getting it properly broken in this spring/summer when we can move the birds to another room AND vent the house without making it too cold.  Fortunately we have this toaster oven, BLACK+DECKER CTO6335S 6-Slice Digital Convection Countertop Toaster Oven, Includes Bake Pan, Broil Rack & Toasting Rack, Stainless Steel Digital Convection Toaster Oven that is pretty big and safe to use until we sort out the oven issues.

Also watch out for the self-cleaning oven setting, this releases fumes that will kill your parakeets because the oven heats itself to about 900 degrees and this super heats the chemical coating inside.  If your oven needs to be cleaned it’s much safer for your birds and you to use natural products like baking soda, vinegar and your own scrubbing power.  I would also suggest that spot cleaning your oven after a spill may help avoid the need for devoting an entire day to oven-cleaning down the road.

The best tool in my kitchen is my Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, Digital Timer, Stainless Steel, we usually throw something in it on Sunday morning and it has us set for dinner for at least two or three nights.  The slow cooker is safe for budgies because the insert is ceramic and has no coating – YAY! If a recipe calls for it to be coated with cooking spray I take it outside, but I think in most cases I could replace that with greasing it with butter anyway.

Beyond taking care about what products you are cooking with I would also strongly caution anyone about having parakeets or other companion birds outside of their cages while you cook. Even a budgie that you think is clipped for his “safety” can make a random leap onto a hot surface or (heaven forbid) into a pot of boiling water.  We discouraged Toby from hanging out on the kitchen counters when she was young and subsequently she and Kelly never land on them, but I’m still careful to tuck the crock pot out-of-the-way while it’s on, and they are not allowed out if we are preparing food either using knives or heat.

For me this all adds up to a pretty good excuse for cooking less and eating out more!  Also, not cooking equals more time for parakeet bonding, so, win-win on that point.  Seriously though, if you love to cook and bake you can still do so safely with budgies, but like most facets of bird ownership, you just need to be mindful and careful of the dangers to your feathered kids.

One flew out of the parakeet’s cage

We made tons of mistakes as new parakeet owners, but one night we managed to make pretty much all the mistakes in about a 45 minute period.

It was about one week after Toby came to live with us, and everything had been going great, we’d made a huge commitment to spending time sitting near her cage talking to her, and we had even begun putting a hand in the cage to let her adjust to us and get to know our hands as friendly visitors.

Our first major fail had been ongoing up to that point, we hadn’t been taking very much care to make sure Toby went to sleep early.  Currently, both birds start relaxing with the curtains closed at about 6:00pm and we start dimming the lights at 7:00pm. On the night in question, however, I arrived home about 8:30pm and the house was still brightly lit and Toby was playing while watching Patrick make his dinner.

I hung out with Patrick in the kitchen and we get on the subject of some changes we thought would really enhance Toby’s experience in the cage, and then we made the extremely poor decision to make those changes that evening. To contrast, now when we make changes in the cage we always do it in the morning so the parakeets have a ton of time to adjust before bedtime, you really never know what’s going to freak them out.

To my recollection we had decided to switch around two perches so Toby could get around more easily, as she was struggling with learning to climb around on the cage bars.  Patrick’s hands went in first and I kept a close watch on the door – Toby went to a corner and seemed totally fine (in retrospect, Toby seemed like she was absolutely terrified).

Patrick ran into a snag in moving one of the perches and I made the critical error – putting one of my hands in the cage as well. Toby immediately decided her chances for survival were greater outside the cage and bolted for freedom.

Now what we had on our hands was a fully flighted, completely terrified, mostly feral parakeet lose in the house. She didn’t trust us, she had no training in sitting on our hands, she was not skilled enough to be able to get back in the cage even if she wanted to, and worst of all, she had no experience with millet or any other treat and we had no method of coaxing her to us and then back in the cage.

Imagine trapping a sparrow, putting it in your house, and then trying to convince it to enter a very specific, small doorway. Oh and also it’s 9pm at night.

I shut every door possible, but this still left Toby with the hallway, kitchen, dining area, and living room. All I can say about what happened after this is we basically lost our minds for 30 minutes.  In a total panic we followed Toby around the house trying to catch her with our hands, throw a towel over her (!!! so glad that didn’t work), or just generally tire her out enough to grab her, which was a total joke.

She ended up on top of the refrigerator, the living room curtain rod, behind/underneath the entertainment center, inside a sound panel suspended from the ceiling, and everywhere but on us. I’m sure it seemed like all her nightmares come to life having two huge predators chase her around and roust her out of whatever refuge she took.

I finally grabbed a sheet and used it to shepherd her into the kitchen/dining area and away from the living room.  She even landed on top of her cage a few times but just had absolutely no idea how to get back in – which I’m sure she desperately wanted to do to get away from us!   In retrospect I have no idea why we panicked so badly – there was really no time urgency and yet we behaved as though we had to get her back in the cage immediately.  It would have been much better to take a step back and give her 15 minutes to calm down and think – or at least for us to calm down and think.

She finally perched on top of a stained glass window in our dining area and stayed put. At this point a lightbulb went on for me and I said “you know, I’ve read that if you press your finger into her tummy she will have no choice put to step on it”.

Toby eyed us warily as we lifted her entire cage onto the dining room table with the door facing her. Then Patrick approached gingerly and pressed his finger lengthwise against Toby’s stomach, right above her feet. She immediately stepped up and as we all held our breath, Patrick conveyed her about two feet into his cage and shut the door.

The ordeal ended with Toby cowering in the corner of her cage until she went to sleep and Patrick and I having a stiff drink to wash down our shame.

We were ultimately fortune that Toby didn’t trust us at all yet, otherwise I’m sure we would have broken that. As it was we didn’t notice any change in her behavior the next day, just a lot of changes in us and a lot more respect for her boundaries.

Summary of mistakes:
– Parakeet up too late
– Over-confidence in bird’s level of comfort with cage adjustments
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout in the evening
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout with parakeet in cage
– Putting multiple people’s hands in the cage at the same time
– Not knowing how to read the parakeet’s body language
– Panicking about the bird being out and forgetting essential basics