Watch this (cage) space – new parakeet coming in November

I was hoping after some time apart Toby and Kelly would end up back together in a much bigger Flight Cage. That isn’t really panning out. They are much safer living separately and I think we’ve finally accepted that Toby is way too territorial to have a roommate. But, where this leaves Kelly is fairly lonely and missing Toby’s company, even if it meant her feet were going to get bitten off! Enter a new parakeet to hopefully be a new roomie for Kelly and an overall good addition to the flock.

Of course as a person who struggles with delaying gratification I would love to go out and snap up a baby boy yesterday!  Unfortunately, I have to travel quite a bit for work in the next couple of months, so November is looking like the most responsible time to get a new budgie.

We really messed up when we got Kelly by not quarantining her in a separate room from Toby.  Not only did we take a huge risk of exposing Toby to disease, but we also took away from ourselves the opportunity to spend one-on-one time boding with Kelly. As a consequence, although she likes us, she doesn’t feel the same sort of connection that Toby does. At the time it seemed much more important that Toby have company immediately, but now we feel that a proper quarantine would have helped.

When we get the new parakeet in November we are going to quarantine in the room furthest away from Toby and Kelly’s cages. I am not 100% sure whether I’m going to keep him in the Small Vision Bird Cage or the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, the usable space seems about the same to me, assuming the new kid isn’t a ground dweller!  That way we’ll have time to make sure he’s healthy, and also spend lots of time bonding and proving how awesome humans are. Side note: is it really bad that I have two parakeets but four cages?

I’m similarly unsure where we are going to get him from. I know that we want a boy, and I’m not opposed to getting a mature fellow who needs a new home. At this point I’m thinking we will explore our options and pick whoever “speaks” to us most!  We did that with Toby and it worked out really well. I’m also waffling back and forth on whether I want to get him from somewhere that he will come clipped. It didn’t work to our advantage on taming Kelly that she was clipped, but again, primarily because we squandered our chance to bond solo.

Anyhow there are some interesting days and shake-ups ahead so stay tuned!  Also, please keep your fingers crossed that this new parakeet will be able to bunk in with Kelly or Toby after quarantine, because I really don’t want to end up taking care of three separate cages!

How we use millet for parakeets in my household

In my attempts to be a well-informed parakeet owner, and also my general nosiness, I look at a lot of different cage set-ups. I love getting inspiration from other bird-owners, especially seeing new toys or the awesomely creative stuff that people DIY. One thing I notice a lot of that surprises me is the use of a Millet Spray Holder or generally the free-range offer of Millet in the cage. I think that if you go that route you’re losing your most powerful motivator and possibly setting yourself up for nutrition issues.

First a note on Millet Spray Holder; some of them may be unsafe. There is, in particular a plastic Millet Spray Holder that looks like a cage for millet, as well as a Stainless Steel Millet Holder that is a steel spiral. I have heard of several budgies getting their heads caught in these items, and some have not survived. Now, I fully believe that a determined parakeet could kill themselves with almost anything in their environment; they are delicate creatures that act like invincible tough guys! But, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for me that this optional item is best skipped.

Outside of safety, your parakeet simply does need free access to Millet. It is not particularly nutritious and could lead to unnecessary weight gain. I work in an office all day, and free feed Millet would be the equivalent of someone hanging a party size bag of Doritos in my cubicle and telling me to have at it. Not only would I eat my weight in Doritos every day, I would probably also make poor nutritiounal choices and eat Doritos almost exclusively, regardless of whether there was also a basket of Apples nearby.

Maybe most humans would make better choices than me! But, parakeets have about the same mono-vision when it comes to Millet that I have when it comes to Doritos. If you want your parakeet to eat a healthy seed, pellet, vegetable and fruit-based diet, having Millet readily available is not the best plan. The parakeet is not thinking about losing the weight for swimsuit season or making sure he avoids fatty liver disease, so you have to think abou tthese things for him.

Beyond being unnecessary for a balanced daily diet, free-feeding Millet also takes it out of your arsenal as one of the most powerful motivators for good budgie training. In my house Millet is only used during training or other instances in which we humans desire a specific parakeet result and are willing to “pay” for it with a treat.

As far as Toby and Kelly are aware, the only way to get Millet is from humans, by doing desirable things. So, initially during taming the desirable thing might be to simply sit on someone’s hand or shoulder. This helps the parakeet learn that good things have when you interact with people. Except not really just good things, but the best things and treat can only be guaranteed by becoming part of a flock with those funny-looking birds whose eyes are in the wrong place (ie: humans).

We’re not doing a ton of training lately, the parakeets have been molting so we have backed off until everyone is feeling great again. The only time they currently get Millet is once per day, they each get a little bit broken off the larger spray, and only after going into their cages peaceably at night at bed time. At this point it’s such a routine that Toby goes in eagerly as soon as I shut the curtain near their cage and immediately perches where I can put the Millet through the bars. Kelly is a bit of a daydreamer and usually continues to wander around until I tap on her sleeping perch to remind her of the time.

We used to wait until they got tired and sorted themselves out for bed, but sometimes, like tired little kids, they would loop back around to hyper and uncontrollable, so now I set the bedtime and they are happy to comply if it means an evening treat!

Particularly with flighted birds, a parakeet parent has very little control over budgie actions unless they can be motivated to good behavior. If we didn’t keep their love of Millet in our reserves, I am not sure how we could convince Toby and Kelly to do anything they didn’t want to do! As it stands, we have the ace in our sleeves at all times and training, as well as motivating daily tasks, becomes much easier.

What to expect when you bring home your new parakeet

Selecting and bringing home your first parakeet is a very exciting time for your household. Whether you’ve meticulously planned and curated an awesome cage for him, or you’re winging it and buying everything at once, chances are this isn’t a spur of the moment decision. You’ve probably thought a lot about what it will be like to introduce a parakeet to your home. Once you’ve actually installed the parakeet in his cage, you may be struck by the fact that he seems like a completely different bird than he was in the store, and some of the new behavior can be quite alarming. Here’s what you can expect for the first few days of adjustment.

  • The new parakeet doesn’t move. Literally for hours or even a day or two you may not see your parakeet move at all. Toby stayed stock still for 8 hours when we first brought her home and Kelly did the same. The parakeet is okay, he is just checking out his new environment and he is scared. Being a prey animal, one of his responses to fear is to stay totally still so predators don’t detect his presence. Of course there aren’t any predators in your home, but he doesn’t know that yet! You can play soothing music to help him feel comfortable, and I recommend staying out of his way until he relaxes. You want him to observe your household and make the determination that it’s not so scary after all, and it’s harder for him to do that if you get close or put your hands in the cage and frighten him further. This applies even to parakeets that you would expect to be totally chill about the move, such as hand-fed babies that you may have even met before on several occasions. It is still a HUGE and scary change making a move.
  • The new parakeet doesn’t eat or drink. You may think that the budgie is not eating or drinking anything, even up to 3 or 4 days post introduction into your home. This is likely not the case, he will eat and drink when you are not around and he feels safer. Eating and drinking puts him in a position that’s very vulnerable to attack from predators, and since he’s not totally convinced you aren’t a threat, he will eat and drink when you’re gone. Check to see if there are seed hulls in the food bowl, that’s an indication he is eating while you’re not around. If you are truly concerned put in a spray of millet for a while to see if he will go for that. It may take longer for you to see your parakeet drinking versus eating. It was two solid weeks before I saw Toby drink, but of course she must have been doing it in secret all along. You can also monitor his poops to make sure they are made up of both urates and feces (white and green or brown), although some poop variation is normal due to all the changes and stress.

This is not the time to introduce vegetables, fruits or other new foods. the best bet is to provide whatever food your parakeet has been accustomed to eating; you’ll have tons of time down the road to change his diet.

  • The new parakeet doesn’t make a sound. As you might guess, this is also to avoid drawing attention to himself from predators. Play music or have the tv on at a reasonable volume and the background noise should help your parakeet feel more comfortable. He’s probably used to lots of noise being in with other parakeets so total quiet without other birds can be very jarring and scary. It may take days before he relaxes enough to start singing, yelling, screeching and making all the other delightful budgie noises!

Hopefully that helps explain why the boisterous little clown you picked out at the pet store turned into a quiet parakeet statue the moment you brought him home. It can be a terrible feeling seeing him so scared and out of sorts, but give it a few days and he’ll come around. Once your new parakeet has begun moving around and acting more like himself it’s time to begin the taming process, but before that happens I strongly recommend giving him time to settle in an figure out the he’s safe in your home.

new parakeet doesn't move

Diarrhea in budgies: some causes of wet poop

Parakeet poop is one of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your pet’s health and diarrhea in budgies can often be cause for alarm. A healthy parakeet poop is not very wet and has well-defined feces and urates. The feces portion is typically green or brown while the urates should be white. Anything that veers from this norm is concerning, but the wet, loose poops or diarrhea are frequently transient in nature and in many cases, can be explained by the following causes.

  • Fear based wet poops. This is typically seen in parakeets that are new to your home and feeling very anxious. When they are afraid they can have very loose poop that sometimes has no urates at all and is just a small amount of feces and urine.  We still see this with Kelly, she has a very nervous temperament and if we startle her coming into the house or wake her abruptly from a nap she will immediately display “fear poops”.  These should resolve either when the parakeet has gotten over being startled or whenever they feel comfortable. With a newly brought home parakeet this can last some time, make sure they are eating and drinking and don’t have other outward signs of illness such as fluffing up, tail bobbing etc.
  • Post-bath poops that are completely liquid.  When a budgie takes a bath they frequently ingest a lot more water than would be typical for them. This can result in waste that is completely water. This should be relatively short-lived. Side note – it always reminds me of the Baby Alive Doll that I used to have where you would feed her the bottle of water and the liquid would just run straight through her!
  • Eating fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a very high water content compared to seeds. Eating a big helping of wet lettuce or watermelon would naturally cause loose poop or diarrhea for the time that it is being processed.
  • Molting. Not every budgie has loose poop when they are molting, but it is a relatively common side effect. In our house it’s intermittent for a few days while they are at the most wretched heights of pin feathers. As long as they are eating and drinking I try not to overwhelm myself with worry!
  • Competitive drinking. I can’t say that this is common among all budgies, but mine have an intense flock mentality. If one of them eats the other one has to as well, even when they are in separate cages. So, sometimes one of them goes to have a drink, and then the other one does, and they end up in this feedback loop where they just keep drinking because the other one is drinking.  This can be a very specific cause of short-term diarrhea.

The theme with all of these causes is probably readily apparent. You should be able to define the root cause relatively easily based on what your budgie has just been doing or eating. The diarrhea itself ought to be short lived, except in the case of fear, which can take a bit longer to resolve in a newly acquired budgie or molting, as that can be intermittent over a period of time. Trust your gut and keep an eye out for any other symptoms. There are many instances in which diarrhea warrants a call to your vet. Once you know your budgie it will be easy to tell what’s “normal” for them and what’s cause for immediate concern.

Please note – I am neither a vet nor a medical expert about parakeets. If you are concerned about your pet’s well-being please call your vet and make an appointment. This post should not substitute medical care for your pet and I am not making any specific recommendations of care. 

Back to mixing up parakeet food – and a $10 Amazon gift card giveaway!

A while back I said that having found Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food I was all done mixing up my own blends of various seeds and pellets.  It turns out I was a bit hasty when I made that grand statement and feeding parakeets is a moving target. The first couple of bags we got of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food were perfect, and then over time they started being more heavily full of sesame seeds, which Toby and Kelly will not touch with a 10 foot pole.  Initially I thought that they would get over it and learn to eat them, but instead they started fighting way more viciously over their food bowls.

I thought that perhaps they were feeling more defensive about the food because there was less of it they found tolerable, so I quickly ordered a bag of Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and was glad of the reasonable price and my Amazon prime two day shipping.  If you are shopping on Amazon then I definitely recommend you Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial, it’s magical being able to think I desperately need a new toy, perch, or food and have it show up just a couple of days later.  (The link to the free trial there, like every other Amazon link on homekeethome is an affiliate link).

My Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet arrived and I offered some of it to the parakeets, they fell onto it immediately as though I had been starving them!  Apparently my sense of what was going on with the Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food was dead on, as I immediately started mixing the two seeds blends and saw a massive reduction in food-related violence.

At about the same time, I put some Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles in the food cup on the parakeets’ play tree, not really thinking they would be into it, but Kelly went nuts for them!  She would go out to the tree and camp out on the food dish, proceeding to chow down for a solid 10 minutes without pause.

Since she liked it so much I thought I might as well start putting pellets back into their daily seed mix.  And here I am, back to mixing together three different things to get them a good base diet, and of course offering vegetables and fruits regularly as well.

On to the giveaway, which is sponsored by me out of the love I have for Amazon Prime and how much it helps me get what I need quickly without driving all over the place looking for preferred brands of food, toys and other supplies. I will contact the winner after the end of the sweepstakes, midnight, Monday 6/26 and will request the name and email address, prize will be a code emailed by Amazon.com directly.  Open to the US only this time, 18 and over.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How to tell if your parakeet is nervous or scared

It can be a little difficult to tell what your parakeet is feeling, especially when you are a new parakeet parent.  There are a few physical “tells” that will let you know if your parakeet is anxious or scared, which they frequently are in a new environment, or even after years in your home because of their instincts as prey animals.  Being able to tell when your parakeet is afraid can help you know when to back off and give them space. Remember taming your parakeets is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!

  • Flapping/flying like crazy around their cage. This will probably happen the first few times you put your hand in the cage. Unless your new friend was hand-raised he probably views your hand as a terrifying predator. If this is the case I recommend only going in the cage for essential maintenance in the beginning, and otherwise spend a lot of time showing your parakeet your hand from the other side of the bars.  Let them examine it from a safe distance without you moving your hand. Offer millet through the cage bars once they are able to tolerate your hand being close to the cage without fear.
  • Panting is another indicator of a fearful parakeet. Kelly still does this occasionally but it was much more frequent when she first came home. A panting parakeet breathes with their beak slightly open. It may look “cute” or like they are trying to speak, but no sound comes out.  If you have a clipped parakeet who pants when they are out and about with you they are overwhelmed and would probably like to go back to the safety of their cage.
  • Fear poops: A fear poop is a very watery poop that doesn’t have another explanation like just having taken a bath/eating a lot of veggies or being ill. These are frequently very easy to ascertain the cause of, if I disturb Kelly during an afternoon nap she fear poops right away. The watery fear poop should happen one or two times in a row, and then normal poops will resume once they are over being startled.
  • Very sleek feathers and wide eyes. This is more Toby’s style. If she’s startled by something all her feathers get very very flat and she will stand up at attention with her eyes wide open. She also goes to one of what we call her “fear spot” in the cage; which is randomly on the cage wall next to one of the water bottles. She stays there until she feels the danger has passed.

You may never be able to tell what scared your parakeet in the first place.  Many times I think mine are set off by things they see or hear outdoors through a window, but I’m not sure. Other times it’s the cord on the vacuum, or even my husband or I appearing somewhere unexpected. They got really freaked out the other day when I came home through the “wrong” door.

But, if you’re watching for the signs of fear you can at least know when something has already spooked them, and help them get back to their cage if needed, or try to pinpoint the cause of their concern and eliminate it for them.

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.