Budgies and mirrors – our take on the great debate

When we first got Toby I was pretty convinced that mirrors in cages were a bad idea. There’s tons of anecdotal evidence that having a mirror in the cage greatly reduces the likelihood that your new parakeet will bond with you. This is because they think the bird in the mirror is a part of their flock, and a non-tame budgie will almost always prefer the company of his own kind. Bonding with a mirror bird can mean the budgie will spend hours a day singing to the mirror, bopping heads, and potentially even attempting to feed the mirror through regurgitation.

This kind of bond can make the budgie unmotivated to ever come out of the cage and interact with you. I mean, why would he want to if his best pal can’t come out too?  It may also make the budgie more territorial and protective of his cage, if he thinks he’s defending another bird. In some extreme cases, attachment to a mirror can result in a budgie getting stuck in a feedback loop. In that instance, since the mirror budgie never breaks the loop of action and reaction, the real budgie can interact with the mirror to the detriment of their own health; potentially resulting in dehydration and starvation. Now, that’s super extreme. I would not expect that to happen to 99% of budgies with mirrors.

But, I would anticipate that the vast majority of solo budgies’ ability to be tamed would be impacted by a mirror friend. When bringing home a new budgie I would recommend leaving mirrored toys off your shopping list.

All of those warnings aside, we did recently get a mirror for Toby and a mirror for Kelly as a bit of a trial run. I’ve been feeling increasing bad for Kelly since she and Toby split up, she’s clearly lonely in the cage and I was worried about her becoming depressed about not being able to get to Toby. Since we can’t get a new roommate for Kelly until November due to my travel schedule we talked about it and decided to try adding a mirror so she wouldn’t feel as alone. Toby got one too because that’s how we roll, like giving your kids an even number of presents on the holidays, you can’t do for one without doing for the other!

I’m pleasantly surprised by the experiment so far. Neither parakeet has gotten overly attached to their mirror bird. Kelly spends some time hanging out near hers daily singing to it, but hasn’t gotten too into interacting. Toby plays with the beads on her mirror and occasionally seems interested in what she sees, but typically gets distracted in short order and wanders off to play with something else. There’s been no impact on their readiness to come out of the cage when the doors are opened, which may be because there’s a real bird to come out and play with. Neither bird has gotten more territorial than they already were about their cage either. Although to be fair they are quite territorial anyway!

It eases my mind a bit to know that while we are at work they each have a facsimile of a pal inside the cage with them. I hope that it helps them feel secure and like they are not alone. I still do think that mirrors are not for every bird, and that some may take it much more seriously than ours. If you’ve got a tame budgie that might be a bit lonely while you’re out of the house I don’t see any harm in giving a mirror a try. I would recommend watching closely to make sure it isn’t creating a problem, and be ready to pull the mirror out at the first sign of an issue that would be detrimental either mentally or physically

Raw cauliflower – Could it be nature’s most perfect shredding toy?

I always try to serve the parakeet a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, but they do tend to eat the same things we are eating. For example, if we have a pepper they get the pepper head and seeds. Apparently we don’t eat a lot of cauliflower, because I bought a head  this week and gave raw cauliflower to the parakeets for the first time, and they were in love!

The hope when trying a new vegetable is always that they will give it a nibble and maybe be more likely to try it the next time around. They were a little wary of the cauliflower at first, I gave them a few big florets and also chopped some up in small bits. Very rapidly they discovered that not only was it tasty, but it was an amazing shred experience. They really enjoyed hooking their beaks into the crevices in the cauliflower and then tugging until they broke pieces off.

They would do this to each floret until it was almost smooth with nothing else to hook into. I know they mostly threw the cauliflower around but I’m sure they couldn’t have avoided eating some of it as well.

I gave them more raw cauliflower a few days later to see if it was a fluke and they went crazy for it again, this time I did mostly larger florets and they had a ball shredding them. They also enjoying picking them up and pretending they were heavyweight champions of the world, throwing the florets at each other and off the top of the cage.

We did have some territorial food issues, Kelly certainly felt like she was queen of the cauliflower. That’s pretty typical and I guess a good sign that they both really loved it.

This was as insanely messy snack, which would be the only downside. Because they started throwing pieces large and small I ended up with what looked like a chunky coating of snow on the interior of Toby’s cage floor as well as the floor below, some on the walls and even under the radiators!

I think that I might try giving them a whole head someday to see what they would do with it, maybe for someone’s birthday treat.  Otherwise I think that reasonable amounts of cauliflower will definitely be in our regular rotation from now on.

Facts about the 5 senses of the parakeet

Over the past several months I wrote posts about each of the 5 senses of the parakeets.  I think it’s good to have some basic knowledge about how your parakeet perceives the world so you can accommodate his needs and understand things that might be scary, or conversely, might be very pleasing to them.  Here are links to all of those posts with some key facts for each sense.

SIGHT

  • Parakeets have much better vision than humans and can see ultraviolet light.
  • With the exception of a few color mutations – parakeets eyes change as they age, they develop a visible iris and begin to “flash” or “pin” their pupils in response to stimuli.
  • As good as parakeet sight is during the day it is terrible at night, which can be the root cause of night terrors. Any movement detected during the night can be perceived as a threat.

HEARING

  • Parakeets have an internal ear, an adult parakeet’s ear holes are not typically visible unless the parakeet is very wet.
  • They also have perfect pitch and can store sound in their memories with incredible skill.
  • Parakeets that live together will “flock call” to each other frequently when they are out of eye line to check in and make sure everything is okay. Some parakeets also loudly call out to birds that they hear outdoors, this is cute, but can be quite loud and go on for hours.

TOUCH

  • Don’t expect to pet or snuggle your parakeet. Although some may learn to enjoy it, petting is not a natural behavior to a budgie.
  • Parakeets are very sensitive to vibrations – cars and trucks lumbering by may vibrate the budgies cage and can be a little scary. It’s also best to keep cages away from appliances that vibrate, such as refrigerators and washing machines.
  • Our parakeets are able to feel pain, so we have a great responsibility to make a safe environment for our pets. Of course this applies to every pet in your home!

SMELL

  • Scientists aren’t quite sure how much parakeets use their sense of smell. In the wild it is probably not a key part of how they evade predators they way that sight and hearing are.
  • They do not use their sense of smell to know who you are – since their sights and hearing are so much better they recognize the way you look and the sound of your voice.
  • Possible lack of importance of the sense has nothing to do with chemical and smoke sensitivity – Teflon, burning candles, chemical cleaners etc. are all very dangerous.

TASTE

  • Parakeets have fewer taste buds than humans and the taste buds they do have are located at the base of the tongue.
  • As foragers, keen sense of taste wouldn’t be a huge benefit. If you need to scrounge around on the ground for your food it wouldn’t do to be picky!!
  • They can detect the taste of sweet foods which is probably why many parakeets prefer fruit to vegetables – but watch out for overdoing the sugar.

Please click the link on the individual senses for more detailed information about each – there are a ton of useful tips and points to ponder for each sense.

10 things that make me happy about my parakeets

I’m in a blogging group on facebook and someone launched a challenge recently to write a post about 10 things that make you happy. Initially I thought that would be a bad fit for Home Keet Home, but upon further reflection I realized there are certainly at least 10 things that make me happy about my parakeets!

It’s a well-timed exercise, we’ve been having a bit of a rough patch with them. Toby has been yelling all day to the birds outside, which wouldn’t be a big deal, but my husband works from home three days a week, and has some phone duties, so screeching parakeets is hardly ideal background noise. And as for Kelly, she was doing better with aggression for about a half a second and then tripled-down on biting and general nasty behavior. So, thinking nice thoughts about the parakeets and making a list of happy parakeet thoughts is exactly what I needed, and here we go:

  1. Being greeted with total enthusiasm when I get home from work, or wake up in the morning, or go to the bathroom and come back. No matter the length of time of my absence, there’s always someone at home so delighted to see me it makes them scream like crazy.
  2. Watching Toby and Kelly eat their fruits and veggies. Getting them to accept that fruits and vegetables were not the enemy was a long-term labor of love. Watching them tuck into a plate of grated cucumber with gusto is a fantastic feeling.
  3. Listening to them contentedly grind their beaks before nodding off to sleep. There is no more peaceful sound to me than the quiet crackle of parakeets grinding their beaks and knowing it means they feel safe and cozy.
  4. Seeing Toby and Kelly fly around the house. It’s just pure delight to see them use their bodies as nature intended. They are so at ease in the air and such deft aerialists. It also doesn’t hurt that they frequently fly around the house trying to find us – which is always a happy thought!
  5. Healthy parakeet poops. I’m sure that seems odd, since a common complaint that new parakeet parents have is finding poops all over the house. But, well-formed, tidy, parakeet poops are an amazing indicator of parakeet health and good poops make me smile!  Even better is a tidy pile of parakeet poops under their sleeping perch, which means they slept soundly and didn’t move around restless during the night.
  6. Toby and Kelly having peaceful moments together. Right now they are taking a nap together in Toby’s cage, and it fills my heart with joy. They have been struggling to get along lately, and these quiet moments where they nap together, or sit and watch the world on their window perch are rare and magical.
  7. Spidery little parakeet feet! Ugh, the tiny little feets just slay me with their cuteness. When I spy them ball their toes together and put up a foot for sleeping it’s the sweetest sight.
  8. Playing touch the tummy. When Toby first came home and was totally wild she would crawl around on the cage bars and we played a game where I would “torture” her by putting my pinky through the bars and gently touching her tummy and her “stinky pits” while she tried to bite me.  The stinky pit area of a parakeet it the fluffy bit at the top of the legs, or at least it is in my household! Anyhow, she would seem quite enraged by my taking advantage and I wasn’t sure whether she was playing the same game as me until one day I was working on my laptop near the cage and noticed she had gone silent. Looking over, I saw her staring dead at me, clinging to the cage bars with her tummy pushed up against them, waiting for me to play our game. Every time I think about that memory I smile, it was the first indication I had that Toby and I would be best buddies someday.
  9. They make me happy because if I’m not happy they’re not happy. Parakeets are crazy attuned to the mood of their flock, so if I come home from a bad mood I don’t just wreck my day (and my husband’s!) but Toby and Kelly’s day too. If I walk through the door angry, even if I’m trying to put on a good face, they will stay in their cages and act very meek and weird. Being mindful of their feelings has trained me to sit in my car for a few minutes if I’m feeling edgy and focus on getting centered and ready to be present with them and happy.
  10. Having my little girl crew climb all over me. Toby loves to sit on my glasses and nibble my eyelids and Kelly will crawl in and out of my shirt all day if I let her. I’m never going to be able to pet them like dogs or cats, but they show their affection and their desire for closeness in the own perfect birdy way, and it makes me feel like I’m being given the best gift to have them want that with me.

A summer treat for parakeets – fresh corn on the cob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.