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.

Ways to make a little extra scratch

As I’ve mentioned before, the cost of bird-ownership can be pretty high, even for parakeets. The constant stream of toys needed, food, and upgrades to their living conditions add up every month.

I’m sure you really don’t want to get a second job outside of the home, because then you’d be taking away more time that you could be spending with your budgies, and your time is the most important thing you can give them.

I have been working with a few different companies for a long time to make a little extra money from home, it’s never going to amount to much, but for a relatively small time investment it’s been worth it. Also, since my laptop is right next to our bird cage I’m frequently logging time with the parakeet while I’m doing a survey or checking my stats.

Here are the companies that I personally use and recommend.

MySurvey.com – I’ve been a member here for well over 5 years, they are definitely trustworthy. You complete a long initial survey and then they send you invites for surveys you may qualify to participate in.  I’m not sure if this is true of everyone, but I get about 5 survey invites per day, I try to go in once and week and clear them out. It can be frustrating because you will not qualify for most of the surveys you begin, and you get no points if you are screened out. I have been able to do some product testing through this site as well over the years, which I really enjoy. Most recently my household tested toilet paper and paper towels, in the past we’ve done toothpaste, mouthwash and various body products. Those are a nice bonus too, especially if you like the products, 4 free rolls of toilet paper never hurts!  you do have to be comfortable sharing information about yourself such as age, household income and other semi-sensitive data, but this is used in aggregate with other responses and I have never had an issue with personal security due to this site.

Points that are accumulated can be cashed out to choose rewards from an online catalog, or you can cash out to PayPal, a paper check, or Amazon gift certificates. I usually cash out to Amazon since that’s where I buy the bulk of my parakeet supplies, and everything else for my house.

Paidviewpoint.com – (note – this is a referral link) This is a survey site that works a bit differently, there are no terribly long surveys and they pay out even if you don’t qualify for a survey; however, they pay about 1 penny each for qualifying questions and then about 3-4 cents per questions once you’re in a survey. You can cash out to PayPal but only after you accumulate $15, which can take a while. They send out survey invites intermittently, but not reliably, so I recommend visiting once or twice a day to see if any surveys are waiting for you. This is another reputable site that I have been paid by and have had no trouble with.

NCPOnline.com – National Consumer Panel is a Nielsen/IRi Joint Venture – for this site you download an app to your smart phone and then scan every single purchase you make and transmit the data to NCP, earning points each week that you scan. You can also earn points by taking surveys, some are targeted based on your purchases and others are very general. The data you provide is analyzed by NCP and shared with manufacturers and retailers. It is used to shape marketing decisions and has the potential to impact what products are available in stores.

NCP also has sweepstakes for members every week/month/quarter and year, there are cash prizes and some big ticket items. You earn entries by transmitting and you can choose to receive survey entries instead of points for surveys.

For a long time the points you earned on NCP could only be spent on their reward catalog merchandise, and they did not offer many gift card options because they don’t want to influence your spending patterns, which makes sense. Recently they started offering cash outs to Amazon gift cards.

NCP is a little more exclusive than MySurvey or PaidViewPoint, you have to apply to be a panelist, and your acceptance depends on whether they are recruiting in your area. I’ve been a part of the panel for a number of years and even though scanning can be tedious it’s well worth it. Also, I do like thinking that I could influence the marketplace.

So – those are my tips for making a little extra money to support a millet habit! If anyone else has any good sites please feel free to comment.

Moving on up – Toby gets a new house

Toby started out in the Prevue Pet Products PR33511 Park Plaza Flat Top Black&44; 18 X 18 X 49, a cage that I still love for its many great features. The large front door with two locking mechanisms for added security is both smart and functional, making it very easy to get in and out of the cage with new perches and toys, and easy to bring out your bird. Also the food/water bowls swing outward for quick removal and refills. The seed catcher helps to contain mess, and the grate and tray system is elegantly designed and makes clean up a total snap.

Unfortunately, the shape of the park plaza was just all wrong for our first parakeet. In theory, Toby should have been utilizing the full vertical length of the cage to enjoy her gambols. In practice, she refused to go very far below the food dish, and if she ended up on the bottom of the cage accidentally she would zip right back up to the top. The only way she would go lower intentionally was if you sat on the floor next to her and told her she was fine.

Of course we migrated all of the toys and perches towards the top of the cage to accommodate her neuroses and it was starting to get very unbalanced. Beyond that, not using the lower half of the cage meant that Toby really didn’t have enough room to stretch out, and she started to let us know with a lot of yelling and very intense wing flapping. Additionally, with Toby not having clipped wings, an 18″ length wasn’t enough for her to get even a short flight in cage. I hate to guess at her motivations, but I believe she was very frustrated by this, and it made her quite desperate to get out of the cage whenever she could. Also because she wasn’t getting adequate exercise and moving around enough, she had so much energy to burn off when she did come out that she made a poor companion. And finally, she started resisting going back to the cage when play time was over, and it turned into a battle every time to convince Toby she should go home and take a break.

I think some of that was also due to not having any company in the cage, but that’s a story for another day.

I had the thought rattling around in my head that Toby really deserved a much bigger cage that would be better suited for her personality (this may also have been part of my master plan to add at least one more parakeet). I anticipated some push back from my husband on adding a larger cage to our dining area, since we’re already pretty limited on space. So,  I brought it up very casually and to my surprise Patrick had already been thinking about upgrading Toby as well. He had not, however, been thinking about adding any more parakeets to the mix….

We went on a hunt for a suitable cage and found the HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage with Cart Stand at Doctors Foster & Smith, which added 10″ in length and allowed for a lot more freedom of motion, and also stood up much higher meaning Toby would use every square inch. You can see in the picture below what a major space upgrade this was. I love that on this cage the top opens up and it has this amazing little “porch” that comes out above the main door, those two features alone make the whole cage worth it, the parakeets get so much use out of them and they can get in and out very easily. The tray system is very well-designed and includes security to make sure you don’t end up with any escapee birds while cleaning.IMG_0693

When installing your parakeet in a new cage it’s a good idea to not pressure her into moving too fast, especially with a neophobe like Toby. To help in the process, we put the new cage together with her watching to get her interested and then put it next to her current cage. Over the next few days we let her explore the cage of her own volition, where she found new toys to play with and a couple of old favorites as well. We didn’t wait too long before moving her in completely and taking away the old cage, but if she had been exhibiting reservations about it we would have held off until she was comfortable.

Toby loves living in the new cage and we did see an immediate positive impact on her behavior. We could fit a much greater variety of toys in the new cage which helped with boredom, and the added space meant she could get a lot more exercise in house. Even though the new cage is much larger, it’s so attractive that it just feels like a piece of furniture.

We held on to the Park Plaza cage and it came in very handy as our second parakeet’s quarantine/starter cage. Kelly is much more adventurous and got use out of the whole cage, and since she is clipped she didn’t need as much space to spread her wings out.

The HQ Victorian is more than big enough for two parakeets to live comfortably. I think we could fit at least one more in there, but we are currently pretending that we’re going to stick with just two birds at a time.

Feeding your parakeet: seeds vs. pellets

Before bringing home our first parakeet I had already decided that I would start Toby off on a seed-based diet, to make her transition from the pet store easier.  There are so many conflicting reviews on Amazon that I ended up buying two well-rated seed blends and then mixing those together.  They were F.M. Brown’s Encore Parakeet Food, 5-Pound and Kaytee foraging grassland parakeet.

Those were going fine as far as Toby was concerned, but I started doing more research and read about how seeds are not sufficient nutrition for parakeets, not only are they full of fat but they also don’t have enough vitamins and minerals, and parakeets on a seed-based diet may have much shorter lives than those on a pellet-based diet.

Of course as someone who just fell in love with parakeets the thought of consigning mine to an early death was horrifying!  I immediately purchased a bag of ZUPREEM 230301 Fruitblend Small Keet Food, 2-Pound, which Toby ardently hated. She doesn’t really like fruit and won’t eat anything that has an unnatural color so it was a huge misstep.

Back to the drawing board – and thank goodness these are all relatively inexpensive products, so it’s not a hardship to do some experimentation and I heartily recommend it.

My next try was Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Crumbles, 44-Ounce, which I thought was the smallest possible pellet available from Roudybush, although it turned out I was wrong (kind of a trend) and it was too big for Toby to deal with. So, I bought the Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of his diet.

We began reducing the percentage of seed and adding in pellets at about a 50% ratio, but it just didn’t feel right cutting seeds out entirely. Doing some more research, I found that there’s not enough evidence for me that pellets are really nutritionally complete, and more than that, if it’s bad for me to eat a diet of processed foods, then why would it be good for my parakeet?

I also started reading about how a pellet diet could be very detrimental to a bird’s mental health. Thinking about it this way, if someone told you tomorrow that you were just going to eat bland oatmeal every day, every meal, for the rest of your life, how would that go over with you?  What do you think that would do to your overall happiness?

Especially as it relates to parakeets, their beaks are designed to hull seeds and their bodies are designed to process them.  It just doesn’t seem right to me to take that away completely.

As it stands now, I’m feeding one tablespoon of Roudybush nibbles pellets per day with two tablespoons of Kaytee Forti Diet Pro Health Food for Parakeet, 5-Pound, this is doled out in two bowls and I discard everything every 24 hours. I know I’m throwing away a lot of pellets and unhulled seeds, but I’d rather know for sure that they have enough food instead of adding more on top of a pile of hulls.

We do also offer a fruit or vegetable every day in addition to the pellets and seeds, they get some interest, hopefully enough to supplement their diet and provide some mental enrichment too.

I haven’t gotten interested yet in going the homemade route, sprouting seeds and mixing up batches of super healthy ingredients, but check back with me in a year or so and I might be there.

Until then, this is what we feed and so far so good!

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Ultimately, what to feed your parakeet is a very personal decision and everyone has to come to their own conclusions about what they think is best. Toby got a hull stuck in her throat in spring of this year and for about 24 hours I thought she was probably going to die. Thankfully we were able to help her dislodge it, but I walked away from that experience pretty adamant that we were switching to pellets and I would never look back.

It didn’t stick, obviously, because I think that a life of just eating pellets would probably be so unsatisfying for her that the risk is worth it.

Good luck to everyone making these choices, they are certainly not easy, and I can’t say that even now I think one way or the other is correct or “the best”, everyone can only do what feels right to them, and what works for their household.

Preparing for parakeet – cage setup

For me, setting up a home for our first parakeet had a fun sense of expectation, like Christmas Eve or a small slice of what it’s like for new parents setting up a nursery.

The first thing you need is a cage – we chose the Prevue Pet Products 3352COCO Park Plaza Bird Cage, Coco Brown (seen above), which is a great quality cage with a lot of features, like the double-locking front door and bowl holders that swing out for easy feeding and watering.  It worked out really well for socializing, as you can see in the picture.  The seed catcher also helped minimize messes.

Ultimately this cage did not work for Toby because she refused to go below the level the of the food cups, so instead of a 18″ x 18″ 49″ cage, he lived in a 18″ square block. Our second parakeet, Kelly, also ended up living in this cage and it worked out much better for her.

For the bottom of the cage, you can certainly line with newspaper but I really like Bird Cage Liners – Large Cages – Pick-Your-Size – 150 Count – 60 Pound Paper, they can catch a lot of liquid without anything seeping through (expect some water bowl spills), and it couldn’t be more convenient to take off the top sheet every day or so.

You’ll want to get a supply of food, seeds or pellets are the main options, or some combination of the two.  I’m planning a post solely on that issue, so my suggestion is to buy whatever your bird has been used to eating. The trauma of the move will throw him off enough, without trying to get him onto another food immediately.

Parakeets need a few different kinds of perches, and perches of varying sizes which all serve a different function for their feet and beaks.  Here are examples of the types you will want to provide:

Booda Comfy Perch for Birds, Medium 32-Inch, Colors Vary
Polly’s Desert Sands Bird Perch, Medium
Prevue Pet Products BPV1020 Cosmic Crunch Bird Perch, Small

We have used all of those perches and they’ve worked out well for my parakeets.  One thing to watch out for when buying perches or toys is the size. Many items are meant for larger parrots but it can be hard to tell, so always look at the dimensions and carefully read the descriptions.

Your budgie will also need to start out with a few basic toys. They may come home without having learned to play with toys, but you can show them what to do easily. They learn very quickly and have a natural inclination to play. Toys are also critical for beak maintenance, preening instinct and satisfying the limitless drive to chew.

Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy
JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary
Paradise Toys Small Cotton Preening Ring, 5-Inch W by 7-Inch L

When you’re setting everything up, keep in mind that depending on where your parakeet came from he may not know how to move around on the cage bars and he may not be able to fly depending on how his wings were clipped. So, have an eye towards making the cage easy to get around – the comfy perches are great for mobility, if you buy the longer perch it can create a flexible ramp leading to the food and water bowls and other toys and perches. Try to think about how your parakeet will move around the cage – you’ll be able to make adjustments once you have him home, of course, but it’s not always so easy when there’s a bird in the cage!

Just a couple of items left, one is some type of Penn-Plax® Banana & Berry Cuttlebone & Mineral Block Combo for Birds, 2-Pack which they chew on to fill in on some gaps in their diet and also to keep their beaks in check.

For socializing and treats you’ll want Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count, your parakeet may not know it right when he comes home, but this is his favorite treat.

Finally Lixit Wide Mouth Bird Bottle, 10-Ounce, which is not a necessity and I would not recommend completely replacing  a standard bowl of water, but it’s a nice addition. Both our parakeets strongly prefer drinking from the bottle versus the bowl.  You do have to be vigilant about making sure they are in good working order, they can get stopped up easily.

So, that’s all you need…except it’s really a pretty big investment.  Your parakeet may cost approximately $25, but the start up gear can easily run $400-$500. On top of that, you’ll need (and want) to replace the toys and perches at a pretty steady rate.

For my final note I wanted to give an estimate on what you can expect to spend monthly on your parakeet upkeep (not including start up costs) and I think it’s probably pretty close to $40-$50 – I like to have extra toys and perches on deck so I can switch things out when I think the keets are getting bored. My husband thinks I am on the very high end of reality, and believes we spend closer to $30 average per month, with some months much less. Toby and Kelly think we should stop worrying about it and just keep our wallets open!

Related content: I finally worked up a real-world estimate of what getting prepared for your parakeet will cost. Spoiler alert: it’s not $500!