Taming Kevin – two steps forward and one back

From the start, Kevin has been a hard sell as far as human companionship is concerned. Once he was introduced to Toby and Kelly we humans hung back for a bit. It seemed more important that he get along well with the budgies and find his sweet spot in the bird flock, so taming our male budgie was put on the back burner.

Kevin has done so well fitting in with our girl budgies. It took some time for them to stop trying to bite his head, but now he’s got this great vibe going. I’m not sure how he negotiated it, but they both seem to respect him without requiring much violence at all. It’s rare to see him fight with anyone, but he somehow manages to get his way. And he’s so happy most of the time! He sings all day and tries to feeds the girls, even though they are not having it.

He has intense conversations with inanimate objects, sings along to the radio and tv (his favorite show is Intervention), loves taking baths and trying new foods. Now that he’s been through a big molt he has almost all his flight feathers back and he is definitely the fastest flyer of all three. Sometimes he even has to take extra loops to slow down before landing. Kevin is basically the perfect pet parakeet, except he thinks that his human family is not to be trusted!

Patrick tried working with Kevin pretty intensely when he was in quarantine to no avail. I had hoped that once Kevin saw that Toby and Kelly basically treat me like a human play gym he would loosen up a little bit. And he has, but it is taking months.

Kevin will step up when asked, and then tends to look for his first chance to escape. We’ll go on for weeks of me asking him to step up a few times a day and then all of a sudden he’ll land on my shoulder, or randomly decide to beak my nose or glasses. I, of course, get excited thinking we’ve made a break through, and then he goes back to alternately ignoring me or acting like I’m very suspicious!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled he’s happy, and I’m sure I should be even more thrilled to have such a polite and shy young man, as a counter point to my crazy, brash girls. But, I do look forward to building a bond with Kevin and showing him how cool his human flock can be.

I’m grateful that these little guys have a nice long life span; I should have a lot of years to make friends. Lately I’ve been working with him much more and using my old standby Millet. It’s a bit square one as far as taming goes, but hey, whatever works! I hope that continuing to have him associate me with the possibility of treats will eventually unlock a bit more trust.

I am constantly counseling patience when budgie owners express frustration with their standoffish birds. It’s hard to take my own advice, but I’m confident that if I keep on the steady treat-giving path we’ll get there!

How do you not want to be friends with this guy?

New parakeet fitting in update – how Kevin is faring with the girls

On our last Kevin update, I recounted the horrible evening we had trying to get everyone settled down for bed. We’ve done some tweaking since then, and now Kevin and Toby are living together in one cage with Kelly next door. Being a new parakeet fitting in is probably never easy, but Kevin really has his work cut out for him with our two ladies.

First, we spent a few days with everyone living mostly peacefully in a single flight cage. There were evening battles and Toby and Kelly would mix is up a couple of times a day, but they left Kevin out of it and it was going pretty well. So well, in fact, that I cleaned out the HQ Victorian Top cage and put it away in a closet, therefore damning myself with the universe, since the very next day everything fell apart!

It was a Sunday morning and we had several errands to run, so instead of letting the birds out right away I left them in the cage while we had our morning coffee and got ready to go. Well, Toby and Kelly began an epic battle that was reminiscent of last summer’s death matches. Toby went after Kelly, knocking her to the ground where they proceeded to roll around trying to kill each other, breaking apart only to have Kelly hop after Toby starting the whole thing over again. It’s bad enough just to have the two of them try to murder each other, but Kevin being in the middle of it was just added horror and he flitted around trying to stay out of their way.

We let them out, got everyone calmed down and I quickly rolled the HQ Victorian back out, once Toby and Kelly get into this mode it’s just not safe to leave them alone together. I didn’t want to delay the inevitable. But, we knew that night time would still be a major issue because Kelly does not like being alone. We covered the side of her cage that faces Toby and Kevin’s for a  couple of days and she calmed down eventually. Now they all seem to understand who lives where, and ultimately except for the addition of Kevin it’s exactly the same configuration as before.

Poor Kevin has been a total angel throughout everything. He’s very intelligent, you can see him constantly observing the girls and thinking about how to navigate life with them. He always defers to either girl on matters of who should eat, who will sit where, basically in all things he lets them go first and then hangs back until it’s his “turn”.

I’ve been worried about him since we brought him home, because he wasn’t playing with toys, singing, or eating enough. In the couple of weeks since he’s been out of quarantine I’ve seen him playing and eating more, and then in one single day last week he ate millet that we offered him, tried some broccoli, AND started singing again! He’s not singing very often yet, or consistently eating millet or vegetables, but it was such a relief that he’s coming around to life with us. We are still working on human acceptance, so far I can tell he likes it when we speak or sing to him and tell him what a good boy he is.

On several occasions I’ve seen him think about hopping on my hand or shoulder, and he’s not ready to make that leap yet. But, he’ll get there soon enough.  He also has one flight feather grown back in and he does exceptionally well with short flights. I think when he’s got all his feathers back he’ll be the best flier out of all of them!

As far as fitting in with the girls I was just so wrong about how it would go (of course). Isn’t there an expression about making plans and the universe laughing? I assumed that if Kelly had a friend who would reciprocate affection to her she would stop fixating on Toby. But, she’s equally as focused on Toby and obviously it’s going as poorly as it ever has!  Kelly has been more consistently aggressive to Kevin as well, especially when they are in the same cage alone, she doesn’t take to him at all.

Toby, as expected, doesn’t want much to do with him, but tolerates his presence as long as he doesn’t get in her way. As far as possible inroads, they have been spotted playing with the same toy, one at the bottom and one at the top, so that’s good! They do pretty well at bed time too, with some very minor squabbles that fizzle quickly once Toby realized Kevin isn’t interested in fighting.

I know it’s way too early to call it a fail, which it isn’t no matter what happens because Kevin is such a joy. But I don’t think he’s going to fix any of the inter-bird relationships that we already had going so wrong. He was very ready the first day out of quarantine to start bonding with them, he tried regurgitating to Toby and getting close and has been rejected over and over again. Now having adjusted his approach he may win them over on the long run.

Some folks may disagree with me, but what Kevin has shown more than anything is that I don’t want to have any more girl parakeets. I know that it varies greatly by bird, and some girls, like Toby, can be very nice. But listening to Kevin sing and watching him be so sweet and thoughtful, it’s a totally different parakeet experience. I feel bad bringing him into this environment where it’s tough to be a part of the flock. Right now he’s a bit of an outsider, I’m confident that he’s reasonably happy and figuring things out, but it’s not ideal.

Still, we adore him and we are enjoying him so much! Since Toby is so obsessed with Patrick I’m hoping that Kevin and I can bond. Kelly will still be the odd bird out, but that may be her lot in life. She’s very intense, overbearing, cranky and out of step with everyone.

As much as I now have diminished (realistic?) expectations for Kevin, I’m excited to see how he develops, both in his flock relationships and his personal development as he gets more comfortable at home.

Kevin rounds out his quarantine as sadly as he started

Kevin has been quite sad in quarantine, and we will all be happy to see him out of it! We had high hopes for using the time to bond with him but Kevin remains very resistant to our human wiles and trickery, although he will happily take our millet.

The plan was to use quarantine for human-loving boot camp. We’ve been spending time with him every day in our own ways. Patrick focuses on basic training, teaching Kevin how to navigate a cage and how to play. Cage navigation training was a rousing success, play has not worked out very well so we’ll be relying on Toby and Kelly for that. Patrick has also gotten Kevin used to being handled by people, and has clipped his nails, given him a light bath, put coconut oil on his dry beak, cere and feet, and filed down his beak just a tiny bit.

The good news is that Kevin is easy about being manhandled, he rarely bites and usually only struggles for a moment before letting you maintain him. He is also a good flyer, his clip was done very well at Benson’s  before he came home and he can fly well enough, but not expertly. He is even able to make it three feet off the floor.

My “training” focus with Kevin has been more about getting him used to being with people. I have him sit on me and feed him millet, talk softly to him and close my eyes around him. I also try to go into his room and move around and do people stuff so he knows that “people” doesn’t always equal people making you do things you don’t want.

Happily, after a week or so, Kevin recognized the cage as his home and his safe spot, which is awesome. It also means that every time we take him out he is fairly desperate to get back to his cage! So, that’s a bummer. But, I’m glad that he has someplace he wants to be at least.

The sad parts are that Kevin hasn’t started making much noise yet and he doesn’t play. He flock calls with Toby and Kelly for about 5 minutes every day but that’s about it. He doesn’t engage with any toys and typically just hangs out in one spot every day, only moving around to eat a few times and when we move him.

I feel very confident that he’s healthy and will be joining Toby and Kelly soon. His poop is perfection, his eyes are clear and bright, his nares are clear as well. His cere, beak and feet look awesome with no sign of mites. He is not fluffy or truly lethargic, he’s just scared to move! If I had any hint of sickness I would extend quarantine, but he looks to be a very well boy.

If Kevin really is about two years old, then it’s no wonder he’s finding this so difficult. He has always lived in an aviary with I would bet no less than 20 other parakeets at a time. It must be absolutely terrifying to be alone. We’ve tried playing budgie noises and videos for him, but he didn’t enjoy it. Patrick is off from work for Kevin’s last week of quarantine, so we’ll do a final push on human acceptance and then get down to the business of assimilating him into the flock.

I’m not anticipating a ton of issues, we’re going to do the introductions in a neutral room that no one feels ownership over. Kelly and Toby are at least mildly aware that there’s another bird in the house, and they seem very interested in meeting him. In the end, we got Kevin to enhance the flock life, and not with the goal of his being our best friend in the whole wide world. So, if he does well with the girls and starts feeling more safe to be himself we will consider it a rousing success!