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.

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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 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 FruitBlend Flavor Pellets, 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 Crumbles, 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 Nibbles, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of her 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 going to eat 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 budgies, 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 Parakeet Food, 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.

Update, we later completely abandoned pellets and now feed a mixture of Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Dr. Harvey’s Best Parakeet Blend. For our flock seeds vs. pellets ended with seeds as the winner, of course with additional fresh vegetables and fruits!

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. Here are the items you should expect to get for your initial cage setup.

The first thing you need is a cage – we chose the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage (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, she lived in a 18″ square block. Our second parakeet, Kelly, also ended up living in this cage and ended up absolutely hating it because it was too small for her to fly in at all.

For the bottom of the cage, you can certainly line with newspaper but I really like Custom Cut Bird Cage Liners, 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 whether his wings were clipped and how severely. 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 a Cuttlebone or Mineral Blocks which they chew on to fill in on some gaps in their diet, particularly calcium.

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

So, that’s all you need…except it’s really a pretty big investment.  Your parakeet cage setup may cost approximately $25, but the start up gear can easily run $400. 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!