Does molting make a parakeet sick?

Molting is a very difficult time for parakeets, most of them do it a couple of times per year; typically it would be a spring/summer and a fall/winter molt. Toby is very lucky and molts approximately every 6 weeks, this is pretty common for indoor living parakeets, with the temperature being fairly even it messes up their natural triggers.

During the molting process, which takes a few weeks, the parakeet loses a significant portion of feathers and grows them back. Seeing the piles of lost feathers under the cage every day can be alarming, but it doesn’t seem to be the worst part of the process for the parakeets. At least Toby and Kelly aren’t that bothered by it, even when they are losing more feathers per day than I would have thought they had in the first place!

The part that seems to be much harder on our parakeets is growing in the new feathers, and this stage is where, in my experience, the parakeets can seem to be quite ill.

Both Toby and Kelly, during the time of popping out a lot of feathers, will have about a 24 hours period where they have many classic symptoms of budgie sickness.

This involves listlessness, disinterest in eating, puffing up, napping on both feet, loose poop, general malaise and crankiness. It typically hits them in the early afternoon, they rally right before bed, and then the next day they are pretty “off” as well without seeming as close to death’s door. The first few times this happened to Toby I was absolutely certain she was going to die at any moment.

One nice thing is that the parakeets are very solicitous to each other when they are afflicted. Usually they argue passionately every evening about who will sleep highest in the cage (hint, it’s going to be Kelly), but when someone is not feeling so hot they sleep close together without any argument at all. In the daytime too, the parakeet that’s feeling good hangs out near the molting parakeet and tries to regurgitate to her and make sure she’s doing alright.

During these times we make some extra effort to use our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, which we should be using regularly anyhow, and try to tempt them to eat millet at least. It’s best, I think, to just let them stay in the cage on these days and get the rest they need for the hard work of growing out feathers.

The only real recommendations I can make are to get used to your parakeet’s molting procedure and try to assist as much as possible. If he lets you, scritch his head to help to pin feathers, and offer frequent baths in whatever capacity he accepts. Let him have quiet days when needed and help him relax and get extra rest. Most importantly, try not to stress about it too much yourself, it’s hard to see them during a tough time, but they will come through it. Your vacuum, however, may never be the same…

Changing seasons – comfortable temperatures for budgies

We had a very hot summer here in New York, Patrick and I historically haven’t used our central sir conditioning very much, some years we just tough out the heat, and others we install a window unit or two and blow around cool air on particularly warm days.

Life with budgies definitely changed that habit! Like a lot of animals, parakeets don’t have sweat glands, and when they overheat they don’t have too many ways to cool themselves down. Mostly, you’ll see them hold their wings out from their bodies to get some air flow going, which is something they also do when they are feeling very aggressive.

img_0923
Am I mad?  No, just hot!

This summer, we found that we needed to use the central AC most days, but we kept it at 78 degrees, which was relatively comfortable for all parties, without breaking the bank on energy usage. If you’re using window units or fans around your parakeets, please don’t have direct cold airflow on the parakeets.  That goes for central AC vents as well. Additionally, if you have ceiling fans any fan without blade guards you will not want to use those when your budgies are out and about, as they can get seriously injured or killed being struck by a fan.

Budgies do best in temperatures that range from 65-85, but the key is about keeping the temperature relatively steady. A rapid 20 degree swing in either direction would be hard for them to cope with, but over a period of days/weeks they will adjust to increasing or decreasing temps.

As I write this it’s towards the end of September and looking at the weather forecast I’m expecting to turn on my heat towards the beginning of next week, usually we humans would tough out the first cold overnight dips, but the parakeets are not going to be comfortable at 64 degrees or lower; last winter we kept the house at a steady 68, which Toby seemed happy with.

So – an overheated budgie holds his wings out from his body to get some air flow to his “armpits”, what does a chilly budgie do? He fluffs all his feathers out to trap more heat between them, which looks a lot like preening behavior or sick budgie behavior. We only saw Toby do this a couple of times last winter, on days that were exceptionally frigid.

A parakeet is a warm weather bird that can acclimate reasonably well to a range of temperatures, but in addition to keeping them warm enough in winter you should also keep an eye on the humidity, they are happiest in 60-70% humidity, which certainly feels too damp for us. We shoot for 50% and keep track of it with an AcuRite 00613 Indoor Humidity Monitor. Budgies without enough humidity can get dry, cracked feet, among other things, so you can also make sure your budgie is getting a bath in winter, or at least getting his feet wet to help with scaliness.

Another way to help your budgie regulate his temperature in winter is with a K&H Sand Thermo-Perch Heated Bird Perch – Small 10.5″. The recommendation is to put it in the top 2/3 of the cage, so hopefully your parakeet will choose to sleep on it overnight and keep warm in dropping temps. We tried using this last year and Toby wanted nothing to do with it – avoided it like the plague. This year I thought perhaps Kelly would like it and show Toby there was no imminent danger, so I installed it directly below the most coveted sleeping perch.

img_1211
See heated perch above and to the right – theoretically helping to dry this post-bath budgie

They were fine with its existence all day; although no one wanted to touch it, but come lights out Toby would not settle down and basically acted like she couldn’t get to her sleeping perch because this hideous heated monster was in her way. We have a hard and fast rule now about not putting our hands in the cage after “bed time”, so all I could do was unplug the vile thing and hope that was the issue.

Toby did settle down shortly after, although I’m not sure whether I can truly draw a correlation or whether she was just exhausted. Either way, I took it out the next morning. We may end up using it like we did last year, when we installed it very low in the cage and just hoped that some of the small amount of heat radiating out would help. There are tons of great reviews of these; I think it’s a useful and safe product, Toby is just to fearful for it to work out as intended. It comes in two textures, I purchased the sand-like option, which I would also recommend, I read several reviews of parrots not being able to get a grip on the smooth version.

When it actually gets cold I’m going to buy and try the K&H Manufacturing Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Small/Medium Grey – I am sure that since it’s gray Toby will want nothing to do with it, but at least I could put it somewhere that’s not near sleep town and maybe Kelly will enjoy it, or Toby will accidentally end up near it once in a while. I’ll report back after we’ve given tried it out.

Bottom line on parakeet temperatures is to watch out for rapid swings in either directions and you should be okay. I’ve seen parronts reporting that they keep their homes in the low 60’s in winter and their budgies adjust, and I’m sure that not everyone has central air conditioning in summer, or even necessarily window AC units. Keep in mind that if you’re uncomfortable with the temperature they probably are too, and you should be good to go.

10 ideas for parakeet enrichment

When I mention enrichments you might just think about larger parrots, but parakeets need to have new and interesting experiences too. They are very bright and it’s important to keep their brains active and working on new ideas and objects. Here are a few of the enrichments that we’ve done with our budgies.

    • Paper Towels or Toilet Paper tubes – some parakeets may happily run right through these whole, but you can also cut them into smaller rings that are run to chew, toss around and drop. Also an empty cereal or oatmeal box can be cut in half for a hideout.
    • Baby teething rings that snap together – (Bright Starts Lots of Links Accessory Toy) Parakeets will enjoy chewing on the hard plastic and these are great to hang off perches, either alone or changed together. You may even see some ring gymnastics. A ring hung off a perch is also a good brain teaser, figuring out how to slide it off and throw on the floor can be quite a puzzle.
    • Use the floor or a table – changing the venue sometimes makes an old toy exciting again. I also like to scatter some Seed or Pellets around on any flat surface with toys and let then “forage”.
    • Hold a half empty bottle of water sideways, tilt it gently side to side to make a wave. This fascinates my parakeets to no end, and they love to try and go after the drops of water on the inside of the bottle.
    • Throw on a hooded sweatshirt and let them explore your hood and chew your drawstrings. If the sweatshirt has a kangaroo pouch show them the opening and let them go through or think about it. One of our parakeets is tremendously neophobic and won’t really do much adventuring, but even thinking about a new situation is beneficial. A similar approach could be using a folded sheet of paper as a tent, not only is it a pop-up cave but a great opportunity for paper destruction.
    • Foraging food ball (Creative Foraging Systems+E487 CFS Fillable 3-Ball and Kabob Pet Feeder) – load this up with shredded lettuce or kale and millet, even if you parakeet won’t eat vegetables he’s going to have a fantastic time teasing them out of the ball and throwing them to the floor. You could put any kind of vegetable or fruit in there, they would all be equally fun to get out.
    • window perches – There are hours of entertainment to be had in sitting and watching the world, especially if there are other birds outside! Toby and Kelly both love watching the outdoor birds and weather, expect lots of yelling and watch out for crows and other things that can scare your fids (feathered kids).
    • Vegetables and fruits in new and exciting ways – If you always offer veggies diced, try giving a whole broccoli floret or thin strips of carrots or apple.
    • Play new sounds for your parakeets to learn – We love this R2D2 mix for parakeets that has all the screeching noises removed. Toby and Kelly have to hear it about 8 times in a row before they start trying to mimic, but you can see them paying attention and thinking about it. We haven’t had any big successes yet, but we have the two least melodic budgies ever, so yours will probably do better!
    • Come find me – If you have a flighted parakeet who can be trusted out of his cage alone for short periods of time, leave the room and call to him to come find you – Toby will methodically fly around the house seeking us out and she’s always so proud when she reaches her goal!

As long as you’re introducing new objects and concepts you are doing a great job enriching your parakeets and keeping their lives interesting. Even something as simple as a water bottle or a piece of paper can keep a budgie’s mind active and engaged.

Ways to make a little extra scratch

As I’ve mentioned before, the cost of bird-ownership can be pretty high, even for parakeets. The constant stream of toys needed, food, and upgrades to their living conditions add up every month.

I’m sure you really don’t want to get a second job outside of the home, because then you’d be taking away more time that you could be spending with your budgies, and your time is the most important thing you can give them.

I have been working with a few different companies for a long time to make a little extra money from home, it’s never going to amount to much, but for a relatively small time investment it’s been worth it. Also, since my laptop is right next to our bird cage I’m frequently logging time with the parakeet while I’m doing a survey or checking my stats.

Here are the companies that I personally use and recommend.

MySurvey.com – I’ve been a member here for well over 5 years, they are definitely trustworthy. You complete a long initial survey and then they send you invites for surveys you may qualify to participate in.  I’m not sure if this is true of everyone, but I get about 5 survey invites per day, I try to go in once and week and clear them out. It can be frustrating because you will not qualify for most of the surveys you begin, and you get no points if you are screened out. I have been able to do some product testing through this site as well over the years, which I really enjoy. Most recently my household tested toilet paper and paper towels, in the past we’ve done toothpaste, mouthwash and various body products. Those are a nice bonus too, especially if you like the products, 4 free rolls of toilet paper never hurts!  you do have to be comfortable sharing information about yourself such as age, household income and other semi-sensitive data, but this is used in aggregate with other responses and I have never had an issue with personal security due to this site.

Points that are accumulated can be cashed out to choose rewards from an online catalog, or you can cash out to PayPal, a paper check, or Amazon gift certificates. I usually cash out to Amazon since that’s where I buy the bulk of my parakeet supplies, and everything else for my house.

Paidviewpoint.com – (note – this is a referral link) This is a survey site that works a bit differently, there are no terribly long surveys and they pay out even if you don’t qualify for a survey; however, they pay about 1 penny each for qualifying questions and then about 3-4 cents per questions once you’re in a survey. You can cash out to PayPal but only after you accumulate $15, which can take a while. They send out survey invites intermittently, but not reliably, so I recommend visiting once or twice a day to see if any surveys are waiting for you. This is another reputable site that I have been paid by and have had no trouble with.

NCPOnline.com – National Consumer Panel is a Nielsen/IRi Joint Venture – for this site you download an app to your smart phone and then scan every single purchase you make and transmit the data to NCP, earning points each week that you scan. You can also earn points by taking surveys, some are targeted based on your purchases and others are very general. The data you provide is analyzed by NCP and shared with manufacturers and retailers. It is used to shape marketing decisions and has the potential to impact what products are available in stores.

NCP also has sweepstakes for members every week/month/quarter and year, there are cash prizes and some big ticket items. You earn entries by transmitting and you can choose to receive survey entries instead of points for surveys.

For a long time the points you earned on NCP could only be spent on their reward catalog merchandise, and they did not offer many gift card options because they don’t want to influence your spending patterns, which makes sense. Recently they started offering cash outs to Amazon gift cards.

NCP is a little more exclusive than MySurvey or PaidViewPoint, you have to apply to be a panelist, and your acceptance depends on whether they are recruiting in your area. I’ve been a part of the panel for a number of years and even though scanning can be tedious it’s well worth it. Also, I do like thinking that I could influence the marketplace.

So – those are my tips for making a little extra money to support a millet habit! If anyone else has any good sites please feel free to comment.

Finding and bringing home our second parakeet

After about seven months with Toby as a solo parakeet I was pretty certain that we needed to add in a friend for her, but not everyone in my household was convinced. My husband was concerned that two parakeet should be way too much noise and upkeep.

Even though Patrick was staunchly undecided with leanings towards “absolutely not” I went ahead and started looking for hand fed parakeet breeders in our area. I knew that I didn’t want to devote another month (minimum) to taming a parakeet, and a hand fed baby would already be comfortable with humans and being handled.

After looking around on Craigslist and doing some Google searching I hadn’t come up with any solid local breeder leads.

I remembered that while we were at Petsmart picking out Toby we had been approached by another customer and we talked about birds for a while. She indicated that the best resource in our area by far is the Rensselaer Bird Center, which is a few towns over from where we live. So – I told Patrick that we should do some recon, visit the RBC and ask if they knew of any local breeders, and to my surprise he agreed to go.

That weekend we fired up the GPS and off we went, walking in to the RBC for the first time I felt a bit like I had gone to heaven, we immediately saw a senegal and a timneh grey hanging out on top of some cages, and after we tore our eyes away from them we realized there were birds everywhere of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were for sale, some were boarders, and many had come with their owners just to hang out. For someone like me who’s obsessed with parrots but doesn’t get a lot of face time with them it was a really magical experience.

Also, everyone in the store was incredible nice, warm and friendly; we couldn’t even tell the difference between the staff and the customers because they were all so welcoming. We we were greeted by someone who asked if we needed help, I explained I was looking for information on local hand fed parakeet breeders and she said….

“I just hatched a batch of babies, want to see them?”

YES, yes I do, thank you 🙂 we were led into a back room with an incubator full of tiny fluffy parakeet babies, most of who were on a very strict feeding schedule. The woman offered to put all of the babies that were old enough into a small bin so we could sit with them and pick one out. How could we possibly say no to that?

Patrick ended up picking out our parakeet; he was immediately drawn to the oldest baby, who seemed regal and not at all timid or afraid. Kelly very much still has an air that, even though she may occasionally deign to be silly, she is quite above us all.

We were able to come back as often as we liked to get Kelly used to us, which was amazing, and I brought my mom and stepdad over once too so they could meet our new family member. Knowing that we would be able to take her home in 3-4 weeks gave us ample time to get prepared, and we were sure to set the cage up and put it near Toby’s cage to help her get the idea that there might be a next door neighbor on the way.

I sort of expected some blowback from Patrick since he was railroaded into getting the new parakeet (even if it wasn’t my fault!), but once you see a bucket or baby parakeets you just can’t say no.

Finally it was time to bring Kelly home, get her settled in, and then worry about how the introduction to Toby would go – which is coming up in another post.

IMG_0720
Kelly at the RBC

Leaving the parakeets for vacation

Coming up soon we are going on our first vacation since getting the parakeets. It’s a cruise, and neither of us has been on one before. Usually at this point pre-vacation I would be bouncing off the walls with excitement and pretty much packed already but I am dragging my feet because I’m sad and nervous about leaving the “babies” behind.

I’ve seen a few alarming Yahoo questions where people ask things like “I’m going away for a week, can I just leave my parakeet extra food?” and thankfully responders always tell them that is a horrible idea. Not only could the parakeet somehow ruin his water/food and die waiting for you to come back, but how sad would that be for the poor parakeet(s) sitting alone waiting for you to come home?

We’re very lucky that my mom can come by every day and refresh their water bowl (even though they also have their Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz) and food and she even feels comfortable letting them out of their cage and hanging out until they are ready to go home, so they won’t miss out on too much free time. She absolutely loves animals and has a natural ability to get along with them, which is a major bonus for us! If my mom wasn’t available, or we were traveling together, I would hire a professional pet sitter with avian experience to come very day. I have a line on someone already and we’re doing a consult this fall, I definitely want to have a back up plan in place.

One of the things we have done while away on overnight trips is set up lights on vacation timers, I don’t like the idea of plunging the birds randomly into darkness, even though we do have a bunch of night lights, but in winter I don’t think they would appreciate going to sleep at 4:45pm when the sun goes down. Going away in summer I’ll just leave the curtains open and let them keep a natural day cycle. If left to their own devices they will usually put themselves to bed around 6:30 – 7pm.

I also laid in a supply of new toys and we plan to make some big switches a couple of days before we go so they have new stuff to play with and an updated layout to think about. I wouldn’t recommend waiting until right before you leave to make changes, you never can tell what toy or perch will randomly terrify a parakeet. Also, I don’t trust them not to hurt themselves on some things, and I like to monitor their interactions with new toys. That might sound over the top, but if you start reading reviews of parrot toys it seems like almost every product on the market has caused a bird to hurt itself.

So, they’ll have adequate light and some awesome new toys to occupy themselves, and my mom coming every day to take care of food and water and for some play time. There’s nothing for me to worry about at all right? Then I guess I’m just worried about me!

I have to admit I’ve seriously considered purchasing MiSafes Mini 1080p HD Wireless Day & Night Wi-Fi Camera for iPhone iPad Android (Black) so I could check on them whenever I wanted – although that might get expensive data-wise once I’m in international waters. Update – I totally bought that webcam and will review upon our return 🙂

When I was first looking into getting parakeets I read somewhere “how do people with birds go on vacation”, and the half-joking answer was “they don’t” And while I’ve been pretty devoted to 1 or 2 getaways per year in addition to traveling for work, I wonder if those times are coming to an end for a while. On the other hand, I know getting away and disconnecting can be very important, and I don’t want to discount how much that matters to both me and my husband.

I’ll update after we’ve actually gone on the trip and then I should have a much better idea of where my head is at. In the interim, I know we’re covering all the angles and the parakeets will probably have a great vacation from us!

Deciding to get Toby a parakeet of her very own

There came a time we had to admit we just weren’t satisfying all of Toby’s social needs, and likely there was no way we could. Additionally, we had created a situation where Toby felt responsible for being the leader of the flock, and it was clearly putting a lot of pressure on her trying to control and protect us.

The larger cage alleviated some of her frustration, but still, once she was out of the cage she wasn’t enjoying things as she had before. Instead of playing on the play gym or watching out the window, she would spend most of her time out repeatedly flying into our faces, and she had begun biting a lot more. She also developed the habit of landing on my glasses and biting my eyelids. The intensity of her interactions with us was heightened, not that she wanted to hurt us, just that we weren’t doing the right thing that would make her feel comfortable.

This happened every single time she was let our of the cage, unless you could engage her with a treat or a toy, and even that wouldn’t last long.

We both had to admit that being around Toby wasn’t too much fun for us anymore and she seemed to be pretty unhappy too. I am sure that some of it had to do with spring-time bird craziness, but more than that it really seemed like Toby needed something from us that we couldn’t provide, and her focus on us needed to be split onto someone else who would be able to reciprocate in ways we couldn’t.

I didn’t want to go through the whole process of taming a Petsmart parakeet all over again, I felt that with Toby in the house it would be way too difficult to split our attention evenly between taming someone in one cage (a huge time commitment) and making sure that Toby didn’t lose out on any of our attention. So, I started researching hand fed parakeets, which are fed by humans in their first weeks of life instead of by their parent parakeets. This doesn’t necessarily make them socialized, but by the time you take a hand fed parakeet home it does not think you are a predator, which is a huge leap!

Finding and bringing home Kelly is a story for a different day, but her presence in the house immediately helped Toby find balance and, I think, really helped Toby feel secure. Even better, Kelly is naturally dominant and self-assured, which took a lot of pressure off of Toby.

Initially we felt so sure that we wanted to just have one parakeet, even after reading all of the evidence that parakeets are flock animals and really shouldn’t be solo pets. I still don’t regret the way we went about it, easing in with one parakeet and developing that strong bond was an experience I wouldn’t trade, but I can say that I now believe parakeets are not meant to live alone, they need other birds to feel secure and socially fulfilled, no matter how strong their flock bond is with the humans in their lives.IMG_0854

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.