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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!

Best toys for parakeets/budgies

With so many toys out there in the marketplace it can be tough to choose for your budgies. I know I’ve made tons of mistakes buying toys that were way too big, or worse, dangerous. It can be difficult to look at pictures on the internet and know what to buy for mental and physical stimulation. Here are Toby and Kelly’s recommendations for best toys for parakeets, all of them are either currently in their cages or were and were so well-loved they no longer exist!

  • Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds – Toby and Kelly love this toy so much I’ve already written not one, but two reviews of it!  They can be found here and here. This toy can be played with in multiple ways, preening, chewing, attacking, moving the straw “arms” and it has several levels. If installed with a perch midway down the parakeets can burrow into the center of the straws (where there is a bell to reward them!), and the ends of the straws with their shoelace ties provide a totally different play opportunity.  Toby and Kelly also enjoy launching themselves at it and clinging to the red ball at the top.

  • Bonka Bird Toys 1925 Cake Bird Toy – this toy is, without a doubt, Kelly’s favorite toy of all time. The problem is that she destroys is in a single day! This has happened on to occasions, the first of which I recorded in a review.  It’s still fun to play with after the destruction of the sola wood, the cupcake liners are totally a toy in their own right, but I mostly recommend buying this toy for special occasions like hatch days or gotcha days.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoys The Wave Bird Toy – These relatively inexpensive plastic toys made by JW Pet Company are some of Toby and Kelly’s favorites, and this is one of them.  I avoided buying them anything with a mirror for a long time. I was worried, especially when Toby was a solo parakeet, that she would end up in a feedback loop with her own reflection and never think to eat or get a drink of water.  I think that’s less of a concern with these small round mirrors, they may catch an intriguing glance of “another” parakeet in the mirror, but it’s not enough to start trying to interact with. The mirrors also rotate and there are fun little beads to chew and the whole thing is light enough that they can grab it and bang it on something else, which is always a good time!  You could also hang something else from the bottom if you wanted a very long toy. Kelly saw herself in a mirror for the first time in this toy, I managed to get a very cute video (unfortunately this was before I learned to take all videos “side to side so the margins are wide” I apologize!).
  • Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy – Deceptively simply in its design this toy provides days and days of shredding fun. Chewing is extremely important for parakeets beak health and mental health. They are born and designed to chew and destroy. These are made of a soft wood, but still take a lot of work to get through, versus something like the bonka 1925, which is very quickly shredded. They come strung on a rope that can be untied if you want to add one of the “donuts” of wood to another toy or put them on a metal skewer instead.  Toby and Kelly’s interest in this toy waxes and wanes, but there’s always a Wesco Shreddable Bird Toy of some sort available to them.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy – This is another one of our favorite inexpensive JW plastic toys. I think I bought this back in 2005 and it’s always been in a cage or on the play gyms.  It’s a classic and a must have, and another toy that can be played with in a few different ways. Toby likes to grab the bell at the bottom and shake it vigorously, or climb from the bottom to the top.  She also will grab one of the rings and use it to stabilize her foot while she grooms herself. Kelly, on the other hand, likes to go through the rings over and over again in some very “Olympic” gymnastics!  At first I was worried she would get stuck but it seems like they are the perfect size for such antics. This toy is also really easy to clean up, a huge plus for something that’s going to be around for several years.
  • This last toy is a bit of a toy/perch hybrid, the Super Bird Creations Mini Flying Trapeze Toy for Birds. But with so much going on I think it has earned it’s way onto our top six toys! There is sea grass to rip apart, plastic links to climb and chew, and these great tiny plastic toys to reach for and try to destroy as well. My only caveat is I would not give this to female birds in breeding condition, as they may regard it as a possible nesting space. Also since it’s got a rather large footprint they can get very territorial about it and we’ve had some associated squabbles.

There you have it, Toby and Kelly’s recommended best toys for parakeets. They have all been “road tested” in our home and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that even if they aren’t your parakeet’s favorites they are at least appropriately-sized and safe for your budgies. I’d love to hear some of your favorites, please leave a comment!

10 tips for getting budgies to take a bath

I’ve already written a post with 5 bathing methods, but I’ve found in the intervening months that there are way more bath types to try, which is great, because your budgie will probably only find one or two of them acceptable. Getting budgies to take a bath can be a challenge, but the reward of your budgie getting clean and loving it is well worth the struggle. Keep in mind that you may have to offer the bath type several times over the course of weeks before your parakeet decides to give it a try.

  1. The hanging bath – hanging wet greens inside the cage can be a very comfortable way for your budgie to bathe. Not only are they in the safety of their own home, but the wet greens tap into the part of their wild brain that sees it as a very natural way to bathe. I have written a post about how to make a hanging bath, there’s a learning curve and you want to make sure the bunch is secure enough to withstand multiple budgies’ weight and quite a lot of abuse.
  2. Misting – get a small misting bottle and gently spray your budgies with water. Make sure to completely empty and dry the bottle in between uses so it doesn’t get mold. Depending on how your budgies react you can either spray lightly above their heads so they barely notice, or you may be able to spray them more directly. Some parakeets grow to really enjoy bathing this way. Not mine, so much, but I know they are out there!
  3. Shower perches or putting the entire cage in the shower. To be fair, I haven’t tried either of these, every time I try taking our parakeets into the bathroom they lose their stuff. We have a big mirror that’s flat to the wall in there and I think it’s just too much for them to deal with
    a. Shower perch– these seem to be mostly intended for larger birds to me, but I have heard of budgie owners showering with their birds. I think the key here is that the birds are not directly under the flow of the water but are adjacent and get a nice warm mist.
    b. Putting the entire cage in the shower – If you have a small enough cage, or a large enough shower, this would be an efficient way to clean both cage and budgies at once. My main cage is way too massive to even consider attempting to put it in the shower. Additionally, I have a hard time imagining my parakeets dealing with all the stimulation gracefully. I also don’t know how the heck you would get it completely dry afterwards, and I think you’d have to remove most toys and perches beforehand. But, I feel like it warrants a mention because every time people talk about baths someone chimes in and says this is their go-to.
  4. Greens on a shallow plate – get some dark leaf lettuce, kale, or any other green, wash thoroughly and lay them out on a shallow plate, pour just a little water over the greens and plate. The first few times we did this I had to lure the parakeets into the water with millet but once they were there they got the picture and bathed. Like the hanging bath, this probably feels very natural to them.
  5. Cup your hands under a running sink – make sure the water pressure isn’t too hard and the water is not very hot. If you cup one hand at first and have your other hand splash around in the water it may be easier to generate interest. My budgies will sometimes go for this, but they usually just drink a lot of water and do no bathing at all! You also don’t have to involve your hands at all, but could put a shallow Tupperware, bowl or whatever they like under the flow of water.
  6. Shallow Tupperware or bowl – Either with greens or without, whatever is preferred. I offer shallow bowls of water a couple of times a week and every so often Kelly will just hop in and take a very good bath with no warning. It probably only happens about once a month but she gets completely soaked and it’s lovely.
  7. The Lixit bath – I don’t know what it is about this bath but I’ve never seen a bad review. (In fact, here’s my review). It’s easy to install and if you mount it on the outside of your cage you get very minimal water mess inside. I think the budgies like bathing high up, and apparently, they also like bathing in see through things.
  8. Cupped hands with greens – this was the first bath Toby ever took and it was entirely accidental. My mom was over and she offered Toby some wet lettuce as a snack cupped in her hands. Toby hopped on and went into full bath mode, puffed out and deranged looking. She was probably thinking “what took you jerks so long, I’ve felt so dirty”! We’d never seen a parakeet taking a bath before and briefly thought she was broken.
  9. Mirror at the bottom of Tupperware – this is a cute variation on the Tupperware and would also work with a reflective bowl. The budgie thinks that she is bathing with a friend and it may help her to get into bathing and/or feel more secure.
  10. Catit Flower Fountain – this fountain has been all the rage lately in a Facebook parakeet group that I’m a part of, so of course I had to try it too! While I can’t say it was an immediate hit, like it has been for others, we definitely had some intrigued parakeets and they liked drinking out of it. I think it will take a few more exposures before I can render judgement but it was super fun to try and if you have friends with cats you could always gift it to them if your budgies don’t like it.

So there we have it, the extended bath ideas list. I’m guessing that 6 months from now I’ll be posting an update with 20 unique bath ideas! Good luck to everyone out there in getting some cleaned up budgies, don’t let their resistance get you down, just like introducing vegetables and fruits it can take a long time for parakeets to get over their initial trepidation and get down to enjoyment.

Cooking eggs for parakeets

Everyone knows by now how much I hate cooking of any sort. But, I realized that I should at least be cooking the occasional egg for my parakeets. Eggs are a great source of protein and beyond that it’s a good idea to keep parakeets lives’ enriched with new experiences and a varied diet. So – although I rarely step into the kitchen for my own cooking, I decided to make eggs for my parakeets, and found that it’s easy enough even I can manage!

First of all I had to figure out how to cook the eggs. Initially scrambling seemed logical, because I could easily mix the scramble with millet or fruit or really anything they’ve enjoyed before, thus increasing the chance of acceptance. On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out how to make a successful scrambled egg without adding butter to the pan, or some other type of oil that they really shouldn’t have. Of course we don’t use Teflon, so the egg would be sure to stick.

Then I realized it would be much easier to hard boil the eggs and mash them up. I bought a 6 pack of eggs, and then they expired, so I bought another carton of eggs, and let those expire too! I know that food waste is terrible and I have a lot of guilt over those 12 eggs, but it’s an accurate illustration about how much I avoid the kitchen at all costs and how little we use eggs in my home in general!

On the third carton of eggs I decided it was time. Here’s how to make hard boiled eggs
– Fill a pot of water, cover it and put it on your range on high heat. Make sure your birds are safely stowed in another room or in their cage.
– Wait for it to come to a rolling boil
– Once boiling is achieved, put eggs in water and don’t re-cover. I used a pasta spoon so I could gently float them into the water. One broke, I’m not sure if it’s because they were right out of the refrigerator and very cold.
– Set a timer for 10 minutes
– When the timer goes off remove eggs from boiling water and place somewhere to cool. Do not serve your budgies eggs that are still very hot! Be sure to turn off your burner too.
– After the eggs have cooled for quite some time, shell one and mash it. The whites and yolk can both be eaten by parakeets. I mixed some millet in with mine so they would be more likely to try it.

Put the rest of the eggs into the refrigerator where they will be good for one week. After one week they should be discarded.

I did my usual song and dance to sell the parakeets on the new food while shelling and mashing the eggs. Their plates were all dirty already and they had to have their egg in a bowl so that may have hampered their interest. They did both try it, even if it was only by accident while digging through for the millet.

Since the eggs are good for a week, I have devised a plan to get them more interested. On Saturday morning when I take their seed out to change it I will put back in mashed up egg and some veggies with seed or millet mixed in and hopefully they will be so hungry for their breakfast that they’ll feast on eggs and veggies.

I know, I know, you’re saying to yourself “Kristen that is basically the definition of “chop” and you said you’d never make chop because it’s way too difficult”. That’s true, but somehow starting with the egg base and thinking of it as a Saturday treat makes the concept a bit easier to handle. We’ll see if I actually manage to make it happen anyhow.

At the very least I am now comfortable with boiling eggs, and I’m excited to add another dimension to the parakeets’ diet.

Encouraging your budgie to work for her food by foraging

I read an article recently called “Are we killing the natural instincts of the budgerigar” which put me on notice that no matter how many stimulating toys I provide, or flight time, or any material object, I have been ignoring a major component of my parakeet’s mental and physical health. That component is foraging for food.

You should read the whole article, but to condense, the experiment they are conducting in an aviary setting changed the budgies over from eating readily available seeds in shallow bowls that are refreshed every day, to serving food in deep bowls and not refreshing constantly, so the budgies would have to dig for their food. It also involves spreading the remaining seed on the aviary floor at the end of the cycle, instead of throwing it out, so that the budgies could sift through it again, simulating the ground foraging their wild cousins do, as well as getting much more use out of the provided seed.

The article inspired me to make some changes, because I am of course one of those people who feeds every day and discards every day, meaning the chances for foraging are extremely limited.

My big change was to take out the grate at the bottom of the cage. It took a couple of days, but the budgies love going down there and hunting through the seed hulls that fall out of their bowls. This also means that when I serve them vegetables they can go down to the cage floor and “forage” around in them. Like the green pepper shown above. They love ripping off all the seeds and then coming back to go through them all over again.  Right now they have a cup of torn romaine lettuce that they are digging through and throwing all over, and then going back to forage around in the lettuce leaves.

I also tried scattering what was left of their seed bowls on the ground of the cage, which would be okay a couple of times a week but really caused a mess explosion, due to the dramatically increased likelihood of hulls being blown out of the cage.

My next steps are to create more foraging opportunities. I always see foraging toys for big parrots, but I think for the little guys it may have to be a little more DIY.  Here’s a great idea for a foraging mat just made out of a doormat, and here’s another post about making a bunch of different foraging toys – some seem to be for bigger parrots, but there are some awesome easy things the the blogger suggests, even something as simple as covering the food bowl with a paper towel that the parrot has to remove before eating.

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Foraging 101

For higher up foraging, we are going to get back into using our Creative Foraging Systems Ball and Kabob, 5-Inch. If we put some shredded veggies in the ball the budgies will spend the bulk of their day pulling them out, whether they eat them or not, so at least mentally there’s the simulation of working for your food.

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The importance of foraging and digging through food also reinforces my decision to switch to a mostly seed diet, with pelleted diets a budgie would have even less opportunities for foraging.  And with Dr. Harvey’s parakeet food (Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag) there are a lot of different items in the blend to be foraged through and pushed aside to find the favorite morsels, and then throughout the day more and more of the less desirable items are consumed.

Overall, I want to be more cognizant of how I could be making it harder and more rewarding for Toby and Kelly to find food, after reading that article I’m certain I can do better at meeting their need to forage.

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Foraging for the wild cucumber

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