Facts about the 5 senses of the parakeet

Over the past several months I wrote posts about each of the 5 senses of the parakeets.  I think it’s good to have some basic knowledge about how your parakeet perceives the world so you can accommodate his needs and understand things that might be scary, or conversely, might be very pleasing to them.  Here are links to all of those posts with some key facts for each sense.

SIGHT

  • Parakeets have much better vision than humans and can see ultraviolet light.
  • With the exception of a few color mutations – parakeets eyes change as they age, they develop a visible iris and begin to “flash” or “pin” their pupils in response to stimuli.
  • As good as parakeet sight is during the day it is terrible at night, which can be the root cause of night terrors. Any movement detected during the night can be perceived as a threat.

HEARING

  • Parakeets have an internal ear, an adult parakeet’s ear holes are not typically visible unless the parakeet is very wet.
  • They also have perfect pitch and can store sound in their memories with incredible skill.
  • Parakeets that live together will “flock call” to each other frequently when they are out of eye line to check in and make sure everything is okay. Some parakeets also loudly call out to birds that they hear outdoors, this is cute, but can be quite loud and go on for hours.

TOUCH

  • Don’t expect to pet or snuggle your parakeet. Although some may learn to enjoy it, petting is not a natural behavior to a budgie.
  • Parakeets are very sensitive to vibrations – cars and trucks lumbering by may vibrate the budgies cage and can be a little scary. It’s also best to keep cages away from appliances that vibrate, such as refrigerators and washing machines.
  • Our parakeets are able to feel pain, so we have a great responsibility to make a safe environment for our pets. Of course this applies to every pet in your home!

SMELL

  • Scientists aren’t quite sure how much parakeets use their sense of smell. In the wild it is probably not a key part of how they evade predators they way that sight and hearing are.
  • They do not use their sense of smell to know who you are – since their sights and hearing are so much better they recognize the way you look and the sound of your voice.
  • Possible lack of importance of the sense has nothing to do with chemical and smoke sensitivity – Teflon, burning candles, chemical cleaners etc. are all very dangerous.

TASTE

  • Parakeets have fewer taste buds than humans and the taste buds they do have are located at the base of the tongue.
  • As foragers, keen sense of taste wouldn’t be a huge benefit. If you need to scrounge around on the ground for your food it wouldn’t do to be picky!!
  • They can detect the taste of sweet foods which is probably why many parakeets prefer fruit to vegetables – but watch out for overdoing the sugar.

Please click the link on the individual senses for more detailed information about each – there are a ton of useful tips and points to ponder for each sense.

Toby moves to the big house

After waiting several weeks for the HQ Victorian Top cage that was solidly back-ordered, I finally canceled the order and decided to get the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White so that we could get Toby out of the small Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage and alleviate some of my guilt over her situation. It turns out the new flight cage is even more spacious than I imagined, which may be causing Toby some anxiety, but ultimately may mean that she and Kelly could be roommates again.

The new cage arrived just a couple of days after I ordered it, and I set to work immediately unboxing the pieces, wiping everything down and theoretically organizing it all by spreading it across the kitchen floor.

Quality wise, I knew it wasn’t going to be up to the level of the HQ Victorian Top, since the price-point was about $70 less, and it definitely is lighter-weight and much less like a piece of furniture. But, it’s reasonably well constructed and extremely functional. Right out of the box I noticed a few of the bars were bent all out of shape, we were able to put it to rights, but I’m sure I could have called the manufacturer and asked for a replacement front panel.

Once Patrick got out of work for the day we set to the task of assembly. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo I expected to get it put together in short order. But, one of us spent about 30 minutes looking for a tool that was totally unnecessary (not it!) and so we spent about an hour and a half total.

so many pieces!

Once together, we realized this was a much more spacious cage than the Victorian Top, having greater length and width. We didn’t have much time that evening to try and introduce the parakeets to the new cage, but they did watch us put it together with great interest.

Over the next few days I started migrating toys and perches to the new cage and we tried, without putting on a lot of pressure, encouraging Toby and Kelly to explore the new cage.  They are not in love with it so far, but it’s a totally different color and shape than either of the cages they are familiar with, so I can understand.

The following Saturday we moved the rest of Toby’s belongings from her old cage to the new flight cage and that was that. She went in with very little protesting when it was time for bed, but spent a ton of time wandering around in the cage looking for the best place to sleep. Strangely it also disturbed Kelly who would not settle down for hours – which is very unusual for her.

It’s so much room that we may try having them sleep together or even spend some days together, at present they don’t like hanging out in it even when the other cage is closed, but we’ll get them used to it at some point!

I’m pleased to have Toby out of her old cage and into something where she can really flap her wings and get some exercise. Also, this leaves me an extra cage for quarantining someone new, should that occur at any time in the next few months!  At that point (following quarantine) even if they can’t live three together we can have a single and a double and the parakeets will be able to choose the living arrangements.

Toby’s new cage – our first traditional flight cage

Toby and Kelly have been living single for several weeks now and it’s still going great. They are both getting good rest, individual attention and have enough time to play without someone else bothering or attacking them. I had ordered Toby a new cage from Doctors Foster & Smith a while ago, but it was back-ordered and the fulfillment date just kept getting pushed out further and further. So, I finally decided to cancel the order and get her a traditional flight cage.

At first, we thought we would get another HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage, which has served us well for a long time. I love that it looks like a nice piece of furniture, instead of just a utilitarian bird cage. Also, it’s really solid and not at all flimsy, which is something that bothers me about the Vision Small Bird Cage that we used for a car ride. I know a lot of people love Vision cages because they contain mess and are easy to clean, but it just doesn’t feel like a permanent bird home to me.

Anyway, it initially seemed like a no-brainer to just buy another HQ Victorian Top and put Toby’s new cage right next to Kelly’s existing. I ordered the cage and didn’t even notice the back-order warning when I checked out (ooops!), so it wasn’t until 5 days later that I started wondering why it hadn’t shipped, and then realized I would still have to wait another month for delivery!

I thought about canceling at that point, but Toby has been such a good sport about living in her old Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage it’s really unbelievable. She goes right in at the end of the day and doesn’t even appear bothered that she can’t fly in her home cage. Because she’s being so chill about it I felt like we could wait the month.

Fortunately she’s continued to be a solid citizen about her living arrangement, because once the month passed the fulfillment date jumped again by two weeks! I know this has nothing to do with Doctors Foster & Smith, I’m sure it’s down to manufacturing delays for the cages themselves, but it was sort of a bummer realizing that not only were we delayed again, but I really couldn’t trust the new date either.

We were still pretty set on holding out for the HQ Victorian Top, but I started thinking about how much it would be a bummer to lose out on the flat top of the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, which I use every day to keep food and water out when Toby and Kelly are out playing. We also put baths up there and toys for them to play with one top of the cage. The Victorian Top cage is really cool for them to hang out on, but it doesn’t have utility space the way the Prevue Park Plaza does.

Since I had all the extra time waiting on the HQ Victorian it allowed me to really second guess the decision, and decide that we would all be better served by getting a good quality flight cage with a flat top.  Enter the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White, which is made by a company I already trust, and looks like it will be a great home for Toby.

The only thing I’m not thrilled with are the included plastic food and water bowls. I think that plastic bowls tend to get dirtier faster and don’t get as clean as stainless steel. I found these Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls which solve that issue. I like that they are a two part system so I can hang them wherever and just remove the bowls for filling and cleaning.

Because we have Amazon Prime it should be here in just a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to report on the cage set-up and how Toby likes her new digs.  Hopefully our first traditional flight cage will be a winner!

The best treats for a parakeet

It’s natural to want to give your parakeets treats, the same way you would a dog or cat. But, they are quite different animals, and there certainly aren’t as many treats on the market for a parakeet as there are for a mammal pet.  I frequently see people mention the Honey Bird Treat Sticks as a popular treat – with some folks even giving their parakeets a stick every week. There isn’t anything wrong with those treats, per se, but I don’t think they are the best treats for a parakeet.

Parakeets can certainly eat honey, but they really shouldn’t have a lot. Even sugary fruits have to be limited, so a real sugar like honey should be a rare treat indeed.  Also, if your parakeets really get hooked on the honey treats they can start rejecting normal seed and demand sugary treats all the time.  Maintaining a healthy budgie weight is critical to long-term good health, and trying to break a parakeet of a sugar habit would be a frustrating nightmare!

Honey can be very useful to help perk up an ailing parakeet and get the some extra energy and calories to burn. I think that honey should be reserved for an emergency treat, you could even keep a Honey Straw or two in your parakeet’s first aid kit.

If, like me, you don’t want to introduce honey as a regular menu item here are some other ideas for the times you want to spoil your parakeets a little bit.

    • No treat list would be complete (or accurate!) if it didn’t include Millet. Spray millet is almost universally regarded by parakeets as the ultimate in pleasure food. If your new parakeet doesn’t realize yet this is his favorite food he will soon. Millet doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value to it so it really should just be used as a treat. I know there are a lot of Miller Spray Holders on the market so you can put a whole spray of millet in the cage with the parakeets, but I don’t recommend going that route. I think that if millet always comes from the humans it’s a much more powerful bonding and training tool.  Also millet readily available in the cage is the equivalent of me having a limitless bag of Doritos in my cube at work, no good would come of that for my health and I don’t think that unlimited millet will do your parakeets any health favors either.
    • Vegetables and occasional fruits. I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy because your parakeets currently won’t even look at a slice of cucumber without having a panic attack, or ignore it completely. And I’m telling you (virtually guaranteeing) that if you are persistent and keep offering the good stuff multiple times a week in a variety of different ways and/or mixed with seed and millet you will eventually wear them down and have a pack of veggie-lovers! The absolute key is persistence.  You can’t say after a month of trying that they hate vegetables because that is not long enough. These little guys can be more stubborn and fearful than one could possibly imagine.
    • New toys and perches. The great thing is that even though we might all joke around about “spoiling” our parakeets it really can’t be done! They need new toys and different perches regularly to keep their brains active and bodies exercised.  So, if you were going to spend $4 on honey treats, why not spend it on the JW Pet Company Activitoy Lattice Chain Small Bird Toy instead?  I’ve had that toy rotating in and out of cages for the past 2 years, which is comparably a really great value!  I’ll put links at the end of this post to a few inexpensive and awesome toys.
    • Your time and attention. Really the best treat of all. Even if you’re still in the taming process and they can barely tolerate the sight of you, sit by their cage for 15 minutes and sing them a song. Every day when I get home from work my first instincts are to start tidying up the house, make the parakeets a snack and generally get on with the million and one things I have to do. But, I make it a point to make eye contact and greet them, let them out of their cages, and stay put. For as long as they are interested in jumping on my head, screaming in my ear, or chewing on the seams of my shirt, I chill out and just hang. Sometimes I talk to them about my day or theirs, and sometimes we are quiet together. Thinking about it now, even though it can feel painful to slow it down and stop being productive, it’s one of the best things I do both for the parakeets and for me.

I’m sure there are a million other ways to treat your ‘keet, but that’s my shortlist of relatively healthy and inexpensive (or free!) best treats for a parakeet.

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!

Best toys for parakeets/budgies

With so many toys out there in the marketplace it can be tough to choose for your budgies. I know I’ve made tons of mistakes buying toys that were way too big, or worse, dangerous. It can be difficult to look at pictures on the internet and know what to buy for mental and physical stimulation. Here are Toby and Kelly’s recommendations for best toys for parakeets, all of them are either currently in their cages or were and were so well-loved they no longer exist!

  • Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds – Toby and Kelly love this toy so much I’ve already written not one, but two reviews of it!  They can be found here and here. This toy can be played with in multiple ways, preening, chewing, attacking, moving the straw “arms” and it has several levels. If installed with a perch midway down the parakeets can burrow into the center of the straws (where there is a bell to reward them!), and the ends of the straws with their shoelace ties provide a totally different play opportunity.  Toby and Kelly also enjoy launching themselves at it and clinging to the red ball at the top.

  • Bonka Bird Toys 1925 Cake Bird Toy – this toy is, without a doubt, Kelly’s favorite toy of all time. The problem is that she destroys is in a single day! This has happened on to occasions, the first of which I recorded in a review.  It’s still fun to play with after the destruction of the sola wood, the cupcake liners are totally a toy in their own right, but I mostly recommend buying this toy for special occasions like hatch days or gotcha days.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoys The Wave Bird Toy – These relatively inexpensive plastic toys made by JW Pet Company are some of Toby and Kelly’s favorites, and this is one of them.  I avoided buying them anything with a mirror for a long time. I was worried, especially when Toby was a solo parakeet, that she would end up in a feedback loop with her own reflection and never think to eat or get a drink of water.  I think that’s less of a concern with these small round mirrors, they may catch an intriguing glance of “another” parakeet in the mirror, but it’s not enough to start trying to interact with. The mirrors also rotate and there are fun little beads to chew and the whole thing is light enough that they can grab it and bang it on something else, which is always a good time!  You could also hang something else from the bottom if you wanted a very long toy. Kelly saw herself in a mirror for the first time in this toy, I managed to get a very cute video (unfortunately this was before I learned to take all videos “side to side so the margins are wide” I apologize!).
  • Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy – Deceptively simply in its design this toy provides days and days of shredding fun. Chewing is extremely important for parakeets beak health and mental health. They are born and designed to chew and destroy. These are made of a soft wood, but still take a lot of work to get through, versus something like the bonka 1925, which is very quickly shredded. They come strung on a rope that can be untied if you want to add one of the “donuts” of wood to another toy or put them on a metal skewer instead.  Toby and Kelly’s interest in this toy waxes and wanes, but there’s always a Wesco Shreddable Bird Toy of some sort available to them.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy – This is another one of our favorite inexpensive JW plastic toys. I think I bought this back in 2005 and it’s always been in a cage or on the play gyms.  It’s a classic and a must have, and another toy that can be played with in a few different ways. Toby likes to grab the bell at the bottom and shake it vigorously, or climb from the bottom to the top.  She also will grab one of the rings and use it to stabilize her foot while she grooms herself. Kelly, on the other hand, likes to go through the rings over and over again in some very “Olympic” gymnastics!  At first I was worried she would get stuck but it seems like they are the perfect size for such antics. This toy is also really easy to clean up, a huge plus for something that’s going to be around for several years.
  • This last toy is a bit of a toy/perch hybrid, the Super Bird Creations Mini Flying Trapeze Toy for Birds. But with so much going on I think it has earned it’s way onto our top six toys! There is sea grass to rip apart, plastic links to climb and chew, and these great tiny plastic toys to reach for and try to destroy as well. My only caveat is I would not give this to female birds in breeding condition, as they may regard it as a possible nesting space. Also since it’s got a rather large footprint they can get very territorial about it and we’ve had some associated squabbles.

There you have it, Toby and Kelly’s recommended best toys for parakeets. They have all been “road tested” in our home and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that even if they aren’t your parakeet’s favorites they are at least appropriately-sized and safe for your budgies. I’d love to hear some of your favorites, please leave a comment!

Budgies and the importance of full spectrum lighting

When the topic of full spectrum lighting comes up it’s common to see some parakeet owners indicate they don’t need to provide a full spectrum light because their parakeets’ cage is “right near a huge window”. Unfortunately, this is not the case, windows block the essential light rays and utilizing a full spectrum light for budgies is, if not essential, a boon to their health.

I think about it this way, we all know the benefits of sunshine for human beings, even though we have a risk of skin cancer, getting some rays is essential for Vitamin D production in humans and avoiding things like seasonal affective disorder. Just sitting next to a window on a sunny February day isn’t going to cut it, we must either go outside and sit in the sun or take supplements to increase our Vitamin D.

It’s very similar for parakeets and other parrots, who are even less likely than humans to go outside on a frigid February day! That’s where avian lamps and bulbs come into play.

So – why is Vitamin D so important to parakeets? It aids in the absorption of nutrients, but beyond what it helps with, the deficiency of it is more alarming. Vitamin D deficiency leads to low calcium levels because the calcium couldn’t be absorbed. Low calcium levels can cause seizures, avian stargazing disease and cancer. These are in addition to breeding issues like soft eggs and egg-binding.

On the positive site, exposure to full spectrum light has been shown to help with cranky budgies and self-harming behaviors like plucking.

Budgies and other parrots get their Vitamin D in a couple of really neat ways, one is by using the oil in their “preen” glands to coat their feathers, the oil produces Vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays so when the birds grooms itself again it ingests the vitamin D on its feathers.

They also absorb vitamin D through their eyes, as we know, the budgies’ sense of sight is far superior to the human’s because they can see UVA and UVB rays. So, having full spectrum lighting means that you help them unlock the full potential of their eyesight, in addition to all the other benefits.

To help keep our budgies healthy we have an avian lamp and Bulb , which are on for 3 hours a day on a timer. This is enough time to get them the rays they need every day. I’m hoping to get them outside for some actual sunshine this summer, but in the absence of being able to do that most days of the year it’s good to know we are providing them with some full spectrum rays 365 days a year. Now, am I going to try and say that your budgies are going to die if they don’t have full spectrum lighting? Absolutely not, I’m sure countless budgies have lived long and healthy lives in the absence of full spectrum lighting. But, if you can provide it, why not give them that extra bump of what they need to make sure they are feeling good and getting that essential vitamin D?