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.

Mom guilt – parakeet edition: coping with feelings of failing your feathered kids

I’ve written a lot recently about the chaos in our household. We are typically homebodies who follow a rigid schedule, but the past few months we had to move the budgies to my mom’s house, then separate them into two cages, and then left them to go on vacation for a week. To top it all off, as soon as we got home from vacation I started a new job. It probably goes without saying that my feathered mom guilt is currently off the charts.

I’m totally loving my new gig, but it’s the first big change I have made, career-wise, in ten years.  So, learning a whole new company and role has been a bit of a challenge. Over the past few weeks I think I’ve made it home on time maybe 3 or 4 days, which has resulted in some pretty devastating mom guilt about short-changing the parakeets on both time out of the cage and attention.

My typical schedule involves getting up and out by 6:50am, so in the mornings I don’t get to give the parakeets a lot of my time. I feed and water them, wish them a good day and then bolt out the door!

Afternoons are a different story, since I get to work so early my day is technically done at 3:30pm, which leaves the parakeets a ton of time for outside the cage play and flight.  I get home around 4pm and let them out immediately, and they are out and at their leisure until about 6:30-7pm or whenever we want to start dinner. We’re not always playing together during that time but they get a lot of flying in, and we bond for however long they are interested in me.

Days where I don’t get home until 6pm I feel just awful. I know they have been sitting in their cages all day cooped up and itching to really stretch their wings. It’s pretty easy to start beating myself up that I’m failing them, and they are going to forget who I am and turn feral again. Or that they will hate me specifically and not want anything to do with me.

Some days if I haven’t had a chance to check in on them with our Security Camera I indulge in a horrid fantasy that because I was negligent one of them probably got terribly injured. That’s a fantastic way to spend the drive home stuck in rush hour traffic, by the way, I highly recommend it….

And yet, every day when I get home, regardless of what time it is, they are always happy to see me. I get yelled at as soon as I open the door and Toby is thrilled to come out and sit on my shoulder or tap her beak on my fingernails. No matter the time, Kelly is delighted to sit on my other shoulder and nip at my neck, leaving tiny little red marks that last for hours (hey, it’s how she shows affection, who am I do judge!).

I can’t wait, though, until everything settles down and I’m home at my usual time more frequently.  All I really want to do is spend my days letting these guys crawl all over me and run my life! And I actually have no good ideas for coping with the mom guilt, except doing the best you can with the time you do have.

Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets

The parakeets break up and separate households

In my post about parakeet girl fights I acknowledged that keeping two territorial females together was taking a risk. At that time, the reward of Kelly and Toby having each other for comfort and company in the same cage was worth the risk of injury from their frequent squabbles over toys and space. Well, my hubris caught up with me on this one and they are currently trying out living solo.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of upheaval for the budgies, I was away on business, and working late hours leading up to that, we made some major changes to the arrangement of our house and then they had to move to my mom’s house for a few days and the travel and change of scenery were very stressful for them.  Additionally, Kelly seems to be getting deeper into breeding condition versus moving out of it, we’ve been missing bed times lately and I’m sure that hasn’t helped.

I should also mention that Patrick and I been extremely stressed out lately, and I firmly believe that they know how we are feeling and it influences their behavior. Whether it’s true they can see our energy or not, or whether they can read facial expressions and body language, I know they are hip to what is going on with their humans.

So, overall they have been ramping up the violence while everything is in chaos around them, and I cannot blame them. I’m typically very rigid about my routine, it’s what makes me happy every day, and they are obviously  used to it as well.

The day before they went to my mom’s Kelly shredded one of Toby’s flight feathers, Toby was defending the porch on their cage and pushing Kelly towards the edge, so Kelly grabbed onto Toby’s feathers to try and pull herself back up. I was there and broke up the fight before major damage was done, but Toby’s feather has a bit of a different shape now.

This all leads up to the final straw fight – I got home from work one day and immediately noticed Kelly’s feathers on the floor. She’s not molting so that was a red flag, and the pattern of the feathers was wrong for that anyway, they were clumped together and as soon as I picked them up I realized they had been pulled out of her. I felt a pit in my stomach as I started examining the cage and the budgies for blood or other signs of damage.

Toby was all clear, but Kelly had dried blood on her foot and a cut. Thankfully it wasn’t actively bleeding so I didn’t have to worry about her bleeding to death, but it came as a sad shock that they had really hurt each other.

I let them out of the cage so that I could try to clean Kelly up a bit and make sure she was really okay, they continued going after each other and fighting, even after they had the entire house at their disposal.

With vacation coming up in just 3 days (thanks for that timing, babies) I knew that they needed to be in separate cages, at least while we were away. There was no way I could trust them to be together 24/7 without someone just coming in once a day to feed and water them. Not to mention how bad I would feel for the pet sitter if she came in to a blood bath and had to deal either with emergency medical needs due to injuries or worst case scenario, a body and a murderer.

Fortunately I had Toby’s old cage in the garage, so I pulled that out and spent the next couple of hours washing it down several times and stocking it with toys and perches. I now have justification for my excessive toy and perch hoard, since I had more than enough on hand to rig out an entire cage!

I moved Kelly into the Prevue Park Plaza since she had lived in it most recently during her quarantine last summer, but she did not tolerate the space. It’s not ideal for parakeets since it’s an 18” square but quite tall. She must feel very cramped and panicky in there because she just runs back and forth on the bottom looking for a way out.

Almost immediately I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but leaving her there to see if she would mellow out, Patrick and I went off to Petsmart to see if I could find a better option for her. They didn’t have any cages that I liked well enough to invest the money, unfortunately.

While we were still at Petsmart I checked our MiSafes Security Camera feed and I could see on our security camera app that even though it was night time dark, there was a white shape running rapidly along the floor off the cage, so before we even got home I had decided they were just going to have to sleep together that night and I would try Toby in the Prevue Park Plaza the next day.

Once we got home we let them out for a few minutes to try and get Kelly settled down and then moved her back to the big cage with Toby. There was some squabbling before bed, but nothing out of line, thank goodness.

The next morning I lured Toby into the Prevue Park Plaza and shut her in, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t start freaking out like Kelly!  She lived in this cage the first 7 months we had her, so there was a good chance she would accept it, even if it wasn’t ideal.

While she seemed confused about what was going on she settled in pretty quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Before we go away I still need to make some modifications so they both have enough perches and enough to do, but it is a HUGE relief that I don’t have to worry about them killing each other while we are gone.

As far as a long term plan – once we come back from vacation I want to keep them separated for another week or so until we get back into a routine and everything is finally calmed down and on their schedule. They can still be out for flight time together so that’s a bonus and they will get socialization time then.  Once we feel comfortable we will try having them live together again and see if their time apart hit a reset button, as I’ve read that it can.

If not then they can continue living separately, as much as I don’t want to maintain two cages. Alternately we might consider adding in a male parakeet to try and break up the tension. As much as Toby and Kelly occasionally like each other, Toby more bonded to me at present, and Kelly really hasn’t bonded to anyone. My theory is that if she had a bond with someone it might take her aggression down a notch, but experts can feel free to weigh in and tell me I’m dreaming!

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!