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.

The difference between budgie regurgitation and vomiting

Seeing seeds come back up out of your budgies beak can be unsettling for a new parakeet owner. Rest assured, most of the time when you see a budgie spitting seeds out of its beak it’s something called regurgitation and there’s nothing to worried about. There are, however, times when a budgie vomits due to illness and may need medical attention. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between normal, healthy regurgitation and vomiting.

When your budgie eats he hulls his seeds to remove outer layer, which is why he doesn’t need grit. The next place the seed goes is into his crop, check out this page for an image of the digestive system and detailed description of how the crop and digestion functions. Typically after being stored in the crop the food is released slowly into the rest of their digestive tract. It’s intelligent design to keep yourself going with a consistent energy source if you’re not always sure where your next meal is going to come from. Although of course that’s not an issue with our spoiled pet parakeets! Regurgitation and vomiting are two reasons the seed would come back out the mouth instead of traveling through the tract, so let’s break it down and provide some explanations of each.

Regurgitation
Regurgitation is a targeted and purposeful bringing up of seeds from the crop and out the mouth. At the start of life regurgitation is how parent budgies feed their babies and it continues to have a positive connotation for adults. A budgie will regurgitate to another budgie who is a bonded mate or good friend who may even be the same sex. They can also regurgitate to humans that they are very fond of, in some cases a thumbnail or any part of a person to which they are particularly attached. Budgies will additionally regurgitate to a specific toy they like a lot, or very commonly to a mirror.

Regurgitation can be a part of a romantic pair’s relationship but it’s not always an expression of sexual interest from an adult budgie.  Toby and Kelly have never had a romantic relationship but when they are getting along particularly well or one of them is having a tough molt they will regurgitate to each other. It’s actually pretty sweet, if you don’t watch too closely!

When a budgie regurgitates he will jerk his head fairly rapidly up and down until seeds come out in a lump and are deposited either in another budgie’s mouth or somewhere else intentionally. He will be either calm or pleasantly excited and in a happy mood and may sing or make other happy vocalizations before and after regurgitating.

Neither Toby nor Kelly has ever regurgitated on Patrick or me. Toby will get very into tapping her beak on my fingernails and jerks her head like she’s thinking about it, but so far hasn’t completed the action. I’m sort of hoping it stays that way, even though I would take it as quite a compliment.

Vomiting
Vomiting is a totally separate issue and always cause for concern and careful monitoring. A budgie who is vomiting may have a crop impaction (something stuck in the crop), or any number of stomach issues. Some of these issues may pass on their own, some you can treat at home with the Organic Apple Cider Vinegar that you keep in your first aid kit, but others will require the attention of an avian vet. I’m not a vet and I’m not capable of providing medical recommendations that would replace medical attention.

If you suspect your budgie is vomiting monitor them very carefully for other signs of illness. You want to make sure they are able to eat and drink after vomiting , their poop looks good, and they are not listless and puffy. If your budgie has an episode of vomiting and then acts perfectly fine afterwards it may be okay to treat with some preventative Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and take a wait and see approach to seeing the vet.

On the other hand if you suspect they have vomited and they are exhibiting other signs of illness then it’s probably best to place them in a small hospital cage with a Heating Pad for extra warmth. Then call up a vet and ask them what they think.

When a budgie vomits it’s pretty easy to tell something is wrong. In the time that I’ve had Toby I’ve seen her do it twice and both times my adrenaline started pumping and I knew immediately she was in distress.

A vomiting budgie shakes his head from side to side while seeds spray out of his mouth in addition to clear liquid or white foam.  Seeds will come out of his mouth either singly or in small wet clusters. You may find these stuck to cage bars or on the walls next to the cage. If you’re home when your budgie is vomiting you may hear the seeds striking the cage bars.

In between bouts of vomiting your budgie may hop rapidly from perch to perch, almost as though they are trying to outrun the urge to vomit. They will not be consolable and probably won’t be interested or able to step up. Their faces will also become soiled and wet due to the liquid that comes out with the seed. It is truly an unsettling experience to see your budgie vomiting uncontrollably and know that in that moment there’s nothing you can really do to see them through it short of some soothing words and proper care.

It made me uncomfortable just writing about a budgie vomiting! I hope that you never see your budgies in medical distress due to stomach issues (or any issues!), but it’s vitally important to know the difference between healthy regurgitation and unhealthy vomiting.

Budgie FAQ – commonly asked budgie questions

Q. What size cage does a budgie require?
A. The best answer here is to get the largest cage you can afford and keep in mind that most budgies prefer a cage that is longer than it is tall because of the way they fly. Also, bar spacing of 1/2 inch is key, anything larger and you can run the risk of budgie escape or injury. A cage size of 20 inches long, 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide is the minimum for a single budgie while a pair should have no less than 30 inches long, but the same depth and height.


Q. How long do budgies live?
A. Budgies can live anywhere from 2 years to 15 years depending on diet and quality of care. A good average is 6 years. Many budgies also die prematurely in home accidents such as attack by other household pets and injury from common dangers such as windows and mirrors.

Q. What’s the best material to put at the bottom of the cage?
A. Many budgie owners use newspaper (black and white pages only), paper towels or craft paper at the bottom of the cage. Home Keet Home thinks all of these options are good as they allow you to monitor the quality of your budgie’s poop. In our house we use cut-to-size liners from Amazon. This is totally a convenience item versus a necessity but it makes our lives easier!


Q. Will my budgie learn to talk?
A. Maybe, although generally not without a lot of effort on your part. Also boys are more likely to talk than girls. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is easier to teach a single budgie to talk rather than a pair or more.

Q. How much sleep do budgies need?
A. Budgies need 10-12 hours or sleep per night. Some can get by on less by supplementing with naps during the day, but they really should have at least 10 hours of dark per night.

Q. What temperature should a house be for budgies?
A. Budgies will typically adjust pretty well to a wide range of temperatures. Budgies that live in outdoor areas can even tolerate temperatures in the 40 degree Fahrenheit range as long as there is a source of heat and they are not exposed to wind. In the home, a suggested range would be 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they are not to cold or too hot. Of great importance is avoiding drafts, which are very dangerous to budgie health.

Q. What’s the best diet for a budgie?
A. This is a hotly contested issue. Many budgie parents believe that pellets offer complete nutrition and any other base diet is a recipe for disaster. We disagree, feeling that natural seed is a better base diet than processed food. Home Keet Home is not a veterinarian and does not substitute consulting your vet, but we think that going close to natural diet makes sense. We free feed a quality seed mix and some pellets mixed in as a base diet and then offer vegetables and fruits daily.


Q. Should I get one budgie or two?
A. This is a tough one. Budgies are flock birds and feel safer in groups, but if you are home a lot and want to bond closely with your budgie then it’s easies to do so with one. I think that starting with one is fine and then use your judgement to let you know if your new friend is lonely or scared.

Q. How can you tell the sex of a budgie?
A. The best way to tell the sex of a budgie is its cere (above the beak). In mature budgies a female will have a chalk white, pale blue, or tan – dark brown cere depending on breeding condition. Males will have a solid pink or very dark vibrant cere. There is some variation on this based on coloring, and juvenile budgies are different as well. The important thing is to do your own research instead of listening to a pet store employee, they are frequently either totally misinformed or may want you to believe that the budgie in question in a boy which is a frequently preferred sex for a pet budgie.

Q. How can I tell if a budgie is young?
A. A young budgie has bars down the top of its head meeting up with the tip of it’s cere. These are referred to as “baby bars”. They also have fully black eyes with no sign of an iris. This can also vary by color mutation but with a standard blue or green budgie they are very reliable markers.

Q. Should I clip my budgies wings?
A. For my household the answer is no. We feel that budgies are built to fly and should be able to have free flight in the home for at least 2 hours per day (typically more). But, we were willing to totally bird-proof our home and take tons of precautions for their safety. If your circumstances differ you might consider either confining your birds to a single room for free flight or clipping them. Some budgies may need to be continue to be clipped if they never learned to fly as babies and are unable to learn as adults. Many budgie owners report that it is easier to tame a clipped bird and then let the wings grow out. Fortunately clipping is not generally a permanent situation, the clipped feathers will fall out upon molting and grow back restoring full flight. We do recommend that clipping be done by a professional, or at the very least that you learn how to clip your birds from a professional before attempting at home.

Q. What gear does a budgie need?
A. A budgie needs lots of stuff for basic health as well as enrichment. Some basics are cage, food and water bowls, variety of perches, toys etc. Check out our post on start-up budgie costs for a comprehensive list.

Q. I have never seen my budgie drink, is he okay?
A. Budgies are prey birds and drinking puts them in a very vulnerable position. Until your budgie is totally comfortable in your home you probably will not catch him drinking. Instead he will wait until he’s alone and feels safe to take the chance. Access to clean water is very important to budgie health, and it’s vitally important that you do not give them distilled water.

Q. My budgie won’t bathe, what do I do?
A. There are many different ways that budgies bathe. Not all budgies will take to a single kind of bath. Perseverance is the key here, and you can always resort to lightly misting them if they are seriously water averse.

Q. My parakeet is losing tons of feathers, what’s happening?
A. Unless your budgie has a feather disorder , he is molting, which is a very normal process by which a budgie sheds old feathers and replaces them with new. Molting occurs two times a year or more and can be triggered by changing seasons.

Q. My budgie’s cage came with plastic perches, do I need any other perches?
A. Absolutely. Please provide a wide variety of natural wood perches as well as those made of other materials. Perches should have varying widths to encourage foot health. We don’t recommend keeping any of those plastic perches.

How we use millet for parakeets in my household

In my attempts to be a well-informed parakeet owner, and also my general nosiness, I look at a lot of different cage set-ups. I love getting inspiration from other bird-owners, especially seeing new toys or the awesomely creative stuff that people DIY. One thing I notice a lot of that surprises me is the use of a Millet Spray Holder or generally the free-range offer of Millet in the cage. I think that if you go that route you’re losing your most powerful motivator and possibly setting yourself up for nutrition issues.

First a note on Millet Spray Holder; some of them may be unsafe. There is, in particular a plastic Millet Spray Holder that looks like a cage for millet, as well as a Stainless Steel Millet Holder that is a steel spiral. I have heard of several budgies getting their heads caught in these items, and some have not survived. Now, I fully believe that a determined parakeet could kill themselves with almost anything in their environment; they are delicate creatures that act like invincible tough guys! But, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for me that this optional item is best skipped.

Outside of safety, your parakeet simply does need free access to Millet. It is not particularly nutritious and could lead to unnecessary weight gain. I work in an office all day, and free feed Millet would be the equivalent of someone hanging a party size bag of Doritos in my cubicle and telling me to have at it. Not only would I eat my weight in Doritos every day, I would probably also make poor nutritiounal choices and eat Doritos almost exclusively, regardless of whether there was also a basket of Apples nearby.

Maybe most humans would make better choices than me! But, parakeets have about the same mono-vision when it comes to Millet that I have when it comes to Doritos. If you want your parakeet to eat a healthy seed, pellet, vegetable and fruit-based diet, having Millet readily available is not the best plan. The parakeet is not thinking about losing the weight for swimsuit season or making sure he avoids fatty liver disease, so you have to think abou tthese things for him.

Beyond being unnecessary for a balanced daily diet, free-feeding Millet also takes it out of your arsenal as one of the most powerful motivators for good budgie training. In my house Millet is only used during training or other instances in which we humans desire a specific parakeet result and are willing to “pay” for it with a treat.

As far as Toby and Kelly are aware, the only way to get Millet is from humans, by doing desirable things. So, initially during taming the desirable thing might be to simply sit on someone’s hand or shoulder. This helps the parakeet learn that good things have when you interact with people. Except not really just good things, but the best things and treat can only be guaranteed by becoming part of a flock with those funny-looking birds whose eyes are in the wrong place (ie: humans).

We’re not doing a ton of training lately, the parakeets have been molting so we have backed off until everyone is feeling great again. The only time they currently get Millet is once per day, they each get a little bit broken off the larger spray, and only after going into their cages peaceably at night at bed time. At this point it’s such a routine that Toby goes in eagerly as soon as I shut the curtain near their cage and immediately perches where I can put the Millet through the bars. Kelly is a bit of a daydreamer and usually continues to wander around until I tap on her sleeping perch to remind her of the time.

We used to wait until they got tired and sorted themselves out for bed, but sometimes, like tired little kids, they would loop back around to hyper and uncontrollable, so now I set the bedtime and they are happy to comply if it means an evening treat!

Particularly with flighted birds, a parakeet parent has very little control over budgie actions unless they can be motivated to good behavior. If we didn’t keep their love of Millet in our reserves, I am not sure how we could convince Toby and Kelly to do anything they didn’t want to do! As it stands, we have the ace in our sleeves at all times and training, as well as motivating daily tasks, becomes much easier.

Parakeets and food silos = less mess?

When we first got Toby’s new cage I was dismayed by the included food bowls, which are plastic trough-like rectangles with a divider for food and water. We’ve always used Stainless Steel Bowls, which I think are very easy to keep clean and I like that they can help reduce slimy buildup in the water dish. I ordered a set of Stainless Steel Bowls with right attachments on the same day that I ordered the cage, but I didn’t realize they would take a few weeks in shipment. I guess delays are somewhat of a theme here lately!

I started off putting Toby’s steel bowls from her old cage on the bottom of the new cage, but she refuses to go down to the bottom and feed. Then I filled the troughs with food, but she could not for the life of her figure out how to access the trough.

Fortunately, a while back I bought a Food Silo on a whim and just never installed it. At the time of purchase I was thinking it might be a good back-up feeder if we were gone for a long day or on vacation. Even with someone coming in every day it couldn’t hurt to have a secondary, protected source of food.

I hastily installed the Food Silo in Toby’s cage so she would have somewhere to eat, and she took to it immediately with great gusto. Moreover, Kelly loved it too and would go hang out in Toby’s cage just to eat the same food that she had out of a different vessel! For my part, it was awesome to be able to fill the Food Silo from outside the cage, instead of opening an access door and risking escapees on busy workday mornings.

Seeing how much Kelly liked Toby’s silo I quickly ordered one for her so they could both experience the joy of the in-home Food Silo .

Here’s where things got messy. Once Toby was totally adjusted to the Food Silo she started entertaining herself by using her beak to shovel all the seed out of the silo tray. She was throwing out 3+ tablespoons of food per day. And she can’t forage through the discarded seed because we can’t take the grate out of her new cage without leaving inch wide gaps at the base. Although she won’t go to the bottom anyway so it’s a total wash.

Kelly is much more responsible with her silo, but Toby comes over when the cages are open and does the same thing in Kelly’s cage! So, they may truly end up being vacation or other exception only.

I have seen tons of reviews about how much mess the silo feeder saves parakeet owners, but that is definitely not the case for us. I had not taken into account how much mess I was saving by using relatively deep stainless steel bowls and only feeding two tablespoons per bowl per day. With that low volume of food it’s not enough for them to kick food out of their bowls, even if they want to sit in the bowl with their food. I’m glad that Toby finally adjusted to her troughs so I can get rid of her silo, although I suppose the experience was quite a lot of fun for her, food silos are too much mess for my household!

The face of a mess-maker!