Taming Kevin – two steps forward and one back

From the start, Kevin has been a hard sell as far as human companionship is concerned. Once he was introduced to Toby and Kelly we humans hung back for a bit. It seemed more important that he get along well with the budgies and find his sweet spot in the bird flock, so taming our male budgie was put on the back burner.

Kevin has done so well fitting in with our girl budgies. It took some time for them to stop trying to bite his head, but now he’s got this great vibe going. I’m not sure how he negotiated it, but they both seem to respect him without requiring much violence at all. It’s rare to see him fight with anyone, but he somehow manages to get his way. And he’s so happy most of the time! He sings all day and tries to feeds the girls, even though they are not having it.

He has intense conversations with inanimate objects, sings along to the radio and tv (his favorite show is Intervention), loves taking baths and trying new foods. Now that he’s been through a big molt he has almost all his flight feathers back and he is definitely the fastest flyer of all three. Sometimes he even has to take extra loops to slow down before landing. Kevin is basically the perfect pet parakeet, except he thinks that his human family is not to be trusted!

Patrick tried working with Kevin pretty intensely when he was in quarantine to no avail. I had hoped that once Kevin saw that Toby and Kelly basically treat me like a human play gym he would loosen up a little bit. And he has, but it is taking months.

Kevin will step up when asked, and then tends to look for his first chance to escape. We’ll go on for weeks of me asking him to step up a few times a day and then all of a sudden he’ll land on my shoulder, or randomly decide to beak my nose or glasses. I, of course, get excited thinking we’ve made a break through, and then he goes back to alternately ignoring me or acting like I’m very suspicious!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled he’s happy, and I’m sure I should be even more thrilled to have such a polite and shy young man, as a counter point to my crazy, brash girls. But, I do look forward to building a bond with Kevin and showing him how cool his human flock can be.

I’m grateful that these little guys have a nice long life span; I should have a lot of years to make friends. Lately I’ve been working with him much more and using my old standby Millet. It’s a bit square one as far as taming goes, but hey, whatever works! I hope that continuing to have him associate me with the possibility of treats will eventually unlock a bit more trust.

I am constantly counseling patience when budgie owners express frustration with their standoffish birds. It’s hard to take my own advice, but I’m confident that if I keep on the steady treat-giving path we’ll get there!

How do you not want to be friends with this guy?

Tips for budgie names – ideas and themes

Picking out and bringing home your new budgie is very exciting, but choosing a name can feel a bit more daunting. Particularly since budgies live up to 15 years and learn their names very easily, it’s a pretty big responsibility! I find that if you have a theme or a general set of names to chose from choosing a name can be fun, but not overwhelming. Here are my tips for budgie names.

  1. You can always choose names based on color, Toby was almost named Blueberry (Berry for short). There are lots of Kiwis, Clouds, Storms, Sunshines and Rains out there. Not to say they are bad names, in fact I think it’s very cute. You could also go for a scientific cloud or other weather name.
  2. Characters from books or movies. Even if you start with one budgie, and are dead-set that he will be an only bird, you’re probably going to end up with more budgies. That’s just the way it goes. So, if you start with a theme idea you’ll always have names at the ready. Toby, Kelly and Kevin are named after characters from the American TV show The Office. I could name parakeets for the rest of my life based on characters from that show! You could do the same thing with characters from Friends, Harry Potter, Sesame Street, or The Muppets. When you pick a theme like this you have a ton of naming options, but only enough that it feels fun choosing a name, instead of impossible to narrow down.
  3. Similarly, if you’re bringing home a pair of budgies choosing a theme couple name can make life easier. Fortunately, parakeets do not care if their name matches their sex, so you could have a male pair of Thelma & Louise without anyone having an identity crisis. I also like Oscar and Felix, Finn and Jake and Rick & Morty.
  4. If you are adopting an adult bird, please don’t drastically change his name. Budgies learn their names and it becomes part of their identity. Kevin responded to his name within two weeks of being home. In the wild, budgies name each other with certain sounds and use those “names” for the rest of their lives. If you truly can’t stand the name then Thaddeus can become Ted, keeping a familiar sound. Similarly, Jerkface could transition to Jerry much more easily than he could to Nimbus.

Good luck naming your new friend!  No matter what you choose after a while it will seem to suit them perfectly and be part of who they are, so don’t stress over it too much. Every member of our flock had their name chosen before we met them, I think sometimes we chose the birds to fit the names!

New parakeet fitting in update – how Kevin is faring with the girls

On our last Kevin update, I recounted the horrible evening we had trying to get everyone settled down for bed. We’ve done some tweaking since then, and now Kevin and Toby are living together in one cage with Kelly next door. Being a new parakeet fitting in is probably never easy, but Kevin really has his work cut out for him with our two ladies.

First, we spent a few days with everyone living mostly peacefully in a single flight cage. There were evening battles and Toby and Kelly would mix is up a couple of times a day, but they left Kevin out of it and it was going pretty well. So well, in fact, that I cleaned out the HQ Victorian Top cage and put it away in a closet, therefore damning myself with the universe, since the very next day everything fell apart!

It was a Sunday morning and we had several errands to run, so instead of letting the birds out right away I left them in the cage while we had our morning coffee and got ready to go. Well, Toby and Kelly began an epic battle that was reminiscent of last summer’s death matches. Toby went after Kelly, knocking her to the ground where they proceeded to roll around trying to kill each other, breaking apart only to have Kelly hop after Toby starting the whole thing over again. It’s bad enough just to have the two of them try to murder each other, but Kevin being in the middle of it was just added horror and he flitted around trying to stay out of their way.

We let them out, got everyone calmed down and I quickly rolled the HQ Victorian back out, once Toby and Kelly get into this mode it’s just not safe to leave them alone together. I didn’t want to delay the inevitable. But, we knew that night time would still be a major issue because Kelly does not like being alone. We covered the side of her cage that faces Toby and Kevin’s for a  couple of days and she calmed down eventually. Now they all seem to understand who lives where, and ultimately except for the addition of Kevin it’s exactly the same configuration as before.

Poor Kevin has been a total angel throughout everything. He’s very intelligent, you can see him constantly observing the girls and thinking about how to navigate life with them. He always defers to either girl on matters of who should eat, who will sit where, basically in all things he lets them go first and then hangs back until it’s his “turn”.

I’ve been worried about him since we brought him home, because he wasn’t playing with toys, singing, or eating enough. In the couple of weeks since he’s been out of quarantine I’ve seen him playing and eating more, and then in one single day last week he ate millet that we offered him, tried some broccoli, AND started singing again! He’s not singing very often yet, or consistently eating millet or vegetables, but it was such a relief that he’s coming around to life with us. We are still working on human acceptance, so far I can tell he likes it when we speak or sing to him and tell him what a good boy he is.

On several occasions I’ve seen him think about hopping on my hand or shoulder, and he’s not ready to make that leap yet. But, he’ll get there soon enough.  He also has one flight feather grown back in and he does exceptionally well with short flights. I think when he’s got all his feathers back he’ll be the best flier out of all of them!

As far as fitting in with the girls I was just so wrong about how it would go (of course). Isn’t there an expression about making plans and the universe laughing? I assumed that if Kelly had a friend who would reciprocate affection to her she would stop fixating on Toby. But, she’s equally as focused on Toby and obviously it’s going as poorly as it ever has!  Kelly has been more consistently aggressive to Kevin as well, especially when they are in the same cage alone, she doesn’t take to him at all.

Toby, as expected, doesn’t want much to do with him, but tolerates his presence as long as he doesn’t get in her way. As far as possible inroads, they have been spotted playing with the same toy, one at the bottom and one at the top, so that’s good! They do pretty well at bed time too, with some very minor squabbles that fizzle quickly once Toby realized Kevin isn’t interested in fighting.

I know it’s way too early to call it a fail, which it isn’t no matter what happens because Kevin is such a joy. But I don’t think he’s going to fix any of the inter-bird relationships that we already had going so wrong. He was very ready the first day out of quarantine to start bonding with them, he tried regurgitating to Toby and getting close and has been rejected over and over again. Now having adjusted his approach he may win them over on the long run.

Some folks may disagree with me, but what Kevin has shown more than anything is that I don’t want to have any more girl parakeets. I know that it varies greatly by bird, and some girls, like Toby, can be very nice. But listening to Kevin sing and watching him be so sweet and thoughtful, it’s a totally different parakeet experience. I feel bad bringing him into this environment where it’s tough to be a part of the flock. Right now he’s a bit of an outsider, I’m confident that he’s reasonably happy and figuring things out, but it’s not ideal.

Still, we adore him and we are enjoying him so much! Since Toby is so obsessed with Patrick I’m hoping that Kevin and I can bond. Kelly will still be the odd bird out, but that may be her lot in life. She’s very intense, overbearing, cranky and out of step with everyone.

As much as I now have diminished (realistic?) expectations for Kevin, I’m excited to see how he develops, both in his flock relationships and his personal development as he gets more comfortable at home.

How to avoid breeding parakeets

Now that we have added a boy to our formerly all girl flock, some folks have asked if we plan to breed parakeets. The answer is a resounding “NO”! I plan to avoid breeding parakeets for several reasons:

  1. I have enough parakeets and don’t want more, particularly with my husband’s allergies, three molting parakeets is about all he can take! Also, the world does not need me to make more parakeets, there are loads out there that need a good home. I see lots of home-based breeders who have a hard time finding homes for their babies.
  2. Breeding parakeets can be incredibly difficult. If it goes well, maybe not, but even provisioning a nest box, nesting material, and then keeping the babies and nest clean is more than I want to handle. And that’s just basic human intervention, assuming mom and dad budgie do their job caring for the babies. If they can’t or won’t I would have to take over feeding babies on a crazy schedule, with a full time job there’s no way.
  3. The health risks to my adult females is not worth it for me. Laying budgies can become egg bound, which is potentially fatal. Yes, I know that every female parakeet may lay eggs, whether they are fertile or not. But, we’ve been able to keep our two girls, both in breeding condition for over a year, from laying at all. If I can prevent it, I do not want the presence of a male parakeet to change that track record.
  4. If allowed to begin breeding we could quickly end up with an excessive number of parakeets. Also, I would then have to worry about the baby parakeets growing up and wanting to breed with their clutch mates/siblings. Animals don’t have a sense that incest is undesirable, so it would be incumbent on me to make sure they didn’t breed with close relatives. And basically everyone in the cage would be a relative.
  5. The cost of care and potential veterinarian costs would rise exponentially with the numbers of parakeets, and I’m not prepared to take on a large additional expense.

How do I plan to keep them from breeding and laying?

  1. Provide no nest box or anything that could be perceived as a nest. I’m aware that some budgies will lay just about anywhere, including a cage floor or just randomly while sitting on a perch. But, not providing anything that could be construed as a next box is one way to discourage laying. This means no flat wood perches, no food bowls that they can comfortably sit in, and absolutely no Coconut Hideaways , Sea Grass Bird Snuggle Huts or anything else that they can hide in, sit on, or may otherwise see as a desirable place to raise children.
  2. Limit daylight hours. We need to keep day and night even, if the budgies think that it’s springtime with longer days they may decide it’s a good time to start laying. We are going to make sure that everyone gets 12 hours of darkness and no more than 12 hours of light. If things start getting amorous we may push it back to more darkness than that.
  3. Separate the sexes. No one has expressed any romantic interest in Kevin yet, but it the cage starts rocking I will probably make the choice to keep Kevin caged apart from whichever girl wants to mate with him. We just got down to one cage, so that will not be ideal, but if they are only together under adult supervision, and with the third wheel of the other girl, hopefully we can keep these crazy kids from knocking beaks.

I know there’s no way to 100% keep them from laying eggs if their bodies tell them to do it, but I can still control what happens at that point. I’m sure that this is a bit controversial, or offensive to some, but I don’t believe that my female parakeets have a natural “right” to reproduce. I think that it’s okay for me, the ultimately responsible party, to ensure that we don’t bring more parakeets into the world. Here are some options for what to do if we end up with unwanted eggs.

  1. After the first egg is laid, complete the clutch with Dummy Eggs . Using the dummy eggs to get up to a full clutch of seven can make the budgie stop laying. At that point I would just leave her the fake eggs to care for until she was bored of them.
  2. As eggs are laid, shake, boil, or freeze them and then return to the cage. If boiling or freezing, make sure the eggs come back to room temperature before returning. Again, wait until the parakeet is tired of caring for the eggs and then remove.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that we can keep everyone in the friend zone. But, if not, I’m glad to have a plan for contingencies and unwanted eggs. I would encourage every parakeet parent to leave breeding up to the pros (including home-based pros, of course!) and also to be mindful of the fact that there is no shortage of parakeets out there already who are looking for good homes.

Bed time is a total nightmare with three budgies!

After several days of all three cages out in the main living area Patrick and I were more than ready to consolidate parakeets and get back down to two cages. Kevin’s quarantine cage was more than half blocking the hallway to the bedroom and bathroom so you’d have to sort of sidle past. Not only was this a pain for us, but we were definitely waking Kevin up every time we went from the living room to the rest of the house after 7pm! Little did I know that reducing the number of cages would result in a budgie bed time nightmare for all of us.

The first surprising decision we made was to move Toby into Kelly’s flight cage and put Kelly and Kevin in the HQ Victorian Top cage.  Everyone seemed to enjoy using that cage during the day, choosing to nap in there and hang out on the porch like they used to. It was always Kelly’s favorite cage too, we only upgraded her because she seemed so agitated we thought she needed a larger space, but it turned out she was just generally dissatisfied being separated from Toby, even if it was for her own safety!

So, we picked a morning and reduced the three cages down to two, and Kevin found his new favorite spot on a  perch between them. We changed things up in every cage, trying to shake them all up and reduce any feelings of ownership or territoriality.

Kevin looking very handsome prior to the budgie bed time nightmareThe first day went swimmingly. They moved between cages and had a great time hanging out together and negotiating their lives as a flock of three. Kevin is still doing a lot of observation, and refuses to get involved in petty arguments. Toby likes to try and intimidate other birds from eating, but Kevin very calmly stands his ground and they typically end up eating out of the same bowl! It’s funny how he can be passive but at the same time he usually gets what he wants without being violent.

Soon the whole day had passed and it was time for everyone to bed down. I decided to try having Kevin sleep in with Toby in the big cage, because he is so chill about everything I really don’t have to worry about her being too aggressive with him, where as I had still seen Kelly aggressing on him a bit.

As soon as the lights dimmed I realized we had a bit of an unexpected issue. Kevin wouldn’t settle down! He kept climbing up and down the side bars closest to Kelly. I intuited that he wanted to be with Kelly and moved him to Kelly’s cage, leaving Toby alone.

Well, that didn’t work. Kelly was agitated and wanted to be in the next cage over with Toby. I would have been okay with letting her burn off the energy and giving up but she started biting the cage bars, which makes this absolutely infuriating clangy bang noise that drives me up a wall.

I then moved Kelly into Toby’s cage. That didn’t work for two reasons. Toby attacked Kelly immediately and Kevin got very upset that he was all alone.

So – I moved Kevin into the flight cage with Kelly and moved Toby into the cage on the left by herself.

At this point both Kelly and Toby are upset. Kelly because they are separated again and Toby because she can’t settle down, there are two toys higher than the perches in the HQ Victorian so she has to try to sleep on them, and can’t get comfortable, shockingly, on the narrow ledge of a mirror top.

It was like the most deranged shell game ever. Finally after about an hour of shuffling them around like a moron I stuck them all in the flight cage and decided to let them sort it out. Toby and Kelly battled noisily for about half an hour, because although there were at least 4 places to sleep at the exact same level they both needed to be on a small Y-perch. Kevin stayed completely out of it on another perch entirely, but I’m sure it wasn’t restful.

Finally they settled and Toby fell asleep with one foot on the perch and one foot on a cage bar. I’m guessing that she relaxed her grip when she fell into a deeper sleep because not an hour later she biffed off the perch and had quite a nice little night terror, her first in well over a year! The lights went back on and I spoke to her a bit less than sweetly until she was calmed down.

After that point we were mostly quiet except for some little squawks and angry noises. I kept one ear open all night expecting to hear another night terror, but all was quiet and everyone was undamaged this morning, at least physically!

Irrationally, perhaps, I think we are going to try having them sleep all together again, and possibly even hang out together in the flight cage when we leave the house. I know it’s taking a risk with Toby and Kelly getting in fights still, but I am so tired of Kelly being miserable that I think they need another shot at working it out. I hate leaving Kevin in the middle of it, but he’s pleased to be around budgies and I’m not sure he minds.

I’ll keep a sharp eye on everything as it develops, of course, and be ready to make adjustments and shuffle them around, but at this point I think I need to give myself a bit of a break and let them try to get it sorted! I can’t have another budgie bed time nightmare like that one at the very least.