Introducing our new parakeet to the flock

Kevin finally made it through quarantine! It was harder and a lot less fun than we all anticipated and it makes me so glad that he has made it through and can be with the flock. Of course, introducing parakeets can be a tense situation, so the relief at his getting through quarantine was immediately followed by anxiety about merging him into the flock of Toby and Kelly.

This was compounded by the fact that Toby and Kelly can be pretty tough customers. They live separately now because of some violent interactions between the two of them and I was worried they would immediately attack Kevin. When we introduced Kelly to Toby we took it too fast, so this time the process was a lot more measured and thought out, although probably still a bit too speedy.

First, a few days before the official end of quarantine we started moving Kevin’s cage out into the dining area where Toby and Kelly live for half hour blocks of time. This way everyone could check each other out and learn a bit about the new guy. The change in Kevin’s demeanor was immediate, as soon as he saw other budgies he clearly felt a lot better about life. He was preening himself, making little noises, and eating in front of us. It was like a magical switch was thrown that turned him back into a parakeet! As soon as he would go back into his quarantine room he would go right back into fear mode, unfortunately.

After a few days of letting them see each other from the safety of their own cages, we allowed Toby and Kelly to come out and inspect Kevin more closely.

Introducing parakeetsThis may not have been the best idea, but it worked well in this situation. Toby and Kelly felt like they were in control of everything and Kevin was still so thrilled to feel safe that he tried to pack the preening of several weeks into a 45 minute period. Even when the girls got a little aggressive through the bars he didn’t react back at all, which was perfect.

Finally the day came where they could all be out together. We introduced everyone in Patrick’s home office space, a room that no one wants to be in (least of all Patrick haha)! That didn’t last long, Toby and Kelly wouldn’t stay in that room, even with millet, and kept flying back to their home base. We gave up on that in short order and put Kevin out with them on top of the cages in the dining room.

introducing parakeetsIt was utterly nerve-wracking!  They were SUCH bad girls! Toby immediately chomped on his head and tried to bite his wings. Kelly kept tugging (hard) on his tail feathers any time he was in range of her beak. When the girls began working together to corner him I thought all of my worst nightmares about his assimilating into the flock were coming true!

Patrick kept reminding me that they needed to figure out whether Kevin was a threat to them, and also to put him in his place and make sure he knew that they were top dogs. Kevin was perfection, no matter what they did the first day he didn’t react at all, just tried to observe them. He quickly realized that he couldn’t put his back to either of them and stood at the corner of one of the cages watching. He was still quite delighted to be out with them, even if it looked to me like a miserable time!

Toby got scolded several times for exceedingly ungracious behavior, and when we put them all in their homes for the evening Patrick and I couldn’t quite sort out whether we felt it went well or horribly!

The next day we decided to move Kevin’s quarantine cage into the bird area so they could observe each other at all times. They came out all together again and it did go better, although there was still a lot more violence than I would have liked I could see that they were testing him. If provoked, Kevin would make a small show of fronting back, but not actually fight, it’s awesome.

For his part, even if he had to watch his back, the transformation in Kevin was incredible! He was making sweet noises and flock calling, moving around, preening, and acting like the lovely guy we picked out at the pet store.

Every subsequent day has been even better, they still treat him a little like an outsider to their girl club, but Toby and Kelly have accepted his presence and don’t try to pull his feathers out (as much). Kevin is a fantastic addition to the flock and we couldn’t be happier with his attitude and his willingness to go with the flow. He and Kelly should be combining households soon and I think it’s going to be great for both of them.

introducing parakeetsIt’s a relief to have gotten through the initial introductions with no bloodshed! I’m excited for Kevin to get his flight feathers back so that they can fly together, and for he and Kelly to be roommates, which I hope will be good for both of them.

Kevin rounds out his quarantine as sadly as he started

Kevin has been quite sad in quarantine, and we will all be happy to see him out of it! We had high hopes for using the time to bond with him but Kevin remains very resistant to our human wiles and trickery, although he will happily take our millet.

The plan was to use quarantine for human-loving boot camp. We’ve been spending time with him every day in our own ways. Patrick focuses on basic training, teaching Kevin how to navigate a cage and how to play. Cage navigation training was a rousing success, play has not worked out very well so we’ll be relying on Toby and Kelly for that. Patrick has also gotten Kevin used to being handled by people, and has clipped his nails, given him a light bath, put coconut oil on his dry beak, cere and feet, and filed down his beak just a tiny bit.

The good news is that Kevin is easy about being manhandled, he rarely bites and usually only struggles for a moment before letting you maintain him. He is also a good flyer, his clip was done very well at Benson’s  before he came home and he can fly well enough, but not expertly. He is even able to make it three feet off the floor.

My “training” focus with Kevin has been more about getting him used to being with people. I have him sit on me and feed him millet, talk softly to him and close my eyes around him. I also try to go into his room and move around and do people stuff so he knows that “people” doesn’t always equal people making you do things you don’t want.

Happily, after a week or so, Kevin recognized the cage as his home and his safe spot, which is awesome. It also means that every time we take him out he is fairly desperate to get back to his cage! So, that’s a bummer. But, I’m glad that he has someplace he wants to be at least.

The sad parts are that Kevin hasn’t started making much noise yet and he doesn’t play. He flock calls with Toby and Kelly for about 5 minutes every day but that’s about it. He doesn’t engage with any toys and typically just hangs out in one spot every day, only moving around to eat a few times and when we move him.

I feel very confident that he’s healthy and will be joining Toby and Kelly soon. His poop is perfection, his eyes are clear and bright, his nares are clear as well. His cere, beak and feet look awesome with no sign of mites. He is not fluffy or truly lethargic, he’s just scared to move! If I had any hint of sickness I would extend quarantine, but he looks to be a very well boy.

If Kevin really is about two years old, then it’s no wonder he’s finding this so difficult. He has always lived in an aviary with I would bet no less than 20 other parakeets at a time. It must be absolutely terrifying to be alone. We’ve tried playing budgie noises and videos for him, but he didn’t enjoy it. Patrick is off from work for Kevin’s last week of quarantine, so we’ll do a final push on human acceptance and then get down to the business of assimilating him into the flock.

I’m not anticipating a ton of issues, we’re going to do the introductions in a neutral room that no one feels ownership over. Kelly and Toby are at least mildly aware that there’s another bird in the house, and they seem very interested in meeting him. In the end, we got Kevin to enhance the flock life, and not with the goal of his being our best friend in the whole wide world. So, if he does well with the girls and starts feeling more safe to be himself we will consider it a rousing success!

The difference between budgie regurgitation and vomiting

Seeing seeds come back up out of your budgies beak can be unsettling for a new parakeet owner. Rest assured, most of the time when you see a budgie spitting seeds out of its beak it’s something called regurgitation and there’s nothing to worried about. There are, however, times when a budgie vomits due to illness and may need medical attention. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between normal, healthy regurgitation and vomiting.

When your budgie eats he hulls his seeds to remove outer layer, which is why he doesn’t need grit. The next place the seed goes is into his crop, check out this page for an image of the digestive system and detailed description of how the crop and digestion functions. Typically after being stored in the crop the food is released slowly into the rest of their digestive tract. It’s intelligent design to keep yourself going with a consistent energy source if you’re not always sure where your next meal is going to come from. Although of course that’s not an issue with our spoiled pet parakeets! Regurgitation and vomiting are two reasons the seed would come back out the mouth instead of traveling through the tract, so let’s break it down and provide some explanations of each.

Regurgitation
Regurgitation is a targeted and purposeful bringing up of seeds from the crop and out the mouth. At the start of life regurgitation is how parent budgies feed their babies and it continues to have a positive connotation for adults. A budgie will regurgitate to another budgie who is a bonded mate or good friend who may even be the same sex. They can also regurgitate to humans that they are very fond of, in some cases a thumbnail or any part of a person to which they are particularly attached. Budgies will additionally regurgitate to a specific toy they like a lot, or very commonly to a mirror.

Regurgitation can be a part of a romantic pair’s relationship but it’s not always an expression of sexual interest from an adult budgie.  Toby and Kelly have never had a romantic relationship but when they are getting along particularly well or one of them is having a tough molt they will regurgitate to each other. It’s actually pretty sweet, if you don’t watch too closely!

When a budgie regurgitates he will jerk his head fairly rapidly up and down until seeds come out in a lump and are deposited either in another budgie’s mouth or somewhere else intentionally. He will be either calm or pleasantly excited and in a happy mood and may sing or make other happy vocalizations before and after regurgitating.

Neither Toby nor Kelly has ever regurgitated on Patrick or me. Toby will get very into tapping her beak on my fingernails and jerks her head like she’s thinking about it, but so far hasn’t completed the action. I’m sort of hoping it stays that way, even though I would take it as quite a compliment.

Vomiting
Vomiting is a totally separate issue and always cause for concern and careful monitoring. A budgie who is vomiting may have a crop impaction (something stuck in the crop), or any number of stomach issues. Some of these issues may pass on their own, some you can treat at home with the Organic Apple Cider Vinegar that you keep in your first aid kit, but others will require the attention of an avian vet. I’m not a vet and I’m not capable of providing medical recommendations that would replace medical attention.

If you suspect your budgie is vomiting monitor them very carefully for other signs of illness. You want to make sure they are able to eat and drink after vomiting , their poop looks good, and they are not listless and puffy. If your budgie has an episode of vomiting and then acts perfectly fine afterwards it may be okay to treat with some preventative Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and take a wait and see approach to seeing the vet.

On the other hand if you suspect they have vomited and they are exhibiting other signs of illness then it’s probably best to place them in a small hospital cage with a Heating Pad for extra warmth. Then call up a vet and ask them what they think.

When a budgie vomits it’s pretty easy to tell something is wrong. In the time that I’ve had Toby I’ve seen her do it twice and both times my adrenaline started pumping and I knew immediately she was in distress.

A vomiting budgie shakes his head from side to side while seeds spray out of his mouth in addition to clear liquid or white foam.  Seeds will come out of his mouth either singly or in small wet clusters. You may find these stuck to cage bars or on the walls next to the cage. If you’re home when your budgie is vomiting you may hear the seeds striking the cage bars.

In between bouts of vomiting your budgie may hop rapidly from perch to perch, almost as though they are trying to outrun the urge to vomit. They will not be consolable and probably won’t be interested or able to step up. Their faces will also become soiled and wet due to the liquid that comes out with the seed. It is truly an unsettling experience to see your budgie vomiting uncontrollably and know that in that moment there’s nothing you can really do to see them through it short of some soothing words and proper care.

It made me uncomfortable just writing about a budgie vomiting! I hope that you never see your budgies in medical distress due to stomach issues (or any issues!), but it’s vitally important to know the difference between healthy regurgitation and unhealthy vomiting.

Quarantine is hard! Feeling stretched thin by everyone’s needs.

When we were first setting up Kevin’s cage for quarantine I had some very misguided and idyllic notions about how this 30 day span would play out. I pictured Patrick and I hanging out with Kevin tucked away in his room. No care for the outside world, just a magical time for taming and bonding. In reality, quarantine is hard, much harder than I expected.

For starters, Kevin has been a pretty tough sell on human interaction. He’s docile and he’ll put up with a lot of handling, but he’s really not into it. And he’s still pretty freaked out, which makes sense after living in a pet store for over a year. We are spending a ton of time with him, but it’s not all that gratifying. I know that part will pass.

The other piece of it that I hadn’t anticipated the emotional weight of is that while Patrick and I are in with Kevin teaching him that humans are a good thing; Toby and Kelly are losing a ton of their human time and outside the cage play time. They are not shy about letting me know it’s unacceptable. I was only able to let them out for an hour one day, so they next they were crazy clingy and on me like tiny flying shadows. Not that I’m complaining about that, it’s nice to feel loved!

Another thing I hadn’t calculated the time cost of is maintaining three cages in two separate locations. It’s usually pretty easy to clean up after Toby and Kelly, and get their food and water in the mornings. But with a third cage in a different location with no sink in the room….it’s kind of a pain in the rear. I’m sure this is hyperbole, but some days I feel like all I do is take care of budgie needs without really enjoying any of the budgies. I can’t imagine how people manage quarantine when they’ve got a larger flock to tend!

After a few days of both Patrick and I trying to be everywhere at once we decided to divide and conquer.  Patrick is largely taking care of Kevin’s physical needs and training and I’m taking care of the girls. I’m still getting at least 30 minutes with Kevin every day, but I don’t feel pressure to push him on taming, I can just hang out and feed him Millet, say nice things to him and working on stepping up and other easy things.

Patrick, on the other hand, has trimmed Kevin’s nails, given him a bath, and even made him taste some vegetables. He has also spent hours challenging Kevin to move around outside and inside his cage, and helped Kevin learn how to climb on the cage bars.

It’s a fairly large bummer for me to miss out on all of this, but I don’t see another way to go about it that’s fair to Toby and Kelly. I thought I was really going to enjoy this quarantine time, but in reality it’s full of unanticipated challenges.

Introducing Kevin – our third parakeet and first boy!

We did it! This past Saturday, after much hemming and hawing (Patrick) and excessive preparation (me) we went to Benson’s and picked out our third parakeet and first boy budgie. His name is Kevin to fit in with the rest of our Office-inspired flock names. He’s definitely a mature gentleman. We didn’t ask at the store how long he’d been there, but based on his visible irises and lack of baby bars he is at least one year old. That’s totally a minimum, comparing his eyes to Toby’s I think there’s a good chance he is two plus.

I had received a recommendation from a reader to get a mature fellow who would be able to stand his ground against my dominant ladies. When we arrived at the pet store Saturday morning we found they only had four males available in their entire parakeet aviary. Two of them were under a year old and there was one gent even older than Kevin. We must have watched them all for at least an hour and what we saw of Kevin’s behavior and health looked very good. We were able to watch him eat and drink and forage around on the floor. He would frequently perch by himself, but if he was joined by other parakeets he was happy to chat to them and be part of the group. His eyes are bright and clear and his nares are free of any obstructions or anything that would make me concerned about respiratory infection. His feet look a tiny bit dry but there’s no sign of mites on either his feet or his cere. Although we couldn’t quite hear him we could see that he was singing his heart out, which is something we are sorely missing in our flock of screeching ladies!

Before we left the shop they had us sign a form indicating that if we weren’t able to care for Kevin they would take him back at any time. Every employee we spoke to also took care to ask us if we were familiar with caring for parakeets and had everything we needed for Kevin at home. I thought that was a really nice touch and showed me that they care about animals. They also clipped Kevin before we took him home. I know, I am an incredibly staunch opponent of clipped parakeets in your home. But, it made me feel more secure transporting him and I feel like it will give us a leg up in taming him during his quarantine. Also – they did a super tasteful job, not as severe or debilitating as Kelly’s clip was.

Arriving home we transferred Kevin from his cardboard box to his quarantine cage. Even though I have written a whole lengthy post about what to expect when you first bring home your parakeet it has still been a horrible couple of days feeling bad for Kevin! He is obviously terrified and didn’t move for many hours after coming home. We weren’t even sure he had eaten until 22 hours in, which was nerve-wracking. Again, even though I KNEW exactly what would happen, it still felt awful seeing him so scared.

I put our “Nanny Cam” trained on his cage and I’ve been peeking at him every so often during the work day. It really makes me sad seeing him just sit in one spot for hours, but I know that he will eventually understand that his new cage is a safe space. He can hear Toby and Kelly and they are definitely freaking him out a bit too.  They are totally unaware that he’s in the house, since he hasn’t made a peep yet. Occasionally they hear a bell ring and get a bit curious, but until he starts vocalizing they should be blissfully ignorant!

One thing about quarantine has been much harder than expected, and that’s the way shutting the quarantine room door has messed up our heat. Now the quarantine room gets stifling warm, and the rest of the house is much chillier. So, we’ve had to resort to leaving the door cracked open a bit when the girls are safely stowed away. I know it totally violates the separate air space tenet of quarantine, but I couldn’t very well freeze Toby and Kelly for 30 days!  As it is, Kevin has the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Kelly had been acting chilly over the weekend so now she has the K&H Thermo-Perch. Toby appears to be totally fine with the temperature but we’re keeping an eye on her.

Bringing home Kevin has been so different already, I hate that he’s tucked away and can’t ease into the rhythm of the household. We’re making a big effort to sit with him, but it’s not the same as his being able to observe us all the time and see that we are not threatening. He seems like he will do okay ultimately. He does show some fear when we put our hands in the cage to change water or food, but he doesn’t flap around like crazy or totally lose his mind.

He seems tentatively curious about his surrounds outside the cage. You can see his head swiveling around when he hears noises to try and figure out what the heck is going on. He has been eating regularly since his 22 hour hunger strike and his poops look great. Kevin has not shown any interest in playing with the toys in his cage, but I don’t think he was exposed to toys so we will have to show him how to play down the road. Failing that, I’m sure he’ll pick it up from Toby and Kelly!

I don’t want to squander these 30 days and I want to make a big effort towards bonding with him. On the other hand, I’m a total softy and I know that he would feel so much safer and more comfortable if he was interacting with Toby and Kelly. Overall it’s exciting but also so weird, until he starts making some noise it’s very easy to forget the is there at all, it’s almost like we still just have two parakeets. I can’t wait until he’s as noisy and demanding as the rest of my budgies. Seeing the difference between Kevin and Toby/Kelly makes me regret ever saying that the two of them aren’t very tame. They aren’t trained to do much, certainly, but compared to someone straight from the pet store they are entirely tame.