Toby and Kelly’s phantom foot injuries

Weeks apart, Toby and Kelly both managed to scare me half to death thinking that their feet were bleeding.  I’m sure unintentionally, they taught me a good lesson about how to respond to a medical emergency, whether real or perceived.

Toby took the first round, I had just put a plate of cucumber mush into their cage, she hopped on the plate, and then jumped back off.  As she bounced around the cage I saw a bright red, wet dot on her toe!  Now, mind you I have no idea how a parakeet could cut their foot on a plate of grated cucumber mush, but if anyone was going to find a way it would be Toby.  That girl trips all over her own feet every day.

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Anyway, I immediately went to level 10 on the panic scale, like most parakeet owners, I’ve heard the statistic that ‘keets can die from losing just 12 drops of blood, and this looked like bit fat drop number 1! I yelled out to my husband that he needed to come immediately because Toby’s foot was bleeding, he leapt off the couch and joined me in the kitchen and reminded me that I should grab my Styptic Powder from our 1st aid kit. I was literally in such a state I don’t know if I would have gotten that far, so much for being calm in a crisis!

I grabbed the powder and ripped open the package, quickly reading the directions as I went.  But, as my initial panic was fading, I noticed that the drop of blood hadn’t changed on Toby’s foot, or fallen off or anything, which seemed pretty suspicious.

Pointing it out to Patrick, we decided that since she wasn’t in immediate danger of exsanguinating we should get her to wash her foot off and see what the heck was going on.  I poured a shallow dish of water and we lured her in to splash around with some millet.

As soon as she hopped in the water the red dot floated away and there was nothing at all wrong with her toe underneath!  Huge sigh of relief, but what the heck was it in the first place??  I poured out some of their food on a white piece of paper and noticed that here and there were tiny pieces of something red which were clearly the culprit!  It makes so much sense now, that she got her foot wet in the cucumber and then, hopping onto the papered floor of their cage, got a small bit of discarded food stuck to her toe!  It just happened to be colored for maximum bird mommy panic.

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possible offenders

 

Sidebar, the reason I’m so susceptible to thinking their feet are damaged is because Toby and Kelly both have a tendency to bite each other’s feet. No one HAS ever actually drawn blood, but if someone’s feet look bloody that’s where my mind goes immediately and it feels so plausible.

Next up, several weeks later, was Kelly.  I had just woken them up for the day and saw a dried-looking patch of red on her foot that I simply could not explain.

I can proudly say I reacted with somewhat less panic, but did call Patrick over and instead of grabbing the styptic we first went for the plate of water and millet trick.  She happily splashed around for a few moments and the red splotch faded, to my great relief.

Then I remembered that I had fed her strawberries for the first time the previous evening and it looked like a total bloodbath!  I didn’t notice any stains on her foot at the time, but I had noticed the tip of her tail and her head had a couple of red marks, so I must have just missed the foot splash.

The lesson learned here, for me, is twofold.  First it reinforces how important it is to have first aid supplies on hand.  But second, and most important, it reminds me that keeping a level head and assessing a situation before reacting with any rash treatment is so important.  I’m relieved that I didn’t treat them with anything they didn’t actually need, even though delaying to assess the (perceived) damage made for some tense moments!

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strawberry bloodbath

PetSmart

Facts about a parakeet’s sense of sight & how you can use them to your advantage

You may know some of the basics about a parakeet’s sight and eyes, but do you know how you can use this information to help bond with your budgies?

  • Parakeets have very sharp vision, superior to humans. As prey animals this would help them watch out for anything that’s ready to attack. Because their eyes are on the sides of their head they can’t really see directly ahead of them, but they do get a much better wide view. At home, you may notice your parakeet looks at you or whatever it’s focused on with just one eye. This is particularly noticeable when they drop something and tilt their heads to watch it fall.
  • Parakeets can also see ultraviolet light, which we cannot. This means that they see lots of stuff we don’t, particularly in regards to color. It helps them decide who to mate with by looking at which parakeet has the best and most vibrant feathers. Since they don’t have a very keen sense of smell or taste they can also detect which fruits and vegetables are rotten and which are good to eat by sight.  This probably explains why your parakeets would have an aversion to certain colors or patterns; they could just be way too intense. Some folks think that parakeets amazing UV sight also allows them to sense what mood their humans are in, almost like seeing an aura. I know that when I come in from work angry my parakeets react to me differently, and I completely believe that they are reading my energy somehow.  Being aware of your energy when you approach your parakeets can really help your interactions with them.
  • Your parakeet’s eyes change in appearance as he matures. Baby and juvenile parakeets have fully black eyes, with no detectable iris ring around the edges. As your parakeet grows up, you’ll see the iris start to come in very faintly at first, and then over time it becomes lighter and more prominent.  A caveat is that some color mutations do not ever develop the visible iris – also color mutations Albino, Creamino and Lutino are born with red eyes.  But, most of the time it’s an excellent way to help judge the age of a parakeet.  Toby is almost two years old and it’s so neat to see how her eyes are developing over time!
  • Once the parakeet’s iris becomes visible it will be easy to see their eyes “pin” or “flash” – this is when the parakeet’s eyes rapidly dilate and contract. We humans don’t have control over our eyes dilating, it happens in response to light.  Parakeets dilate their pupils at will.  Eye pinning is really one of the most helpful ways that you can understand what your parakeet is feeling, they typically do it when they are excited, happy, curious, and/or see something that they like a whole lot. Some do it when they are feeling aggressive and angry, although I have rarely seen it in that context. It may look a bit off-putting or totally unnatural at first, but now that we are accustomed to Toby pinning her eyes it is really so helpful in knowing how she’s feeling and whether she’s excited about, for instance, a piece of fruit or a potential scritch of the neck.
  • Another fantastic way you can use your eyes to communicate to a parakeet is “blinking” them. Early on when we were trolling for baby parakeets at Petsmart, Patrick realized that if he shut his eyes, all of the parakeets would grow calm and start falling asleep. Because they are so instinctually part of a flock, if one parakeet closes its eyes and relaxes they all tend to follow suit. This is useful if your parakeet becomes scared or panicked, you can help them relax by shutting your eyes and relaxing.  Also when you are taming them, when you cast your gaze downward it is less threatening for them. Close your eyes and lower your head and you will seem even less like a predator.  Now I’ve noticed that Toby and Kelly will try to put us to sleep if they don’t want to play with us.  Toby will shut the eye facing me very decisively and then wait a few seconds and open it just a slit to see if my eye is shut.  Mind you the eye on the other side of the head is wide open and ready for action; she is just tired of dealing with “mom”.
  • Also, making eye contact with a parakeet will typically open a line of communication and an engagement. In the early days they may feel safer if you don’t make a lot of eye contact, because they don’t know your intentions. Now, however, if I walk by Toby and Kelly’s cage and don’t look their way they will go about their business, but if Toby and I make eye contact she immediately rushes over to the side of the cage and becomes very excited to tap her beak on my fingernails. So, if I’m hustling out the door and I’m late it’s much better to call out “bye” and breeze out instead of stopping and getting trapped in an endless cycle of adorability.  Conversely, if I want to hang out and they are busy at play I make an effort to engage in eye contact and they will usually come over to where I am to see what’s going on.
  • As amazing as parakeet eyesight is during the day it is terrible at night. This is part of why they are susceptible to night terrors, any small movement that is detected will be alarming because they can’t see what it is and perceive it as a threat. Many parakeet owners cover their parakeets at night to help reduce these night frights.  You can also avoid nighttime issues by providing your parakeets with night lights. Another tip related to poor sight at night time is to never make changes in their cage layout or add new toys/perches right before bed time. Things that sort of freaked them out during the day may seem absolutely terrifying at night, and could cause them to panic.

Hopefully these facts and hacks will help you better understand some of what’s going on with your parakeet’s incredible eyes!  Coming soon, perhaps not surprisingly, a series of posts dedicated to the other senses.

 

Please don’t use nonstick cookware with parakeets in the home

A pretty common question that new parakeet owners have is whether it’s safe to continue using nonstick or Teflon pans. The bottom line is that nonstick cookware and parakeets don’t mix. Nonstick cookware is coated with a synthetic polymer called PTFE, Teflon is PTFE, it’s the trademarked name that DuPont uses for the polymer.

The message that marketers want you to hear that is Teflon and other PTFE coatings are only dangerous at high heats, some studies say that the dangerous fumes are only released at upwards of 500 degrees.  This is not the case, here’s an infographic about common cooking temperatures and what chemicals are released and it seems pretty clear that you can risk bird death at typical cooking temperatures.

Now, even if you don’t have birds and don’t ever intend to have them I would still encourage you to get rid of your nonstick cookware, mostly because I’ve come to believe that anything that will kill a bird suddenly will probably harm me over time (canary in a coal mine, anyone?) and also because human beings have been known to come down with flu like symptoms after Teflon use, it’s actually called “Teflon flu”.

I’ve seen several people on social media encouraging new bird owners to continue using nonstick and saying “just don’t ever burn anything”, and they’ve done the same for 800 years and never had an issue. Well, I have a couple of questions for them, one is that may be fine for you, but why would you encourage a new bird owner if there’s even the slightest risk?   How will you feel when they come back in a week or two lamenting the loss of their bird?  Also, who has ever set out to burn something?  Perhaps in your household no one ever distracts you while you’re cooking, but I don’t see how there’s even the slightest way you can guarantee nothing will ever burn in your kitchen.  It seems like I burn something every time I make dinner and I can assure you I didn’t plan for that to happen!

If you are stuck with your nonstick for the time being while researching or saving up for a new set of cookware then please:

  • Never preheat nonstick cookware at a high heat, especially with nothing in it – always heat at the lowest possible temperature
  • Vent your kitchen by opening a window and blowing the air out and/or use your stove’s exhaust fan
  • Move your birds as far away from the kitchen as possible, in a large home this may not be an issue, but for people like me who live in small houses or apartments, there is literally nowhere that’s far enough away

Really though, PLEASE give up the Teflon, birds with Teflon toxicosis experience scorched lungs and ruptured blood vessels and it sounds like an absolutely horrible and terrifying way to die.

When you are buying your new cookware be sure to avoid Teflon, PTFE, PFOA and nonstick that doesn’t specifically reference being free of those polymers. I think sometimes manufacturers put the word nonstick on products hoping that if consumers don’t see “Teflon” they will think a product is safe, but remember Teflon is just the trademark that DuPont uses for the chemical, it is not the only thing that is dangerous.

Some safe cookware is stainless steel (Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set) or cast iron (Outdoor Gourmet 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set). I can’t use cast iron with my glass stove top, so I made the switch over to stainless. Ceramic is also a good bet, I love my ceramic insert crock pot (Hamilton Beach 33473 Programmable Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, Silver).

My bottom line is that you’ve gotten your pet budgie, you love him, you spent a substantial amount of money on getting him all set up – so why wouldn’t you spend a bit more to safeguard him against a KNOWN and scientifically proven bird killer?

 

Toby gets her way for one night – parakeet molting is tough business

We’ve been going through our spring molt here, Kelly went first and Toby shortly after. Initially, Kelly was taking it pretty well, but she had a weekend where basically all systems shut down and she went into a serious rest mode.

She was very listless and puffy and we were even having a hard time convincing her to eat millet. She’s usually very active, but spent a couple of hours sitting on my shoulder. Even though Patrick kept reminding me that this happens every time, I was thisclose to calling the vet.

To help her out with possible tummy trouble we dosed their drinking water with Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, which is part of our parakeet first aid kit. We also had their Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W on for the entire day so she could soak up the full spectrum lighting and make sure she was able to synthesize her vitamin D. As a side note: even if your birds are near a nice big window you still need to provide full spectrum lighting, as window glass blocks out the rays that your budgies need most.

We also kept things relaxed and quiet around the house and went out for a while to give her time to rest fully in a nice calm environment, and also so she wouldn’t feel obligated to try and come out to be with us and wear herself out.

For Toby, on the other hand, this was the best day of her life; she played on the play gym and dominated every toy and perch, all of the resources were hers!

But the best part was that Kelly, who is usually very standoffish about physical contact, didn’t have the will to resist Toby’s snuggling advances.  When bed time came around, Toby plopped herself right up against Kelly and proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes preening every single inch of her, while Kelly alternately tolerated it or tried to weakly fight off the grooming!

Toby was SO efficient that the next morning when Kelly sat on my shoulder and started preening a shower of black dots came off of her like dandruff.  I’m not ashamed to say that we immediately freaked out, put some on a white sheet of paper and grabbed a magnifying glass, thinking they were bugs!  It turns out that Toby released every single one of Kelly’s pin feathers and what was raining off of Kelly were the keratin sheathes.

Kelly started to rally shortly after but did stay quiet for a couple more days, at least once she was eating and pooping regularly I felt like we were safe to just keep watch over her and monitor at home.  Now of course she’s back to her regularly scheduled program of hand-biting and making Toby keep her distance!

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Kelly says molting is NO FUN!

Encouraging your budgie to work for her food by foraging

I read an article recently called “Are we killing the natural instincts of the budgerigar” which put me on notice that no matter how many stimulating toys I provide, or flight time, or any material object, I have been ignoring a major component of my parakeet’s mental and physical health. That component is foraging for food.

You should read the whole article, but to condense, the experiment they are conducting in an aviary setting changed the budgies over from eating readily available seeds in shallow bowls that are refreshed every day, to serving food in deep bowls and not refreshing constantly, so the budgies would have to dig for their food. It also involves spreading the remaining seed on the aviary floor at the end of the cycle, instead of throwing it out, so that the budgies could sift through it again, simulating the ground foraging their wild cousins do, as well as getting much more use out of the provided seed.

The article inspired me to make some changes, because I am of course one of those people who feeds every day and discards every day, meaning the chances for foraging are extremely limited.

My big change was to take out the grate at the bottom of the cage. It took a couple of days, but the budgies love going down there and hunting through the seed hulls that fall out of their bowls. This also means that when I serve them vegetables they can go down to the cage floor and “forage” around in them. Like the green pepper shown above. They love ripping off all the seeds and then coming back to go through them all over again.  Right now they have a cup of torn romaine lettuce that they are digging through and throwing all over, and then going back to forage around in the lettuce leaves.

I also tried scattering what was left of their seed bowls on the ground of the cage, which would be okay a couple of times a week but really caused a mess explosion, due to the dramatically increased likelihood of hulls being blown out of the cage.

My next steps are to create more foraging opportunities. I always see foraging toys for big parrots, but I think for the little guys it may have to be a little more DIY.  Here’s a great idea for a foraging mat just made out of a doormat, and here’s another post about making a bunch of different foraging toys – some seem to be for bigger parrots, but there are some awesome easy things the the blogger suggests, even something as simple as covering the food bowl with a paper towel that the parrot has to remove before eating.

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Foraging 101

For higher up foraging, we are going to get back into using our Creative Foraging Systems Ball and Kabob, 5-Inch. If we put some shredded veggies in the ball the budgies will spend the bulk of their day pulling them out, whether they eat them or not, so at least mentally there’s the simulation of working for your food.

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The importance of foraging and digging through food also reinforces my decision to switch to a mostly seed diet, with pelleted diets a budgie would have even less opportunities for foraging.  And with Dr. Harvey’s parakeet food (Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag) there are a lot of different items in the blend to be foraged through and pushed aside to find the favorite morsels, and then throughout the day more and more of the less desirable items are consumed.

Overall, I want to be more cognizant of how I could be making it harder and more rewarding for Toby and Kelly to find food, after reading that article I’m certain I can do better at meeting their need to forage.

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Foraging for the wild cucumber

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Prepping vegetables for your budgies – and actually getting them to eat

I have to tell you something that will seem unrelated to parakeets; I hate cooking. I’m really horrendous about kitchen stuff; sometimes an activity as easy as making a cup of tea is too much bother.

Where this impacts my budgies is chop and my utter failure to make it happen. Chop is basically the ideal parrot diet; you grab a ton of fresh veggies, fruits, grains and beans and then blend them up in a food processor. I love my budgies, I think a ton about their well-being and diet, and I cannot get myself either to the grocery store to procure these supplies or into the kitchen to prepare.

Here’s what I have managed to do, and what’s worked to get my budgies eating fruits and vegetables pretty reliably.

Tools needed:
– small plate
OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board
OXO Good Grips Soft-Handled Garlic Press (I got a separate one for bird stuff since garlic is a “no” for them)
OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler
Good Cook 4.5-Inch Vegetable Knife
OXO Good Grips Grater

The plate is probably the most important piece of the puzzle, I realized after several weeks of reliably feeding fruits and veggies on one specific plate they were getting excited any time that plate came out of the cupboard. They so strongly associate that plate with food that they will try anything that shows up on it, even if they have never seen it before!
When I prep a veggie for them the doors of the cage are usually open, they become aware that I’m taking out the plate, and the cutting board etc, and get increasingly excited because they know something good is coming. They fly over to my shoulders and typically start walking down my arms which makes the whole process quite a bit longer, ensuring they are safe from getting cut.

I usually “sell” them what I’m preparing by eating little pieces of it and visibly enjoying them and even talking about what I’m doing. Sometimes I will let them try it off of my hand as a sneak peak.

They do prefer very small pieces or even puréed items, so instead of taking the time to mince things I run them through the garlic press or I grate them.

I also prefer to peel every fruit or veggie that isn’t organic, even though I wash them thoroughly I worry about pesticides. Apples are one of the most pesticide-laden fruits out there, so I try to buy organic at least for apples if not everything they eat.

So far, using the same-plate method they have tried, cucumber, peaches, oranges and grapes, to name a few, they also love any color pepper head, picking off the seeds and eating them is an hours-long project of pure pleasure.

Until I get my kitchen-hating self-motivated enough to make some chop they get a single fruit or vegetable per day offered up in a way that makes them feel it’s a treat. If not on their special plate then in their hanging foraging ball, like alfalfa sprouts or torn up dark greens or broccoli. We also offer hanging greens as a bath and those usually get eaten too!
I thought about writing a post about what fruits and veggies are safe, but other folks have done it all before and very well, so a quick google search of a specific item or a search for a list will suffice.

For a long time I felt discouraged about how to get my budgies to eat anything other than seed, pellets or millet, but by repeatedly offering them fruits and vegetables in a way that they grew accustomed to and a size of food bit that they felt comfortable with we have made some major progress. It is a total joy to watch them dig in to a new food without hesitation, and that makes it worth dragging myself into the dreaded kitchen!

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Hari Rustic Treasures toy line at Drs. Foster & Smith

Whenever we get a new Doctors Foster & Smith catalog in the mail I’m excited to see what’s new and also filled with a small amount of dread, knowing I’m about to part with a pretty good chunk of change!

They always have a ton of great toys for birds of all sizes, and a line that was featured in their recent catalog, Hari Rustic Treasures, has an array of toys that range in price from approximately $4 to $19.

What attracted me to this line was not just that they look like tons of fun for our budgies, but also that they are made of natural and eco-friendly materials, feature lead/zinc free chains and are certified fair trade.  They also have a really unique and, indeed, rustic handmade look to them, while also being brightly colored and eye-catching.

I bought the:
Silk Cascade bird toy
Grass Bundles bird toy
T-Swing

They are all a bit big for budgies, but I like that, since I know they will take some effort before they are fully destroyed!

So, if you’re looking for a new toy for your parrots that you can feel good about buying I definitely recommend checking out Hari Rustic Treasures at Drs. Foster & Smith.