A letter to Toby on her second Gotcha Day

Dear Toby,

Oh how things have changed since you came along! I’ve loved birds since I was a little girl, but I never thought I’d be able to have one of my own. I was at a bit of a low point when we got you, struggling with some personal issues and I can’t say how much I needed a lift.

As unbearably cheesy as it sounds, I was lifted on your wings. Taming you gave me a whole new purpose and a reason to look forward to coming home at the end of a work day. Moreover, thinking about you made me happy any time of day. You were a unifying force of positivity for my husband and me as we worked together to make sure that you were happy, safe and comfortable. We discovered that we both loved planning your environment for maximum enrichment and spending time training you and cajoling you into being part of our flock.

I remember how scared you were when you first came home, and the utter joy I felt when you started to open up and relax. Discovering your sense of humor and your sass came shortly after, but also the realization that you felt very connected to us, and wouldn’t go anywhere that your flock didn’t want to go.

Now that you’re a very grown up girl you certainly have your own sense of self and what you’ll allow, but you’re also a good listener and so eager to learn. I love that you are calming down some and starting to perch on a finger for longer times, rather than landing and flitting off to your other important business.

I’d like to say that you’re a great big sister to Kelly, but since you tried to chew off her foot and pull out her feathers I really can’t go that far! I think she’s been good for you, and taught you loads of birdy stuff that you didn’t manage to learn at PetSmart, so I hope you keep trying to love her a bit more.

Above all I want to say thank you for bringing me light and joy. I have truly enjoyed these two years together and I look forward to many more! Thank you also for forgiving your “papa” and I for all our many mistakes, I’m sure we’ll come up with more every year 🙂

An observation about adult molting budgies

It used to be that molting was a huge deal in our house. Toby and Kelly would behave as though they were on death’s door and it would be days of very dramatic budgie behavior. Sleeping for almost 24 hours straight, being fluffed up, wanting to be snuggled when they usually hate to be touched. It was typically a very uneasy time full of trying to make them more comfortable. But, now that they have both reached maturity, I’ve made some observations about adult molting budgies.

At first it was just Toby who started to handle molting better, although I didn’t notice at the time because I was so focused on Kelly’s discomfort!  Then, once Kelly turned one and a few months her next molt was a relative breeze too.

I mean, they were still cranky and untouchable and even more inclined to bite than usual (Kelly). But, there was no puffing up, no sleeping all day and no cuddling into mamma for some comfort. I might miss that last bit, but otherwise it’s such a relief not to have the vet on speed dial just because we are laid low by pin feathers!

This leads me to believe that once a budgie has gone through a few molts and is a healthy, mature adult they are able to handle the molt a lot better. I have no idea whether it would be because the mature body is heartier or whether it’s just that they aren’t surprised by what’s going on and know that they will make it through okay.

Either way, I’m happy that it’s easier for all of us to get through it with some extra baths, misting and maybe some extra millet to lift the spirits.  This also provides a possible explanation as to why I see so many folks saying that their budgies always go through a molt like it’s no big deal!  I now think there’s a huge difference between juvenile and adult molting budgies.

Dealing with your parakeet’s flock favorites

In my experience parakeets can be pretty fickle in all matters. One day they love spinach, the next day they won’t touch it…same deal with certain toys, perches and even favorite hangouts. It also extends to flock favorites that are humans! It can be a pretty harsh feeling when the parakeet that was your best friend one day favors someone else the next and Toby’s been playing some games with my heart lately!

Ever since Patrick clipped her nails (which she HATED) she has been a little mad at me and absolutely obsessed with him. It makes zero sense, I had nothing to do with the clipping and yet somehow earned all the blame. At any rate, if he and I are both available to her she wants to be on his shoulders at all times and completely eschews me, or even worse, acts like I’m trying to take him away from her and starts biting me.

She had been very interested in him for weeks to begin with and then he cut off all his hair, exposing his ears at all times, and now she’s even more in love!

As soon as she hears him stirring in the morning she starts flock calling to him loudly, and then once he’s in the same room the calling out intensifies. He has to greet her immediately, and if she can’t come out to be with him she goes a little nuts, yelling and flying around inside her cage.

He’s totally frustrated with the whole thing and considers it unwanted attention, which drives me nuts! He works from home a few days a week and the incessant yelling is not at all compatible with his work on the phone. Not only that, but when she’s out and on his shoulder she gets very excited and vocalizes super loud in his ear, which he finds really painful.

We have talked about it and would both understand the obsession a little better if we thought there was a “romantic” component, but she’s not in breeding condition and there’s no evidence that she’s seeking any kind of physical satisfaction.  Just a friendly shoulder and the companionship of an ear.

I’m trying hard to be chill and just ride this out, she’s been exclusively a fan of his for a few weeks at a time before, but this is stretching out into the month plus category of shunning!  She’s still a good girl for me, and if Patrick’s not around we can be friends, but all bets are off once he walks through the door. I suppose for now I have to take the friendship that I can get, and know that her affection will loop back around again to me at some point

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. 

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!

How long can parakeets be left alone – dealing with human absence

Once a person becomes owned by parakeets, whether a single or a flock, it is hard to think about leaving them for any length of time. But, humans frequently have commitments that take them away from home for more than a business day, whether that’s traveling for work, visiting family or even being in the hospital. On the other side of the coin, parakeet owners may still wish to take either short or long trips for pleasure and I think that’s okay. Having any sort of pet doesn’t necessarily mean you should never want to leave your home again!  But, the question is, how long can parakeets be left alone safely?

I don’t think that parakeets should be left alone for more than a weekend, or two nights. There are too many things that can go wrong and even though none of them may have ever happened, you can’t predict the first time your flock will have a night terror. Or when your parakeet is going to get stuck in a toy and need help getting out. Or when they will decide to bathe in the drinking water, or throw all the seed out of a bowl. Even if none of this has ever happened before it could the moment you step out the door for your first weekend away!

That all sounds pretty dire, and sort of conflicting with my belief that having parakeets shouldn’t chain you to your home! The way I live it is that the parakeets are never alone for more than 24 hours, that’s what I’m comfortable with. Anything greater than that and either my mom comes over, or if she’s unavailable the professional pet sitter comes. Having these resources is key, and I highly recommend working out a plan for who can take care of your parakeets before you actually need them! That way in case a medical or other emergency takes you away from home you’re just a phone call or text away from having your parakeets care covered.

There are steps you can take before going away to reduce the likelihood of disaster and assure that your parakeets are almost guaranteed access to food and water. One is to look at your cage with a critical eye, if there are any toys with small crevices, or ropes that a little parakeet foot could get stuck in, swap them out for something else. Also, think about their routine, are they used to having you close curtains for them every night?  Would it be scary for them if the curtains were left open?  If that’s the case, you may wish to keep them closed and use Light Timers to signal morning and evening. In general I think light timers are a good thing to use while on vacation or otherwise to build a routine.

Additionally, your parakeets will almost certainly miss the noise and bustle of the humans in their household – so make sure to leave the tv or radio on, or better yet, get an Amazon Echo .  Using the Amazon Echo I can turn music on for the parakeets when I get up in the morning and turn it off at their bedtime, no matter where I am.  It helps them keep their usual day time rhythm.  If I had a smart home I could also use the Amazon Echo to adjust lighting and even heating and cooling.

A way for you to feel better while you’re away is to invest in a Wireless Security Camera – using the camera with its app on a smart phone you can take a peek at your parakeets either day or night and make sure they are A-Okay.  You can even use the camera’s microphone to talk to your parakeets.

As far as the basic necessities go, make sure to have multiple sources of both food and water, that way if one is compromised they will still have access. We like to provide the following:

          • For both food and water – Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls, these are non-porous (as opposed to plastic) resist staining and are good at reducing the slimy or scummy feeling on the inside of a plastic water bowl. They are also very easy to clean.
          • Silo Bird Feeder – this reduces the likelihood of all of the food being compromised by poop or kicked out of a bowl. Although it probably does not reduce the chances to zero. I would have this in addition to bowl(s) of food.
          • Silo Waterer – just like the silo feeder, this helps ensure a clean source of drinking water that is much less likely to be contaminated.
          • Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz – Either in addition to the silo and bowl of water or instead of the silo. There is a greater risk of mechanical failure with these because the ball can get lodged in the metal tube, meaning it could be full of water without the ability to actually dispense any. These also require fairly frequent cleanings due to slimy buildup, and you have to be very careful to clean thoroughly, which isn’t easy because of the small size.

The first time you leave your parakeets is bound to be nerve-wracking. Once you’ve got your systems in place for feeding and watering, and you feel good about their physical safety it does get easier. Ultimately the question of how long can parakeets be left alone is a very personal one and depends on what you are comfortable with, there aren’t any easy answers!

10 things that make me happy about my parakeets

I’m in a blogging group on facebook and someone launched a challenge recently to write a post about 10 things that make you happy. Initially I thought that would be a bad fit for Home Keet Home, but upon further reflection I realized there are certainly at least 10 things that make me happy about my parakeets!

It’s a well-timed exercise, we’ve been having a bit of a rough patch with them. Toby has been yelling all day to the birds outside, which wouldn’t be a big deal, but my husband works from home three days a week, and has some phone duties, so screeching parakeets is hardly ideal background noise. And as for Kelly, she was doing better with aggression for about a half a second and then tripled-down on biting and general nasty behavior. So, thinking nice thoughts about the parakeets and making a list of happy parakeet thoughts is exactly what I needed, and here we go:

  1. Being greeted with total enthusiasm when I get home from work, or wake up in the morning, or go to the bathroom and come back. No matter the length of time of my absence, there’s always someone at home so delighted to see me it makes them scream like crazy.
  2. Watching Toby and Kelly eat their fruits and veggies. Getting them to accept that fruits and vegetables were not the enemy was a long-term labor of love. Watching them tuck into a plate of grated cucumber with gusto is a fantastic feeling.
  3. Listening to them contentedly grind their beaks before nodding off to sleep. There is no more peaceful sound to me than the quiet crackle of parakeets grinding their beaks and knowing it means they feel safe and cozy.
  4. Seeing Toby and Kelly fly around the house. It’s just pure delight to see them use their bodies as nature intended. They are so at ease in the air and such deft aerialists. It also doesn’t hurt that they frequently fly around the house trying to find us – which is always a happy thought!
  5. Healthy parakeet poops. I’m sure that seems odd, since a common complaint that new parakeet parents have is finding poops all over the house. But, well-formed, tidy, parakeet poops are an amazing indicator of parakeet health and good poops make me smile!  Even better is a tidy pile of parakeet poops under their sleeping perch, which means they slept soundly and didn’t move around restless during the night.
  6. Toby and Kelly having peaceful moments together. Right now they are taking a nap together in Toby’s cage, and it fills my heart with joy. They have been struggling to get along lately, and these quiet moments where they nap together, or sit and watch the world on their window perch are rare and magical.
  7. Spidery little parakeet feet! Ugh, the tiny little feets just slay me with their cuteness. When I spy them ball their toes together and put up a foot for sleeping it’s the sweetest sight.
  8. Playing touch the tummy. When Toby first came home and was totally wild she would crawl around on the cage bars and we played a game where I would “torture” her by putting my pinky through the bars and gently touching her tummy and her “stinky pits” while she tried to bite me.  The stinky pit area of a parakeet it the fluffy bit at the top of the legs, or at least it is in my household! Anyhow, she would seem quite enraged by my taking advantage and I wasn’t sure whether she was playing the same game as me until one day I was working on my laptop near the cage and noticed she had gone silent. Looking over, I saw her staring dead at me, clinging to the cage bars with her tummy pushed up against them, waiting for me to play our game. Every time I think about that memory I smile, it was the first indication I had that Toby and I would be best buddies someday.
  9. They make me happy because if I’m not happy they’re not happy. Parakeets are crazy attuned to the mood of their flock, so if I come home from a bad mood I don’t just wreck my day (and my husband’s!) but Toby and Kelly’s day too. If I walk through the door angry, even if I’m trying to put on a good face, they will stay in their cages and act very meek and weird. Being mindful of their feelings has trained me to sit in my car for a few minutes if I’m feeling edgy and focus on getting centered and ready to be present with them and happy.
  10. Having my little girl crew climb all over me. Toby loves to sit on my glasses and nibble my eyelids and Kelly will crawl in and out of my shirt all day if I let her. I’m never going to be able to pet them like dogs or cats, but they show their affection and their desire for closeness in the own perfect birdy way, and it makes me feel like I’m being given the best gift to have them want that with me.