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.

Parakeet weight update – have Toby & Kelly slimmed down?

Our new parakeet, Kevin, seemed shockingly small to us when he first came home. Compared to Toby and Kelly he was as light as a feather. We naturally felt that he was underweight, but since he was having such a hard time with trust we didn’t think we could get him on the Food Scale for a weight in. We weighed Toby and Kelly instead and, to our horror, found that they were overweight! Looking up healthy parakeet weight, you will find a few different ranges, some say 25-36 grams is the healthy range, while others say 30-40 grams. I should mention that all of our parakeets are the smaller Australian parakeet, versus the larger “English” budgie.

Toby and Kelly knocked it out of the park, with Toby weighing in at 43 grams and Kelly at a whopping 55 grams!  Ouch! I immediately renewed my commitment to healthy feeding. Right now they are on a mix of Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine, Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets. The Harrison’s high potency is not a forever thing, Harrison’s recommends switching over to pellets with the high potency and then switching to Harrison’s Adult Lifetime Super Fine which is for long term feeding.

I am still completely on the fence about pellets in general. I’m not sure that they are part of my long term feeding plan. But, I’ll try anything to see what works best for our flock!

In addition to changing up our food mix, I also recommitted to feeding fruits or vegetables every day, and that’s been going well! I think I enjoy watching them play around on a plate of veggies as much as they enjoy doing it. I’m not convinced they are eating all that much of it, but as long as they throw the food around and get some enrichment I’m good.

It’s been about a month since we made the changes, and while they haven’t shed enough grams for a stunning before and after photo I’m happy with the progress. Toby is down to 40 grams, and probably at a healthy weight for her. Kelly dropped to 50 grams, which is percentage-wise a substantial loss.  We will keep working on her, but I do seriously think that she has a bigger frame than Toby and Kevin and should probably weight more.

Kevin decided it would be okay to get on the scale and originally weighed in at 23 grams, which is too low, but I think he was scared to eat well in quarantine. Also I’m pretending that the weight of his missing flight feathers would have gotten him into a non-danger zone of being underweight!

Now that he’s been out of quarantine for a few weeks he is up to 29 grams, which is a nice and respectable, but still quite slim.

I’m hopeful that we can keep Kevin and Toby where they are and maybe help Kelly lose a few more grams. The parakeets are all bunking in together at this point and I think that having in-cage companionship during the day may help encourage all of them to play more. Fingers crossed that it keeps going well, but it’s great to see that a few changes can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy parakeet weight!

A minor emergency for which I was not prepared – heat loss

I came home from work one evening last week and immediately noticed something felt off.  Somehow it seemed quieter than it has this winter and weirdly still. Patrick was working from home that day and I asked him right away if it seemed odd to him. He hadn’t noticed anything, but as I moved into the bedroom to get changed out of my work clothes I knew it felt chillier than usual. Checking the thermostat I saw that although it was set to 69, it was only 68 in the house and the heat was definitely not on to rectify. Not only did fixing the issue become a top priority, but also keeping the parakeets warm knowing the house was going to get colder.

Admitting that I let something slide is a little difficult for me, but here’s the thing, I had considered two possible system failures. One, the power goes out, but in spring summer or fall, in which case I have my Power Failure Lights and I’m ready to get the budgies safely back in their cages to ride it out. Two, there’s a major storm and the power and heat are both out, in which case we decamp to my mom’s house because they have this glorious Generac Generator that runs everything.

I felt pretty unprepared for just the heat going out on its own, which is not really enough of an emergency to deal with the hassle of moving all of the birds, especially with Kevin in quarantine. The most embarrassing part is that even though I tell people all the time that a Heating Pad is an essential part of a parakeet first aid kit, I don’t even own one myself! I know, that’s seriously just horrible and I shouldn’t even admit it. I’m ordering one today, swear.

On the plus side, Kevin already had a K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer in his cage because we were worried about him getting cold. I love this bird warmer, this is the second winter we’ve used it and have had zero issues. It’s just consistently warm. Similarly, Kelly has the K&H Thermo-Perch , which I also do not hesitate to endorse and have found to be very safe and reliable for the second winter running. Toby is terrified to sit on the heated perch, but I’ve caught Kelly there on several occasions. Just make sure to get the textured version, the smooth one makes it very difficult for parakeets to get traction.

I quickly rang up the furnace people and they had a technician deployed right away, which was great, although I don’t love the after hours fees so much! We put Toby and Kelly both in Kelly’s cage, which is cause for a ton of squabbling but in a pinch I figured they could help warm each other up.  Both cages were covered with whatever blankets we had around the house. I don’t cover at night because Toby has night frights and doesn’t tolerate being covered anyway. In general, we find that they sleep perfectly well uncovered, and typically I don’t have to worry about drafts so there’s no concern there. Keeping the heat at a steady 69 has worked very well for us for a few winters now.

Kevin keeping warm while the heat is outThe furnace guy showed up in about an hour and quickly diagnosed the issue as a broken thermostat, which I wouldn’t have even considered as an option! By the time he got the heat going again we had dropped down to 64 and I was so grateful to have it resolved quickly that I decided not to have a heart attack over the unexpected expense so close to Christmas.

No one was any the worse for wear, and as the repair man was leaving my mom called to tell me she was about to bring over her EdenPURE Heater. Obviously I should both always call my mom before a repair man and buy my own space heater.

I got really lucky this time that I knew the furnace wasn’t working right after it happened, and that the repair man was able to come out so quickly. If we were in the middle of a snow or ice storm I couldn’t always expect that quick resolution. Not to mention what would happen if they had to order a part. Without beating myself up too much, I need to take this as a warning to be better prepared.

Breaking news – Toby and Kelly are overweight!

When our new boy Kevin came home I started worrying immediately that he was too skinny. After we starting working on stepping up in particular, I remarked to Patrick that he felt like nothing on my finger compared to Toby or Kelly. I didn’t think that an already freaked out Kevin would appreciate hopping on a Food Scale for a weigh in, so I decided to weigh Toby and Kelly instead for a baseline. I haven’t weighed them in several months and was horrified to find that I have fat parakeets!

Toby is just a little bit into the obese range, but Kelly weighs so much that it’s almost unbelievable. In true parenting-denial style, I found myself moaning, “but she’s big-boned”!  And then had to have a good laugh at myself!

Here’s how I think this happened, even though they are technically only getting two tablespoons of seed mix each per day. One, at the beginning of summer I got a new job and started working late and generally exhausting myself trying to get up to speed. When I would get home from work I would let the parakeets out and basically collapse on the couch, trying to cool my over-heated brain. This meant way fewer days where Toby and Kelly got their afternoon fruit or vegetable supper.

Two, I ran out of Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles and for some reason didn’t buy another bag. So that meant that our bird mix went from 1/4 pellets to half Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Blend Natural Food for Parakeets and half Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet. Neither of these are “bad”, they are both high quality mixes with a lot of good stuff in them. But, I do think that increasing seed intake, eliminating pellet intake and reducing vegetable availability all at the same time was a recipe for fat parakeets.

Three, I introduced those darn food silos. Not only did they increase mess by 100% but they also made eating both extremely fun and a competitive sport. They are no longer being filled but I’m keeping the food silo on hand because I still think it would be a good back-up food source when we are on vacation.

Knowing how it happened is good I think, so that I can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Keeping parakeets at a healthy weight is critical to health and longevity, and I want to keep these guys around for as long as possible!

The first order of business was to break out my OXO Good Grips Grater and starting making fruits and vegetables a regular diet staple again. This is the one thing that I never should have let slip, and I’m committed to doing better by them going forward. Particularly seeing how they dive into a plate of good food, made me feel pretty guilty for leaving it off the menu.

Next on the list is getting pellets back into their daily diet. We’ve always used Roudybush pellets, but I’ve heard some amazing stuff about Harrison’s, and this seems like a good time to switch. We are going to try Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine, and I’m sure I’ll be reporting back with a review, and maybe another Amazon gift card giveaway, in January.

Eliminating food silos, keeping up with regular fruit and vegetables offerings, and putting pellets back into the seed mix should be enough to shed some of those pesky ounces!

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.

Working out with a budgie

Anyone who knows me through this blog can probably guess that I’m pretty budgie-obsessed in all facets of my life. This definitely extends to social media. I’m a frequent visitor to several parakeet groups on Facebook, and as a consequence, almost my entire feed is about budgies and other parrots. So, when I glanced at a post one day asking, “do you prefer working out with a budgie, or solo” I prepared myself to write a really thorough response about how Patrick and I have balanced making physical fitness a priority while also not taking anything away from Toby and Kelly. Of course once I actually read the post I realized it was one of my fitness coach friends asking, “do you prefer to work out with a buddy” but since my brain was already churning about the topic I thought I better write up my response here!

Once budgies take over your life it can be pretty difficult to hit the gym. Unless your budgies have their own room or an aviary, they probably need you to be in the house to have freedom to free fly around and explore. So, hitting the gym for a couple of hours after work would take away time that they could be out getting their exercise. And, let’s be honest, time that you could be spending with them as well.

It’s a much better plan, in my opinion, to spend your gym membership money on a few basics for home exercise, and then the rest on budgie gear!  Seriously though, you can get a great workout at home, your budgies can be flying around getting their exercise, and who knows, sometimes they may even land on you during a cardio routine and get some extra fitness in trying to hold on while you bounce around.  Toby and Kelly used to get a lot of practice clinging when we were in a Leslie Sansone Walking Program phase. I highly recommend Leslie’s videos if you are just starting to workout. They are very low impact and she has a ton of different videos. Also she’s so chatty that even if you’re working out solo you really don’t feel alone. Another good feature of Leslie’s videos is that you don’t need any additional equipment, just a clear space on your floor. She uses music to keep the pace, which the budgies absolutely love singing along to as well.

If you want something a bit more challenging, check out Fitness Blender’s free workout videos. They can also be found on YouTube and not only are there so many you could exercise for years without repeating, they run the gamut from super easy low impact cardio and yoga, to challenging weight training and intense cardio. Fitness Blender is a husband and wife team, which of course appeals to Patrick and me!

Again, not too much extra equipment is needed for these videos. I would recommend investing in a good quality set of weights. We love this Adjustable Dumbbell Set, it goes from 3 pounds to 24 pounds just by changing out the weights.  They are easy to change on the fly and it’s a huge space saver versus a traditional set of free weights.

Lastly, snag a good quality Yoga Mat that isn’t made out of terrible chemical nonsense that will poison you while you are exercising. We’ve actually been using doubled over blankets instead after a run of buying a few really smelly exercise mats. I just ordered the one in the link today, so I’ll have to report back, but the reviews are good and the listing indicates it doesn’t have Phthalates, Phenols, PAHS, Latex, Silicone or Rubber.

Using just a few small gym items and free or inexpensive videos it is totally possible to get or stay fit at home, without wasting loads of time outside the house or money on a gym membership. It’s also much easier to commit to working out most days if you live in your gym space. You can enrich your budgies lives with the extra time out of their cages and the curiosity of you bouncing around like a lunatic while listening to awesome upbeat music!

I’d totally love some recommendations for good exercise videos on YouTube or otherwise, so please hit me up if you’ve got anything great to share! You can leave a comment here or drop me a line through Home Keet Home’s Facebook page.

Getting ready for quarantine – new parakeet coming soon!

I’m sort of freaking out with excitement. After our initial plans to get a boy parakeet in early November didn’t pan out due to our plumbing issues  it was starting to feel a bit remote that we would actually get a boy budgie added to the flock. Happily, things have quieted down and we are going to go pick out our new boy this Saturday! This means it is finally time to get ready for a new parakeet quarantine.

Quarantine is important for a few reasons. One is that if the new budgie comes in carrying diseases we want to avoid spreading them to our existing flock. Some diseases can be transmitted by touching only, and some are airborne. The new budgie also could have mites, and we would definitely want to avoid transmitting those. The new parakeet will be quarantined in a separate room for 30 days, which should be enough time to know if he is sick. During that time we will have to be careful to wash our hands thoroughly before and after interacting with him. Ideally he would be in a totally separate air space, but that’s not totally possible. The room he’s going into will get too cold at night if the door is shut, so we’re going to keep them as separate as possible and take all the precautions we can, even if it’s not perfect.

The 30 day quarantine should also give us time to get to know our new flock member and bond with him one on one. So, more than an inconvenience, it’s really an opportunity. We didn’t quarantine Kelly and regretted it deeply, not just because we took a risk with Toby’s health, but also because it made our bonding with her much more difficult. I still wonder if working with her during a quarantine would have lessened her aggression towards us.

I debated quite a bit on where to get our new fellow, and finally landed on a locally owned pet store, Benson’s.  It’s not as great as getting a rescue budgie, but we really have some specific needs for our new friend and I know that rescues like to adopt out pairs or more of parakeets. I am glad to support a local business instead of a big chain store, and we’ve checked out their aviaries, which are amazing! The parakeets look like they are in great condition, both physically and mentally.

To get set up for our new fellow I barely had to buy anything, due to the expansive nature of my toy and perch hoard.

We also already had an extra cage on hand (technically 3 extra cages, but who’s counting!). Since we upgraded Toby and Kelly to flight cages, it meant we had the Drs. Foster & Smith HQ Victorian Top Cage ready and waiting. It’s a bit bigger than a traditional quarantine cage, but particularly since the new guy will be used to having quite a bit of room I think he’ll be okay.

They clip birds before you bring them home at the local shop, and although I’m not a fan of lifelong clipping, it will make me feel less nervous transporting him. Also, I think that if we play our cards right, his being clipped will help accelerate the taming process. We put a careful eye towards designing his quarantine cage for maximum accessibility in terms of hopping around and climbing the bars from perch to perch.

When we bring him home, I will also make sure to get a supply of whatever he is used to eating to make sure he doesn’t reject a new food when he’s already freaked out about being in a new place.

I think we’ve got everything lined up for as smooth a transition as possible. Now all I have to do is make it through the next 24 hours without bursting with excitement!  Wish me luck, and watch my Facebook Page for a pic of the new fellow tomorrow!