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.

What to expect when you bring home your new parakeet

Selecting and bringing home your first parakeet is a very exciting time for your household. Whether you’ve meticulously planned and curated an awesome cage for him, or you’re winging it and buying everything at once, chances are this isn’t a spur of the moment decision. You’ve probably thought a lot about what it will be like to introduce a parakeet to your home. Once you’ve actually installed the parakeet in his cage, you may be struck by the fact that he seems like a completely different bird than he was in the store, and some of the new behavior can be quite alarming. Here’s what you can expect for the first few days of adjustment.

  • The new parakeet doesn’t move. Literally for hours or even a day or two you may not see your parakeet move at all. Toby stayed stock still for 8 hours when we first brought her home and Kelly did the same. The parakeet is okay, he is just checking out his new environment and he is scared. Being a prey animal, one of his responses to fear is to stay totally still so predators don’t detect his presence. Of course there aren’t any predators in your home, but he doesn’t know that yet! You can play soothing music to help him feel comfortable, and I recommend staying out of his way until he relaxes. You want him to observe your household and make the determination that it’s not so scary after all, and it’s harder for him to do that if you get close or put your hands in the cage and frighten him further. This applies even to parakeets that you would expect to be totally chill about the move, such as hand-fed babies that you may have even met before on several occasions. It is still a HUGE and scary change making a move.
  • The new parakeet doesn’t eat or drink. You may think that the budgie is not eating or drinking anything, even up to 3 or 4 days post introduction into your home. This is likely not the case, he will eat and drink when you are not around and he feels safer. Eating and drinking puts him in a position that’s very vulnerable to attack from predators, and since he’s not totally convinced you aren’t a threat, he will eat and drink when you’re gone. Check to see if there are seed hulls in the food bowl, that’s an indication he is eating while you’re not around. If you are truly concerned put in a spray of millet for a while to see if he will go for that. It may take longer for you to see your parakeet drinking versus eating. It was two solid weeks before I saw Toby drink, but of course she must have been doing it in secret all along. You can also monitor his poops to make sure they are made up of both urates and feces (white and green or brown), although some poop variation is normal due to all the changes and stress.

This is not the time to introduce vegetables, fruits or other new foods. the best bet is to provide whatever food your parakeet has been accustomed to eating; you’ll have tons of time down the road to change his diet.

  • The new parakeet doesn’t make a sound. As you might guess, this is also to avoid drawing attention to himself from predators. Play music or have the tv on at a reasonable volume and the background noise should help your parakeet feel more comfortable. He’s probably used to lots of noise being in with other parakeets so total quiet without other birds can be very jarring and scary. It may take days before he relaxes enough to start singing, yelling, screeching and making all the other delightful budgie noises!

Hopefully that helps explain why the boisterous little clown you picked out at the pet store turned into a quiet parakeet statue the moment you brought him home. It can be a terrible feeling seeing him so scared and out of sorts, but give it a few days and he’ll come around. Once your new parakeet has begun moving around and acting more like himself it’s time to begin the taming process, but before that happens I strongly recommend giving him time to settle in an figure out the he’s safe in your home.

new parakeet doesn't move

Diarrhea in budgies: some causes of wet poop

Parakeet poop is one of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your pet’s health and diarrhea in budgies can often be cause for alarm. A healthy parakeet poop is not very wet and has well-defined feces and urates. The feces portion is typically green or brown while the urates should be white. Anything that veers from this norm is concerning, but the wet, loose poops or diarrhea are frequently transient in nature and in many cases, can be explained by the following causes.

  • Fear based wet poops. This is typically seen in parakeets that are new to your home and feeling very anxious. When they are afraid they can have very loose poop that sometimes has no urates at all and is just a small amount of feces and urine.  We still see this with Kelly, she has a very nervous temperament and if we startle her coming into the house or wake her abruptly from a nap she will immediately display “fear poops”.  These should resolve either when the parakeet has gotten over being startled or whenever they feel comfortable. With a newly brought home parakeet this can last some time, make sure they are eating and drinking and don’t have other outward signs of illness such as fluffing up, tail bobbing etc.
  • Post-bath poops that are completely liquid.  When a budgie takes a bath they frequently ingest a lot more water than would be typical for them. This can result in waste that is completely water. This should be relatively short-lived. Side note – it always reminds me of the Baby Alive Doll that I used to have where you would feed her the bottle of water and the liquid would just run straight through her!
  • Eating fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a very high water content compared to seeds. Eating a big helping of wet lettuce or watermelon would naturally cause loose poop or diarrhea for the time that it is being processed.
  • Molting. Not every budgie has loose poop when they are molting, but it is a relatively common side effect. In our house it’s intermittent for a few days while they are at the most wretched heights of pin feathers. As long as they are eating and drinking I try not to overwhelm myself with worry!
  • Competitive drinking. I can’t say that this is common among all budgies, but mine have an intense flock mentality. If one of them eats the other one has to as well, even when they are in separate cages. So, sometimes one of them goes to have a drink, and then the other one does, and they end up in this feedback loop where they just keep drinking because the other one is drinking.  This can be a very specific cause of short-term diarrhea.

The theme with all of these causes is probably readily apparent. You should be able to define the root cause relatively easily based on what your budgie has just been doing or eating. The diarrhea itself ought to be short lived, except in the case of fear, which can take a bit longer to resolve in a newly acquired budgie or molting, as that can be intermittent over a period of time. Trust your gut and keep an eye out for any other symptoms. There are many instances in which diarrhea warrants a call to your vet. Once you know your budgie it will be easy to tell what’s “normal” for them and what’s cause for immediate concern.

Please note – I am neither a vet nor a medical expert about parakeets. If you are concerned about your pet’s well-being please call your vet and make an appointment. This post should not substitute medical care for your pet and I am not making any specific recommendations of care. 

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.

Keeping ants out of parakeet cages

I’m betting that one of the last things a parakeet parent wants to see is a line of ants trooping into their bird’s cage and stealing food! Ants are a common household pest and can be very difficult to eradicate. While I have never had ants go directly for my parakeets’ cages, I have fought many a war against them and I always come out the victor! Here’s my recommendations for getting rid of ants in a way that is safe for your parakeets.

First, as soon as the weather starts to warm up get a jug of TERRO Perimeter Ant Bait and follow the directions to surround the perimeter of your home. Of course if you don’t live in a single family detached home you may have to skip this step. I feel like it creates a first wave defense to deter the ants, although it will need to be reapplied periodically throughout the warm months, especially if you get a lot of rain.

While you’re going around your house with the Terro, look for cracks and crevices that ants could crawl in and possibly access your home. These can be sealed with Caulk or Great Stuff.

You can also take a peek at your trees for early carpenter ant activity. If the carpenter ant colonies outgrow their home trees they may come looking to take up residence inside your walls (eww), so if you see any your can lay out Terro traps at the base of the trees. I use both the Terro Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits as well as the TERRO Outdoor Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stakes . It won’t take out a whole colony but it does keep their numbers in check. We have also had several trees close to our house removed because the ants were out of control. I’ve used these traps mostly for carpenter ants, but they will work on any variety.

Once you’ve laid all your outdoor traps and can focus on interior protection I recommend going around all your windows on the inside and caulking gaps here too. If you use caulk on the interior of your home make sure your parakeets are in a separate and well-ventilated area or outside of the house entirely. Caulk can have dangerous and deadly fumes. You can also keep stricter rules about cleaning and food storage during summer months. I’m never truly lax at any time of year, but during summer I make sure food is always put away and that food garbage from snacks etc. is always cleaned up promptly. A cup with juice residue left out by a human being could be a juice bar for a conga line of ants in short order!

This also applies to parakeet feedings of fruits and vegetables. My parakeets do a fair amount of food flinging. It is a key part of the daily routine to check walls and floors for food scraps or smears. It’s also important to keep the floor clean with daily vacuuming or sweeping for dry spills and wiping down for wet.

Even with all these precautions it is quite likely that ants are going to pass through your house at some point, and it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong or are “dirty”.

Once you’ve got ants you will want to try and follow them to find out where they are coming in and out of your house and see if you’ve got an obvious breach. It’s tempting to seal that up right away if you find it, but don’t! First, whether you find the access point or not, get some TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and lay them in the ants’ path. Things are going to get gross after that, as the word gets out to the colony that there’s this awesome sugar well free for the taking. It’s tempting to want to kill all the ants you see at the trap but don’t. It is imperative that you leave the trap and the ants alone while they are actively feeding and taking poison back to the colony.

After a few days the activity will drop off and once you are no longer seeing ants at the trap you can go ahead and seal up any access point you had found. Otherwise just remove the traps at that point; you don’t want to draw in a totally different group of ants if they are just wandering around.

The TERRO Liquid Ant Baits have no discernable odor and are safe for use in the home but your parakeets should not be in contact with them. So, no putting any variety of Terro trap in their cages and if they are floor wanderers be VERY careful about that too. You could try taking them to another room for a few days when they are out or block off the traps to budgie access by hiding them under a heavy book.

If you prefer not to use a poison at all you can get Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) instead. DE is a natural powdery substance made up of phytoplankton. It is completely non-toxic and even edible for mammals, but when an insect with an exoskeleton comes into contact with the DE it’s lights out! The DE pierces the exoskeleton and the insect dries up and dies.

One summer I was at my with end with a colony of carpenter ants trying to move into my house, it turned out they were coming in under my baseboard heat radiators. I didn’t feel comfortable having the traps near the radiators, even thought they weren’t on at the time, so I bought a bag of DE and a powder dispenser to lay it down under the radiator. Then once the ants were dead I was able to easily vacuum up the DE powder and the ant carcasses.

You can lay down a ring of DE around the base of your parakeet cage if you have ants that are climbing up to steal your parakeet’s food. This would be much safer than having poison close to their cages and even if they land in the powder it should not cause them any harm. I have even heard of budgie owners treating their parakeet for mites or lice with DE and applying it directly to the bird. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and I am not providing treatment recommendations for your budgie. Please seek the advice of a professional vet if you have any questions about medical treatment for your parakeet. Home Keet Home accepts no liability for anything with which you treat your parakeet).

There are loads of other natural remedies that insist ants won’t cross a line of cinnamon, or mint, or you can drown them in dish soap. I’ve tried them all over the years and for my part prefer the efficiency of the TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and/or DE. I hate to say that I have murder in my heart, but when it comes to ants I am guilty as charged, particularly if it means ants bothering my parakeets!

 

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – mission success!

After our first total fail at parakeet nail clipping I sought help from my favorite Facebook Parakeet Group. It’s not usually my first instinct to crowd source ideas on social media but I was feeling so stumped and dejected by the abject failure that I really needed some other humans to help before I tried clipping a parakeet’s nails again.

I got tons of advise that ranged from taking the parakeets to a vet so we wouldn’t break their trust with us, to don’t take them to a vet for a nail clipping because they will probably have a heart attack and die!  So, we could safely assume that the answers lay somewhere in between those two extremes.

One thing that most folks agreed on is that trying to use the previously purchased Small Animal Nail Scissors was a terrible idea, and that it would be much easier to use regular small Fingernail Nail Clippers meant for humans. Another tip that I thought we should try was covering their faces while they were toweled to keep them calmer and reduce our risk of being bitten.

I also knew that we needed to separate the parakeets for the nail clipping and take the “patient” to another room where they wouldn’t distract each other. This meant that the other human would need to stay in the “waiting room” with the parakeet on deck to keep them quiet. We were thinking that a ton of flock calling would be just as bad as being in the same room.

We split up and Patrick took Toby to our bedroom and shut the door. I initially heard some flapping and evasion tactics but Patrick managed to secure her and make sure the towel (truly a cloth napkin) covered her face. From the other side of the door I heard the occasional snip of the nail clippers and some irritated squawking. After what felt like an eternity Patrick emerged triumphant! He managed to clip every single one of her nails, even though she was a squirmy worm, her head being covered meant she did eventually grow calmer, and using the human nail clippers was 100 times easier.

Next up was Kelly, she and Patrick came back out so quickly that I felt sure he had given up but again it was a rousing success!  Apparently with her head covered she gave up pretty quickly and stayed quite calm.

I should add that Patrick also feed them some Spray Millet under the towel after every couple of nails to keep the experience somewhat positive.

Both Toby and Kelly were pretty mad immediately after the clipping, but Kelly forgot the whole ordeal after just a couple of minutes (except when she couldn’t dig her claws into our couch to pull herself up anymore!).  Toby, on the other hand, has decided to hold a grudge, but weirdly not against Patrick.  She’s mad at me, which I really can’t figure out since I had nothing to do with it. I have known her to stay mad for several days, but I’m determined to win her back over!

To sum it up, the keys for us were separating the parakeets, toweling them with their heads covered, giving them lots of millet, and using small human nail clippers. Patrick did such a great job that I don’t think we’ll need to worry about it again for a while, but it’s such a relief to know that we can manage to get the job done! It’s also really nice to not have parakeets getting their nails stuck in our shirts all the time 🙂

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.