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!

Toby and Kelly’s Christmas wish list

Toby and Kelly have been working feverishly on their Christmas wish list for parakeet-Santa.  They are cutting it a little close to the wire, but here’s their parakeet gift list full of their secret and most closely held desires!

Toby really wants to try having Nutriberries as a treat! She has heard that if I crumble them up for her she will be in a heretofore unknown ecstasy of foraging.

Kelly’s wants are a bit more basic. She plows through a cuttlebone every week, so she would like a never-ending supply of essential calcium as well as beak-exercising destruction.

Kelly snuck in a second want in a row! She loves the smaller version of this toy so much that she wants to try out the one for big birds! Since the single cupcake style is destroyed in a single day, we’re hoping that Santa brings one that lasts for three days!

Both Toby and Kelly are dreaming of a new play gym. They acknowledge that they previously had a very similar gym and totally ignored it, but they feel that since they both have flat top flight cages now they will get a lot more use of out of a play gym if it’s on top of the cage.

You’re probably wondering what poor new kid Kevin would like for Christmas. He’s just dreaming of getting out of quarantine and spending some time with his “sisters”.

He has been using the java tree as his personal play stand, so we all hope he comes out of quarantine in time for us to use his play tree as our Christmas tree like we did last year!

Speaking of which, Santa better bring us some new Christmas-themed bird toys to load up our “tree”.  Seems like some human “Santas” may need to start adding things to their carts before we run out of time!  I hope everybirdy out there finds exactly what they most want and need under their trees this year!

Back to mixing up parakeet food – and a $10 Amazon gift card giveaway!

A while back I said that having found Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food I was all done mixing up my own blends of various seeds and pellets.  It turns out I was a bit hasty when I made that grand statement and feeding parakeets is a moving target. The first couple of bags we got of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food were perfect, and then over time they started being more heavily full of sesame seeds, which Toby and Kelly will not touch with a 10 foot pole.  Initially I thought that they would get over it and learn to eat them, but instead they started fighting way more viciously over their food bowls.

I thought that perhaps they were feeling more defensive about the food because there was less of it they found tolerable, so I quickly ordered a bag of Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet and was glad of the reasonable price and my Amazon prime two day shipping.  If you are shopping on Amazon then I definitely recommend you Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial, it’s magical being able to think I desperately need a new toy, perch, or food and have it show up just a couple of days later.  (The link to the free trial there, like every other Amazon link on homekeethome is an affiliate link).

My Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet arrived and I offered some of it to the parakeets, they fell onto it immediately as though I had been starving them!  Apparently my sense of what was going on with the Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food was dead on, as I immediately started mixing the two seeds blends and saw a massive reduction in food-related violence.

At about the same time, I put some Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles in the food cup on the parakeets’ play tree, not really thinking they would be into it, but Kelly went nuts for them!  She would go out to the tree and camp out on the food dish, proceeding to chow down for a solid 10 minutes without pause.

Since she liked it so much I thought I might as well start putting pellets back into their daily seed mix.  And here I am, back to mixing together three different things to get them a good base diet, and of course offering vegetables and fruits regularly as well.

On to the giveaway, which is sponsored by me out of the love I have for Amazon Prime and how much it helps me get what I need quickly without driving all over the place looking for preferred brands of food, toys and other supplies. I will contact the winner after the end of the sweepstakes, midnight, Monday 6/26 and will request the name and email address, prize will be a code emailed by Amazon.com directly.  Open to the US only this time, 18 and over.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Encouraging your budgie to work for her food by foraging

I read an article recently called “Are we killing the natural instincts of the budgerigar” which put me on notice that no matter how many stimulating toys I provide, or flight time, or any material object, I have been ignoring a major component of my parakeet’s mental and physical health. That component is foraging for food.

You should read the whole article, but to condense, the experiment they are conducting in an aviary setting changed the budgies over from eating readily available seeds in shallow bowls that are refreshed every day, to serving food in deep bowls and not refreshing constantly, so the budgies would have to dig for their food. It also involves spreading the remaining seed on the aviary floor at the end of the cycle, instead of throwing it out, so that the budgies could sift through it again, simulating the ground foraging their wild cousins do, as well as getting much more use out of the provided seed.

The article inspired me to make some changes, because I am of course one of those people who feeds every day and discards every day, meaning the chances for foraging are extremely limited.

My big change was to take out the grate at the bottom of the cage. It took a couple of days, but the budgies love going down there and hunting through the seed hulls that fall out of their bowls. This also means that when I serve them vegetables they can go down to the cage floor and “forage” around in them. Like the green pepper shown above. They love ripping off all the seeds and then coming back to go through them all over again.  Right now they have a cup of torn romaine lettuce that they are digging through and throwing all over, and then going back to forage around in the lettuce leaves.

I also tried scattering what was left of their seed bowls on the ground of the cage, which would be okay a couple of times a week but really caused a mess explosion, due to the dramatically increased likelihood of hulls being blown out of the cage.

My next steps are to create more foraging opportunities. I always see foraging toys for big parrots, but I think for the little guys it may have to be a little more DIY.  Here’s a great idea for a foraging mat just made out of a doormat, and here’s another post about making a bunch of different foraging toys – some seem to be for bigger parrots, but there are some awesome easy things the the blogger suggests, even something as simple as covering the food bowl with a paper towel that the parrot has to remove before eating.

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Foraging 101

For higher up foraging, we are going to get back into using our Creative Foraging Systems Ball and Kabob, 5-Inch. If we put some shredded veggies in the ball the budgies will spend the bulk of their day pulling them out, whether they eat them or not, so at least mentally there’s the simulation of working for your food.

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The importance of foraging and digging through food also reinforces my decision to switch to a mostly seed diet, with pelleted diets a budgie would have even less opportunities for foraging.  And with Dr. Harvey’s parakeet food (Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag) there are a lot of different items in the blend to be foraged through and pushed aside to find the favorite morsels, and then throughout the day more and more of the less desirable items are consumed.

Overall, I want to be more cognizant of how I could be making it harder and more rewarding for Toby and Kelly to find food, after reading that article I’m certain I can do better at meeting their need to forage.

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Foraging for the wild cucumber

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Review of Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Food

I think my days of mixing together different seed blends to try and perfect our parakeet’s diet is over now that we’ve tried Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag.

When we first got Toby we started out with a big bag of Kaytee foraging parakeet blend which was $8 for 5 pounds, and here we are 14 months later ending up at $26 for 4 pounds for Dr. Harvey’s!  Quite an increase in price, but as it is with most things you get what you pay for.

The difference between this blend and other commercial blends is easy to see, feel and smell. I swear I am fairly tempted to eat this as a snack myself.

Per the product’s description the food is a “wonderful blend of nuts, fruits, seeds, vegetables, herbs and bee pollen made specifically for parakeets. This blend is so plentiful in vitamins and minerals and the appropriate amount of protein that it takes the guesswork out of feeing your parakeet”. For me, knowing that I’m providing the parakeets with the best possible seed-based nutrition is totally worth the relatively high price tag.

Dr. Harvey’s is also free of chemicals, dyes, preservatives and synthetic ingredients. I love that there is nothing in the mix with a color that doesn’t occur in nature. Also, although I haven’t tried it yet, I have read several reviews that the seeds are so fresh you can sprout them and feed the sprouts to your budgies. I will have to test that out and report back.

I can report that our budgies mostly ignore or remove all of the larger pieces of fruit in the blend, although it we hold one out for them they will eat it from our hands they just aren’t that interested when it’s in the food bowl.  So, this blend does not replace offering fresh fruit and veggies, nor should it!

As you’ll see in the photos below our parakeets took to Dr. Harvey’s immediately. For now I’ve been mixing it in with my last blend because I do want to use that up, but going forward I think we’ll be a Dr. Harvey’s family.

And, once I got over my sticker shock I rationalized that A. our parakeets are worth the very best and B. since we’re talking about a matter of 5 tablespoons of food per day, I think we can shoulder the financial burden!

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Whipping up a new mix of parakeet food (and dumping it all on the floor)

As you know, I like to mix up batches of various seeds and pellets to try to hit most of the parakeet’s dietary needs without taking away from their drive to forage. I’ve been running low on my current blend and wanted to try something new. I also needed to replace a storage container, I threw out the one pictured in my post about grain beetles in my seed both because someone put scotch tape on the interior and I couldn’t get all the residue off, and also I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that no matter how well I cleaned it, there might still be beetle eggs in there somehow.

I purchased the OXO Good Grips POP Big Square 5.5-Quart/5.2 Litre Storage Container; I had looked carefully at the dimensions, but it turned out to be way bigger than what I intended to buy.  Down the road I may replace it with something easier to scoop out of, but for now it’s fine. I like that you get a really tight seal with the pop top, it seems much more airtight than a ziploc seal.

To fill it, I wanted to start with a base of Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, because I do believe that pellets are an important part of the parakeet’s diet. Make sure to get the Nibbles size for parakeets, in my experience the Crumbles are way too big.

Next I looked for a new seed mix, I’m always on the hunt for the best food for the parakeets, and Volkman Avian Science Super Parakeet Bird Seed 4 Lb has some really great ingredients, and fabulous reviews. As soon as I opened up the bag I fell in love with the smell of this seed, it’s fruity and a little sweet, but very natural. I hand fed the parakeets some of it as I was putting this together and they took to it immediately. Sometimes it’s best to put in just a little of a new food mixed with old to make the adjustment easier, but I don’t have any concerns about them eating this at all.

Finally, I wanted to add in something they’ve already been enjoying, the F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival Parakeet Food, 2-Pound. I know a lot of people use this blend just as a treat because there’s a lot of fruit, but I love to add it in to my every day mix. I don’t think my parakeets touch many of the interesting bits, so for us it’s just awesome foraging and exposure to different shapes and colors.

I added all of the products to my excessively large OXO storage container and made some really lovely seed art –

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And then I attempted to stir it up – which was a challenge because of the depth of the container. I worked at it with a long stirring spoon for a while and then had the genius idea to gently shake it up. I popped the lid shut and turned the container in all directions – including upside down, which is when this happened.

As it turns out, the airtight lid is not strong enough to hold when turned upside down. Which probably should have been anticipated.  No judgements please, but the floor had just been cleaned the day before, and I really didn’t want to throw away that much money, so we salvaged what we could and vacuumed up the rest.

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the final product

I’m excited to have a new mix and I’m guessing the budgies are going to love it – fixes for next time include a smaller storage container and less vigorous shaking!

Feeding your parakeet: seeds vs. pellets

Before bringing home our first parakeet I had already decided that I would start Toby off on a seed-based diet, to make her transition from the pet store easier.  There are so many conflicting reviews on Amazon that I ended up buying two well-rated seed blends and then mixing those together.  They were F.M. Brown’s Encore Parakeet Food, 5-Pound and Kaytee foraging grassland parakeet.

Those were going fine as far as Toby was concerned, but I started doing more research and read about how seeds are not sufficient nutrition for parakeets, not only are they full of fat but they also don’t have enough vitamins and minerals, and parakeets on a seed-based diet may have much shorter lives than those on a pellet-based diet.

Of course as someone who just fell in love with parakeets the thought of consigning mine to an early death was horrifying!  I immediately purchased a bag of ZUPREEM 230301 Fruitblend Small Keet Food, 2-Pound, which Toby ardently hated. She doesn’t really like fruit and won’t eat anything that has an unnatural color so it was a huge misstep.

Back to the drawing board – and thank goodness these are all relatively inexpensive products, so it’s not a hardship to do some experimentation and I heartily recommend it.

My next try was Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Crumbles, 44-Ounce, which I thought was the smallest possible pellet available from Roudybush, although it turned out I was wrong (kind of a trend) and it was too big for Toby to deal with. So, I bought the Roudybush Daily Maintenance Bird Food, Nibles, 44-Ounce, and set out to convince Toby she should cut seed out of his diet.

We began reducing the percentage of seed and adding in pellets at about a 50% ratio, but it just didn’t feel right cutting seeds out entirely. Doing some more research, I found that there’s not enough evidence for me that pellets are really nutritionally complete, and more than that, if it’s bad for me to eat a diet of processed foods, then why would it be good for my parakeet?

I also started reading about how a pellet diet could be very detrimental to a bird’s mental health. Thinking about it this way, if someone told you tomorrow that you were just going to eat bland oatmeal every day, every meal, for the rest of your life, how would that go over with you?  What do you think that would do to your overall happiness?

Especially as it relates to parakeets, their beaks are designed to hull seeds and their bodies are designed to process them.  It just doesn’t seem right to me to take that away completely.

As it stands now, I’m feeding one tablespoon of Roudybush nibbles pellets per day with two tablespoons of Kaytee Forti Diet Pro Health Food for Parakeet, 5-Pound, this is doled out in two bowls and I discard everything every 24 hours. I know I’m throwing away a lot of pellets and unhulled seeds, but I’d rather know for sure that they have enough food instead of adding more on top of a pile of hulls.

We do also offer a fruit or vegetable every day in addition to the pellets and seeds, they get some interest, hopefully enough to supplement their diet and provide some mental enrichment too.

I haven’t gotten interested yet in going the homemade route, sprouting seeds and mixing up batches of super healthy ingredients, but check back with me in a year or so and I might be there.

Until then, this is what we feed and so far so good!

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Ultimately, what to feed your parakeet is a very personal decision and everyone has to come to their own conclusions about what they think is best. Toby got a hull stuck in her throat in spring of this year and for about 24 hours I thought she was probably going to die. Thankfully we were able to help her dislodge it, but I walked away from that experience pretty adamant that we were switching to pellets and I would never look back.

It didn’t stick, obviously, because I think that a life of just eating pellets would probably be so unsatisfying for her that the risk is worth it.

Good luck to everyone making these choices, they are certainly not easy, and I can’t say that even now I think one way or the other is correct or “the best”, everyone can only do what feels right to them, and what works for their household.