Cooking safely with parakeets in the home

I’ve been thinking lately about cooking and how to safely cook around budgies.  They process air much faster than humans so the smallest pollutant can be fatal.  Most people know that things like candles and cigarettes are big no-nos for birds, but there are several things to avoid specifically while cooking.

The big one to stay away from is Teflon pans. It was with some sadness that I got rid of all my non-stick cookware the day Toby came home. It’s safe to use stainless pans, like the Cuisinart 733-30H Chef’s Classic Stainless 5-1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Helper Handle and Cover, although it certainly increases my risk of burning things!  Which, I am joking about, but we make every effort not to introduce cooking smoke into the budgie’s breathing space. It’s not recommended to keep parakeets in the vicinity of a kitchen because of all the contaminants, but with a small house we really don’t have a choice on that.

Because of switching to stainless from non-stick, it may be tempting to rely more on cooking sprays that grease your pans, these are also bad for budgie airways. That’s just a good reminder about any spray, really, from hair spray and deodorants to home scents.

Another big danger zone is your oven. A new oven is deadly to birds, and needs to be run for a long time to release all of its breaking in fumes, which I believe are burning off some coating on the interior of the stove. Basically you either need to remove the budgies from the area and run your oven at a very high temperature several times or if you buy from a local appliance store it’s my understanding you can pay a little extra to have them do this for you.

We are pretty much without our oven at this point, we bought it last fall and thought that we had burned everything off properly, Patrick spent two days at home with Toby in another room and the oven running/house vented, and we were able to use it around Christmas last year, but really didn’t do much with it after the holidays.

Flash forward to this year when we went to heat up a frozen pizza and realized that it still isn’t done giving off fumes.  So, we’ve agreed to skip the oven this winter and work on getting it properly broken in this spring/summer when we can move the birds to another room AND vent the house without making it too cold.  Fortunately we have this toaster oven, BLACK+DECKER CTO6335S 6-Slice Digital Convection Countertop Toaster Oven, Includes Bake Pan, Broil Rack & Toasting Rack, Stainless Steel Digital Convection Toaster Oven that is pretty big and safe to use until we sort out the oven issues.

Also watch out for the self-cleaning oven setting, this releases fumes that will kill your parakeets because the oven heats itself to about 900 degrees and this super heats the chemical coating inside.  If your oven needs to be cleaned it’s much safer for your birds and you to use natural products like baking soda, vinegar and your own scrubbing power.  I would also suggest that spot cleaning your oven after a spill may help avoid the need for devoting an entire day to oven-cleaning down the road.

The best tool in my kitchen is my Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, Digital Timer, Stainless Steel, we usually throw something in it on Sunday morning and it has us set for dinner for at least two or three nights.  The slow cooker is safe for budgies because the insert is ceramic and has no coating – YAY! If a recipe calls for it to be coated with cooking spray I take it outside, but I think in most cases I could replace that with greasing it with butter anyway.

Beyond taking care about what products you are cooking with I would also strongly caution anyone about having parakeets or other companion birds outside of their cages while you cook. Even a budgie that you think is clipped for his “safety” can make a random leap onto a hot surface or (heaven forbid) into a pot of boiling water.  We discouraged Toby from hanging out on the kitchen counters when she was young and subsequently she and Kelly never land on them, but I’m still careful to tuck the crock pot out-of-the-way while it’s on, and they are not allowed out if we are preparing food either using knives or heat.

For me this all adds up to a pretty good excuse for cooking less and eating out more!  Also, not cooking equals more time for parakeet bonding, so, win-win on that point.  Seriously though, if you love to cook and bake you can still do so safely with budgies, but like most facets of bird ownership, you just need to be mindful and careful of the dangers to your feathered kids.

Budgies and sleep needs

If you’ve done a bare minimum of research about parakeets you’ve already read that they need 10-12 hour of sleep per night to be healthy. Beyond just needing the sleep, they also need that length of time in dim lighting so that they don’t start wanting to breed.  Our parakeet’s cage is near a big window, so we close that curtain around 6pm and start turning down their main light shortly after. They are usually fast asleep by 7:00pm or 7:30pm at the latest if they are being willful about having just a few more minutes to play.

That length of time in the dark and quiet can be pretty hard to achieve in a busy household – it’s also kind of paradoxical, because the recommendation that your parakeet’s  cage in the center of the action so they feel like part of your flock is very incompatible with needing a lot of rest!

I’ve thought about using our old Prevue Pet Products 3351BLK Park Plaza Bird Cage, Black Hammertone as a sleeping cage in another room, but I have several reservations about that. One is that it would take potentially months to get them used to that kind of routine. Also, since Toby is so neophobic, there isn’t really another room in the house she feels comfortable in, so that would be a huge hurdle. And finally, since we’ve decided (at least for the short-term) to keep taking vacations, I would hate to get them used to a different sleeping cage and then mess up their routine when we go away, potentially resulting in sleepless nights.

Unless we move, or make major changes, we are stuck having the birds bed down in their main cage, which is in our dining area. Unfortunately, it’s open to the rest of the “public areas” of the house, including the kitchen and the living room where we watch television in the evenings. Thus far both parakeets seem really well-adjusted to it, we turn the lights way down when they go to bed and we watch television at a polite volume. They go through a settling in routine and then grind their beaks before nodding off. Fortunately, they aren’t in eye line of the television, I’m sure that’s a huge help. I also try to be respectful and not watch content that would wind them up during the day, so I avoid musicals, loud fights scenes and anything with a lot of bird or other animal noises.

It’s really not ideal for any of us, especially if the humans want to go get a snack in the kitchen after dark, we can’t turn on the overhead lights so it’s all down to the refrigerator light! Although this has probably helped curb some late night snacking so I shouldn’t complain.

A lot of the sneaking around would be alleviated with the use of a cage cover at night – I’ve tried Prevue Hendryx Pet Products Universal Bird Cage Cover, Large, Black, which goes over the top of the cage, but Toby wants no part of it, she panics and has a terror response, flapping around the cage wildly with immense potential to hurt herself. I think anything black is going to be a deal breaker for her; it’s one of the many things she just doesn’t tolerate. I haven’t found one yet, but if a cover exists that attaches magnetically to the sides so the top is still open, and the fabric is white or light in color she might go for that.

The other thing I’ve considered is getting a room divider that we move in and out – although I’m not sure how Toby would take to that either, it would be a great visual block that doesn’t actually touch the cage. The only thing that’s holding me back on that one is that Patrick’s severe allergies mean he’s sensitive to new items, many products go through a period of “off gassing” once they are out of their box and in your home, during which time they smell very strongly of whatever paint, varnish, or other material was used to coat or polish them.

I certainly couldn’t risk buying something wood like the Rajasthan Antique Brown 4 Panel Handcrafted Wood Room Divider Screen 72×80, Intricately carved on both sides making it fully reversible, highly versatile. Hides clutter, adds décor, & divides the room even though it’s gorgeous and functional. New wood furniture tends to have a very strong smell for months if not years, but something like the Coaster 4-Panel Elegant Room Divider Screen, Ivory Fabric, Metal Frame might work since it’s metal and fabric. It’s really a matter of having the expendable funds to buy something that is a risk for both parakeet and husband acceptance. It also means finding a place to store it during the day, and in a small house that’s not easy.

In the meantime I think we’re doing the best we can to ensure the budgies get the rest they need, and any sleep lost during the night is probably made up with the numerous cat naps they take during the day.

Whipping up a new mix of parakeet food (and dumping it all on the floor)

As you know, I like to mix up batches of various seeds and pellets to try to hit most of the parakeet’s dietary needs without taking away from their drive to forage. I’ve been running low on my current blend and wanted to try something new. I also needed to replace a storage container, I threw out the one pictured in my post about grain beetles in my seed both because someone put scotch tape on the interior and I couldn’t get all the residue off, and also I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that no matter how well I cleaned it, there might still be beetle eggs in there somehow.

I purchased the OXO Good Grips POP Big Square 5.5-Quart/5.2 Litre Storage Container; I had looked carefully at the dimensions, but it turned out to be way bigger than what I intended to buy.  Down the road I may replace it with something easier to scoop out of, but for now it’s fine. I like that you get a really tight seal with the pop top, it seems much more airtight than a ziploc seal.

To fill it, I wanted to start with a base of Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, because I do believe that pellets are an important part of the parakeet’s diet. Make sure to get the Nibbles size for parakeets, in my experience the Crumbles are way too big.

Next I looked for a new seed mix, I’m always on the hunt for the best food for the parakeets, and Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb has some really great ingredients, and fabulous reviews. As soon as I opened up the bag I fell in love with the smell of this seed, it’s fruity and a little sweet, but very natural. I hand fed the parakeets some of it as I was putting this together and they took to it immediately. Sometimes it’s best to put in just a little of a new food mixed with old to make the adjustment easier, but I don’t have any concerns about them eating this at all.

Finally, I wanted to add in something they’ve already been enjoying, the F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival Parakeet Food, 2-Pound. I know a lot of people use this blend just as a treat because there’s a lot of fruit, but I love to add it in to my every day mix. I don’t think my parakeets touch many of the interesting bits, so for us it’s just awesome foraging and exposure to different shapes and colors.

I added all of the products to my excessively large OXO storage container and made some really lovely seed art –

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And then I attempted to stir it up – which was a challenge because of the depth of the container. I worked at it with a long stirring spoon for a while and then had the genius idea to gently shake it up. I popped the lid shut and turned the container in all directions – including upside down, which is when this happened.

As it turns out, the airtight lid is not strong enough to hold when turned upside down. Which probably should have been anticipated.  No judgements please, but the floor had just been cleaned the day before, and I really didn’t want to throw away that much money, so we salvaged what we could and vacuumed up the rest.

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the final product

I’m excited to have a new mix and I’m guessing the budgies are going to love it – fixes for next time include a smaller storage container and less vigorous shaking!

Review of Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes toy for birds

Usually when you install a new bird toy in your budgie’s cage you might expect some trepidation, that was not the case with Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds, which was immediately a favorite of both Toby and Kelly. I would also typically recommend leaving a toy in the cage for no more than one month before rotating, but both parakeets play with this every single day, sometimes the bulk of their play time is devoted to this single toy, so it’s been in our cage for several months now, and as you can see it still looks great.

It’s really more than one toy, you’ve got shoelaces for soft chewing and harder plastic straws for attempted destruction.  Beyond that, you’ve got an awesome wood ball to perch on at the top, and if you make all the way to the center of the straws there’s a secret bell inside! It is seriously multi-colored, but nothing so vibrant that it scares Toby, who tends to be put off by reds and oranges.

For parronts the best part of this toy is that it reduces a lot of play time fighting, it’s so tall that they can play at two levels without even seeing each other, or even just on opposites sides. Also they each love taking one single straw aside and dominating it or taking some time to preen.

I was worried initially that the plastic straws wouldn’t hold up very well to chewing, and I bet larger parrots would make short work of this toy, but it’s perfect for budgie-strength.

As I would recommend with all toys, you should wipe it down regularly and take it out to inspect for any damage that could hurt your parakeet.  I have trimmed some of the straws where they started to come apart a bit, I really don’t want them accidentally eating the plastic.

Overall though not much maintenance has been needed, and I think that even if I had to remove some of the straw pieces entirely this would still be a ‘keet favorite. They really seem to enjoy toys with parts they can move around and control.

At the time of this writing this toy is $12.49 and it’s available on Amazon Prime, so if your parakeets are begging for a new toy I can’t think of a better one to try.

 

Link to the product in this post

Review of Drs Foster & Smith exclusive woven corn husk toys for parakeets

I recently purchased a big box of new toys for our budgies (more reviews to come!).

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“big” may not be the right adjective

Drs. Foster & Smith is my first choice for buying parakeet toys. They have a massive selection, awesome exclusives, and it seems like there are new items every time I stock the toy drawer.

Additionally, their prices are very reasonable, and if you sign up for emails you’ll be notified of their frequent sales and coupon codes. Shipping is always free once you’ve spent a certain amount, as of this date it’s $19 but I know sometimes it’s higher.

One of the toys in my last order was the woven corn husk toy, small. As soon as I pulled it out of the box I knew it would be a huge hit, it’s got preening, destruction and tarzan-style swinging possibilities all in one toy! It’s held together on a thin steel bar, which is awesome because we can always reuse that once the toy has been thoroughly murdered.

Technically this is a foraging toy, you can put treats inside the little vine balls, but I don’t bother, they love destroying the balls just for the fun of it, so the treat aspect is pretty unnecessary for us.

There are loads of different textures to chew on, Toby likes the vine balls best, but Kelly likes to dig in to harder material, within 24 hours she had already chewed off one of the little wood blocks, but that leaves her with a lot more work to do.

I also love that the rope parts can be pulled through the balls, so when the budgie pulls one end it actually does move through before there is resistance.

My only issue is with the supreme cotton, I’ve seen alarming headlines recently about parrots eating fabric rope and getting huge masses in their crops that have to be surgically removed, this cotton rope seems like it would be a contributing factor to that sort of condition. It’s very loosely bound and fluffy bits pull off pretty easily. Even if they didn’t mean to, I could see a parakeet ingesting bits of this during a preening sessions. There’s even a note about the dangers of birds eating the rope in the product’s description. Fortunately the rope is just tied (not even tightly knotted) at intervals and easy to remove without even using scissors.

There’s so much else to do with this toy that the rope seemed pretty superfluous to begin with, and we’ve got other toys that are dedicated to soft-material preening. Additionally the parakeets can preen each other or the human members of the flock!

So – thumbs up from the humans and the parakeets for this product, and at just $6.99 at the time of this writing, I think it’s an excellent value. I would recommend modifying it to remove the cotton, just to be on the safe side.

Changing seasons – comfortable temperatures for budgies

We had a very hot summer here in New York, Patrick and I historically haven’t used our central sir conditioning very much, some years we just tough out the heat, and others we install a window unit or two and blow around cool air on particularly warm days.

Life with budgies definitely changed that habit! Like a lot of animals, parakeets don’t have sweat glands, and when they overheat they don’t have too many ways to cool themselves down. Mostly, you’ll see them hold their wings out from their bodies to get some air flow going, which is something they also do when they are feeling very aggressive.

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Am I mad?  No, just hot!

This summer, we found that we needed to use the central AC most days, but we kept it at 78 degrees, which was relatively comfortable for all parties, without breaking the bank on energy usage. If you’re using window units or fans around your parakeets, please don’t have direct cold airflow on the parakeets.  That goes for central AC vents as well. Additionally, if you have ceiling fans any fan without blade guards you will not want to use those when your budgies are out and about, as they can get seriously injured or killed being struck by a fan.

Budgies do best in temperatures that range from 65-85, but the key is about keeping the temperature relatively steady. A rapid 20 degree swing in either direction would be hard for them to cope with, but over a period of days/weeks they will adjust to increasing or decreasing temps.

As I write this it’s towards the end of September and looking at the weather forecast I’m expecting to turn on my heat towards the beginning of next week, usually we humans would tough out the first cold overnight dips, but the parakeets are not going to be comfortable at 64 degrees or lower; last winter we kept the house at a steady 68, which Toby seemed happy with.

So – an overheated budgie holds his wings out from his body to get some air flow to his “armpits”, what does a chilly budgie do? He fluffs all his feathers out to trap more heat between them, which looks a lot like preening behavior or sick budgie behavior. We only saw Toby do this a couple of times last winter, on days that were exceptionally frigid.

A parakeet is a warm weather bird that can acclimate reasonably well to a range of temperatures, but in addition to keeping them warm enough in winter you should also keep an eye on the humidity, they are happiest in 60-70% humidity, which certainly feels too damp for us. We shoot for 50% and keep track of it with an AcuRite 00613 Indoor Humidity Monitor. Budgies without enough humidity can get dry, cracked feet, among other things, so you can also make sure your budgie is getting a bath in winter, or at least getting his feet wet to help with scaliness.

Another way to help your budgie regulate his temperature in winter is with a K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch – Small 10.5″. The recommendation is to put it in the top 2/3 of the cage, so hopefully your parakeet will choose to sleep on it overnight and keep warm in dropping temps. We tried using this last year and Toby wanted nothing to do with it – avoided it like the plague. This year I thought perhaps Kelly would like it and show Toby there was no imminent danger, so I installed it directly below the most coveted sleeping perch.

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See heated perch above and to the right – theoretically helping to dry this post-bath budgie

They were fine with its existence all day; although no one wanted to touch it, but come lights out Toby would not settle down and basically acted like she couldn’t get to her sleeping perch because this hideous heated monster was in her way. We have a hard and fast rule now about not putting our hands in the cage after “bed time”, so all I could do was unplug the vile thing and hope that was the issue.

Toby did settle down shortly after, although I’m not sure whether I can truly draw a correlation or whether she was just exhausted. Either way, I took it out the next morning. We may end up using it like we did last year, when we installed it very low in the cage and just hoped that some of the small amount of heat radiating out would help. There are tons of great reviews of these; I think it’s a useful and safe product, Toby is just to fearful for it to work out as intended. It comes in two textures, I purchased the sand-like option, which I would also recommend, I read several reviews of parrots not being able to get a grip on the smooth version.

When it actually gets cold I’m going to buy and try the K&H Manufacturing Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Small/Medium Grey – I am sure that since it’s gray Toby will want nothing to do with it, but at least I could put it somewhere that’s not near sleep town and maybe Kelly will enjoy it, or Toby will accidentally end up near it once in a while. I’ll report back after we’ve given tried it out.

Bottom line on parakeet temperatures is to watch out for rapid swings in either directions and you should be okay. I’ve seen parronts reporting that they keep their homes in the low 60’s in winter and their budgies adjust, and I’m sure that not everyone has central air conditioning in summer, or even necessarily window AC units. Keep in mind that if you’re uncomfortable with the temperature they probably are too, and you should be good to go.

10 ideas for parakeet enrichment

When I mention enrichments you might just think about larger parrots, but parakeets need to have new and interesting experiences too. They are very bright and it’s important to keep their brains active and working on new ideas and objects. Here are a few of the enrichments that we’ve done with our budgies.

    • Paper Towels or Toilet Paper tubes – some parakeets may happily run right through these whole, but you can also cut them into smaller rings that are run to chew, toss around and drop. Also an empty cereal or oatmeal box can be cut in half for a hideout.
    • Baby teething rings that snap together – (Bright Starts Lots of Links Accessory Toy) Parakeets will enjoy chewing on the hard plastic and these are great to hang off perches, either alone or changed together. You may even see some ring gymnastics. A ring hung off a perch is also a good brain teaser, figuring out how to slide it off and throw on the floor can be quite a puzzle.
    • Use the floor or a table – changing the venue sometimes makes an old toy exciting again. I also like to scatter some Seed or Pellets around on any flat surface with toys and let then “forage”.
    • Hold a half empty bottle of water sideways, tilt it gently side to side to make a wave. This fascinates my parakeets to no end, and they love to try and go after the drops of water on the inside of the bottle.
    • Throw on a hooded sweatshirt and let them explore your hood and chew your drawstrings. If the sweatshirt has a kangaroo pouch show them the opening and let them go through or think about it. One of our parakeets is tremendously neophobic and won’t really do much adventuring, but even thinking about a new situation is beneficial. A similar approach could be using a folded sheet of paper as a tent, not only is it a pop-up cave but a great opportunity for paper destruction.
    • Foraging food ball (Creative Foraging Systems+E487 CFS Fillable 3-Ball and Kabob Pet Feeder) – load this up with shredded lettuce or kale and millet, even if you parakeet won’t eat vegetables he’s going to have a fantastic time teasing them out of the ball and throwing them to the floor. You could put any kind of vegetable or fruit in there, they would all be equally fun to get out.
    • window perches – There are hours of entertainment to be had in sitting and watching the world, especially if there are other birds outside! Toby and Kelly both love watching the outdoor birds and weather, expect lots of yelling and watch out for crows and other things that can scare your fids (feathered kids).
    • Vegetables and fruits in new and exciting ways – If you always offer veggies diced, try giving a whole broccoli floret or thin strips of carrots or apple.
    • Play new sounds for your parakeets to learn – We love this R2D2 mix for parakeets that has all the screeching noises removed. Toby and Kelly have to hear it about 8 times in a row before they start trying to mimic, but you can see them paying attention and thinking about it. We haven’t had any big successes yet, but we have the two least melodic budgies ever, so yours will probably do better!
    • Come find me – If you have a flighted parakeet who can be trusted out of his cage alone for short periods of time, leave the room and call to him to come find you – Toby will methodically fly around the house seeking us out and she’s always so proud when she reaches her goal!

As long as you’re introducing new objects and concepts you are doing a great job enriching your parakeets and keeping their lives interesting. Even something as simple as a water bottle or a piece of paper can keep a budgie’s mind active and engaged.