Popcorn and budgies – an update and note of caution

Last week, I published a post about the budgies experiencing popcorn for the first time. In response, a kind reader commented that in a budgie group recently, someone recounted the experience of having their budgie choke to death while they desperately tried to save her. The culprit was, of course, popcorn. I am so grateful to the person who let me know about the recent situation.

First, my heartfelt condolences go out to the person who so recently lost their pet in a tragic and traumatizing manner. Second, I would hate to ever espouse any course of action that might lead to a budgie being injured or worse.

I wondered whether popcorn is a frequent choking hazard, or if this was a one in a million incident. Writing this blog, even for a relatively small audience, I’m aware of a responsibility not to publish harmful or misleading information. At the same time, I’m just a budgie parent, not a vet or avian specialist, and I’m learning as I go along too.

In order to gather some more data about a possible link between popcorn and choking, I posed the question on a FB page called Feathered Friends. This page provides an incredible resource, with nearly 80,000 fans who are parrot enthusiasts and owners it’s an excellent place to post a question and get a ton of well-reasoned answers.

What I gleaned from the many responses was that a budgie choking on popcorn is not a common occurrence. Also, it confirmed my concept that, much like humans, a budgie could choke to death on anything they ate and it would probably not be possible to eliminate all dangerous foods.

I was also called ignorant (yay internet!). As I’m sure we all know, asking questions is the way we conquer ignorance!

Some folks did feel that popcorn is inappropriate for smaller parrots. So, before you decide to try popcorn as enrichment, weigh the risks versus the reward, but also know that we can be the best informed and the most well-intentioned bird owners, and tragedy may still strike.

As a best practice, make sure to remove all kernels from the popcorn you provide your budgies. I mentioned in the original post, the popcorn should be free of salt and butter. You can also remove any hull-like kernel pieces to reduce the risk of choking.

I think you can easily keep popcorn off the menu for your budgies and they won’t know the difference. I think you could give popcorn once a month for the next ten years and most likely nothing bad would happen (except you’d be cleaning up shredded popcorn once a month!).

The thing that’s important to me as someone who is concerned with honesty and transparency is that I let my readers know what I’ve found out about the possible dangers of popcorn. That way you can make a better informed decision for your budgies.

As far as things go for our flock, I will give Toby, Kelly and Kevin the chance to explore popcorn as often as we make it, which is about 4 times a year. While I understand there may be a risk inherent, I also don’t want to dwell in the fear of what might happen.

The parakeets eat popcorn for the first time

I am all about feeding the parakeets new and interesting foods, although of course only parakeet-safe stuff. There aren’t too many human snacks that we can share with our parakeets, but popcorn is on the approved list. The only caveat is that it can’t be the salty, buttery awesomeness like you get at the movie theater or from a bag of microwaved popcorn. Plain old popcorn is the ticket.

We’ve had a Presto Hot Air Corn Popper for years – it’s the same brand that I grew up with and it’s so easy to use. You put the corn kernels into the well, plug it in and wait until they pop. It’s a bit noisy as the air heats the kernels but in a few minutes it’s all over and you have a beautiful bowl of pristine popcorn. Our favorite kernels are Snappy White Popcorn and we have some on hand at all times. The best thing about the air popper is that you don’t have to worry about burning oil on the stove top or washing a greasy pan afterwards. It’s a great way to make a healthy snack for humans or parakeets.

Because of my concerns about the noise, I hadn’t made popcorn literally in the two years since we got Toby. Pretty silly, right? We recently decided to try it out and see how traumatized the parakeets would be – which was, as it turns out, zero traumatized.

Although that didn’t mean they quite knew what to do with the popcorn once it was popped. Kelly enjoyed ripping a few pieces apart while Patrick held them, but once they were on a little plate in her cage she totally lost interest. Toby was very suspicious of the end product and didn’t even venture to lick a piece of popcorn.

No worries though, parakeets are notoriously reluctant to try new things so I’m not really put off. Now that we know they aren’t scared of the noisy Air Popper there will be a lot more popcorn opportunities in our house. So, we will offer them a little bit each time and see if the idea catches on; if not, at least it’s something unusual for them to think about, which is always an enriching experience.

A couple of uses for discarded seeds and hulls

No matter how you feed your budgies, at some point you probably end up with a bunch of seed hulls. Mixed in with those seed hulls are unwanted seed and maybe some pellets, dried fruits and veggies and herbs, depending on your preferred brand of parakeet feed. There’s no need to throw those discarded seeds right into the trash. Here are a couple of ways to extend their life.

  1. Use them as a fun enrichment. I feed Toby and Kelly 2 tablespoons each of a mix of the following every morning: Dr. Harvey’s parakeet blend, Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine Pellets. Even though it’s only 2 tablespoons per day, there’s always some leftover. They especially do not like the sesame seeds in the Dr. Harvey’s, and they are still getting used to the pellets. So, every morning when I refresh I put the leftovers into a Tupperware container that I keep on my kitchen counter next to the seed mix. Tupperware of discarded seedsThere’s still a ton of great stuff in there! So, I use it as an opportunity for foraging enrichment. Either I pour some on top of a fruit or vegetable I’m getting them to try, or a little bit on a flat plate really gets them excited. For a super fun Saturday I pour a good 1/4 inch onto a plate and let them go crazy. They really love digging through the discards and finding delectable morsels they missed the first time around, and I love getting just a little more use out of the good quality food I spent my money on!uses for discarded seeds and hulls
  2. When you are truly done with the discards, throw what you’ve collected over the week outside for the outdoor birds and squirrels. I have two squirrels right now in my backyard digging through my budgies leftovers. It’s winter so I’m sure they are happy to have the little bit of extra food. Soon the birds will come and pick through the rest. What my picky eaters are too good for turns into a treat for wild birds.

I’m sure it doesn’t mean much to them, but in a “waste not want not” kind of way it makes me feel good not to put usable seeds and pellets into the trash.

Does anyone else use their discarded seeds and hulls for anything?  If you’ve got ideas I’d love to hear them!  Otherwise, if you’re throwing out uneaten seeds on a regular basis I hope you’ll consider saving them for foraging, either for your budgies or the outdoor birds.

Toby and Kelly’s Christmas wish list

Toby and Kelly have been working feverishly on their Christmas wish list for parakeet-Santa.  They are cutting it a little close to the wire, but here’s their parakeet gift list full of their secret and most closely held desires!

Toby really wants to try having Nutriberries as a treat! She has heard that if I crumble them up for her she will be in a heretofore unknown ecstasy of foraging.

Kelly’s wants are a bit more basic. She plows through a cuttlebone every week, so she would like a never-ending supply of essential calcium as well as beak-exercising destruction.

Kelly snuck in a second want in a row! She loves the smaller version of this toy so much that she wants to try out the one for big birds! Since the single cupcake style is destroyed in a single day, we’re hoping that Santa brings one that lasts for three days!

Both Toby and Kelly are dreaming of a new play gym. They acknowledge that they previously had a very similar gym and totally ignored it, but they feel that since they both have flat top flight cages now they will get a lot more use of out of a play gym if it’s on top of the cage.

You’re probably wondering what poor new kid Kevin would like for Christmas. He’s just dreaming of getting out of quarantine and spending some time with his “sisters”.

He has been using the java tree as his personal play stand, so we all hope he comes out of quarantine in time for us to use his play tree as our Christmas tree like we did last year!

Speaking of which, Santa better bring us some new Christmas-themed bird toys to load up our “tree”.  Seems like some human “Santas” may need to start adding things to their carts before we run out of time!  I hope everybirdy out there finds exactly what they most want and need under their trees this year!

Working out with a budgie

Anyone who knows me through this blog can probably guess that I’m pretty budgie-obsessed in all facets of my life. This definitely extends to social media. I’m a frequent visitor to several parakeet groups on Facebook, and as a consequence, almost my entire feed is about budgies and other parrots. So, when I glanced at a post one day asking, “do you prefer working out with a budgie, or solo” I prepared myself to write a really thorough response about how Patrick and I have balanced making physical fitness a priority while also not taking anything away from Toby and Kelly. Of course once I actually read the post I realized it was one of my fitness coach friends asking, “do you prefer to work out with a buddy” but since my brain was already churning about the topic I thought I better write up my response here!

Once budgies take over your life it can be pretty difficult to hit the gym. Unless your budgies have their own room or an aviary, they probably need you to be in the house to have freedom to free fly around and explore. So, hitting the gym for a couple of hours after work would take away time that they could be out getting their exercise. And, let’s be honest, time that you could be spending with them as well.

It’s a much better plan, in my opinion, to spend your gym membership money on a few basics for home exercise, and then the rest on budgie gear!  Seriously though, you can get a great workout at home, your budgies can be flying around getting their exercise, and who knows, sometimes they may even land on you during a cardio routine and get some extra fitness in trying to hold on while you bounce around.  Toby and Kelly used to get a lot of practice clinging when we were in a Leslie Sansone Walking Program phase. I highly recommend Leslie’s videos if you are just starting to workout. They are very low impact and she has a ton of different videos. Also she’s so chatty that even if you’re working out solo you really don’t feel alone. Another good feature of Leslie’s videos is that you don’t need any additional equipment, just a clear space on your floor. She uses music to keep the pace, which the budgies absolutely love singing along to as well.

If you want something a bit more challenging, check out Fitness Blender’s free workout videos. They can also be found on YouTube and not only are there so many you could exercise for years without repeating, they run the gamut from super easy low impact cardio and yoga, to challenging weight training and intense cardio. Fitness Blender is a husband and wife team, which of course appeals to Patrick and me!

Again, not too much extra equipment is needed for these videos. I would recommend investing in a good quality set of weights. We love this Adjustable Dumbbell Set, it goes from 3 pounds to 24 pounds just by changing out the weights.  They are easy to change on the fly and it’s a huge space saver versus a traditional set of free weights.

Lastly, snag a good quality Yoga Mat that isn’t made out of terrible chemical nonsense that will poison you while you are exercising. We’ve actually been using doubled over blankets instead after a run of buying a few really smelly exercise mats. I just ordered the one in the link today, so I’ll have to report back, but the reviews are good and the listing indicates it doesn’t have Phthalates, Phenols, PAHS, Latex, Silicone or Rubber.

Using just a few small gym items and free or inexpensive videos it is totally possible to get or stay fit at home, without wasting loads of time outside the house or money on a gym membership. It’s also much easier to commit to working out most days if you live in your gym space. You can enrich your budgies lives with the extra time out of their cages and the curiosity of you bouncing around like a lunatic while listening to awesome upbeat music!

I’d totally love some recommendations for good exercise videos on YouTube or otherwise, so please hit me up if you’ve got anything great to share! You can leave a comment here or drop me a line through Home Keet Home’s Facebook page.

Using a food trough as a parakeet toy box

When we purchased Toby’s new Flight Cage it came with a set of plastic trough style Feeder Cups, which I knew immediately I wasn’t going to use. Not only do plastic feeders encourage bacteria growth, but they were also difficult to get in and out of the cage. In fact, I’m not sure how you would keep water clean in them at all without quite a bit of difficulty. So, I bought a set of my preferred Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls, put away the plastic tray feeders and didn’t think about them again for a few months.

Fast forward to Patrick and I cleaning out the parakeets’ toy and perch cupboard. It’s terrible, like a totally embarrassing toy hoard, someday I’ll post a picture! Anyway, every so often we go through and toss out stuff that got put away but most likely the birds wouldn’t really use, or toys that are fairly beat up.

He noticed the food trays and decided to try hanging one off the outside of Kelly’s cage and then put a bunch of little toys in it for her to throw out. What’s in there are some pieces that came off old toys, like a vine star from a Christmas toy, a large wooden bead, etc. But also, some Baby Links and Vine Balls. All together it’s a bunch of little items with different shapes, sizes and textures as well as varying degrees of difficulty to pick up and throw.

Kelly typically has a short attention span and doesn’t play with toys much. But, she will happily spend time picking up and throwing out every single one of the items, and then when you load it back up she’ll do it all over again. She’s our obsessive biter, so anything that keeps her occupied and relatively happy is a major win for us!

Even if your parakeets don’t need something to obsess over, the little trough of foot toys would be fun for even the most well-adjusted parakeet. Who hasn’t seen their parakeet drop a feather or piece of food and then watch with intensity as it falls to the ground? Sure, it can get a little tedious picking everything back up and resetting, but it’s totally worth it in the name of parakeet fun and enrichment!

Maximing exterior cage space for budgie enrichment

I’ve been thinking a lot about budgie cage set up lately, possibly a consequence of now having two flight cages! We put a big emphasis on changing up their cages regularly, I recommend weekly switching at least a toy or two out and moving some perches. Budgies are very intelligent and can be prone to boredom, so it’s a good idea to keep them engaged in their space and not let home become stale. I’m sure there are some budgies out there that hate change, so your mileage may vary and use your judgement. In addition to the interior space, it’s also important to think about maximizing exterior cage space for budgie enrichment.

Utilizing exterior cage space is also a great way to help your budgie feel comfortable out in the “world” that is your home. One idea is making a fun space on top of the cage so your budgie has a place to hang out. We used a Booda Comfy Perch and a Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds to create a fun and budgie friendly play location on top of Toby’s cage. We added a cluster of Vine Balls trailing down over the side to provide even more indoor/outdoor play options.

Toby’s cage also has a perch placed outside underneath her main door to ease the transition into the cage, which can frequently be difficult to navigate. It’s also a sand perch, which she loves but I know can be hard on budgie feet. So placing it outside the cage means Toby gets time with the perch but without the risk of her trying to nap or sleep on it and hurt her feet.

Kelly’s cage has a totally different flair. She has a Bendable Wooden Bridge that comes off the top like a ski jump, as well as a Spiral Boing Perch that connects to a Natural Rope Ladder and then back to the edge of the cage.

Kelly also has a Sand Perch outside her cage, but hers facilitates entry into the Lixit Quick Lock Bird Bath. The Lixit bath is still one of the most reliable ways to get Kelly to clean up and having it mounted on the outside of the cage makes it easier to clean up the inevitable water-soaked “splash zone”.

Adding areas of interest to the outside of the cage helps parakeets transition from indoor to outdoor space while still keeping a sense of safety and being “home”. This can be a big help during the initial taming/training process, but is also just a great plan to keep your budgies engaged outside their cages. Expanding your budgies’ livable space and maximizing enrichment can really enhance their lives overall.