Using a food trough as a parakeet toy box

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

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

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

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

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

A letter to Toby on her second Gotcha Day

Dear Toby,

Oh how things have changed since you came along! I’ve loved birds since I was a little girl, but I never thought I’d be able to have one of my own. I was at a bit of a low point when we got you, struggling with some personal issues and I can’t say how much I needed a lift.

As unbearably cheesy as it sounds, I was lifted on your wings. Taming you gave me a whole new purpose and a reason to look forward to coming home at the end of a work day. Moreover, thinking about you made me happy any time of day. You were a unifying force of positivity for my husband and me as we worked together to make sure that you were happy, safe and comfortable. We discovered that we both loved planning your environment for maximum enrichment and spending time training you and cajoling you into being part of our flock.

I remember how scared you were when you first came home, and the utter joy I felt when you started to open up and relax. Discovering your sense of humor and your sass came shortly after, but also the realization that you felt very connected to us, and wouldn’t go anywhere that your flock didn’t want to go.

Now that you’re a very grown up girl you certainly have your own sense of self and what you’ll allow, but you’re also a good listener and so eager to learn. I love that you are calming down some and starting to perch on a finger for longer times, rather than landing and flitting off to your other important business.

I’d like to say that you’re a great big sister to Kelly, but since you tried to chew off her foot and pull out her feathers I really can’t go that far! I think she’s been good for you, and taught you loads of birdy stuff that you didn’t manage to learn at PetSmart, so I hope you keep trying to love her a bit more.

Above all I want to say thank you for bringing me light and joy. I have truly enjoyed these two years together and I look forward to many more! Thank you also for forgiving your “papa” and I for all our many mistakes, I’m sure we’ll come up with more every year 🙂

Molting Toby takes a good bath – finally!

My flock and I live in upstate New York and we have been having the weirdest weather lately. Right at the end of August it got chilly and we had to turn our heat on for a week. As soon as the temperature dropped Toby and Kelly started on a pretty serious fall molt. Of course, by the time they were out of that molt it was mid-September and the temperature, insanely, was about 90 degrees! So, what else is a girl to do but start molting all over again.

Needless to say it’s been a solid couple of months now of feather-covered floors, sneezing humans, and itchy, cranky budgie ladies. I offer them a variety of baths on the regular, especially when they are molting, usually about twice a week. At least 50 percent of the time they completely ignore the bath, and even if they do give it notice sometimes it’s just to run through the water.  Kelly will still only take a good soak if I stand right next to her and give her constant encouragement!

Regardless of their level of interest I just keep plugging away, offering the baths and then dumping them out. Every weekend we buy a bunch of carrots with the tops still on, or some other type of green that’s good for hanging and make a hanging bath. Well, it’s a good thing we like to eat carrots because lately even that has been a total waste!

Finally Toby must have reached the depths of her molting despair and decided that a bath would be just the thing. We constructed the hanging bath and she immediately jumped on it and got the most thorough soaking she has had in months. I tried to get some good pictures but it’s tough when she’s in constant motion and puffed up like a weird broken birdy.

So, what’s the point of the post then? I guess it’s just that you have to keep trying. Even when something stops working, like the hanging bath that used to be so reliable for us. Don’t give up, keep offering them the healthy food options and the things they need, and eventually they will take you up on it. I know sometimes it might seem like a waste of your time and resources to have what you give them rejected over and over, but it matters that you do it, so don’t lose heart!

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.

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.