Transitioning parakeets to new food

One of the first things you will likely purchase as a new budgie owner is a supply of food for your new friend. Depending on where your budgie came from, you may want to change his food pretty quickly from a low quality seed mix to something with added dried vegetables, fruits and herbs. Transitioning parakeets to new food is not as easy as making a swap and crossing your fingers, there are some considerations and warnings.

  • I don’t think it’s fair to call parakeets “stubborn”, but they will starve to death rather than eat something they don’t see as a safe food, or as food at all. This is not out of willfulness but because they literally may not view something like a pellet as food, particularly if it’s nothing like what they are used to eating. Please don’t ever totally change your parakeet from one food to another with no transition period. Particularly don’t ever abruptly change from a seed mix to pellets.
  • Instead, start with what they are used to eating and slowly mix in what you are switching them to, increasing the ratio of the new food over several days or weeks. Even if you’re just changing to a new seed blend, this is a helpful way to make sure your parakeet still has something they feel safe eating and won’t starve.
  • This does particularly apply if you are transitioning to pellets, which, I’m just going to be honest, I don’t recommend as a primary source of nutrition. I’ve written about seeds vs. pellets in this post, but in brief, I don’t think that pellets have been proven to be nutritionally complete and they are not mentally stimulating enough. Additionally, budgies are designed to eat seeds.
  • I’ve focused a bit on transitioning from seed to seed or seed to pellet, but you may also need to do some work to get your parakeet trying vegetables and fruits. A great way to start is by chopping a vegetable up very finely and mixing it with millet or your parakeet’s preferred seed mix. Offer that as the only food source for a couple hours and even if they just pick out the millet they are sure to accidentally eat some vegetables too. Make sure not to leave fresh vegetables and fruits in your parakeet’s cage for too long, especially in warmer months as rotting vegetables aren’t anyone’s idea of a good meal!
  • The bottom line is that most budgies should transition fairly easily to a good quality seed mix, no matter what quality the pet store or breeder was feeding. Just take your time and make sure you’re seeing seed hulls in your food cups every day and good healthy poops, which indicate your parakeet is eating.

Hopefully there’s at least some food for thought here (haha!). Healthy feeding is always top of mind for parakeet parents and transitioning parakeets to a new food can be one of the most nerve-wracking hurdles to overcome. But, with a little sly work to transition them to a new food, you’ll have healthy-eating babies in no time.

A blue parakeet foraging in some seed on a plate
Toby loves foraging through her regular seed mix on a plate
Two parakeets trying some sprouts
We did not care for these. Which is too bad, since they were expensive!

 

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The glorious smell of budgies – what budgies should smell like

Pet owners who have cared for small pets in the rodent or reptile family may wonder what budgies should smell like, considering other small pets can have such a strong odor. Budgies are a totally different ball game, not only do they have a particularly lackluster sense of smell, but they don’t produce odor themselves. Under good conditions, what budgies smell like is nothing, what they rub their heads on, or what they eat.

This extends to their poop as well, if your budgie’s poop is smelly then he may be ill and you should seek veterinary care. Literally, you should be able to not clean your cage(s) for weeks (totally not recommended) and it should not smell. If it does smell and you have been feeding fruits and vegetables look to see if you’ve missed some scraps of food that are rotting. Also, watch out for ants!

Typically, I find that my parakeets smell like very mild citrus, which is pleasant and comes from their seed mix. For a while I was freaked out because Toby smelled like tomato soup, at the time I was trying her on Roudybush Pellets and it turns out those smell like tomato soup to me.

Another cause of transient smell can be eating fresh vegetables and fruits. After Kelly eats broccoli she has very distinct and fairly gross broccoli breath. That makes sense because the broccoli is hanging out in her crop for a while with her hulled seeds, basically composting itself. If that smell persisted it would be another sign of illness such as a crop infection, impaction, or sour crop.

Persistent bad breath can be a sign of other internal issues as well. If your budgie has a foul odor coming out of its mouth that can’t be tied to eating something and lingers beyond a day then it is probably time to find an avian vet and get a diagnosis and treatment.

For anyone who’s been wary of getting a budgie due to the potential of bad odors, fear not! Their lack of smell is part of what makes a budgie an excellent pet for a smaller space/apartment, in my opinion. And for those of us who are already budgie owners, keep your nose at semi-alert, a new odor on or around your budgie can be an excellent first warning of illness or habitat conditions like rotting food that need to be remedied.

Disclaimer: As always, I’m not a vet and I’m not qualified to diagnose or provide recommendations for medical treatment of your pets. When in doubt, seek the expertise of an avian vet.


Using AviCalm for an aggressive budgie

I should have known from the moment we laid eyes on Kelly that she was not going to be a warm and gentle soul. She was the first to hatch out of her clutch and, when we first met her, stood looking at her younger siblings with a sort of detached haughtiness that was certainly a sign of things to come. But, Patrick was drawn to her immediately so I bit my tongue and we chose her for our flock.

As a juvenile budgie, Kelly kept her rage under wraps, she had been clipped and seemed to understand that she needed her human flock for mobility assistance. We had fun building her ramps and bridges, but Kelly was more interested in taking off and seeing how far she could go before thumping to the floor.

Once she molted her way into flight and adulthood all bets were off. Even before she was fully mature she started chomping at us any chance she could get. Not really limiting her biting to territory issues, Kelly liked to preen you gently for a few moments and then start biting! Flying in the face of some common budgie wisdom, Kelly seemed to bite either for her own amusement or just inherent anger. We’ve tried all the many many tips for a biting budgie, which is pretty well documented on the blog already, and only succeeded in making her angrier.

So, it’s not a huge issue to keep our anger-inducing human selves away from Kelly and let her live her best budgie life. But where I feel bad for her is that she can’t seem to make it work socially with other budgies. I thought she and Toby had issues because they are two adult females, so we brought in Kevin and Kelly’s pretty much equally aggressive to him. He doesn’t escalate the way Toby does, thankfully, but still, no solace in the friendship of budgies.

Kelly can’t live with them because she’s got a nasty tendency to bite feet to the point of physical injury, but she doesn’t understand why she’s relegated tjo her own cage (mansion) at the end of the day. The result of that frustration was the recent mania for biting the cage bars, which we mostly managed to stop by providing an insane amount of things to chew and destroy.

TL:DR Kelly didn’t seem to be very happy, and I felt terrible for her.

Enter AviCalm. I was doing research one day about how to help an angry parrot and stumbled across this product. AviCalm is a supplement that is put in the budgie’s food or water and when ingested, helps with calming them down. AviCalm can be used on screamers, feather pickers, chewers and aggressive birds in general.

There are dosing suggestions by size on the packaging; we have been using half of the recommended dose for Kelly for about a month now. While she’s certainly not turned into a snuggle buddy, I have to say that AviCalm has helped immensely with her aggression.

Patrick and I are starting to be less afraid when she lands on us, I’ve even tried stepping her up a few times and while I’ve gotten bit for it, she hasn’t broken skin in weeks. Biting is still a likely eventuality, but it’s not with the same ferocity she used to dole out on a daily basis.

She even landed on my head and preened my hair yesterday without biting at all; I literally almost cried.

Beyond helping with her aggression towards us, I think that Kelly is feeling a lot better and calmer. She’s been way less fixated on Toby and has been able to relax by herself and play. Kevin loves singing and Kelly has been joining in, which is incredible.

The biggest change has been our bed time routine. We used to have to chase down Kelly and battle to get her in her cage every night. She would obsess over Toby and fight with her through the cage bars until we sometimes resorted to gently nabbing her in a pillow case.

Not anymore! Now I ring the bell for bed time and she is FIRST in her cage and goes right to the perch where she gets her reward. Even if Toby and Kevin are monkeying around, Kelly knows what the objective is, completes it immediately and even seems happy to do it! It’s amazing to not feel like we are torturing her every evening.

Reviews of AviCalm seem pretty mixed; based on my experience I heartily recommend giving it a try if you’re dealing with a difficult budgie. At the half dose we still see all of Kelly’s personality, she’s feisty, likes to explore and wants to assert her dominance, but we take the edge off of the incessant biting and obsessive behavior. Obviously I’m not a parrot psychiatrist, but I do think that Kelly is happier on the supplement.

That reminds me! Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian nor am I providing medical advice for your budgies. I am merely providing a review of my own experience with a product. YMMV. This post was not sponsored by AviCalm, but as usual the links are affiliate links.

Popcorn and budgies – an update and note of caution

Last week, I published a post about the budgies experiencing popcorn for the first time. In response, a kind reader commented that in a budgie group recently, someone recounted the experience of having their budgie choke to death while they desperately tried to save her. The culprit was, of course, popcorn. I am so grateful to the person who let me know about the recent situation.

First, my heartfelt condolences go out to the person who so recently lost their pet in a tragic and traumatizing manner. Second, I would hate to ever espouse any course of action that might lead to a budgie being injured or worse.

I wondered whether popcorn is a frequent choking hazard, or if this was a one in a million incident. Writing this blog, even for a relatively small audience, I’m aware of a responsibility not to publish harmful or misleading information. At the same time, I’m just a budgie parent, not a vet or avian specialist, and I’m learning as I go along too.

In order to gather some more data about a possible link between popcorn and choking, I posed the question on a FB page called Feathered Friends. This page provides an incredible resource, with nearly 80,000 fans who are parrot enthusiasts and owners it’s an excellent place to post a question and get a ton of well-reasoned answers.

What I gleaned from the many responses was that a budgie choking on popcorn is not a common occurrence. Also, it confirmed my concept that, much like humans, a budgie could choke to death on anything they ate and it would probably not be possible to eliminate all dangerous foods.

I was also called ignorant (yay internet!). As I’m sure we all know, asking questions is the way we conquer ignorance!

Some folks did feel that popcorn is inappropriate for smaller parrots. So, before you decide to try popcorn as enrichment, weigh the risks versus the reward, but also know that we can be the best informed and the most well-intentioned bird owners, and tragedy may still strike.

As a best practice, make sure to remove all kernels from the popcorn you provide your budgies. I mentioned in the original post, the popcorn should be free of salt and butter. You can also remove any hull-like kernel pieces to reduce the risk of choking.

I think you can easily keep popcorn off the menu for your budgies and they won’t know the difference. I think you could give popcorn once a month for the next ten years and most likely nothing bad would happen (except you’d be cleaning up shredded popcorn once a month!).

The thing that’s important to me as someone who is concerned with honesty and transparency is that I let my readers know what I’ve found out about the possible dangers of popcorn. That way you can make a better informed decision for your budgies.

As far as things go for our flock, I will give Toby, Kelly and Kevin the chance to explore popcorn as often as we make it, which is about 4 times a year. While I understand there may be a risk inherent, I also don’t want to dwell in the fear of what might happen.

Parakeet weight update – have Toby & Kelly slimmed down?

Our new parakeet, Kevin, seemed shockingly small to us when he first came home. Compared to Toby and Kelly he was as light as a feather. We naturally felt that he was underweight, but since he was having such a hard time with trust we didn’t think we could get him on the Food Scale for a weight in. We weighed Toby and Kelly instead and, to our horror, found that they were overweight! Looking up healthy parakeet weight, you will find a few different ranges, some say 25-36 grams is the healthy range, while others say 30-40 grams. I should mention that all of our parakeets are the smaller Australian parakeet, versus the larger “English” budgie.

Toby and Kelly knocked it out of the park, with Toby weighing in at 43 grams and Kelly at a whopping 55 grams!  Ouch! I immediately renewed my commitment to healthy feeding. Right now they are on a mix of Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine, Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets. The Harrison’s high potency is not a forever thing, Harrison’s recommends switching over to pellets with the high potency and then switching to Harrison’s Adult Lifetime Super Fine which is for long term feeding.

I am still completely on the fence about pellets in general. I’m not sure that they are part of my long term feeding plan. But, I’ll try anything to see what works best for our flock!

In addition to changing up our food mix, I also recommitted to feeding fruits or vegetables every day, and that’s been going well! I think I enjoy watching them play around on a plate of veggies as much as they enjoy doing it. I’m not convinced they are eating all that much of it, but as long as they throw the food around and get some enrichment I’m good.

It’s been about a month since we made the changes, and while they haven’t shed enough grams for a stunning before and after photo I’m happy with the progress. Toby is down to 40 grams, and probably at a healthy weight for her. Kelly dropped to 50 grams, which is percentage-wise a substantial loss.  We will keep working on her, but I do seriously think that she has a bigger frame than Toby and Kevin and should probably weight more.

Kevin decided it would be okay to get on the scale and originally weighed in at 23 grams, which is too low, but I think he was scared to eat well in quarantine. Also I’m pretending that the weight of his missing flight feathers would have gotten him into a non-danger zone of being underweight!

Now that he’s been out of quarantine for a few weeks he is up to 29 grams, which is a nice and respectable, but still quite slim.

I’m hopeful that we can keep Kevin and Toby where they are and maybe help Kelly lose a few more grams. The parakeets are all bunking in together at this point and I think that having in-cage companionship during the day may help encourage all of them to play more. Fingers crossed that it keeps going well, but it’s great to see that a few changes can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy parakeet weight!