Using AviCalm for an aggressive budgie

I should have known from the moment we laid eyes on Kelly that she was not going to be a warm and gentle soul. She was the first to hatch out of her clutch and, when we first met her, stood looking at her younger siblings with a sort of detached haughtiness that was certainly a sign of things to come. But, Patrick was drawn to her immediately so I bit my tongue and we chose her for our flock.

As a juvenile budgie, Kelly kept her rage under wraps, she had been clipped and seemed to understand that she needed her human flock for mobility assistance. We had fun building her ramps and bridges, but Kelly was more interested in taking off and seeing how far she could go before thumping to the floor.

Once she molted her way into flight and adulthood all bets were off. Even before she was fully mature she started chomping at us any chance she could get. Not really limiting her biting to territory issues, Kelly liked to preen you gently for a few moments and then start biting! Flying in the face of some common budgie wisdom, Kelly seemed to bite either for her own amusement or just inherent anger. We’ve tried all the many many tips for a biting budgie, which is pretty well documented on the blog already, and only succeeded in making her angrier.

So, it’s not a huge issue to keep our anger-inducing human selves away from Kelly and let her live her best budgie life. But where I feel bad for her is that she can’t seem to make it work socially with other budgies. I thought she and Toby had issues because they are two adult females, so we brought in Kevin and Kelly’s pretty much equally aggressive to him. He doesn’t escalate the way Toby does, thankfully, but still, no solace in the friendship of budgies.

Kelly can’t live with them because she’s got a nasty tendency to bite feet to the point of physical injury, but she doesn’t understand why she’s relegated tjo her own cage (mansion) at the end of the day. The result of that frustration was the recent mania for biting the cage bars, which we mostly managed to stop by providing an insane amount of things to chew and destroy.

TL:DR Kelly didn’t seem to be very happy, and I felt terrible for her.

Enter AviCalm. I was doing research one day about how to help an angry parrot and stumbled across this product. AviCalm is a supplement that is put in the budgie’s food or water and when ingested, helps with calming them down. AviCalm can be used on screamers, feather pickers, chewers and aggressive birds in general.

There are dosing suggestions by size on the packaging; we have been using half of the recommended dose for Kelly for about a month now. While she’s certainly not turned into a snuggle buddy, I have to say that AviCalm has helped immensely with her aggression.

Patrick and I are starting to be less afraid when she lands on us, I’ve even tried stepping her up a few times and while I’ve gotten bit for it, she hasn’t broken skin in weeks. Biting is still a likely eventuality, but it’s not with the same ferocity she used to dole out on a daily basis.

She even landed on my head and preened my hair yesterday without biting at all; I literally almost cried.

Beyond helping with her aggression towards us, I think that Kelly is feeling a lot better and calmer. She’s been way less fixated on Toby and has been able to relax by herself and play. Kevin loves singing and Kelly has been joining in, which is incredible.

The biggest change has been our bed time routine. We used to have to chase down Kelly and battle to get her in her cage every night. She would obsess over Toby and fight with her through the cage bars until we sometimes resorted to gently nabbing her in a pillow case.

Not anymore! Now I ring the bell for bed time and she is FIRST in her cage and goes right to the perch where she gets her reward. Even if Toby and Kevin are monkeying around, Kelly knows what the objective is, completes it immediately and even seems happy to do it! It’s amazing to not feel like we are torturing her every evening.

Reviews of AviCalm seem pretty mixed; based on my experience I heartily recommend giving it a try if you’re dealing with a difficult budgie. At the half dose we still see all of Kelly’s personality, she’s feisty, likes to explore and wants to assert her dominance, but we take the edge off of the incessant biting and obsessive behavior. Obviously I’m not a parrot psychiatrist, but I do think that Kelly is happier on the supplement.

That reminds me! Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian nor am I providing medical advice for your budgies. I am merely providing a review of my own experience with a product. YMMV. This post was not sponsored by AviCalm, but as usual the links are affiliate links.

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Hide your hands – Kelly is a biting parakeet

I realized recently that I never provided an update on Kelly’s hand-aggressive behavior.  In my last post on the subject, Hide your hands – Kelly is a teenager I ended on a somewhat hopeful or positive note, assuming there was a solution to this issue. I can now report I have not found the method to solve a biting parakeet.

Many people will tell you that A. budgies only bite when they are scared, and B. the bite of a budgie does not hurt. I am here to tell you that these statements are not absolutes. Kelly is not scared of us, and Kelly bites hard enough to cause pain, bruising and broken skin. She bites completely unprovoked, choosing to land on your hand and then biting incredibly hard.

I have tried the following conventional attempts to discourage biting with zero impact:

  • Gently wiggle your hand so the parakeet cannot keep its balance and learns to stop biting.  HAHA. Kelly seemed to either enjoy the wagging hand, or it made her angry thus increasing the frequency and pressure of the bites.
  • Blow in the budgies face lightly (which they dislike) until they learn that biting causes you to blow in their faces. Again, Kelly either ignores this or it makes her madder and she bites harder.
  • Say “no” or “ouch”, budgies are intelligent creatures and will learn that the behavior is undesirable. No impact.
  • Ignore the behavior until they learn that there is no consequence to biting and since it generates no reaction they stop. This is simply impossible as her biting hurts too much and you end up looking like you got a bunch of needle sticks in your hand from bruising! 
  • We also tried going the positive reinforcement route. This involved verbal praise for not biting as well as providing a treat. There was little to no impact as Kelly is not motivated by treats and does not care if we praise her.

I should add that the aggression is not limited to hands, she will land on your shoulder and bite your neck. She loves climbing in and out of shirt collars but we can’t let her do it anymore because she bites your chest and neck too much to bear it. This isn’t even aggressive initially, but if you try to redirect her she gets angry and bites harder.

I’m sure some of this is impacted by the fact that she’s in breeding condition, but it’s been an issue all along. She also has AMPLE appropriate toys and perches to destroy in her cage, which she enjoys.

Ultimately our solution has ben to take a hands off approach with Kelly. It stinks because I feel like we don’t have much of a relationship with her, but interacting  with us does not make her happy. Not that much does, she is just generally a real crab. If she had been our first bird I’m sure I would have quickly concluded that parakeets were difficult and violent pets!

I wanted to write this post for a couple of reasons, firstly so I don’t give the wrong impression that I managed to resolve this issue. But, more importantly, I want you to know that if you’re struggling with an aggressive budgie and people keep telling you that budgies aren’t aggressive you are not alone!  There are other angry parakeets out there biting their human flock for no reason who cannot be stopped.

If I do manage to reduce the aggression I’ll report back, but other wise it’s safe to assume that Kelly’s human flock is walking around with a few bites at all times! I should add that she has never harmed another parakeet. When she is  aggressive towards Kevin she focuses on trying to pull out his feathers. I’m not a fan of that behavior either, but if it was more serious I would think about separating her or even rehoming to an environment she might enjoy more. What that would be I have no idea!

Kelly gets grounded for obsessive behavior

In a recent post about flock favorites I explored Toby’s obsession with her “papa”, who she would like to be with at all times. Things have gotten a little better since then, she’s been much friendlier to me when we’re alone, and even when we’re all together I’m able to get a bit more love. Unfortunately, Kelly increased her obsessive budgie behavior and spent a couple of days “grounded” so we could all take a break. Although, if I’m being honest, it’s just as much Toby’s fault as it is Kelly’s anyway.

Here’s the vicious cycle that we can’t seem to break.

  1. Toby comes out of her cage and goes to sit on Patrick’s shoulders immediately, she is very happy and sings to his ears, grooms his stubble etc.
  2. Kelly emerges from her cage and wants to be with Toby with great intensity.
  3. Kelly flies to Patrick’s shoulders and is seen as an aggressive interloper by Toby, who fends her off repeatedly.
  4. Instead of taking the hint that her presence is unwelcome, Kelly grows increasingly intent on being with Toby.
  5. Toby becomes more and more violent and attacks Kelly, then chases her around the house attacking her until they are both worn out.
  6. No one is happy or having their needs met! Humans included, because witnessing vicious budgie fights is stressful and alarming.

We had a few bad days where some beaks got nicked up and they really could have hurt themselves fighting mid-air and crashing into things. It’s just an untenable situation.

Thinking about it logically, Toby is the problem. She’s the aggressive, territorial, mean girl. But, we can’t ground Toby and let Kelly out in the same space. Kelly is so Toby-obsessed that she will cling to Toby’s cage and let Toby bite her feet. Additionally, and I’m a little ashamed to admit it, Kelly is not a lot of fun to hang out with. She’s not super human-friendly and bites us, she’s only happy if she gets her way precisely. So, if you try to stop her from painfully biting at your freckles she just escalates and bites the sensitive skin near your underarms.

So, Kelly took a break for a couple of days so we could all get some rest. She didn’t take it particularly well and looked very sad trying to break out of her cage and just generally acting miserable. In fact, she was originally going to take a full week break and I’m the one who broke and let her out after a couple of days.  I should add that she has a flight cage all to herself so spending a week in there is not cruel and unusual punishment!

We are getting very close now to adding our boy to the flock and I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that he and Kelly bond and Toby can just be part of her human flock without feeling like Kelly is always trying to be too close or steal her people. Obsessive budgie behavior is no fun for anyone.  Has anyone else out there dealt with this sort of triangulation?  Is there something else I can do?

Flight cage proliferation – buying our second flight cage

I didn’t think this would ever happen, but we’ve side-lined my previously favorite cage, the HQ Victorian Top, in favor of a second flight cage for Kelly. We had purchased the Prevue Flight Cage a few weeks ago for Toby, but always intended to leave Kelly in the old cage. Here’s what changed our minds.

The flat top of the Prevue Flight Cage – we hadn’t realized how much we missed that with the Victorian top cage. It is so convenient to serve treats on top of a cage, or offer a bath up there, and they just love running around on the surface of the cages. Patrick even installed a neat Booda Comfy Perch bridge on top of the cage, which they get enjoyment out of every day. There was a downside though, using the Prevue Flight Cage top so much we found that it wasn’t very sturdy or flat but tended to want to bow inward. I guess that’s what you get at that price point, but it was a little disappointing. I also ended up not loving the white finish, it’s easy to clean, but I think it chips more easily.

Another great thing about a traditional flight cage is the ability to hang things from any point in the ceiling of the cage. With the HQ Victorian Top you couldn’t hang much from the top doors, which left you with very little ceiling space left. And the shape of it in general encouraged short flights, but even though it was large the usable space was really diminished by the decorative shape. The traditional flight cage is also easier to clean than the HQ Victorian due to the lack of rounded edges that create small, hard to get into spaces.

Anyway, we popped in at a local pet store and were checking out their selection of cages.  We saw this A&E flight cage in black and were immediately in love with the size, the color and most importantly, the overall quality. It didn’t have the cheap, bendable feel of the Prevue Flight Cage .

We went back the next week and snapped it up, not even realizing that buying in store meant we would be purchasing an already assembled cage, instead of spending another several hours putting it together ourselves. It did, however, mean that the cage needed to be thoroughly cleaned, because it had been on the sales floor. Some White Vinegar and elbow grease made quick work of the dirt and we were quickly ready to load it up with toys and get Kelly settled in.

I’m nervous about her spending the night in there, she is not very adaptable to change, but for now we just moved everything over from her old cage and put it exactly where it had been. Hopefully that and the fact that it’s in the same spot and the same color that the old one was will help her adjust.

The best part is that when we get our boy bird in November he can move in with whichever lady he gets along with. Or maybe if he eases up the tension they can all live in the new flight cage.  AND, now I don’t have to worry about quarantining the new guy in an inappropriately small cage, he can live in the HQ Victorian Top while he quarantines in my office space.

Here’s a good indicator of just how roomy this new cage is!

10 things that make me happy about my parakeets

I’m in a blogging group on facebook and someone launched a challenge recently to write a post about 10 things that make you happy. Initially I thought that would be a bad fit for Home Keet Home, but upon further reflection I realized there are certainly at least 10 things that make me happy about my parakeets!

It’s a well-timed exercise, we’ve been having a bit of a rough patch with them. Toby has been yelling all day to the birds outside, which wouldn’t be a big deal, but my husband works from home three days a week, and has some phone duties, so screeching parakeets is hardly ideal background noise. And as for Kelly, she was doing better with aggression for about a half a second and then tripled-down on biting and general nasty behavior. So, thinking nice thoughts about the parakeets and making a list of happy parakeet thoughts is exactly what I needed, and here we go:

  1. Being greeted with total enthusiasm when I get home from work, or wake up in the morning, or go to the bathroom and come back. No matter the length of time of my absence, there’s always someone at home so delighted to see me it makes them scream like crazy.
  2. Watching Toby and Kelly eat their fruits and veggies. Getting them to accept that fruits and vegetables were not the enemy was a long-term labor of love. Watching them tuck into a plate of grated cucumber with gusto is a fantastic feeling.
  3. Listening to them contentedly grind their beaks before nodding off to sleep. There is no more peaceful sound to me than the quiet crackle of parakeets grinding their beaks and knowing it means they feel safe and cozy.
  4. Seeing Toby and Kelly fly around the house. It’s just pure delight to see them use their bodies as nature intended. They are so at ease in the air and such deft aerialists. It also doesn’t hurt that they frequently fly around the house trying to find us – which is always a happy thought!
  5. Healthy parakeet poops. I’m sure that seems odd, since a common complaint that new parakeet parents have is finding poops all over the house. But, well-formed, tidy, parakeet poops are an amazing indicator of parakeet health and good poops make me smile!  Even better is a tidy pile of parakeet poops under their sleeping perch, which means they slept soundly and didn’t move around restless during the night.
  6. Toby and Kelly having peaceful moments together. Right now they are taking a nap together in Toby’s cage, and it fills my heart with joy. They have been struggling to get along lately, and these quiet moments where they nap together, or sit and watch the world on their window perch are rare and magical.
  7. Spidery little parakeet feet! Ugh, the tiny little feets just slay me with their cuteness. When I spy them ball their toes together and put up a foot for sleeping it’s the sweetest sight.
  8. Playing touch the tummy. When Toby first came home and was totally wild she would crawl around on the cage bars and we played a game where I would “torture” her by putting my pinky through the bars and gently touching her tummy and her “stinky pits” while she tried to bite me.  The stinky pit area of a parakeet it the fluffy bit at the top of the legs, or at least it is in my household! Anyhow, she would seem quite enraged by my taking advantage and I wasn’t sure whether she was playing the same game as me until one day I was working on my laptop near the cage and noticed she had gone silent. Looking over, I saw her staring dead at me, clinging to the cage bars with her tummy pushed up against them, waiting for me to play our game. Every time I think about that memory I smile, it was the first indication I had that Toby and I would be best buddies someday.
  9. They make me happy because if I’m not happy they’re not happy. Parakeets are crazy attuned to the mood of their flock, so if I come home from a bad mood I don’t just wreck my day (and my husband’s!) but Toby and Kelly’s day too. If I walk through the door angry, even if I’m trying to put on a good face, they will stay in their cages and act very meek and weird. Being mindful of their feelings has trained me to sit in my car for a few minutes if I’m feeling edgy and focus on getting centered and ready to be present with them and happy.
  10. Having my little girl crew climb all over me. Toby loves to sit on my glasses and nibble my eyelids and Kelly will crawl in and out of my shirt all day if I let her. I’m never going to be able to pet them like dogs or cats, but they show their affection and their desire for closeness in the own perfect birdy way, and it makes me feel like I’m being given the best gift to have them want that with me.