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!

 

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.

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.

Back to mixing up parakeet food – and a $10 Amazon gift card giveaway!

A while back I said that having found Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food I was all done mixing up my own blends of various seeds and pellets.  It turns out I was a bit hasty when I made that grand statement and feeding parakeets is a moving target. The first couple of bags we got of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food were perfect, and then over time they started being more heavily full of sesame seeds, which Toby and Kelly will not touch with a 10 foot pole.  Initially I thought that they would get over it and learn to eat them, but instead they started fighting way more viciously over their food bowls.

I thought that perhaps they were feeling more defensive about the food because there was less of it they found tolerable, so I quickly ordered a bag of Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and was glad of the reasonable price and my Amazon prime two day shipping.  If you are shopping on Amazon then I definitely recommend you Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial, it’s magical being able to think I desperately need a new toy, perch, or food and have it show up just a couple of days later.  (The link to the free trial there, like every other Amazon link on homekeethome is an affiliate link).

My Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet arrived and I offered some of it to the parakeets, they fell onto it immediately as though I had been starving them!  Apparently my sense of what was going on with the Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food was dead on, as I immediately started mixing the two seeds blends and saw a massive reduction in food-related violence.

At about the same time, I put some Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles in the food cup on the parakeets’ play tree, not really thinking they would be into it, but Kelly went nuts for them!  She would go out to the tree and camp out on the food dish, proceeding to chow down for a solid 10 minutes without pause.

Since she liked it so much I thought I might as well start putting pellets back into their daily seed mix.  And here I am, back to mixing together three different things to get them a good base diet, and of course offering vegetables and fruits regularly as well.

On to the giveaway, which is sponsored by me out of the love I have for Amazon Prime and how much it helps me get what I need quickly without driving all over the place looking for preferred brands of food, toys and other supplies. I will contact the winner after the end of the sweepstakes, midnight, Monday 6/26 and will request the name and email address, prize will be a code emailed by Amazon.com directly.  Open to the US only this time, 18 and over.

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