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!

Using a professional pet sitter for parakeets

Regular readers know that over the winter I researched local pet sitting services, interviewed a sitter and hired her for our summer vacation. I had a great feeling about her at the time, but leading up to our trip I got increasingly anxious about leaving Toby and Kelly with someone totally untested. It didn’t help that I kept seeing horror stories of people leaving their parakeets in the care of close family members and coming back from weeklong trips to find them near death or worse.

I worked myself into a pretty good state over the whole thing. Particularly after all the chaos of them staying at my mom’s for a few days and then having to separate Toby and Kelly into two cages after their bad fight that left Kelly with a bloody foot. I updated the pet sitter that they shouldn’t be out at the same time – to me, this stacked the deck even further against her. How would a woman who had limited experience with birds in the first place handle letting them out one at a time and getting them back into their proper cages?

It got to a point that I think I would have canceled the whole trip if I’d had the foresight to purchase travel insurance! No such coverage existed and off we went, but only after I harassed the pet sitter several times in the week leading up to vacation to confirm all the details. I even made an agreement with a colleague that she would get into my house somehow if I couldn’t verify that the sitter was taking care of the parakeets.

The first day of vacation I checked on the parakeets several times using my Misafes security camera, they were fine all day of course but I only made it until about 4pm before breaking down and asking the pet sitter how it went via text. She related that they had both had some time out of the cage, Kelly was very easy to get back in, and Toby was harder but very sweet and sat on her shoulder.

Huge sigh of relief, the details were precisely what I would have expected from my girls and it made me feel relieved that the pet sitter had actually been there and that the parakeets were being taken well care of, not just having food and water changed and being ignored.

I didn’t text the pet sitter every day after that (just a few more haha), but I did spy her a couple of times on the Misafes security camera. I never watched long because that would seem a bit creepy to me, but every time I saw her she was taking care of the parakeets and seemed totally engaged in what was going on with them.

The trust that she was building with me helped me enjoy the rest of our vacation with only minimal concerns about the parakeets physical and mental well-being, but on the flight home everything started creeping back in. I wondered what condition I would find the cages in, whether the parakeet’s perches would be covered in poop, or if our Bird Cage Liners had been removed every couple of days.

We opened the front door and what I saw absolutely astonished me. Not only were the cages scrupulously clean, as though I had been at home the whole time following my cleaning schedule, but she left a detailed checklist showing what maintenance had been done each day, and the coup de grâce was a short note written every single day with any notable information about how they had behaved and/or particularly adorable moments.

Now, given the choice between the two I would still love to have the pet sitting service my mom typically provides, not only does she spend hours of time at my house waiting for the parakeets to tire out but she’s also an extremely economical choice (read: free). For the times I can’t “hire” my mom, hiring the professional pet sitter was the best decision I ever made and I would strongly encourage anyone to do their research and utilize a professional pet sitting service over leaving the care of your parakeets to neighbors, friends, or in some cases, even relatives.

And, not to be totally grim, but if something had gone terribly wrong it’s much more comfortable to be devastated by something a professional did and be able to file a complaint and never utilize their services again, instead of having to see the person who you blame for the death of your birds every year at Thanksgiving.

Please don’t use nonstick cookware with parakeets in the home

A pretty common question that new parakeet owners have is whether it’s safe to continue using nonstick or Teflon pans. The bottom line is that nonstick cookware and parakeets don’t mix. Nonstick cookware is coated with a synthetic polymer called PTFE, Teflon is PTFE, it’s the trademarked name that DuPont uses for the polymer.

The message that marketers want you to hear that is Teflon and other PTFE coatings are only dangerous at high heats, some studies say that the dangerous fumes are only released at upwards of 500 degrees.  This is not the case, here’s an infographic about common cooking temperatures and what chemicals are released and it seems pretty clear that you can risk bird death at typical cooking temperatures.

Now, even if you don’t have birds and don’t ever intend to have them I would still encourage you to get rid of your nonstick cookware, mostly because I’ve come to believe that anything that will kill a bird suddenly will probably harm me over time (canary in a coal mine, anyone?) and also because human beings have been known to come down with flu like symptoms after Teflon use, it’s actually called “Teflon flu”.

I’ve seen several people on social media encouraging new bird owners to continue using nonstick and saying “just don’t ever burn anything”, and they’ve done the same for 800 years and never had an issue. Well, I have a couple of questions for them, one is that may be fine for you, but why would you encourage a new bird owner if there’s even the slightest risk?   How will you feel when they come back in a week or two lamenting the loss of their bird?  Also, who has ever set out to burn something?  Perhaps in your household no one ever distracts you while you’re cooking, but I don’t see how there’s even the slightest way you can guarantee nothing will ever burn in your kitchen.  It seems like I burn something every time I make dinner and I can assure you I didn’t plan for that to happen!

If you are stuck with your nonstick for the time being while researching or saving up for a new set of cookware then please:

  • Never preheat nonstick cookware at a high heat, especially with nothing in it – always heat at the lowest possible temperature
  • Vent your kitchen by opening a window and blowing the air out and/or use your stove’s exhaust fan
  • Move your birds as far away from the kitchen as possible, in a large home this may not be an issue, but for people like me who live in small houses or apartments, there is literally nowhere that’s far enough away

Really though, PLEASE give up the Teflon, birds with Teflon toxicosis experience scorched lungs and ruptured blood vessels and it sounds like an absolutely horrible and terrifying way to die.

When you are buying your new cookware be sure to avoid Teflon, PTFE, PFOA and nonstick that doesn’t specifically reference being free of those polymers. I think sometimes manufacturers put the word nonstick on products hoping that if consumers don’t see “Teflon” they will think a product is safe, but remember Teflon is just the trademark that DuPont uses for the chemical, it is not the only thing that is dangerous.

Some safe cookware is stainless steel (Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set) or cast iron (Outdoor Gourmet 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set). I can’t use cast iron with my glass stove top, so I made the switch over to stainless. Ceramic is also a good bet, I love my ceramic insert crock pot (Hamilton Beach 33473 Programmable Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, Silver).

My bottom line is that you’ve gotten your pet budgie, you love him, you spent a substantial amount of money on getting him all set up – so why wouldn’t you spend a bit more to safeguard him against a KNOWN and scientifically proven bird killer?

 

Realistic start-up costs for a budgie

In my first post on this blog I made a bit of a wild claim as to how much I felt start-up budgie costs would be.  Recently I’ve been wondering whether I was close at all and decided to do a bit of research and some basic addition. This post assumes you are purchasing nothing secondhand and you don’t have any existing supplies.

  • First and most important is cage selection, I have heard a lot of good reviews of Vision brand cages and I would always endorse getting the largest cage possible, so I’m picking the Vision Bird Cage Model L01 – Large for my scenario (this cage is approx. $85). I have the HQ Victorian top bird cage with cart stand (approx. $200). So clearly there is a big range here, and of course I’ve chosen higher end cages, which may not be in everyone’s budgie budget.  In this instance I will say you need to anticipate a minimum spend of $70.
  • Next up is food. You’ll want to get some of whatever your budge is accustomed to eating, let’s assume he has been on a seed-based diet because that’s very common, especially for a pet store. An example would be Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb, and that’s about $11 for 4 pounds. You might as well get Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count while you’re at it because you’ll need it for treats and to help you in taming your budgie (if feral).  The millet is approximately $7. Most bird owners these days also offer their parakeets pelleted food, and a very common brand is ZuPreem. I don’t recommend feeding anything with unnatural color and so I’ll start with the ZuPreem Natural with Added Vitamins, Minerals, Amino Acids Small Bird Food, 2.25 lb and get a 2.25 pound bag for $13. Total food spend is $31
  • On to perches – your cage will probably come with one or two, but they will undoubtedly be either round plastic or smooth doweled wood. You can leave them in if you like, but parakeets need a lot more variety in perch size and material. This is for foot exercise and nail maintenance, and also for chewing and mental stimulation. Perches should not exceed ½ inch in diameter, or your budgie will have trouble getting comfortable. You are going to buy the Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture – Iona Natural Wood Y-Rack 2-Piece Set for Birds for $10, the Living World Pedi-Perch, Small for $11.50 and the Living World Nature’s Perch, Small for $15.20. There are a million different kinds of perches, fun chewy perches and mineral perches, with all sorts of shapes and sizes. And these should be rotated fairly regularly so your initial spend should by no means be considered your lifetime spend. Total start up is approximately $36
  • Toys are another extremely important facet of initial cage set up. Every parakeet needs them, and especially those who may need taming. If a parakeet is confined to his cage for the bulk of his time he absolutely needs an outlet for physical activity, mental stimulation, and destructive chewing. Much like with perches the toy options are almost limitless. Let’s assume that you need a minimum of three toys to start with.  First I recommend the BIRD KABOB Bird Toy, Mini Max ($7) which provides hours of chewing fun. Next something like the JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary for about $5; this toy is deceptively simple, being just a series of interlocked rings, my parakeets adore this and like going through the rings acrobatically or just chewing them and ringing the bell repetitively.  Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds coming in at $12.50 which I’ve written a whole separate review about because my budgies are obsessed with it.  Much like the perches, toy options are vast and start-up cost is just the beginning of spending!  Total is $24.50
  • This item is completely optional – there are a lot of different ways to handle the bottom of the cage lining material. Many people use newspaper (black ink pages only) or even paper towel. I like to use Bird Cage Liners – Small Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 40 Pound Paper. Not only does it allow me to easily assess my budgies’ poop condition (and therefore their health) but it also resists absorbing water spills and makes clean up a total snap. I can’t imagine not having them. Cost depends on cage size approx. $35
  • Another semi-optional starter item is the Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz. I can practically guarantee that within a few days of parakeet-ownership you will realize that it is nearly impossible to keep their water from being contaminated by poop, food, and/or bathing. You should still maintain the traditional water bowl, but having the lixit bird waterer means that you do not have to worry about a clean supply of drinking water. You should buy as many of these as you have budgies so they don’t fight over it (in theory!). Minimum cost $12.50
  • Living World Cuttlebone, Large, Twin Pack provides absolutely essential calcium and minerals and is very inexpensive to boot! Cost $3.50
  • And finally – the budgies!! I’m hoping you’re starting with two so that they feel less afraid and have a pal, I know it will be harder to tame them, but I don’t think you’ll regret it.  Depending on where you get your parakeets they are either a small donation to a rescue, or up to $50 each for a handfed baby. I will hit sort of in the middle and say that you spent $40 for your two parakeets.  $40

Done conservatively, that comes to about $250 dollars.  That is far less than my original estimate of $400, but still a pretty substantial chunk of change.

Of course, that does not include everything that you will either find is a necessity down the road (like a 1st aid kit) or replacement toys and perches.  Also, almost every bird owner discovers they need a dedicated vacuum or some type for budgie mess.  You will probably also end up buying an air purifier (we have the Winix WAC9500 Ultimate Pet True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave Technology), both for your budgie’s health and for yours once you realize the amount of dust and other air contaminants that come with birds.

Also not accounted for is an Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W these provide full spectrum UVB and UVA lighting which parrots need to synthesize vitamin D3.  They cannot get these types of light through windows – so even if you think your budgie is technically getting “enough light” because they are near a big window, they are not getting the full spectrum which they need for physical and mental health.  Buying the lamp and bulb at Amazon will run you another $65.

For such a small thing budgies need a lot of gear for optimal physical and mental health. Far from being just an ornamental pet to keep in a cage, budgies are complex and extremely intelligent creatures and they deserve to have their basic needs met, or hopefully exceeded.

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Interviewing a professional pet sitter for parakeets

I had this great idea a while back that Patrick and I should take a family vacation with my mom and stepdad. We decided on a destination and dates, and then my mom and I started worrying immediately about who would care for our pets. As you know from prior vacation-related posts on the blog, my mom has taken care of the budgies when we travel, and she does an amazing job of looking after them and letting them have free time outside of their cage. But, I had to go into this knowing that a professional service would not spend upwards of an hour at my house every day! This may be offensive to other pet owners, but I felt that finding a pet sitter for parakeets would be even more challenging than dogs or cats.

We started researching pet sitters and found someone through word-of-mouth that came highly recommended – and even better, I discovered she is a bird owner herself with loads of avian experience. The only problem was that she wasn’t responsive to email and her voicemail was full. Both my mom and I chatted with her separately and she sounded perfect on the phone, but we couldn’t get to the point of scheduling consults and it was getting frustrating and a little worrisome. I have a feeling this may be one of those situations where the pro has the best intentions, but probably has a full slate of clients and can’t take anything else on, whether she wants to admit it or not.

So, back to the googling board, I found the CAPPs website and a link to a sitter who looked like she might cover my area. I sent a message and heard back within a few hours, which made feel comfortable. We were able to work out a time for her to come over very easily and within a couple of days had the consult.

Of course I’ve never interviewed a professional pet sitter before, but she made it very easy and had her own intake sheet with all of the questions listed that she needs to do her job. These ranged from the details of feeding and watering, to whether we have a security system and if she would be responsible for taking out garbage or bringing in mail. She also provided me with a vet release to sign as well as a contract detailing her liability and what would happen in a variety of situations, like potential animal bites etc. She counter-signed the documents as well and left me with copies for my records.

My favorite clause is that if something goes wrong and she has to get a locksmith to open my house I will be responsible for the cost of the locksmith – I love knowing that no matter what happens she’s going to get in there and take care of my babies!

She has over 200 clients that are mostly vacation (versus day-to-day dog walking) and more than 500 individual animals. She also has a staff of 4 and was prepared to talk about her scheduling system, how billing is handled, and how credit card information and personal details are secured.

I don’t think she is completely familiar with budgies, but she has cared for parrots before, I was delighted that she seemed interested in watching them and asking questions about their behavior, particularly once she realized they were interested in watching her too!

We talked about whether or not they should come out of their cage, because at present they are not trained to go back in at our command. The sitter usually would stay in a 30 minute block of time ($20 per session) and there is no way to guarantee the parakeets would go back home in that time frame, especially if they’ve been stuck at home for a few days! So – she’s going to see how it goes, and if she’s got a few blocks of time she will let them out and charge me the additional after the fact, which I’m totally fine with. We let her know that she can also use millet to lure them back home if needed!

Overall she seemed extremely organized, responsible, and very professional; but at the same time warm and friendly. I can’t imagine a better mix of traits for someone you entrust with the lives of your pets. We still have a ways to go before vacationing, but I feel very relieved to have this sorted out, not that I won’t worry about them every day anyway, but at least I feel secure that they will be in very good hands.

Buying a tablecloth for your budgie

As I’ve mentioned, Kelly recently got over her fear of everything and is now quite a handful, more precisely, a handful of constantly chewing beak.  Which is totally normal, parrots are machines built for destruction, and the only saving grace of a budgie is its small size and (relatively) weak beak.  If Kelly was an African Gray or a Macaw I would probably have no wood furniture or door frames left at this point.

Since she can’t take it to that extent, Kelly limits herself to chewing on approved toys for the most part, but the exception is the edge of our dining room table.  Toby went through a brief table-mania last year, but was easily dissuaded from the pursuit.  Kelly, not so much, she is determined to turn that thing into matchsticks one chomp at a time.

I can’t even be mad at her for it, seriously, it’s what she’s meant to do, so it’s on me to find a workaround and shooing her away 500 times a day isn’t cutting it.  Also, I don’t know what varnish or veneer is on the table, and I don’t want her to slowly poison herself chewing on the wood.

My first idea was to take a long sheet of paper towels and drape it over the edge in question, weighting it with a couple of toys. This worked well, both Kelly and Toby enjoyed climbing up and down the hanging paper towel and it distracted from the table itself.  But, I’m not feeling that style of home décor, so a more permanent solution was needed.

I decided to buy a tablecloth, I’m pretty sure this is the first tablecloth I have ever purchased.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of money, but I was looking for something that would be visually appealing to both the parakeets and the humans, and seemed durable.

We ended up with the ColorBird Solid Cotton Linen Tablecloth Waterproof Macrame Lace Table Cover for Kitchen Dinning Tabletop Decoration (Rectangle/Oblong, 55″*102″, Linen) in sage green, which is a color that Toby likes. Taking it out of the box I noticed immediately that the fabric is nice and tightly woven and has a sheen to it, which has been great, it’s really easy to just wipe poops off of it, and small amounts of liquid don’t sink through. Also because of the tight weave it will take the budgies a while to destroy. It can be machine washed and line dried and that may be easier to manage than it currently is wiping down the table all the time.

I also like the lace edging. I know I’ll have to make sure they don’t eat it, but they will enjoy ripping it apart. It seems sort of odd to buy a nice item knowing that it’s basically going to be treated as disposable, but it will certainly be cheaper to replace than a whole table. Also, if they only attack one side I can rotate the tablecloth a few times for maximum use.

Hopefully this will be a good save for the table, I’m sure in a few weeks Kelly will figure out she can climb down and underneath and I’ll have a whole new set of issues.  Coming soon, presumably, a post about getting rid of our dining room table and turning the entire house into an aviary 🙂

Review of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food

I think my days of mixing together different seed blends to try and perfect our parakeet’s diet is over now that we’ve tried Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag.

When we first got Toby we started out with a big bag of Kaytee foraging parakeet blend which was $8 for 5 pounds, and here we are 14 months later ending up at $26 for 4 pounds for Dr. Harvey’s!  Quite an increase in price, but as it is with most things you get what you pay for.

The difference between this blend and other commercial blends is easy to see, feel and smell. I swear I am fairly tempted to eat this as a snack myself.

Per the product’s description the food is a “wonderful blend of nuts, fruits, seeds, vegetables, herbs and bee pollen made specifically for parakeets. This blend is so plentiful in vitamins and minerals and the appropriate amount of protein that it takes the guesswork out of feeing your parakeet”. For me, knowing that I’m providing the parakeets with the best possible seed-based nutrition is totally worth the relatively high price tag.

Dr. Harvey’s is also free of chemicals, dyes, preservatives and synthetic ingredients. I love that there is nothing in the mix with a color that doesn’t occur in nature. Also, although I haven’t tried it yet, I have read several reviews that the seeds are so fresh you can sprout them and feed the sprouts to your budgies. I will have to test that out and report back.

I can report that our budgies mostly ignore or remove all of the larger pieces of fruit in the blend, although it we hold one out for them they will eat it from our hands they just aren’t that interested when it’s in the food bowl.  So, this blend does not replace offering fresh fruit and veggies, nor should it!

As you’ll see in the photos below our parakeets took to Dr. Harvey’s immediately. For now I’ve been mixing it in with my last blend because I do want to use that up, but going forward I think we’ll be a Dr. Harvey’s family.

And, once I got over my sticker shock I rationalized that A. our parakeets are worth the very best and B. since we’re talking about a matter of 5 tablespoons of food per day, I think we can shoulder the financial burden!

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