Budgies and mirrors – our take on the great debate

When we first got Toby I was pretty convinced that mirrors in cages were a bad idea. There’s tons of anecdotal evidence that having a mirror in the cage greatly reduces the likelihood that your new parakeet will bond with you. This is because they think the bird in the mirror is a part of their flock, and a non-tame budgie will almost always prefer the company of his own kind. Bonding with a mirror bird can mean the budgie will spend hours a day singing to the mirror, bopping heads, and potentially even attempting to feed the mirror through regurgitation.

This kind of bond can make the budgie unmotivated to ever come out of the cage and interact with you. I mean, why would he want to if his best pal can’t come out too?  It may also make the budgie more territorial and protective of his cage, if he thinks he’s defending another bird. In some extreme cases, attachment to a mirror can result in a budgie getting stuck in a feedback loop. In that instance, since the mirror budgie never breaks the loop of action and reaction, the real budgie can interact with the mirror to the detriment of their own health; potentially resulting in dehydration and starvation. Now, that’s super extreme. I would not expect that to happen to 99% of budgies with mirrors.

But, I would anticipate that the vast majority of solo budgies’ ability to be tamed would be impacted by a mirror friend. When bringing home a new budgie I would recommend leaving mirrored toys off your shopping list.

All of those warnings aside, we did recently get a mirror for Toby and a mirror for Kelly as a bit of a trial run. I’ve been feeling increasing bad for Kelly since she and Toby split up, she’s clearly lonely in the cage and I was worried about her becoming depressed about not being able to get to Toby. Since we can’t get a new roommate for Kelly until November due to my travel schedule we talked about it and decided to try adding a mirror so she wouldn’t feel as alone. Toby got one too because that’s how we roll, like giving your kids an even number of presents on the holidays, you can’t do for one without doing for the other!

I’m pleasantly surprised by the experiment so far. Neither parakeet has gotten overly attached to their mirror bird. Kelly spends some time hanging out near hers daily singing to it, but hasn’t gotten too into interacting. Toby plays with the beads on her mirror and occasionally seems interested in what she sees, but typically gets distracted in short order and wanders off to play with something else. There’s been no impact on their readiness to come out of the cage when the doors are opened, which may be because there’s a real bird to come out and play with. Neither bird has gotten more territorial than they already were about their cage either. Although to be fair they are quite territorial anyway!

It eases my mind a bit to know that while we are at work they each have a facsimile of a pal inside the cage with them. I hope that it helps them feel secure and like they are not alone. I still do think that mirrors are not for every bird, and that some may take it much more seriously than ours. If you’ve got a tame budgie that might be a bit lonely while you’re out of the house I don’t see any harm in giving a mirror a try. I would recommend watching closely to make sure it isn’t creating a problem, and be ready to pull the mirror out at the first sign of an issue that would be detrimental either mentally or physically

I have a bad day, and then pass it on to Toby

Ordinarily Toby and I are best pals. She’s always happy to see me when I get home from work and very interested in having her fair share of undivided attention and time touching our beaks (well one beak and one nose) together and nodding our heads. But, I sometimes forget how sensitive the parakeets are to my moods and how important it is to keep my energy calm and even around them.

It’s sort of a gross story; there will be blood, so if that’s an issue for you then please read no further!

As background information, my lips are always super chapped; I know that chapstick is an addiction and I’m fully comfortable saying that I am hooked. Yesterday I hadn’t done my usual insane number of reapplications and on my drive home I was marveling that my lips didn’t feel that bad. I ran my teeth gently over my lower lip and, apparently having dislodged some dry skin, my lip started bleeding.

Not in a polite ladylike manner, but in a serious business, you better have some tissues steady stream. Of course I don’t have tissues, I don’t have an errant fast food napkin, and I don’t even have a clean sheet of paper to blot my lips on. Starting to panic a bit as the blood kept flowing I debated pulling over but realized I wouldn’t be any better off the side of the road. So, I used the only resource available and began dabbing my lips gently against my hands and arms to ineffectively mop the mess.

By the time I got home the bleeding had mostly stopped, but my arms were decorated with bloody lip prints up to my elbows! I’m laughing about it today, but yesterday I sat in my driveway for a couple of minutes trying to collect myself, called my husband and then felt like I was calmed down enough to go in the house.

I was SO wrong, both Toby and Kelly immediately knew that something was up – I scrubbed down at the sink and they were creepily quiet, not begging to come out at all. I approached and Toby was all tight-feathered and wary and Kelly retreated onto her sleepy perch and seemed quite prepared to ignore me entirely.

Once I opened their cages they both hunkered down in Kelly’s and wouldn’t even come out when I put their afternoon snack of blueberries on top of Toby’s cage.

Their attitude was, by this time, feeding my negative energy since I now felt stung by the rejection. I got changed into workout gear for the afternoon and inadvertently made the whole thing worse by putting on a t-shirt with striped sleeves, knowing full well that Toby does not abide stripes! The next time I tried to approach her she didn’t just back away she went after my hand aggressively to tell me to get the heck out.

I hung my head in shame and retreated to watch some reality television. Of course as soon as Patrick got home I started whining to him that Toby wouldn’t give me the time of day. He immediately pointed out that I was probably traumatizing her with my shirt, and upon changing she found me much more palatable.

Belatedly, I got in my requisite beak-tapping, head nodding ritual time and we have a pleasant evening. And if nothing else it’s a good reminder that parakeets are much attuned to their humans’ feelings and moods and they have their own set of preferences and interesting aversions.

Also, I learned to keep a box of tissues in the car and finally threw out the striped shirt. I certainly never thought I would be taking fashion cues from a budgie!

Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets

Sharing human food with parakeets

I was at our favorite pet store recently and met a relatively new parakeet owner who asked “do your parakeets eat human food?” Thinking  I knew what she meant I said “YES” and prepared to brag about how Toby and Kelly love so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, although it certainly took some doing to get to that point. Before I could get the words out she followed with, “because we’ve tried to get ours to eat Saltine Crackers and Potato Chips and she is just not interested at all”.

By the time I had gotten over my surprise about the direction the question took we had moved on to something else. So, I regret that I didn’t get the chance to tell her that salt is not great for budgies, and that while the occasional nibble of a cracker or chip won’t strike them dead, it’s not good for them and they don’t need it, even as a “treat”.

My husband and I have been strict from the start about not sharing food for human consumption with the budgies, especially from our own plates. If I’m preparing a salad I put aside items that I know they will like, but they are never fed at the same time as we are, and I always make a show of prepping their food on their plates. This reinforces that their food is different from ours, even if it’s technically okay for them to eat, and that they shouldn’t expect to sneak treats from our plates.

It might be tempting and seem cute to share your food with your budgies, I know we want to share all of our lives with them and give them loads of enrichment and spoiling. But aside from salt there are a ton of things that we eat that they don’t need or are intolerant of. In my opinion the more they can avoid processed human foods the better.

Also, if you make a habit of allowing them to eat “safe” foods from your plate you may be sending a strong message that your food is fair game. And beyond the potential annoyance of fighting with your budgie every time you want a snack because she doesn’t understand she can’t have cheese; you could end up with a very sick bird.

Another good reason to keep parakeets away from your plates and cups is the potential ahem fallout. As we know, parakeets poop pretty often (as frequently as every 5-10 minutes). Although seasoned parakeets parents have typically gotten over any issues they may have had about dealing with the nice and tidy parakeet poops, I’m going to assume that no one really wants to ingest them. So, outside of parakeet health, that’s a pretty compelling reason to keep mealtimes separate and otherwise let your parakeets know that they are not welcome to dine directly from your dinner plate.

This can be a bit more difficult with Drinking Glasses and Coffee Mugs, but it is very important that your parakeets do not drink sugary or caffeinated beverages. We sometimes still struggle with making sure the parakeets aren’t interested in our Saturday morning coffee. I usually hide mine under an overhanging kitchen cabinet and take sips while they aren’t paying attention!

I’ve seen several “cute” videos of parakeets having water out of human Drinking Glasses and it always makes me cringe. Parakeets can’t swim, if they lose their balance on a cup’s edge and tip in head first they will likely drown if no one pulls them out. So, although it may be cute when your parakeet does it while you are present and providing supervision, it could be devastating if you have a glass of water out and leave the room for a few minutes.

Sidebar: I feel like I’m coming perilously close to shaming people in this post and that’s really not my intent. If your parakeet has died in such an incident I don’t want you to feel guilty or beat yourself up over it – these things can happen to anyone. I’m thinking about it now and I know I have a glass of water in my kitchen sink that someone could easily drown in. Toby and Kelly have never gone in the sink but goodness knows they surprise me every day! So, no one’s perfect, and even when we know all the right things to do something is still going to slip through the cracks.

Anyway, much like food-sharing we have the twin issues that many of our beverages are bad for them to begin with, and we additionally don’t want to drink poop.

Patrick and I switched to bottled water for a number of reasons shortly after getting parakeets, one of those reasons was to protect our clean drinking sources from parakeets.  But it’s hard to feel good about burning through tons of plastic bottles, even if they are being recycled.  Also – water just doesn’t taste that great in plastic.  So, I recently got these Glass Water Bottles which are our new favorite thing!  Not only are they poop-safe, but we’re saving a ton on buying water bottles every week, water tastes great in them, and they stay colder longer out of the refrigerator.

Bottom line stuff is do the best you can to keep your parakeets out of your people food and beverages and I think you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle/potential heartache. Also, you’ll avoid eating and drinking parakeet poop, which is pretty indisputably a good life goal.

Clipping a parakeet’s nails – an exercise in futility?

In this household we’ve tended to subscribe to the theory that a parakeet with an adequate variety of properly-surfaced perches should not need any human intervention with keeping their nails trimmed. Recently we’ve taken notice that Toby and Kelly have lost interest in their own nail maintenance, and it might be time to face the specter of clipping a parakeet’s nails.

When I was putting together our first aid kit for the parakeets I included a set of Nail Clippers Scissors, they can be used for any small animal , but birds are on the list, and it does seem like it would be easier to clip with that than a traditional human nail clipper.  I also did my due diligence research on how to towel a small bird to keep it still, and to make sure never to cut too high up on the nail because you can hit the blood vessel.  If you do hit the blood vessel you want to have Styptic Powder or at least Corn Starch on hand to help stop the bleeding. Parakeets can bleed out pretty quickly, so getting a handle on any bleeding is important.

So, theoretically it seems possible to trim their nails, if not like a great time. Over the past year I’ve gone through phases of trying to get them comfortable with the appearance of the scissors so they aren’t a scary item, and they are always intrigued by them instead of frightened.  This may sound crazy but we’ve also periodically made a big show of clipping our own nails in front of them and filing our nails. The parakeets always get very excited by this process and are eager to jump onto our hands and inspect what we are doing.

Of course this didn’t translate at all to our cutting their nails, and every time we approach them with the nail scissors they act like we have lost our minds. Seriously, they are not even scared they are deeply offended and completely unwilling.

Patrick was very sneaky one day and managed to trim a single nail of Kelly’s by distracting her while she was perching and putting the scissors up behind her. That’s really the sort of trick you only get to use once before they are wise to it!

This past weekend we decided to give it a real try. I got out a cloth napkin and we managed to gently burrito Kelly in it; we did also try for Toby but that was not happening. Although Toby and Kelly like us and consider us part of their flock, they aren’t particularly tame. We don’t really try to teach them any “tricks” and they are not the kind of parakeets to enjoy a snuggle.

At any rate, we had our little Kelly burrito and the nail scissors, but she was wriggling like a fish, her tiny feet were bicycling like mad and to top it all off since we were acting on the spur of the moment, Toby was trying to jump on Kelly’s head to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was a total disaster. There was no way to safely cut anything in the midst of all that ridiculousness and we let Kelly go in short order. I know this is horrid but we haven’t tried again. Thus far they can still walk properly on flat surfaces and they aren’t getting stuck in any toys or on our clothing. We are keeping a close eye on the situation, but I think we’re going to continue with the wait and see, and hope that they pick up the ball again on their own nail maintenance!

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!