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!

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!

A minor emergency for which I was not prepared – heat loss

I came home from work one evening last week and immediately noticed something felt off.  Somehow it seemed quieter than it has this winter and weirdly still. Patrick was working from home that day and I asked him right away if it seemed odd to him. He hadn’t noticed anything, but as I moved into the bedroom to get changed out of my work clothes I knew it felt chillier than usual. Checking the thermostat I saw that although it was set to 69, it was only 68 in the house and the heat was definitely not on to rectify. Not only did fixing the issue become a top priority, but also keeping the parakeets warm knowing the house was going to get colder.

Admitting that I let something slide is a little difficult for me, but here’s the thing, I had considered two possible system failures. One, the power goes out, but in spring summer or fall, in which case I have my Power Failure Lights and I’m ready to get the budgies safely back in their cages to ride it out. Two, there’s a major storm and the power and heat are both out, in which case we decamp to my mom’s house because they have this glorious Generac Generator that runs everything.

I felt pretty unprepared for just the heat going out on its own, which is not really enough of an emergency to deal with the hassle of moving all of the birds, especially with Kevin in quarantine. The most embarrassing part is that even though I tell people all the time that a Heating Pad is an essential part of a parakeet first aid kit, I don’t even own one myself! I know, that’s seriously just horrible and I shouldn’t even admit it. I’m ordering one today, swear.

On the plus side, Kevin already had a K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer in his cage because we were worried about him getting cold. I love this bird warmer, this is the second winter we’ve used it and have had zero issues. It’s just consistently warm. Similarly, Kelly has the K&H Thermo-Perch , which I also do not hesitate to endorse and have found to be very safe and reliable for the second winter running. Toby is terrified to sit on the heated perch, but I’ve caught Kelly there on several occasions. Just make sure to get the textured version, the smooth one makes it very difficult for parakeets to get traction.

I quickly rang up the furnace people and they had a technician deployed right away, which was great, although I don’t love the after hours fees so much! We put Toby and Kelly both in Kelly’s cage, which is cause for a ton of squabbling but in a pinch I figured they could help warm each other up.  Both cages were covered with whatever blankets we had around the house. I don’t cover at night because Toby has night frights and doesn’t tolerate being covered anyway. In general, we find that they sleep perfectly well uncovered, and typically I don’t have to worry about drafts so there’s no concern there. Keeping the heat at a steady 69 has worked very well for us for a few winters now.

Kevin keeping warm while the heat is outThe furnace guy showed up in about an hour and quickly diagnosed the issue as a broken thermostat, which I wouldn’t have even considered as an option! By the time he got the heat going again we had dropped down to 64 and I was so grateful to have it resolved quickly that I decided not to have a heart attack over the unexpected expense so close to Christmas.

No one was any the worse for wear, and as the repair man was leaving my mom called to tell me she was about to bring over her EdenPURE Heater. Obviously I should both always call my mom before a repair man and buy my own space heater.

I got really lucky this time that I knew the furnace wasn’t working right after it happened, and that the repair man was able to come out so quickly. If we were in the middle of a snow or ice storm I couldn’t always expect that quick resolution. Not to mention what would happen if they had to order a part. Without beating myself up too much, I need to take this as a warning to be better prepared.

Breaking news – Toby and Kelly are overweight!

When our new boy Kevin came home I started worrying immediately that he was too skinny. After we starting working on stepping up in particular, I remarked to Patrick that he felt like nothing on my finger compared to Toby or Kelly. I didn’t think that an already freaked out Kevin would appreciate hopping on a Food Scale for a weigh in, so I decided to weigh Toby and Kelly instead for a baseline. I haven’t weighed them in several months and was horrified to find that I have fat parakeets!

Toby is just a little bit into the obese range, but Kelly weighs so much that it’s almost unbelievable. In true parenting-denial style, I found myself moaning, “but she’s big-boned”!  And then had to have a good laugh at myself!

Here’s how I think this happened, even though they are technically only getting two tablespoons of seed mix each per day. One, at the beginning of summer I got a new job and started working late and generally exhausting myself trying to get up to speed. When I would get home from work I would let the parakeets out and basically collapse on the couch, trying to cool my over-heated brain. This meant way fewer days where Toby and Kelly got their afternoon fruit or vegetable supper.

Two, I ran out of Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles and for some reason didn’t buy another bag. So that meant that our bird mix went from 1/4 pellets to half Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Blend Natural Food for Parakeets and half Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet. Neither of these are “bad”, they are both high quality mixes with a lot of good stuff in them. But, I do think that increasing seed intake, eliminating pellet intake and reducing vegetable availability all at the same time was a recipe for fat parakeets.

Three, I introduced those darn food silos. Not only did they increase mess by 100% but they also made eating both extremely fun and a competitive sport. They are no longer being filled but I’m keeping the food silo on hand because I still think it would be a good back-up food source when we are on vacation.

Knowing how it happened is good I think, so that I can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Keeping parakeets at a healthy weight is critical to health and longevity, and I want to keep these guys around for as long as possible!

The first order of business was to break out my OXO Good Grips Grater and starting making fruits and vegetables a regular diet staple again. This is the one thing that I never should have let slip, and I’m committed to doing better by them going forward. Particularly seeing how they dive into a plate of good food, made me feel pretty guilty for leaving it off the menu.

Next on the list is getting pellets back into their daily diet. We’ve always used Roudybush pellets, but I’ve heard some amazing stuff about Harrison’s, and this seems like a good time to switch. We are going to try Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine, and I’m sure I’ll be reporting back with a review, and maybe another Amazon gift card giveaway, in January.

Eliminating food silos, keeping up with regular fruit and vegetables offerings, and putting pellets back into the seed mix should be enough to shed some of those pesky ounces!

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.

Working out with a budgie

Anyone who knows me through this blog can probably guess that I’m pretty budgie-obsessed in all facets of my life. This definitely extends to social media. I’m a frequent visitor to several parakeet groups on Facebook, and as a consequence, almost my entire feed is about budgies and other parrots. So, when I glanced at a post one day asking, “do you prefer working out with a budgie, or solo” I prepared myself to write a really thorough response about how Patrick and I have balanced making physical fitness a priority while also not taking anything away from Toby and Kelly. Of course once I actually read the post I realized it was one of my fitness coach friends asking, “do you prefer to work out with a buddy” but since my brain was already churning about the topic I thought I better write up my response here!

Once budgies take over your life it can be pretty difficult to hit the gym. Unless your budgies have their own room or an aviary, they probably need you to be in the house to have freedom to free fly around and explore. So, hitting the gym for a couple of hours after work would take away time that they could be out getting their exercise. And, let’s be honest, time that you could be spending with them as well.

It’s a much better plan, in my opinion, to spend your gym membership money on a few basics for home exercise, and then the rest on budgie gear!  Seriously though, you can get a great workout at home, your budgies can be flying around getting their exercise, and who knows, sometimes they may even land on you during a cardio routine and get some extra fitness in trying to hold on while you bounce around.  Toby and Kelly used to get a lot of practice clinging when we were in a Leslie Sansone Walking Program phase. I highly recommend Leslie’s videos if you are just starting to workout. They are very low impact and she has a ton of different videos. Also she’s so chatty that even if you’re working out solo you really don’t feel alone. Another good feature of Leslie’s videos is that you don’t need any additional equipment, just a clear space on your floor. She uses music to keep the pace, which the budgies absolutely love singing along to as well.

If you want something a bit more challenging, check out Fitness Blender’s free workout videos. They can also be found on YouTube and not only are there so many you could exercise for years without repeating, they run the gamut from super easy low impact cardio and yoga, to challenging weight training and intense cardio. Fitness Blender is a husband and wife team, which of course appeals to Patrick and me!

Again, not too much extra equipment is needed for these videos. I would recommend investing in a good quality set of weights. We love this Adjustable Dumbbell Set, it goes from 3 pounds to 24 pounds just by changing out the weights.  They are easy to change on the fly and it’s a huge space saver versus a traditional set of free weights.

Lastly, snag a good quality Yoga Mat that isn’t made out of terrible chemical nonsense that will poison you while you are exercising. We’ve actually been using doubled over blankets instead after a run of buying a few really smelly exercise mats. I just ordered the one in the link today, so I’ll have to report back, but the reviews are good and the listing indicates it doesn’t have Phthalates, Phenols, PAHS, Latex, Silicone or Rubber.

Using just a few small gym items and free or inexpensive videos it is totally possible to get or stay fit at home, without wasting loads of time outside the house or money on a gym membership. It’s also much easier to commit to working out most days if you live in your gym space. You can enrich your budgies lives with the extra time out of their cages and the curiosity of you bouncing around like a lunatic while listening to awesome upbeat music!

I’d totally love some recommendations for good exercise videos on YouTube or otherwise, so please hit me up if you’ve got anything great to share! You can leave a comment here or drop me a line through Home Keet Home’s Facebook page.