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.

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Facts about parakeet hearing and how it impacts life in the home

Similar to eyesight, parakeets have a really fantastic sense of hearing in ways that differ from humans.  The most noticeable difference is that you may never see your parakeet’s ears, since they are internal, versus the human’s exterior ear.  Perhaps if your parakeet takes a really thorough bath you might glimpse their ear holes, but I’ve never seen them on either of my budgies!

All of the research I’ve done indicates that parakeets can hear roughly the same range of sounds as humans, maybe a little better, but this doesn’t explain to me why Toby and Kelly will spend hours flock calling to birds outdoors that I can only faintly hear, or would have to go outside to hear.

What may be a factor is their relationship to sound, they have much more perfect pitch than I do, and they can store sound in their memory more effectively than I can.  (*source www.little featheredbuddies.com).

Their proficiency at memorizing sounds in sequence helps them learn to mimic human speech and snippets of music, or in the wild to learn calls that are specific to them and other birds.  There is evidence that parrot parents name their children with specific sounds and that those sounds are used for that parrot for their entire life.

I read anecdotal evidence once that suggested this talent could extend to pet parakeets.  A woman named Laura had a single male parakeet with an incredibly large vocabulary – she decided to get him a friend and introduced a second parakeet, which she did not name. A short while later, she found that her first parakeet had begun calling the new friend “Laura” while preening her or snuggling at night. It’s touching to think that the male parakeet loved his owner so much that he named his new friend after her. Although I suppose it’s equally possible he just didn’t know any other names, it’s still pretty good evidence that he had a concept of naming. (I will keep trying to find the link to this story again, I haven’t been able to and I apologize that it’s not credited.)

My female parakeets have zero interest in mimicking human speech or most sounds they hear.  When Kelly came home she had some new noises that Toby hadn’t heard, but instead of adding each other’s sounds to their lexicons they settled somewhere in the middle and now we can’t tell the two of them apart by their calls.  I wonder if it’s because they are so solidly a flock that they have their own agreed upon language of sounds.

I know that they make the same call frequently, and with varying degrees of urgency.  When Toby and Kelly are playing in different places they will call out to each other every so often to touch base. If one doesn’t respond the other calls louder or goes to find them.  When my husband or I go to the bathroom sometimes one of the budgies will get anxious and start calling to us, if we don’t come back or respond they do the same thing and come to find us and make sure we are okay.  For me, that’s wonderful proof that we are part of their flock too, even if we don’t speak the same language!

Parakeets can also be easily startled by loud or unexpected noises, so that’s something to watch out for, especially with new parakeets in the home that may be spooked already, it’s nice to keep things quiet and relaxed for them.  This probably relates back to their lives in the wild as prey, it would certainly be beneficial to be on your guard and ready to escape from danger.  Another way this links back to eyesight is after dark it’s especially important not to scare them with loud noises, since they can’t reassure themselves that everything is okay using their eyes.

There are a lot of ways that you can engage your parakeet using their sense of hearing that are fun for both of you, and even if they never mimic a single sound it’s still enriching to expose them to new sounds and sound patterns.  Have fun exploring new music with your parakeets, maybe you’ll end up having the same favorite song 🙂

Click here to read our post about parakeet eyesight