I have a bad day, and then pass it on to Toby

Ordinarily Toby and I are best pals. She’s always happy to see me when I get home from work and very interested in having her fair share of undivided attention and time touching our beaks (well one beak and one nose) together and nodding our heads. But, I sometimes forget how sensitive the parakeets are to my moods and how important it is to keep my energy calm and even around them.

It’s sort of a gross story; there will be blood, so if that’s an issue for you then please read no further!

As background information, my lips are always super chapped; I know that chapstick is an addiction and I’m fully comfortable saying that I am hooked. Yesterday I hadn’t done my usual insane number of reapplications and on my drive home I was marveling that my lips didn’t feel that bad. I ran my teeth gently over my lower lip and, apparently having dislodged some dry skin, my lip started bleeding.

Not in a polite ladylike manner, but in a serious business, you better have some tissues steady stream. Of course I don’t have tissues, I don’t have an errant fast food napkin, and I don’t even have a clean sheet of paper to blot my lips on. Starting to panic a bit as the blood kept flowing I debated pulling over but realized I wouldn’t be any better off the side of the road. So, I used the only resource available and began dabbing my lips gently against my hands and arms to ineffectively mop the mess.

By the time I got home the bleeding had mostly stopped, but my arms were decorated with bloody lip prints up to my elbows! I’m laughing about it today, but yesterday I sat in my driveway for a couple of minutes trying to collect myself, called my husband and then felt like I was calmed down enough to go in the house.

I was SO wrong, both Toby and Kelly immediately knew that something was up – I scrubbed down at the sink and they were creepily quiet, not begging to come out at all. I approached and Toby was all tight-feathered and wary and Kelly retreated onto her sleepy perch and seemed quite prepared to ignore me entirely.

Once I opened their cages they both hunkered down in Kelly’s and wouldn’t even come out when I put their afternoon snack of blueberries on top of Toby’s cage.

Their attitude was, by this time, feeding my negative energy since I now felt stung by the rejection. I got changed into workout gear for the afternoon and inadvertently made the whole thing worse by putting on a t-shirt with striped sleeves, knowing full well that Toby does not abide stripes! The next time I tried to approach her she didn’t just back away she went after my hand aggressively to tell me to get the heck out.

I hung my head in shame and retreated to watch some reality television. Of course as soon as Patrick got home I started whining to him that Toby wouldn’t give me the time of day. He immediately pointed out that I was probably traumatizing her with my shirt, and upon changing she found me much more palatable.

Belatedly, I got in my requisite beak-tapping, head nodding ritual time and we have a pleasant evening. And if nothing else it’s a good reminder that parakeets are much attuned to their humans’ feelings and moods and they have their own set of preferences and interesting aversions.

Also, I learned to keep a box of tissues in the car and finally threw out the striped shirt. I certainly never thought I would be taking fashion cues from a budgie!

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – an exercise in futility?

In this household we’ve tended to subscribe to the theory that a parakeet with an adequate variety of properly-surfaced perches should not need any human intervention with keeping their nails trimmed. Recently we’ve taken notice that Toby and Kelly have lost interest in their own nail maintenance, and it might be time to face the specter of clipping a parakeet’s nails.

When I was putting together our first aid kit for the parakeets I included a set of Nail Clippers Scissors, they can be used for any small animal , but birds are on the list, and it does seem like it would be easier to clip with that than a traditional human nail clipper.  I also did my due diligence research on how to towel a small bird to keep it still, and to make sure never to cut too high up on the nail because you can hit the blood vessel.  If you do hit the blood vessel you want to have Styptic Powder or at least Corn Starch on hand to help stop the bleeding. Parakeets can bleed out pretty quickly, so getting a handle on any bleeding is important.

So, theoretically it seems possible to trim their nails, if not like a great time. Over the past year I’ve gone through phases of trying to get them comfortable with the appearance of the scissors so they aren’t a scary item, and they are always intrigued by them instead of frightened.  This may sound crazy but we’ve also periodically made a big show of clipping our own nails in front of them and filing our nails. The parakeets always get very excited by this process and are eager to jump onto our hands and inspect what we are doing.

Of course this didn’t translate at all to our cutting their nails, and every time we approach them with the nail scissors they act like we have lost our minds. Seriously, they are not even scared they are deeply offended and completely unwilling.

Patrick was very sneaky one day and managed to trim a single nail of Kelly’s by distracting her while she was perching and putting the scissors up behind her. That’s really the sort of trick you only get to use once before they are wise to it!

This past weekend we decided to give it a real try. I got out a cloth napkin and we managed to gently burrito Kelly in it; we did also try for Toby but that was not happening. Although Toby and Kelly like us and consider us part of their flock, they aren’t particularly tame. We don’t really try to teach them any “tricks” and they are not the kind of parakeets to enjoy a snuggle.

At any rate, we had our little Kelly burrito and the nail scissors, but she was wriggling like a fish, her tiny feet were bicycling like mad and to top it all off since we were acting on the spur of the moment, Toby was trying to jump on Kelly’s head to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was a total disaster. There was no way to safely cut anything in the midst of all that ridiculousness and we let Kelly go in short order. I know this is horrid but we haven’t tried again. Thus far they can still walk properly on flat surfaces and they aren’t getting stuck in any toys or on our clothing. We are keeping a close eye on the situation, but I think we’re going to continue with the wait and see, and hope that they pick up the ball again on their own nail maintenance!

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!

Taking the parakeets for a car ride

We had the previously mentioned central air conditioning project happening at our house early this week, so the parakeets made their way over to my mom’s house for a bit of a vacation. It turns out I was way too cavalier about the process of moving them, and it was extremely stressful both for the humans and the parakeets.  It all worked out in the end, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes on this one, especially since the level of stress was exponentially greater than the length of the drive, which was only about 15 minutes!

The plan was to move them in our Small Vision Cage – which I had originally purchased with the intent to get them some time outside this summer. It seemed to me like a good size for both of them to have space to perch and move around, but small enough to comfortably fit in the car.  In the weeks leading up to the outing I introduced them to the Small Vision Cage and had them go into it and play with a favorite toy or enjoy some Millet. But, I didn’t do enough, and I never took them outside. By the time it occurred to me that I should get them used to the outside world it was the day before they had to decamp, and we felt that if they were traumatized by the back yard it would be that much harder to get them into the little cage when we needed to.

I should have devoted much more time to getting them used to the Small Vision Cage. Over a period of weeks I should have shut them in it repeatedly and I should have taken them outside in it.

Instead, the morning of the move came and after giving them loads of time to fly around and (theoretically) tire themselves out we lured them into the Small Vision Cage.  As soon as I shut the door they panicked. Toby went crazy climbing the bars around and around looked for a way out and Kelly immediately started doing the acrobatic tricks she used to when she was in her starter cage (park prevue) which she found way too small for her liking.

I had already packed a bag with their food and water bowl, Night Lights, Millet, and the Lixit Water Bottles rode in the cup holders of our car. As soon as I saw how badly they were taking the Small Vision Cage I realized we needed to get this done quickly. Patrick and I grabbed their main cage and stowed it in the trunk of his car – thank goodness for the surprisingly roomy Honda Fit – and we went back in to grab the budgies.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, we live on an extremely busy street near a highway entrance. The posted speed limit is 40 but night and day we’ve got people flying down the road going much faster. It can be scary even for a human, and the parakeets freaked even more once we got outside. Kelly had the equivalent of a night terror and thrashed back and forth careening around in the little cage and hitting all the walls and Toby in the process.  This, of course, set Toby off and she started flapping around madly as well.  At one point Kelly landed on the bottom of the cage (which I had padded with a towel) and her wing stuck out at such an odd angle I was sure it was broken – although I was wrong.

I made a fast dash to get them in the car where it would at least be quieter and had Patrick run back to the house for any kind of towel I could cover them with. He came out with a dish towel that only covered two sides, but I felt like we ought to just get going and get this over with.

I should have had a properly-sized cover ready and should never have taken them out of the house for the first time on the busy side with the cage uncovered.

The car ride was a total nightmare. Kelly alternately flew around like a crazy lady or tried to bite Toby. Toby at first was okay perching but kept getting displaced by Kelly and ended up clinging to the cage bars staring at me like I had betrayed her in the worst possible way!

Arriving at my mom’s house we hustled them in and put their main cage in the house as quickly as possible. Letting them out of the little cage we ascertained almost immediately that although they were shaken they were not at all injured as I had feared. Patrick and I spent about an hour with them making sure they were calm and settled in – I do think that having their regular cage made them feel immediately at home. They wanted to take a nap after they calmed down, so after we knew they were comfortable and not freaking out any more we left them to rest.

Over the next few days I’m pretty sure they had an amazing vacation, like a human kid who’s goes to grandma’s they got loads of attention and flight time and had a great time checking out a new environment. My mom’s guest room has windows onto her beautiful yard and bird feeders, Toby and Kelly spent hours watching the birds and I think they may have picked up a couple of new sounds too!

At our house it was way too quiet and very sad!  I even missed cleaning up after their mess, and especially in the mornings it was a bit bleak not having them there to wake up and start the day with.

Soon enough it was time to bring them home, and this we did with a couple of modifications that made it a lot easier, but still not at all fun!

We decided to split them up, Toby would ride home in the Small Vision Cage since she tolerated it better, and Kelly would ride in the Kaytee Travel Carrier she originally came home in, but completely covered with a (clean) dish towel.

Getting Toby into the Small Vision Cage was extremely easy.  She is so darn sweet it slays me, and she was not remotely suspicious when we lured her in with some Millet.  She took being closed in a lot better this time around, probably because she didn’t have Kelly amplifying her fear.

Kelly  refused to go in the Kaytee Travel Carrier. When we arrived at my mom’s we had joked that Kelly would be easy to stow because she could easily be grabbed. Well, Kelly took that memo and decided to take a stand. We tried holding her, perching her on our hands, luring her with Millet and she wanted nothing to do with any of it.

We ended up putting a huge spray of Millet in the Kaytee Travel Carrier and then stood there with our eyes closed for about 5 minutes pretending we were asleep until she relaxed enough to go in after the millet. Finally we were able to close her in and get the show on the road.

Kelly did a million times better being fully covered and didn’t panic or cause any harm to herself at all. I think being in the smaller cage and being covered helped her feel secure, she made little singing noises almost the whole way home and seemed very content.

Toby did fantastically well solo in the Small Vision Cage with just the front covered. At time she seemed anxious but she never panicked and I think being able to see and interact with me helped her stay calm.

I should have put consideration the first time around into their personalities and I should NEVER have kept them in the same cage for travel in light of the fact that they are both territorial females who would naturally attacked each other when they were under duress.  

Arriving home we set them back up as quickly as possible and let them out. We were all joyous at their home-coming; they flew back and forth from human perches to window perches and let us know they were very happy to be home.

The next morning Toby greeted me with a song before I was even in eye-line of their cage and was so excited to see me she escaped when I took out their water bowl for a refresh 🙂 we were happy to have them come out and say hello again even though it’s not part of our normal routine.

I can’t believe we have to leave them again in just a few days for vacation, and I’m increasingly nervous about the pet sitter, even though I’m sure she will be great. But, I’m so glad to have this behind us – and hopefully it will be a long time before the parakeets have to take a vacation from our home again!

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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One flew out of the parakeet’s cage

We made tons of mistakes as new parakeet owners, but one night we managed to make pretty much all the mistakes in about a 45 minute period.

It was about one week after Toby came to live with us, and everything had been going great, we’d made a huge commitment to spending time sitting near her cage talking to her, and we had even begun putting a hand in the cage to let her adjust to us and get to know our hands as friendly visitors.

Our first major fail had been ongoing up to that point, we hadn’t been taking very much care to make sure Toby went to sleep early.  Currently, both birds start relaxing with the curtains closed at about 6:00pm and we start dimming the lights at 7:00pm. On the night in question, however, I arrived home about 8:30pm and the house was still brightly lit and Toby was playing while watching Patrick make his dinner.

I hung out with Patrick in the kitchen and we get on the subject of some changes we thought would really enhance Toby’s experience in the cage, and then we made the extremely poor decision to make those changes that evening. To contrast, now when we make changes in the cage we always do it in the morning so the parakeets have a ton of time to adjust before bedtime, you really never know what’s going to freak them out.

To my recollection we had decided to switch around two perches so Toby could get around more easily, as she was struggling with learning to climb around on the cage bars.  Patrick’s hands went in first and I kept a close watch on the door – Toby went to a corner and seemed totally fine (in retrospect, Toby seemed like she was absolutely terrified).

Patrick ran into a snag in moving one of the perches and I made the critical error – putting one of my hands in the cage as well. Toby immediately decided her chances for survival were greater outside the cage and bolted for freedom.

Now what we had on our hands was a fully flighted, completely terrified, mostly feral parakeet lose in the house. She didn’t trust us, she had no training in sitting on our hands, she was not skilled enough to be able to get back in the cage even if she wanted to, and worst of all, she had no experience with millet or any other treat and we had no method of coaxing her to us and then back in the cage.

Imagine trapping a sparrow, putting it in your house, and then trying to convince it to enter a very specific, small doorway. Oh and also it’s 9pm at night.

I shut every door possible, but this still left Toby with the hallway, kitchen, dining area, and living room. All I can say about what happened after this is we basically lost our minds for 30 minutes.  In a total panic we followed Toby around the house trying to catch her with our hands, throw a towel over her (!!! so glad that didn’t work), or just generally tire her out enough to grab her, which was a total joke.

She ended up on top of the refrigerator, the living room curtain rod, behind/underneath the entertainment center, inside a sound panel suspended from the ceiling, and everywhere but on us. I’m sure it seemed like all her nightmares come to life having two huge predators chase her around and roust her out of whatever refuge she took.

I finally grabbed a sheet and used it to shepherd her into the kitchen/dining area and away from the living room.  She even landed on top of her cage a few times but just had absolutely no idea how to get back in – which I’m sure she desperately wanted to do to get away from us!   In retrospect I have no idea why we panicked so badly – there was really no time urgency and yet we behaved as though we had to get her back in the cage immediately.  It would have been much better to take a step back and give her 15 minutes to calm down and think – or at least for us to calm down and think.

She finally perched on top of a stained glass window in our dining area and stayed put. At this point a lightbulb went on for me and I said “you know, I’ve read that if you press your finger into her tummy she will have no choice put to step on it”.

Toby eyed us warily as we lifted her entire cage onto the dining room table with the door facing her. Then Patrick approached gingerly and pressed his finger lengthwise against Toby’s stomach, right above her feet. She immediately stepped up and as we all held our breath, Patrick conveyed her about two feet into his cage and shut the door.

The ordeal ended with Toby cowering in the corner of her cage until she went to sleep and Patrick and I having a stiff drink to wash down our shame.

We were ultimately fortune that Toby didn’t trust us at all yet, otherwise I’m sure we would have broken that. As it was we didn’t notice any change in her behavior the next day, just a lot of changes in us and a lot more respect for her boundaries.

Summary of mistakes:
– Parakeet up too late
– Over-confidence in bird’s level of comfort with cage adjustments
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout in the evening
– Deciding to make changes to cage layout with parakeet in cage
– Putting multiple people’s hands in the cage at the same time
– Not knowing how to read the parakeet’s body language
– Panicking about the bird being out and forgetting essential basics