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.

5 tips for getting your budgie to bathe

Since becoming a parakeet parent I’ve been on a mission to figure out a way to ensure regular baths. We started out with JW Pet Company Insight Bird Bath Bird Accessory, which would have been really cute, but was a total fail. Toby couldn’t figure out how to get in the bath, and when she landed in it accidentally she acted like it was a cruel trick. So, we started trying other options with varying degrees of success, as always your mileage may vary.

I also want to note that seeing a bathing budgie for the first time can be a little disconcerting, they puff up to the extreme and hold their wings out at odd angles, looking a little bit broken and very intense about the activity.

  • Misting – we purchased a tiny misting spray bottle and filled it with comfortable temperature water; I held it above Toby’s head and misted. She behaved as though I was punishing her for some terrible transgression and this was the worst torture I could have devised.
  • Run a sink at a low pressure – I held my hands out with the palms up under the stream and splashed gently around in the water. Toby would come stand on my hands and walk around in the water. She drank copious amounts but never seemed inclined to walk under the waterfall.
  • Water bowl – very similar to the bath we started out with. No one wants to go near a bowl of water, either a food bowl, cereal bowl or small ceramic bowl.
  • Shallow dish with leafy greens and water – huge hit with Kelly, she was initially wary but as soon as I lured her into the dish (with millet) she immediately fluffed out and started rubbing her tummy and face all over the greens. She hasn’t flipped completely over yet but gets her front very wet. If the whole plate is too intimidating you could also try some wet lettuce leaves held in your cupped hands.
  • Hanging wet leafy greens – This is what works best for Toby, hang some wet kale or celery tops from the ceiling of the cage and she is a mad man for bathing. The key is making sure the greens are secured really well, because she hangs from them as she bathes.

Bath time is so important and helps the parakeets feel good and healthy, especially when molting. Keep experimenting and you’ll find a method that works for your parakeets, and even when it fails the experience is still an enrichment!

We subsequently tried a Lixit quick lock bird bath and the review of that can be found here.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Update on Kelly’s taming

If you’ve been following along, you know that our second parakeet, Kelly, who we got from the Rensselaer Bird Center in mid-June of this year, has viewed my husband and me at best as an annoying necessity and at worst as a couple of jerks who just won’t get out of her face.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve finally seen some relaxation on her part. Initially, I’d pretty much have to force Kelly to step up and sort of chase her around inside the cage – even if I knew she desperately wanted to get somewhere. Then, I realized that if I stood near the cage either with my back to her or looking down and away she would hop onto my shoulder or finger willingly and I could take her to the play gym or window perch. I also discovered that if I closed my eyes and rested my head against the cage she would feel safe to come over and groom my hair and nibble on my glasses.

Recently, she has sometimes started coming to me as I approach the cage and hopping onto my hand or shoulder whether I’m looking at her or not, and finally yesterday she hopped on my shoulder and didn’t even want to go anywhere in particular! I walked her around to his usual haunts but he chose to stay with me, which felt pretty great.

I’ve also been able to put my hand in the cage and step her up just to move him around without getting bit. We also noticed that she has stopped defensively chattering at anyone who approached his cage, even in the evening, which had previously been a big no-no as far as she was concerned.

It’s such a relief that she’s starting to trust us and not be so fearful; the whole experience has been very eye-opening. We had been so sure that getting to know Kelly while she was still being hand fed at the Rensselaer Bird Center would make a difference in how she felt about us once he was home, which it did not. We also put too much stock in her personality  making the transition easier; while she was at the RBC she was very confident and they remarked on how adventurous she was. As soon as we got her home, though, she was just as terrified as a feral budgie.

I think now we are starting to see the first glimmers of her personality reemerging, she’s walking off into rooms that she’s not familiar with and being more curious about new things in a way that Toby isn’t. She’s in her first molt currently but hasn’t grown in any feathers that would enable her to fly, I think once that happens we are going to have to keep a very close eye on her, I bet it will really bring back her confidence and daring.

Our goal is to make sure she feels like we are part of his flock by the time she’s flying, I think we’re almost there and just need to keep showing her that we are useful and fun, and good to be pals with! I put too much stock in the idea that Kelly seeng how comfortable Toby is with us would impact her comfort levels, and it has helped us make some inroads, but it wasn’t an all-access pass.

As much as we’ve been frustrated because of our own preconceived ideas of how a hand fed and clipped parakeet would be different, it’s been wonderful to see Kelly open up and start trusting us. We were so lucky that she and Toby took to each other immediately, even though Toby was over-zealous at first, otherwise Kelly would have been a very lonely and scared little lady!

Products and parakeets – with a focus on scents and haircare

I am generally a no muss, no fuss kind of person about my personal care routine. Also, because of my husband’s severe allergies we don’t use many products with scent. Even before parakeets we didn’t have candles, potpourri, plug-ins, Febreeze or any other home fragrance products. We had also cut out harsh chemical cleaners and started using Seventh Generation Free and Clear All Purpose Cleaner, 32 Fluid Ounce to clean in addition to Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Power Home Pro, 8 Count Box, which are a modern miracle.

We also only use unscented laundry and dishwasher detergent, dish soap and hand soaps.

There’s no perfume in the house or scented body products, including all face and hand/body lotions and we don’t use any hair products at home beyond shampoo and conditioner. So, we don’t have hair gel, spray or any other hair treatment products.

The only exceptions to the rule are Avalon Organics Clarifying Lemon Shampoo, 11 Ounce and AVALON COND,CLARIFYING,LEMON, 11 FZ, which had to happen because unscented shampoo/conditioner are just unpleasant, and also Oleavine Antifungal Soap with Tea Tree and Neem for Body, 12 oz, which is a tea tree soap I am just absolutely obsessed with. Something might sneak through occasionally that has an oatmeal or mint scent, but by and large our house is scent free.

Scents and home-fragrance products can be very bad for parakeet health, they cycle air through their bodies much faster than humans, and can be irritated by air contaminants just like people can. We had already installed a few Winix U300 Signature Large Room Air Cleaner with True HEPA 5-Stage Filtration, PlasmaWave Technology and AOC Carbon around the house for my husband’s health, but they are also recommended for parakeets and other birds.

I think we had a much easier time eliminating products before getting parakeets since we started out unscented; the only thing that was hard to part with were our non-stick pans. I’m sure there are people who say they used teflon with parakeets and the ‘keet lived to be 30 years old and was never sick a day in its life, but who doesn’t have an Aunt Myrtle who smoked since she was 11 years old and lived to be 150? I mean, obviously hyperbole, but the exceptions don’t really entice me to chance it.

What prompted me to write this post is my one personal grooming vice, and that’s getting highlights. I get them done about every 8 weeks and it was always sort of a big issue because Patrick can’t handle the chemical aftermath, but now with the parakeets I feel even worse coming home after a bleaching!

I asked my stylist if I would be damaging my hair by washing it the same day as getting it colored and she said no, so as soon as I get home from the salon I hop right in the shower. That cuts the chemical smell but it’s still pretty heavy, so I usually throw on a knit cap (much more comfortable in winter!) before letting the birds out. Toby is constantly on my head and Kelly loves grooming hair too, but I take every precaution to keep them away from my hair for at least day 1, and then after washing again the next day it’s usually so faint that I feel like I’m not a danger to anyone.

Should I stop highlighting my hair? Probably, since it causes my husband discomfort and potentially is bad for the parakeets. Still – I’m not quite ready yet.

I’d love to have some comments from other bird parents- what products do you use and does anyone else feel they can’t live without hair color? If so, what precautions do you take (if any)? Feel free to tell me I’m a lunatic and should stop worrying about it!

Introducing our parakeets – when Toby met Kelly

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home. We picked her up at the Rensselaer Bird Center and bought the below travel carrier while we were there, since the carrier we had previously purchased (A and E Cage Co. Soft Sided Travel Bird Carrier) was regarded as a potential house of horrors by Toby, who would not go anywhere near it.

IMG_0932
lovely, non-terrifying travel carrier

The RBC was kind enough to send us home with about a pound of the food that Kelly had been eating and recommended that we offer her food and water bowls on the floor of her cage, in addition to the bowls higher up, because she was used to ground feeding. I can’t say enough about how amazing the RBC was at answering our questions and giving us tips on easing Kelly’s transition and how to handle introducing the two of them.

Off we went with our new baby. It was a totally different experience, Kelly seemed unfazed by everything, she enjoyed looking out the car windows from the safety of her carrier and was relaxed the whole way home.

Once we arrived home we put Kelly in her starter cage, we always intended that Toby and Kelly would move in together, but worried that Toby might be territorial since she was used to living alone.

Because we had seen so much of Kelly and knew her to be an adaptable and fearless gal we expected she would have an easier transition than Toby, but it was actually very similar. Kelly sat in the same spot for about 8 hours without moving and then made her way down to find her food just before bed time. Based on our experiences I recommend bringing home a new parakeet as early in the day as possible so they have time to do the “sit and stare” and then relax a little bit before going to sleep in a strange place.

Toby – who we thought might be terrified of another parakeet given her fearful nature was immediately entranced by Kelly. She stared at Kelly for hours, no signs of fear or aggression, just fascination. We did notice that for the first few days Toby really packed in the food, as though Kelly was somehow going to steal it from the other cage.

The first day we keep them both inside their individual cages, Toby had gotten her last flight time as an only child earlier that morning and we thought seeing each other was excitement enough for day one.

Our plan was to have them out separately for the next few weeks so they could get to be friends in a more controlled way. It didn’t work out; Toby would get over stimulated and bite Kelly’s feet through the cage bars constantly, no matter who was in or out. Kelly apparently either enjoyed it or didn’t have the sense to stay towards the middle of her cage and so the pattern continued. It was very upsetting for me to watch, but they were both perfectly happy to keep doing it.

In order to save Kelly’s feet from excessive chomping we only waited a couple of days before bringing them out at the same time, with the hope that Kelly could at least defend her feet or hop away a bit better. Of course that raised other concerns about Toby have a clear advantage in being able to fly, whereas Kelly had been clipped pretty thoroughly and could only try to take flight and then sort of crash land with no control over her course.

Toby was quite over-excited the first few times they were out together, she would attack Kelly and then fly away repeatedly. No one sustained any damage, but I did break up a couple of fights, even though I knew they had to sort out who was going to be the top bird, it was too hard to watch.

Over a week or so Toby calmed down and they were able to play on the play gym at the same time, or hang out on the window perch without a constant battle for dominance. The next issue was that Toby got very intent about wanting to be with Kelly all the time, and if she couldn’t spot Kelly in the other cage he would flock call to him loudly and incessantly.

Have a mentioned that Toby is a little intense? She’s earnest and sweet, but tends to be serious and utterly determined and does not let things go.  She was mad at my husband once for months due to a minor infraction.

We had let Toby and Kelly want out in each other’s cages and it went well, and then one day when my husband was home from work he decided to just rip off the Band-Aid and move them in together. It was way earlier than we anticipated, but she was right, it was time. Toby felt much better having a roommate and was able to relax, as much as it’s possible for her to! Kelly had been used to living with her siblings at the bird center so didn’t mind having company, and was glad to move up to the bigger cage.

I know that we are all happier for having added to our family. I’m sure some parakeets are perfectly fine being solo but Toby was absolutely not one of them, I know she’s enjoying life a lot more now, and we are really glad we took the chance!IMG_0854

Finding and bringing home our second parakeet

After about seven months with Toby as a solo parakeet I was pretty certain that we needed to add in a friend for her, but not everyone in my household was convinced. My husband was concerned that two parakeet should be way too much noise and upkeep.

Even though Patrick was staunchly undecided with leanings towards “absolutely not” I went ahead and started looking for hand fed parakeet breeders in our area. I knew that I didn’t want to devote another month (minimum) to taming a parakeet, and a hand fed baby would already be comfortable with humans and being handled.

After looking around on Craigslist and doing some Google searching I hadn’t come up with any solid local breeder leads.

I remembered that while we were at Petsmart picking out Toby we had been approached by another customer and we talked about birds for a while. She indicated that the best resource in our area by far is the Rensselaer Bird Center, which is a few towns over from where we live. So – I told Patrick that we should do some recon, visit the RBC and ask if they knew of any local breeders, and to my surprise he agreed to go.

That weekend we fired up the GPS and off we went, walking in to the RBC for the first time I felt a bit like I had gone to heaven, we immediately saw a senegal and a timneh grey hanging out on top of some cages, and after we tore our eyes away from them we realized there were birds everywhere of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were for sale, some were boarders, and many had come with their owners just to hang out. For someone like me who’s obsessed with parrots but doesn’t get a lot of face time with them it was a really magical experience.

Also, everyone in the store was incredible nice, warm and friendly; we couldn’t even tell the difference between the staff and the customers because they were all so welcoming. We we were greeted by someone who asked if we needed help, I explained I was looking for information on local hand fed parakeet breeders and she said….

“I just hatched a batch of babies, want to see them?”

YES, yes I do, thank you 🙂 we were led into a back room with an incubator full of tiny fluffy parakeet babies, most of who were on a very strict feeding schedule. The woman offered to put all of the babies that were old enough into a small bin so we could sit with them and pick one out. How could we possibly say no to that?

Patrick ended up picking out our parakeet; he was immediately drawn to the oldest baby, who seemed regal and not at all timid or afraid. Kelly very much still has an air that, even though she may occasionally deign to be silly, she is quite above us all.

We were able to come back as often as we liked to get Kelly used to us, which was amazing, and I brought my mom and stepdad over once too so they could meet our new family member. Knowing that we would be able to take her home in 3-4 weeks gave us ample time to get prepared, and we were sure to set the cage up and put it near Toby’s cage to help her get the idea that there might be a next door neighbor on the way.

I sort of expected some blowback from Patrick since he was railroaded into getting the new parakeet (even if it wasn’t my fault!), but once you see a bucket or baby parakeets you just can’t say no.

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home, get her settled in, and then worry about how the introduction to Toby would go – which is coming up in another post.

IMG_0720
Kelly at the RBC