Molting Toby takes a good bath – finally!

My flock and I live in upstate New York and we have been having the weirdest weather lately. Right at the end of August it got chilly and we had to turn our heat on for a week. As soon as the temperature dropped Toby and Kelly started on a pretty serious fall molt. Of course, by the time they were out of that molt it was mid-September and the temperature, insanely, was about 90 degrees! So, what else is a girl to do but start molting all over again.

Needless to say it’s been a solid couple of months now of feather-covered floors, sneezing humans, and itchy, cranky budgie ladies. I offer them a variety of baths on the regular, especially when they are molting, usually about twice a week. At least 50 percent of the time they completely ignore the bath, and even if they do give it notice sometimes it’s just to run through the water.  Kelly will still only take a good soak if I stand right next to her and give her constant encouragement!

Regardless of their level of interest I just keep plugging away, offering the baths and then dumping them out. Every weekend we buy a bunch of carrots with the tops still on, or some other type of green that’s good for hanging and make a hanging bath. Well, it’s a good thing we like to eat carrots because lately even that has been a total waste!

Finally Toby must have reached the depths of her molting despair and decided that a bath would be just the thing. We constructed the hanging bath and she immediately jumped on it and got the most thorough soaking she has had in months. I tried to get some good pictures but it’s tough when she’s in constant motion and puffed up like a weird broken birdy.

So, what’s the point of the post then? I guess it’s just that you have to keep trying. Even when something stops working, like the hanging bath that used to be so reliable for us. Don’t give up, keep offering them the healthy food options and the things they need, and eventually they will take you up on it. I know sometimes it might seem like a waste of your time and resources to have what you give them rejected over and over, but it matters that you do it, so don’t lose heart!

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.

Parakeets and light timers – they are not just for vacations!

Like you’d expect, we bought our set of Programmable Plug-in Digital Timers when we were getting set to go on vacation. But instead of removing them when we got back we left the timers as is, and find them to be an invaluable resource that makes our every day lives easier. Here’s how light timers have practical use every day.

  • We never forget to give Toby and Kelly the full spectrum lighting they need on a daily basis. Toby and Kelly have a AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp (and the Avian Sun bulb that it needs to do any good). When we first got the set Patrick and I would consistently forget to turn them on, or would turn it on and leave it for hours more than they needed per day. With the lights plugged into a timer they get three hours of full spectrum lighting every day, and it’s set from 12 – 3pm, which is a time that they are usually at home in their cages and, if it’s a weekday, typically taking an afternoon snooze. Without the light timers they would never get that consistent dose of full spectrum lighting.
  • Bed time routine. Kelly is super easy to get into a bed time mode. Somehow she usually knows when it’s 6pm, goes home, and put herself to bed. Toby, on the other hand, would stay up until all hours if she was allowed to. Even after we get her into the cage at night, (usually resorting to target training and millet) she flaps around for a while and generally resists the fact that it’s not party time anymore. To help her settle down we try to provide as many cues as possible that bed time is imminent, and one of those cues is lighting. Before I start tying to put them to bed I close the curtains behind them, then Patrick and I get Toby settled in her cage and shut Kelly in hers. The next step is to turn down their ceiling lamp (on a Dimmer switch). This gives them fair warning that night time is coming, so they have a chance to eat a late dinner and get the last bit of their energy out. Finally the last lamp, which is on a timer, goes off at 7:30pm. At that point they have had a ton of warning that it’s bed time, but I also didn’t have to remember to turn off the last light and think about the time. If it was up to me and I was in the midst of making dinner, or messing around on facebook that light would probably be on way too late, and Toby would definitely take advantage!

Basically anything I can do to automate a process is awesome! If I didn’t already have it sorted I would buy another set of timers and try to put a radio on them or a the television so the birds would have company during the day.  As it is we have the Amazon Echo for their entertainment, and that’s probably a whole post all of it’s own!

The only negative I do want to note about this set of Digital Timers is that it covers up both outlets when plugged in, so you can’t use the other outlet for even a nightlight or to plug in your vacuum etc.  They can also be a bit confusing to set, but once you’ve got it taken care of they are very reliable and using light timers definitely takes a few routine tasks off my mental plate.

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. 

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – mission success!

After our first total fail at parakeet nail clipping I sought help from my favorite Facebook Parakeet Group. It’s not usually my first instinct to crowd source ideas on social media but I was feeling so stumped and dejected by the abject failure that I really needed some other humans to help before I tried clipping a parakeet’s nails again.

I got tons of advise that ranged from taking the parakeets to a vet so we wouldn’t break their trust with us, to don’t take them to a vet for a nail clipping because they will probably have a heart attack and die!  So, we could safely assume that the answers lay somewhere in between those two extremes.

One thing that most folks agreed on is that trying to use the previously purchased Small Animal Nail Scissors was a terrible idea, and that it would be much easier to use regular small Fingernail Nail Clippers meant for humans. Another tip that I thought we should try was covering their faces while they were toweled to keep them calmer and reduce our risk of being bitten.

I also knew that we needed to separate the parakeets for the nail clipping and take the “patient” to another room where they wouldn’t distract each other. This meant that the other human would need to stay in the “waiting room” with the parakeet on deck to keep them quiet. We were thinking that a ton of flock calling would be just as bad as being in the same room.

We split up and Patrick took Toby to our bedroom and shut the door. I initially heard some flapping and evasion tactics but Patrick managed to secure her and make sure the towel (truly a cloth napkin) covered her face. From the other side of the door I heard the occasional snip of the nail clippers and some irritated squawking. After what felt like an eternity Patrick emerged triumphant! He managed to clip every single one of her nails, even though she was a squirmy worm, her head being covered meant she did eventually grow calmer, and using the human nail clippers was 100 times easier.

Next up was Kelly, she and Patrick came back out so quickly that I felt sure he had given up but again it was a rousing success!  Apparently with her head covered she gave up pretty quickly and stayed quite calm.

I should add that Patrick also feed them some Spray Millet under the towel after every couple of nails to keep the experience somewhat positive.

Both Toby and Kelly were pretty mad immediately after the clipping, but Kelly forgot the whole ordeal after just a couple of minutes (except when she couldn’t dig her claws into our couch to pull herself up anymore!).  Toby, on the other hand, has decided to hold a grudge, but weirdly not against Patrick.  She’s mad at me, which I really can’t figure out since I had nothing to do with it. I have known her to stay mad for several days, but I’m determined to win her back over!

To sum it up, the keys for us were separating the parakeets, toweling them with their heads covered, giving them lots of millet, and using small human nail clippers. Patrick did such a great job that I don’t think we’ll need to worry about it again for a while, but it’s such a relief to know that we can manage to get the job done! It’s also really nice to not have parakeets getting their nails stuck in our shirts all the time 🙂

Facts about the 5 senses of the parakeet

Over the past several months I wrote posts about each of the 5 senses of the parakeets.  I think it’s good to have some basic knowledge about how your parakeet perceives the world so you can accommodate his needs and understand things that might be scary, or conversely, might be very pleasing to them.  Here are links to all of those posts with some key facts for each sense.

SIGHT

  • Parakeets have much better vision than humans and can see ultraviolet light.
  • With the exception of a few color mutations – parakeets eyes change as they age, they develop a visible iris and begin to “flash” or “pin” their pupils in response to stimuli.
  • As good as parakeet sight is during the day it is terrible at night, which can be the root cause of night terrors. Any movement detected during the night can be perceived as a threat.

HEARING

  • Parakeets have an internal ear, an adult parakeet’s ear holes are not typically visible unless the parakeet is very wet.
  • They also have perfect pitch and can store sound in their memories with incredible skill.
  • Parakeets that live together will “flock call” to each other frequently when they are out of eye line to check in and make sure everything is okay. Some parakeets also loudly call out to birds that they hear outdoors, this is cute, but can be quite loud and go on for hours.

TOUCH

  • Don’t expect to pet or snuggle your parakeet. Although some may learn to enjoy it, petting is not a natural behavior to a budgie.
  • Parakeets are very sensitive to vibrations – cars and trucks lumbering by may vibrate the budgies cage and can be a little scary. It’s also best to keep cages away from appliances that vibrate, such as refrigerators and washing machines.
  • Our parakeets are able to feel pain, so we have a great responsibility to make a safe environment for our pets. Of course this applies to every pet in your home!

SMELL

  • Scientists aren’t quite sure how much parakeets use their sense of smell. In the wild it is probably not a key part of how they evade predators they way that sight and hearing are.
  • They do not use their sense of smell to know who you are – since their sights and hearing are so much better they recognize the way you look and the sound of your voice.
  • Possible lack of importance of the sense has nothing to do with chemical and smoke sensitivity – Teflon, burning candles, chemical cleaners etc. are all very dangerous.

TASTE

  • Parakeets have fewer taste buds than humans and the taste buds they do have are located at the base of the tongue.
  • As foragers, keen sense of taste wouldn’t be a huge benefit. If you need to scrounge around on the ground for your food it wouldn’t do to be picky!!
  • They can detect the taste of sweet foods which is probably why many parakeets prefer fruit to vegetables – but watch out for overdoing the sugar.

Please click the link on the individual senses for more detailed information about each – there are a ton of useful tips and points to ponder for each sense.

The best treats for a parakeet

It’s natural to want to give your parakeets treats, the same way you would a dog or cat. But, they are quite different animals, and there certainly aren’t as many treats on the market for a parakeet as there are for a mammal pet.  I frequently see people mention the Honey Bird Treat Sticks as a popular treat – with some folks even giving their parakeets a stick every week. There isn’t anything wrong with those treats, per se, but I don’t think they are the best treats for a parakeet.

Parakeets can certainly eat honey, but they really shouldn’t have a lot. Even sugary fruits have to be limited, so a real sugar like honey should be a rare treat indeed.  Also, if your parakeets really get hooked on the honey treats they can start rejecting normal seed and demand sugary treats all the time.  Maintaining a healthy budgie weight is critical to long-term good health, and trying to break a parakeet of a sugar habit would be a frustrating nightmare!

Honey can be very useful to help perk up an ailing parakeet and get the some extra energy and calories to burn. I think that honey should be reserved for an emergency treat, you could even keep a Honey Straw or two in your parakeet’s first aid kit.

If, like me, you don’t want to introduce honey as a regular menu item here are some other ideas for the times you want to spoil your parakeets a little bit.

    • No treat list would be complete (or accurate!) if it didn’t include Millet. Spray millet is almost universally regarded by parakeets as the ultimate in pleasure food. If your new parakeet doesn’t realize yet this is his favorite food he will soon. Millet doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value to it so it really should just be used as a treat. I know there are a lot of Miller Spray Holders on the market so you can put a whole spray of millet in the cage with the parakeets, but I don’t recommend going that route. I think that if millet always comes from the humans it’s a much more powerful bonding and training tool.  Also millet readily available in the cage is the equivalent of me having a limitless bag of Doritos in my cube at work, no good would come of that for my health and I don’t think that unlimited millet will do your parakeets any health favors either.
    • Vegetables and occasional fruits. I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy because your parakeets currently won’t even look at a slice of cucumber without having a panic attack, or ignore it completely. And I’m telling you (virtually guaranteeing) that if you are persistent and keep offering the good stuff multiple times a week in a variety of different ways and/or mixed with seed and millet you will eventually wear them down and have a pack of veggie-lovers! The absolute key is persistence.  You can’t say after a month of trying that they hate vegetables because that is not long enough. These little guys can be more stubborn and fearful than one could possibly imagine.
    • New toys and perches. The great thing is that even though we might all joke around about “spoiling” our parakeets it really can’t be done! They need new toys and different perches regularly to keep their brains active and bodies exercised.  So, if you were going to spend $4 on honey treats, why not spend it on the JW Pet Company Activitoy Lattice Chain Small Bird Toy instead?  I’ve had that toy rotating in and out of cages for the past 2 years, which is comparably a really great value!  I’ll put links at the end of this post to a few inexpensive and awesome toys.
    • Your time and attention. Really the best treat of all. Even if you’re still in the taming process and they can barely tolerate the sight of you, sit by their cage for 15 minutes and sing them a song. Every day when I get home from work my first instincts are to start tidying up the house, make the parakeets a snack and generally get on with the million and one things I have to do. But, I make it a point to make eye contact and greet them, let them out of their cages, and stay put. For as long as they are interested in jumping on my head, screaming in my ear, or chewing on the seams of my shirt, I chill out and just hang. Sometimes I talk to them about my day or theirs, and sometimes we are quiet together. Thinking about it now, even though it can feel painful to slow it down and stop being productive, it’s one of the best things I do both for the parakeets and for me.

I’m sure there are a million other ways to treat your ‘keet, but that’s my shortlist of relatively healthy and inexpensive (or free!) best treats for a parakeet.