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!

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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.

I recommend reading 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 involved 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 Pet Feeder. 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 a job well done.

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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 Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet 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 (light in color or transparent glass to they can see the food well and aren’t overwhelmed by something vibrant)
Cutting Board
Garlic Press(I got a separate one for bird stuff since garlic is a “no” for them)
Vegetable Peeler
Vegetable Knife
Box 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.

Embarrassing vignette – the time we almost killed a parakeet on her first day home

This story actually begins more than a year before we almost killed Kelly. Back in the day I was pretty chill about mice in the house. We would get the humane traps(Grandpa Gus’s Mouse Trap Tubes – Live Catch & Release Humane Mice Tunnels – 4 Pk), catch mice and throw them in the back yard. I used to have a weird old open-front shed in my backyard and I put some socks, catalogs and tortilla chips in there, and I would throw the mice in the shed.  One year we chucked about 13 mice out, or possibly the same mouse 13 times…

Anyway, this détente with the mice ended shortly before we got Toby. We were making tea one evening, I opened the dishwasher, and there was a living mouse among the glassware in the top shelf, frozen in terror. That was just too great an infraction to suffer, so, the dishwasher was replaced and the mice were no longer gently captured and tossed out into the yard. I bought a bunch of snap traps (Mouse Traps (Pack of 12) sorry) and deployed them. We got the dishwasher mouse in the dishwasher before replacing the dishwasher and set another couple of snap traps, one on each side of the refrigerator in the narrow alleyway between fridge and cabinet (this is the gun in act 1, by the way).

We snapped a few more mice and the siege seemed to be over, but I left the traps, because of Toby. If you google mice and parakeets you’ll find loads of stories about rodents trying to eat bird food, scaring parakeets at night, and in worst case scenarios, biting & killing budgies or eating their feet (!).  Just thinking about rodents attacking my baby budgie in the middle of the night was enough to keep me laying down snap traps indefinitely.

Not only had Toby never had her wings clipped, but she also came with a crazy aversion to going near the floor.  You can lure her down there with some Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count or toys, but mostly she’s like a kid playing the floor is lava game. So – I’m probably projecting the ending of this story at this point, but the thing is, we forgot about the traps, no one ever went near them and if we noticed them, it was with relief that Toby was protected.

Fast forward 8 months, Kelly came home, having recently had her wings clipped for the first time.  She spent the afternoon chilling out in her cage and the next day I was out of town. I felt horrible missing her first whole day, but my mom and I had a day trip to the city planned that we had been looking forward to for months, and we had purchased non-refundable transportation tickets etc. Also, I tend to be the nervous nell between Patrick and I, so I think we both felt like it might be better if I wasn’t there fretting about everyone’s well-being.

That night when I got home, Patrick told me the following story, he let Kelly out of her cage to spend some time with her, and Kelly, not realizing she couldn’t fly (she never did accept that) launched herself into the air, hit the broadside of the refrigerator and slid down to the floor!  Patrick dashed over and shoved the snap trap away JUST as Kelly was about to investigate the peanut butter lure, ie: get her noggin snapped.

I can’t even imagine the crushing guilt we would have felt if we killed our new budgie on her first day home. As it was we both felt absolutely horrible, and I think Patrick probably lost a few years of his life in that instant. I have to give him a lot of credit for remembering immediately the danger lurking in that narrow space.

So – my stomach still turns a bit when I think about mice eating our parakeet’s feet, but we went back to a humane trap. Kelly never made that exact flight pattern again – she only needed to hit the fridge one time before learning that it was not, in fact, a portal to another dimension – but she certainly hit practically every surface in the house over the next several months.  She would fly off somewhere and wander around until I found her and brought her home.

I guess the lesson here, beyond the obvious don’t have snap traps or other kill traps for small animals around your budgies, is that every parakeet is different. Ultimately we felt like parents who have their first baby and it’s an angel who never gets into anything, and then the second kid comes along and is a total whirlwind demon baby.

Still, I’m really glad we didn’t murder Kelly on her first day home, and I hope that the next time you endanger or scare your babies, which happens to all of us, you think of me and my mouse traps and feel a little bit better knowing we’re all out there making mistakes.

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