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.

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – an exercise in futility?

In this household we’ve tended to subscribe to the theory that a parakeet with an adequate variety of properly-surfaced perches should not need any human intervention with keeping their nails trimmed. Recently we’ve taken notice that Toby and Kelly have lost interest in their own nail maintenance, and it might be time to face the specter of clipping a parakeet’s nails.

When I was putting together our first aid kit for the parakeets I included a set of Nail Clippers Scissors, they can be used for any small animal , but birds are on the list, and it does seem like it would be easier to clip with that than a traditional human nail clipper.  I also did my due diligence research on how to towel a small bird to keep it still, and to make sure never to cut too high up on the nail because you can hit the blood vessel.  If you do hit the blood vessel you want to have Styptic Powder or at least Corn Starch on hand to help stop the bleeding. Parakeets can bleed out pretty quickly, so getting a handle on any bleeding is important.

So, theoretically it seems possible to trim their nails, if not like a great time. Over the past year I’ve gone through phases of trying to get them comfortable with the appearance of the scissors so they aren’t a scary item, and they are always intrigued by them instead of frightened.  This may sound crazy but we’ve also periodically made a big show of clipping our own nails in front of them and filing our nails. The parakeets always get very excited by this process and are eager to jump onto our hands and inspect what we are doing.

Of course this didn’t translate at all to our cutting their nails, and every time we approach them with the nail scissors they act like we have lost our minds. Seriously, they are not even scared they are deeply offended and completely unwilling.

Patrick was very sneaky one day and managed to trim a single nail of Kelly’s by distracting her while she was perching and putting the scissors up behind her. That’s really the sort of trick you only get to use once before they are wise to it!

This past weekend we decided to give it a real try. I got out a cloth napkin and we managed to gently burrito Kelly in it; we did also try for Toby but that was not happening. Although Toby and Kelly like us and consider us part of their flock, they aren’t particularly tame. We don’t really try to teach them any “tricks” and they are not the kind of parakeets to enjoy a snuggle.

At any rate, we had our little Kelly burrito and the nail scissors, but she was wriggling like a fish, her tiny feet were bicycling like mad and to top it all off since we were acting on the spur of the moment, Toby was trying to jump on Kelly’s head to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was a total disaster. There was no way to safely cut anything in the midst of all that ridiculousness and we let Kelly go in short order. I know this is horrid but we haven’t tried again. Thus far they can still walk properly on flat surfaces and they aren’t getting stuck in any toys or on our clothing. We are keeping a close eye on the situation, but I think we’re going to continue with the wait and see, and hope that they pick up the ball again on their own nail maintenance!

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!

Using a professional pet sitter for parakeets

Regular readers know that over the winter I researched local pet sitting services, interviewed a sitter and hired her for our summer vacation. I had a great feeling about her at the time, but leading up to our trip I got increasingly anxious about leaving Toby and Kelly with someone totally untested. It didn’t help that I kept seeing horror stories of people leaving their parakeets in the care of close family members and coming back from weeklong trips to find them near death or worse.

I worked myself into a pretty good state over the whole thing. Particularly after all the chaos of them staying at my mom’s for a few days and then having to separate Toby and Kelly into two cages after their bad fight that left Kelly with a bloody foot. I updated the pet sitter that they shouldn’t be out at the same time – to me, this stacked the deck even further against her. How would a woman who had limited experience with birds in the first place handle letting them out one at a time and getting them back into their proper cages?

It got to a point that I think I would have canceled the whole trip if I’d had the foresight to purchase travel insurance! No such coverage existed and off we went, but only after I harassed the pet sitter several times in the week leading up to vacation to confirm all the details. I even made an agreement with a colleague that she would get into my house somehow if I couldn’t verify that the sitter was taking care of the parakeets.

The first day of vacation I checked on the parakeets several times using my Misafes security camera, they were fine all day of course but I only made it until about 4pm before breaking down and asking the pet sitter how it went via text. She related that they had both had some time out of the cage, Kelly was very easy to get back in, and Toby was harder but very sweet and sat on her shoulder.

Huge sigh of relief, the details were precisely what I would have expected from my girls and it made me feel relieved that the pet sitter had actually been there and that the parakeets were being taken well care of, not just having food and water changed and being ignored.

I didn’t text the pet sitter every day after that (just a few more haha), but I did spy her a couple of times on the Misafes security camera. I never watched long because that would seem a bit creepy to me, but every time I saw her she was taking care of the parakeets and seemed totally engaged in what was going on with them.

The trust that she was building with me helped me enjoy the rest of our vacation with only minimal concerns about the parakeets physical and mental well-being, but on the flight home everything started creeping back in. I wondered what condition I would find the cages in, whether the parakeet’s perches would be covered in poop, or if our Bird Cage Liners had been removed every couple of days.

We opened the front door and what I saw absolutely astonished me. Not only were the cages scrupulously clean, as though I had been at home the whole time following my cleaning schedule, but she left a detailed checklist showing what maintenance had been done each day, and the coup de grâce was a short note written every single day with any notable information about how they had behaved and/or particularly adorable moments.

Now, given the choice between the two I would still love to have the pet sitting service my mom typically provides, not only does she spend hours of time at my house waiting for the parakeets to tire out but she’s also an extremely economical choice (read: free). For the times I can’t “hire” my mom, hiring the professional pet sitter was the best decision I ever made and I would strongly encourage anyone to do their research and utilize a professional pet sitting service over leaving the care of your parakeets to neighbors, friends, or in some cases, even relatives.

And, not to be totally grim, but if something had gone terribly wrong it’s much more comfortable to be devastated by something a professional did and be able to file a complaint and never utilize their services again, instead of having to see the person who you blame for the death of your birds every year at Thanksgiving.

Budgies and the importance of full spectrum lighting

When the topic of full spectrum lighting comes up it’s common to see some parakeet owners indicate they don’t need to provide a full spectrum light because their parakeets’ cage is “right near a huge window”. Unfortunately, this is not the case, windows block the essential light rays and utilizing a full spectrum light for budgies is, if not essential, a boon to their health.

I think about it this way, we all know the benefits of sunshine for human beings, even though we have a risk of skin cancer, getting some rays is essential for Vitamin D production in humans and avoiding things like seasonal affective disorder. Just sitting next to a window on a sunny February day isn’t going to cut it, we must either go outside and sit in the sun or take supplements to increase our Vitamin D.

It’s very similar for parakeets and other parrots, who are even less likely than humans to go outside on a frigid February day! That’s where avian lamps and bulbs come into play.

So – why is Vitamin D so important to parakeets? It aids in the absorption of nutrients, but beyond what it helps with, the deficiency of it is more alarming. Vitamin D deficiency leads to low calcium levels because the calcium couldn’t be absorbed. Low calcium levels can cause seizures, avian stargazing disease and cancer. These are in addition to breeding issues like soft eggs and egg-binding.

On the positive site, exposure to full spectrum light has been shown to help with cranky budgies and self-harming behaviors like plucking.

Budgies and other parrots get their Vitamin D in a couple of really neat ways, one is by using the oil in their “preen” glands to coat their feathers, the oil produces Vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays so when the birds grooms itself again it ingests the vitamin D on its feathers.

They also absorb vitamin D through their eyes, as we know, the budgies’ sense of sight is far superior to the human’s because they can see UVA and UVB rays. So, having full spectrum lighting means that you help them unlock the full potential of their eyesight, in addition to all the other benefits.

To help keep our budgies healthy we have an avian lamp and Bulb , which are on for 3 hours a day on a timer. This is enough time to get them the rays they need every day. I’m hoping to get them outside for some actual sunshine this summer, but in the absence of being able to do that most days of the year it’s good to know we are providing them with some full spectrum rays 365 days a year. Now, am I going to try and say that your budgies are going to die if they don’t have full spectrum lighting? Absolutely not, I’m sure countless budgies have lived long and healthy lives in the absence of full spectrum lighting. But, if you can provide it, why not give them that extra bump of what they need to make sure they are feeling good and getting that essential vitamin D?

10 tips for getting budgies to take a bath

I’ve already written a post with 5 bathing methods, but I’ve found in the intervening months that there are way more bath types to try, which is great, because your budgie will probably only find one or two of them acceptable. Getting budgies to take a bath can be a challenge, but the reward of your budgie getting clean and loving it is well worth the struggle. Keep in mind that you may have to offer the bath type several times over the course of weeks before your parakeet decides to give it a try.

  1. The hanging bath – hanging wet greens inside the cage can be a very comfortable way for your budgie to bathe. Not only are they in the safety of their own home, but the wet greens tap into the part of their wild brain that sees it as a very natural way to bathe. I have written a post about how to make a hanging bath, there’s a learning curve and you want to make sure the bunch is secure enough to withstand multiple budgies’ weight and quite a lot of abuse.
  2. Misting – get a small misting bottle and gently spray your budgies with water. Make sure to completely empty and dry the bottle in between uses so it doesn’t get mold. Depending on how your budgies react you can either spray lightly above their heads so they barely notice, or you may be able to spray them more directly. Some parakeets grow to really enjoy bathing this way. Not mine, so much, but I know they are out there!
  3. Shower perches or putting the entire cage in the shower. To be fair, I haven’t tried either of these, every time I try taking our parakeets into the bathroom they lose their stuff. We have a big mirror that’s flat to the wall in there and I think it’s just too much for them to deal with
    a. Shower perch– these seem to be mostly intended for larger birds to me, but I have heard of budgie owners showering with their birds. I think the key here is that the birds are not directly under the flow of the water but are adjacent and get a nice warm mist.
    b. Putting the entire cage in the shower – If you have a small enough cage, or a large enough shower, this would be an efficient way to clean both cage and budgies at once. My main cage is way too massive to even consider attempting to put it in the shower. Additionally, I have a hard time imagining my parakeets dealing with all the stimulation gracefully. I also don’t know how the heck you would get it completely dry afterwards, and I think you’d have to remove most toys and perches beforehand. But, I feel like it warrants a mention because every time people talk about baths someone chimes in and says this is their go-to.
  4. Greens on a shallow plate – get some dark leaf lettuce, kale, or any other green, wash thoroughly and lay them out on a shallow plate, pour just a little water over the greens and plate. The first few times we did this I had to lure the parakeets into the water with millet but once they were there they got the picture and bathed. Like the hanging bath, this probably feels very natural to them.
  5. Cup your hands under a running sink – make sure the water pressure isn’t too hard and the water is not very hot. If you cup one hand at first and have your other hand splash around in the water it may be easier to generate interest. My budgies will sometimes go for this, but they usually just drink a lot of water and do no bathing at all! You also don’t have to involve your hands at all, but could put a shallow Tupperware, bowl or whatever they like under the flow of water.
  6. Shallow Tupperware or bowl – Either with greens or without, whatever is preferred. I offer shallow bowls of water a couple of times a week and every so often Kelly will just hop in and take a very good bath with no warning. It probably only happens about once a month but she gets completely soaked and it’s lovely.
  7. The Lixit bath – I don’t know what it is about this bath but I’ve never seen a bad review. (In fact, here’s my review). It’s easy to install and if you mount it on the outside of your cage you get very minimal water mess inside. I think the budgies like bathing high up, and apparently, they also like bathing in see through things.
  8. Cupped hands with greens – this was the first bath Toby ever took and it was entirely accidental. My mom was over and she offered Toby some wet lettuce as a snack cupped in her hands. Toby hopped on and went into full bath mode, puffed out and deranged looking. She was probably thinking “what took you jerks so long, I’ve felt so dirty”! We’d never seen a parakeet taking a bath before and briefly thought she was broken.
  9. Mirror at the bottom of Tupperware – this is a cute variation on the Tupperware and would also work with a reflective bowl. The budgie thinks that she is bathing with a friend and it may help her to get into bathing and/or feel more secure.
  10. Catit Flower Fountain – this fountain has been all the rage lately in a Facebook parakeet group that I’m a part of, so of course I had to try it too! While I can’t say it was an immediate hit, like it has been for others, we definitely had some intrigued parakeets and they liked drinking out of it. I think it will take a few more exposures before I can render judgement but it was super fun to try and if you have friends with cats you could always gift it to them if your budgies don’t like it.

So there we have it, the extended bath ideas list. I’m guessing that 6 months from now I’ll be posting an update with 20 unique bath ideas! Good luck to everyone out there in getting some cleaned up budgies, don’t let their resistance get you down, just like introducing vegetables and fruits it can take a long time for parakeets to get over their initial trepidation and get down to enjoyment.

Planning for the parakeets to take a vacation

Patrick and I realized recently that our entire central air system has to be replaced. Patrick went up in the attic one day to try and clean out the air handler, and when he realized it was full of mold (!!!!) the decision was made for us.  Especially with the parakeets and the increasingly hot summer weather here, we feel like we have to have the AC. The only issue is, the job takes three days, and the budgies most definitely have to decamp for the length of the job. I hadn’t ever thought about how stressful moving parakeets would be, but I’m certainly feeling it now.

Originally I wasn’t even thinking along the lines of having to move them at all, but we are going to have the ductwork and the vents shifted so the whole system will be more efficient, and that means cutting new holes in the ceiling, and not just generating a ton of dust, but also probably contaminating our main floor air with the ceiling air, which is highly suspect!  Even without the air issues, there will be a lot of activity and noise in every area of the house, and keeping them in a state of high alert and fear for three days just seems cruel.

I am crazy lucky that there wasn’t even a question of where they would go. While the sales rep was still talking to us about our various options I was speedily texting my mom to make sure the budgies could have her guest room for a short stay!  She has cats, but they can easily be shut out of that room, and I LOVE that she doesn’t burn candles or use any plug in fragrance or incense etc., which would be a huge deal breaker for budgie visitors.

Of course since she said yes I’ve been panicking about being separated from them, which is crazy because I travel for work and we’ve vacationed before and my mom has taken care of them in our home!

All sorts of crazy thoughts about what if they have a night fright and she doesn’t wake up, or what if the cats break in and knock over their cage?  I could “what if” myself into a padded cell on this one, and I’m sure all the while the parakeets would be totally fine and probably enjoy the change of scenery.

My mom even offered to let me stay over and sleep in the room with them, but since they go to bed at 7pm I think I’ll be fine staying at home!

So, in the coming weeks I will be away 2 nights for work, then the parakeets will be away 3 for the AC, then Patrick and I will go for 5 nights on vacation, and we’re using the pet sitter for the first time. After all that I’ll be ready to camp out near their cage and never leave home again or let them go anywhere!

As much as I wish I could keep them with me the whole time, I am so grateful that they have somewhere to go that’s safe and clean and where they will be cared for diligently and interacted with as much as they are at home, if not more.

Cooking eggs for parakeets

Everyone knows by now how much I hate cooking of any sort. But, I realized that I should at least be cooking the occasional egg for my parakeets. Eggs are a great source of protein and beyond that it’s a good idea to keep parakeets lives’ enriched with new experiences and a varied diet. So – although I rarely step into the kitchen for my own cooking, I decided to make eggs for my parakeets, and found that it’s easy enough even I can manage!

First of all I had to figure out how to cook the eggs. Initially scrambling seemed logical, because I could easily mix the scramble with millet or fruit or really anything they’ve enjoyed before, thus increasing the chance of acceptance. On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out how to make a successful scrambled egg without adding butter to the pan, or some other type of oil that they really shouldn’t have. Of course we don’t use Teflon, so the egg would be sure to stick.

Then I realized it would be much easier to hard boil the eggs and mash them up. I bought a 6 pack of eggs, and then they expired, so I bought another carton of eggs, and let those expire too! I know that food waste is terrible and I have a lot of guilt over those 12 eggs, but it’s an accurate illustration about how much I avoid the kitchen at all costs and how little we use eggs in my home in general!

On the third carton of eggs I decided it was time. Here’s how to make hard boiled eggs
– Fill a pot of water, cover it and put it on your range on high heat. Make sure your birds are safely stowed in another room or in their cage.
– Wait for it to come to a rolling boil
– Once boiling is achieved, put eggs in water and don’t re-cover. I used a pasta spoon so I could gently float them into the water. One broke, I’m not sure if it’s because they were right out of the refrigerator and very cold.
– Set a timer for 10 minutes
– When the timer goes off remove eggs from boiling water and place somewhere to cool. Do not serve your budgies eggs that are still very hot! Be sure to turn off your burner too.
– After the eggs have cooled for quite some time, shell one and mash it. The whites and yolk can both be eaten by parakeets. I mixed some millet in with mine so they would be more likely to try it.

Put the rest of the eggs into the refrigerator where they will be good for one week. After one week they should be discarded.

I did my usual song and dance to sell the parakeets on the new food while shelling and mashing the eggs. Their plates were all dirty already and they had to have their egg in a bowl so that may have hampered their interest. They did both try it, even if it was only by accident while digging through for the millet.

Since the eggs are good for a week, I have devised a plan to get them more interested. On Saturday morning when I take their seed out to change it I will put back in mashed up egg and some veggies with seed or millet mixed in and hopefully they will be so hungry for their breakfast that they’ll feast on eggs and veggies.

I know, I know, you’re saying to yourself “Kristen that is basically the definition of “chop” and you said you’d never make chop because it’s way too difficult”. That’s true, but somehow starting with the egg base and thinking of it as a Saturday treat makes the concept a bit easier to handle. We’ll see if I actually manage to make it happen anyhow.

At the very least I am now comfortable with boiling eggs, and I’m excited to add another dimension to the parakeets’ diet.