Watch this (cage) space – new parakeet coming in November

I was hoping after some time apart Toby and Kelly would end up back together in a much bigger Flight Cage. That isn’t really panning out. They are much safer living separately and I think we’ve finally accepted that Toby is way too territorial to have a roommate. But, where this leaves Kelly is fairly lonely and missing Toby’s company, even if it meant her feet were going to get bitten off! Enter a new parakeet to hopefully be a new roomie for Kelly and an overall good addition to the flock.

Of course as a person who struggles with delaying gratification I would love to go out and snap up a baby boy yesterday!  Unfortunately, I have to travel quite a bit for work in the next couple of months, so November is looking like the most responsible time to get a new budgie.

We really messed up when we got Kelly by not quarantining her in a separate room from Toby.  Not only did we take a huge risk of exposing Toby to disease, but we also took away from ourselves the opportunity to spend one-on-one time boding with Kelly. As a consequence, although she likes us, she doesn’t feel the same sort of connection that Toby does. At the time it seemed much more important that Toby have company immediately, but now we feel that a proper quarantine would have helped.

When we get the new parakeet in November we are going to quarantine in the room furthest away from Toby and Kelly’s cages. I am not 100% sure whether I’m going to keep him in the Small Vision Bird Cage or the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, the usable space seems about the same to me, assuming the new kid isn’t a ground dweller!  That way we’ll have time to make sure he’s healthy, and also spend lots of time bonding and proving how awesome humans are. Side note: is it really bad that I have two parakeets but four cages?

I’m similarly unsure where we are going to get him from. I know that we want a boy, and I’m not opposed to getting a mature fellow who needs a new home. At this point I’m thinking we will explore our options and pick whoever “speaks” to us most!  We did that with Toby and it worked out really well. I’m also waffling back and forth on whether I want to get him from somewhere that he will come clipped. It didn’t work to our advantage on taming Kelly that she was clipped, but again, primarily because we squandered our chance to bond solo.

Anyhow there are some interesting days and shake-ups ahead so stay tuned!  Also, please keep your fingers crossed that this new parakeet will be able to bunk in with Kelly or Toby after quarantine, because I really don’t want to end up taking care of three separate cages!

What to expect when you bring home your new parakeet

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

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

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

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

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

new parakeet doesn't move

Celebrating a “Gotcha Day”

Before parakeets I had never heard the term Gotcha Day, which means celebrating the day you got a pet instead of the day it was born. This is a cute alternative to celebrating a birthday when you don’t know the date your pet was born. For birds, celebrating their birthday is usually called their Hatch Day instead, or the day they came out of their egg. It’s weird, but even though we got Kelly from a local breeder I don’t know her hatch day.  I just never bothered to ask at the time, and it didn’t occur to me until much later that I should have found out so we could celebrate her hatch day properly!

We are fast approaching Kelly’s first Gotcha Day and I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past year of her life.

When Patrick first picked out Kelly at the RBC she was a couple of weeks older than the rest of her clutch and seemed so calm and composed in comparison to all the little half-feathered babies. We knew we wanted a confident parakeet who didn’t seem afraid of the world the way Toby was, so Kelly looked like a natural fit. We hoped she was a boy but felt that even if she was a girl things would work out.

Taking her home was a way different experience than bringing home Toby, who came home in a carboard box. Kelly was riding in style in her Travel Carrier and was curious about everything she saw outside the car window. We were shocked at how fearless she was and how interested in the world.

Once she was home she was definitely intimidated by her new surroundings and spent her entire first day motionless on a single perch, but after that she quickly adapted and began doing crazy baby acrobatics in her cage and demanding to be let out very frequently.

Which was our first big challenge, not having had a clipped parakeet before we had no idea how much work it would be to keep her safe and help her not be so frustrated when she saw Toby flying every day and couldn’t stay with her.

As Kelly matured we realized we had a biting budgie on our hands (literally!).  And while we were dealing with her aggressive tendencies we also realized that having a much more adventurous budgie meant making more modifications to the house. So far we’ve protected our dining room table successfully and had to swap around all of our artwork after she became obsessed with chewing wood frames.

Coming up I think we’re going to have to change out a ceiling lamp she’s recently taken a shine to, and of course we are still working on the biting. It’s like parents who have the first kid and it’s an angel who stays in one place and is very sweet, and then have a second kid who’s into everything and comes as a total surprise!

But, as I always add, there are so many things to love about Kelly that it really outweighs the negatives. Even if it causes me anxiety, I love her adventurous spirit and that she encourages Toby to try new things. I like how great she is at being a parakeet, she keeps her nails and beak in great shape all on her own and even helps me keep the cage clean by picking poops off the bars. She’s a good eater who’s always willing to try something new, and she’s extremely healthy.  As much as she likes biting us, she also does enjoy being part of the family. She’s always interested in what we’re doing and wants to be with us, probably more than Toby, who is a bit of a home body.

So – a very happy Gotcha Day to Kelly, I’m so glad that she came home with us!

Realistic start-up costs for a budgie

In my first post on this blog I made a bit of a wild claim as to how much I felt start-up budgie costs would be.  Recently I’ve been wondering whether I was close at all and decided to do a bit of research and some basic addition. This post assumes you are purchasing nothing secondhand and you don’t have any existing supplies.

  • First and most important is cage selection, I have heard a lot of good reviews of Vision brand cages and I would always endorse getting the largest cage possible, so I’m picking the Vision Bird Cage Model L01 – Large for my scenario (this cage is approx. $85). I have the HQ Victorian top bird cage with cart stand (approx. $200). So clearly there is a big range here, and of course I’ve chosen higher end cages, which may not be in everyone’s budgie budget.  In this instance I will say you need to anticipate a minimum spend of $70.
  • Next up is food. You’ll want to get some of whatever your budge is accustomed to eating, let’s assume he has been on a seed-based diet because that’s very common, especially for a pet store. An example would be Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb, and that’s about $11 for 4 pounds. You might as well get Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count while you’re at it because you’ll need it for treats and to help you in taming your budgie (if feral).  The millet is approximately $7. Most bird owners these days also offer their parakeets pelleted food, and a very common brand is ZuPreem. I don’t recommend feeding anything with unnatural color and so I’ll start with the ZuPreem Natural with Added Vitamins, Minerals, Amino Acids Small Bird Food, 2.25 lb and get a 2.25 pound bag for $13. Total food spend is $31
  • On to perches – your cage will probably come with one or two, but they will undoubtedly be either round plastic or smooth doweled wood. You can leave them in if you like, but parakeets need a lot more variety in perch size and material. This is for foot exercise and nail maintenance, and also for chewing and mental stimulation. Perches should not exceed ½ inch in diameter, or your budgie will have trouble getting comfortable. You are going to buy the Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture – Iona Natural Wood Y-Rack 2-Piece Set for Birds for $10, the Living World Pedi-Perch, Small for $11.50 and the Living World Nature’s Perch, Small for $15.20. There are a million different kinds of perches, fun chewy perches and mineral perches, with all sorts of shapes and sizes. And these should be rotated fairly regularly so your initial spend should by no means be considered your lifetime spend. Total start up is approximately $36
  • Toys are another extremely important facet of initial cage set up. Every parakeet needs them, and especially those who may need taming. If a parakeet is confined to his cage for the bulk of his time he absolutely needs an outlet for physical activity, mental stimulation, and destructive chewing. Much like with perches the toy options are almost limitless. Let’s assume that you need a minimum of three toys to start with.  First I recommend the BIRD KABOB Bird Toy, Mini Max ($7) which provides hours of chewing fun. Next something like the JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary for about $5; this toy is deceptively simple, being just a series of interlocked rings, my parakeets adore this and like going through the rings acrobatically or just chewing them and ringing the bell repetitively.  Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds coming in at $12.50 which I’ve written a whole separate review about because my budgies are obsessed with it.  Much like the perches, toy options are vast and start-up cost is just the beginning of spending!  Total is $24.50
  • This item is completely optional – there are a lot of different ways to handle the bottom of the cage lining material. Many people use newspaper (black ink pages only) or even paper towel. I like to use Bird Cage Liners – Small Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 40 Pound Paper. Not only does it allow me to easily assess my budgies’ poop condition (and therefore their health) but it also resists absorbing water spills and makes clean up a total snap. I can’t imagine not having them. Cost depends on cage size approx. $35
  • Another semi-optional starter item is the Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz. I can practically guarantee that within a few days of parakeet-ownership you will realize that it is nearly impossible to keep their water from being contaminated by poop, food, and/or bathing. You should still maintain the traditional water bowl, but having the lixit bird waterer means that you do not have to worry about a clean supply of drinking water. You should buy as many of these as you have budgies so they don’t fight over it (in theory!). Minimum cost $12.50
  • Living World Cuttlebone, Large, Twin Pack provides absolutely essential calcium and minerals and is very inexpensive to boot! Cost $3.50
  • And finally – the budgies!! I’m hoping you’re starting with two so that they feel less afraid and have a pal, I know it will be harder to tame them, but I don’t think you’ll regret it.  Depending on where you get your parakeets they are either a small donation to a rescue, or up to $50 each for a handfed baby. I will hit sort of in the middle and say that you spent $40 for your two parakeets.  $40

Done conservatively, that comes to about $250 dollars.  That is far less than my original estimate of $400, but still a pretty substantial chunk of change.

Of course, that does not include everything that you will either find is a necessity down the road (like a 1st aid kit) or replacement toys and perches.  Also, almost every bird owner discovers they need a dedicated vacuum or some type for budgie mess.  You will probably also end up buying an air purifier (we have the Winix WAC9500 Ultimate Pet True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave Technology), both for your budgie’s health and for yours once you realize the amount of dust and other air contaminants that come with birds.

Also not accounted for is an Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W these provide full spectrum UVB and UVA lighting which parrots need to synthesize vitamin D3.  They cannot get these types of light through windows – so even if you think your budgie is technically getting “enough light” because they are near a big window, they are not getting the full spectrum which they need for physical and mental health.  Buying the lamp and bulb at Amazon will run you another $65.

For such a small thing budgies need a lot of gear for optimal physical and mental health. Far from being just an ornamental pet to keep in a cage, budgies are complex and extremely intelligent creatures and they deserve to have their basic needs met, or hopefully exceeded.

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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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Introducing our parakeets – when Toby met Kelly

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home. We picked her up at the Rensselaer Bird Center and bought the below travel carrier while we were there, since the carrier we had previously purchased (A and E Cage Co. Soft Sided Travel Bird Carrier) was regarded as a potential house of horrors by Toby, who would not go anywhere near it.

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lovely, non-terrifying travel carrier

The RBC was kind enough to send us home with about a pound of the food that Kelly had been eating and recommended that we offer her food and water bowls on the floor of her cage, in addition to the bowls higher up, because she was used to ground feeding. I can’t say enough about how amazing the RBC was at answering our questions and giving us tips on easing Kelly’s transition and how to handle introducing the two of them.

Off we went with our new baby. It was a totally different experience, Kelly seemed unfazed by everything, she enjoyed looking out the car windows from the safety of her carrier and was relaxed the whole way home.

Once we arrived home we put Kelly in her starter cage, we always intended that Toby and Kelly would move in together, but worried that Toby might be territorial since she was used to living alone.

Because we had seen so much of Kelly and knew her to be an adaptable and fearless gal we expected she would have an easier transition than Toby, but it was actually very similar. Kelly sat in the same spot for about 8 hours without moving and then made her way down to find her food just before bed time. Based on our experiences I recommend bringing home a new parakeet as early in the day as possible so they have time to do the “sit and stare” and then relax a little bit before going to sleep in a strange place.

Toby – who we thought might be terrified of another parakeet given her fearful nature was immediately entranced by Kelly. She stared at Kelly for hours, no signs of fear or aggression, just fascination. We did notice that for the first few days Toby really packed in the food, as though Kelly was somehow going to steal it from the other cage.

The first day we keep them both inside their individual cages, Toby had gotten her last flight time as an only child earlier that morning and we thought seeing each other was excitement enough for day one.

Our plan was to have them out separately for the next few weeks so they could get to be friends in a more controlled way. It didn’t work out; Toby would get over stimulated and bite Kelly’s feet through the cage bars constantly, no matter who was in or out. Kelly apparently either enjoyed it or didn’t have the sense to stay towards the middle of her cage and so the pattern continued. It was very upsetting for me to watch, but they were both perfectly happy to keep doing it.

In order to save Kelly’s feet from excessive chomping we only waited a couple of days before bringing them out at the same time, with the hope that Kelly could at least defend her feet or hop away a bit better. Of course that raised other concerns about Toby have a clear advantage in being able to fly, whereas Kelly had been clipped pretty thoroughly and could only try to take flight and then sort of crash land with no control over her course.

Toby was quite over-excited the first few times they were out together, she would attack Kelly and then fly away repeatedly. No one sustained any damage, but I did break up a couple of fights, even though I knew they had to sort out who was going to be the top bird, it was too hard to watch.

Over a week or so Toby calmed down and they were able to play on the play gym at the same time, or hang out on the window perch without a constant battle for dominance. The next issue was that Toby got very intent about wanting to be with Kelly all the time, and if she couldn’t spot Kelly in the other cage he would flock call to him loudly and incessantly.

Have a mentioned that Toby is a little intense? She’s earnest and sweet, but tends to be serious and utterly determined and does not let things go.  She was mad at my husband once for months due to a minor infraction.

We had let Toby and Kelly want out in each other’s cages and it went well, and then one day when my husband was home from work he decided to just rip off the Band-Aid and move them in together. It was way earlier than we anticipated, but she was right, it was time. Toby felt much better having a roommate and was able to relax, as much as it’s possible for her to! Kelly had been used to living with her siblings at the bird center so didn’t mind having company, and was glad to move up to the bigger cage.

I know that we are all happier for having added to our family. I’m sure some parakeets are perfectly fine being solo but Toby was absolutely not one of them, I know she’s enjoying life a lot more now, and we are really glad we took the chance!IMG_0854

Finding and bringing home our second parakeet

After about seven months with Toby as a solo parakeet I was pretty certain that we needed to add in a friend for her, but not everyone in my household was convinced. My husband was concerned that two parakeet should be way too much noise and upkeep.

Even though Patrick was staunchly undecided with leanings towards “absolutely not” I went ahead and started looking for hand fed parakeet breeders in our area. I knew that I didn’t want to devote another month (minimum) to taming a parakeet, and a hand fed baby would already be comfortable with humans and being handled.

After looking around on Craigslist and doing some Google searching I hadn’t come up with any solid local breeder leads.

I remembered that while we were at Petsmart picking out Toby we had been approached by another customer and we talked about birds for a while. She indicated that the best resource in our area by far is the Rensselaer Bird Center, which is a few towns over from where we live. So – I told Patrick that we should do some recon, visit the RBC and ask if they knew of any local breeders, and to my surprise he agreed to go.

That weekend we fired up the GPS and off we went, walking in to the RBC for the first time I felt a bit like I had gone to heaven, we immediately saw a senegal and a timneh grey hanging out on top of some cages, and after we tore our eyes away from them we realized there were birds everywhere of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were for sale, some were boarders, and many had come with their owners just to hang out. For someone like me who’s obsessed with parrots but doesn’t get a lot of face time with them it was a really magical experience.

Also, everyone in the store was incredible nice, warm and friendly; we couldn’t even tell the difference between the staff and the customers because they were all so welcoming. We we were greeted by someone who asked if we needed help, I explained I was looking for information on local hand fed parakeet breeders and she said….

“I just hatched a batch of babies, want to see them?”

YES, yes I do, thank you 🙂 we were led into a back room with an incubator full of tiny fluffy parakeet babies, most of who were on a very strict feeding schedule. The woman offered to put all of the babies that were old enough into a small bin so we could sit with them and pick one out. How could we possibly say no to that?

Patrick ended up picking out our parakeet; he was immediately drawn to the oldest baby, who seemed regal and not at all timid or afraid. Kelly very much still has an air that, even though she may occasionally deign to be silly, she is quite above us all.

We were able to come back as often as we liked to get Kelly used to us, which was amazing, and I brought my mom and stepdad over once too so they could meet our new family member. Knowing that we would be able to take her home in 3-4 weeks gave us ample time to get prepared, and we were sure to set the cage up and put it near Toby’s cage to help her get the idea that there might be a next door neighbor on the way.

I sort of expected some blowback from Patrick since he was railroaded into getting the new parakeet (even if it wasn’t my fault!), but once you see a bucket or baby parakeets you just can’t say no.

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home, get her settled in, and then worry about how the introduction to Toby would go – which is coming up in another post.

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Kelly at the RBC