Please don’t use nonstick cookware with parakeets in the home

A pretty common question that new parakeet owners have is whether it’s safe to continue using nonstick or Teflon pans. The bottom line is that nonstick cookware and parakeets don’t mix. Nonstick cookware is coated with a synthetic polymer called PTFE, Teflon is PTFE, it’s the trademarked name that DuPont uses for the polymer.

The message that marketers want you to hear that is Teflon and other PTFE coatings are only dangerous at high heats, some studies say that the dangerous fumes are only released at upwards of 500 degrees.  This is not the case, here’s an infographic about common cooking temperatures and what chemicals are released and it seems pretty clear that you can risk bird death at typical cooking temperatures.

Now, even if you don’t have birds and don’t ever intend to have them I would still encourage you to get rid of your nonstick cookware, mostly because I’ve come to believe that anything that will kill a bird suddenly will probably harm me over time (canary in a coal mine, anyone?) and also because human beings have been known to come down with flu like symptoms after Teflon use, it’s actually called “Teflon flu”.

I’ve seen several people on social media encouraging new bird owners to continue using nonstick and saying “just don’t ever burn anything”, and they’ve done the same for 800 years and never had an issue. Well, I have a couple of questions for them, one is that may be fine for you, but why would you encourage a new bird owner if there’s even the slightest risk?   How will you feel when they come back in a week or two lamenting the loss of their bird?  Also, who has ever set out to burn something?  Perhaps in your household no one ever distracts you while you’re cooking, but I don’t see how there’s even the slightest way you can guarantee nothing will ever burn in your kitchen.  It seems like I burn something every time I make dinner and I can assure you I didn’t plan for that to happen!

If you are stuck with your nonstick for the time being while researching or saving up for a new set of cookware then please:

  • Never preheat nonstick cookware at a high heat, especially with nothing in it – always heat at the lowest possible temperature
  • Vent your kitchen by opening a window and blowing the air out and/or use your stove’s exhaust fan
  • Move your birds as far away from the kitchen as possible, in a large home this may not be an issue, but for people like me who live in small houses or apartments, there is literally nowhere that’s far enough away

Really though, PLEASE give up the Teflon, birds with Teflon toxicosis experience scorched lungs and ruptured blood vessels and it sounds like an absolutely horrible and terrifying way to die.

When you are buying your new cookware be sure to avoid Teflon, PTFE, PFOA and nonstick that doesn’t specifically reference being free of those polymers. I think sometimes manufacturers put the word nonstick on products hoping that if consumers don’t see “Teflon” they will think a product is safe, but remember Teflon is just the trademark that DuPont uses for the chemical, it is not the only thing that is dangerous.

Some safe cookware is stainless steel (Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set) or cast iron (Outdoor Gourmet 5 Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set). I can’t use cast iron with my glass stove top, so I made the switch over to stainless. Ceramic is also a good bet, I love my ceramic insert crock pot (Hamilton Beach 33473 Programmable Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, Silver).

My bottom line is that you’ve gotten your pet budgie, you love him, you spent a substantial amount of money on getting him all set up – so why wouldn’t you spend a bit more to safeguard him against a KNOWN and scientifically proven bird killer?

 

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Next level budgie bath tip

I have written a post of tips for getting your parakeet to take a bath, and I’ve also written a review of a great bird bath, but there’s a super-secret next level tip that I want to share with you today.

Kelly recently decided that she needed a bigger bath than the Lixit Corporation BLX0787 Quick Lock Bird Bath, so I found her a Rubbermaid food storage container (Rubbermaid TakeAlongs 4 Cup Rectangle Food Storage Container, 3 Pack)that, when filled halfway with water, is the perfect depth for her to feel like she can get wet but she can always touch the bottom.

Actually, that’s a good point; did you know budgies cannot swim?  They are basically incapable of it, although some might float for a moment or two.  The lack of webbed feet or any other method of gaining momentum in water renders them unable to swim in a capable fashion. This is why a lot of people lose parakeets in drowning accidents; open toilets are a particular killer.

So always monitor your parakeets at bath time, which of course you would anyway since it’s crazy cute.

Here is Kelly enjoying her bath – Toby decided to drop in as well, but she really refuses anything except hanging greens as a bath these days.

And here’s the pro tip: in every one of the bath shots my head was just about a foot away, on the same level, and I was continuously telling Kelly what a good girl she is and what a good bath-taker! Fortunately my husband was kind enough not to get my head in the photo shoot.

Yes, it’s true, Kelly won’t seriously bathe unless someone is there providing constant verbal encouragement, but when I do it, she’s mad for the bath, so super excited and she gets much more soaked than Toby ever manages.

I’ve come up with two possible reasons this works:

  1. She does respond very well to positive encouragement in any context, but both of them do that, they get very perked up and alert if you tell them what good girls they are.
  2. It may just be the presence of my head, since parakeets are prey birds the “watering hole” would be a very dangerous spot, so perhaps my head is seen as a lookout that makes it safe for her to let her guard down.

Either way, if you are struggling to get your budgies to take a bath it can’t hurt to try! And, yes your face gets a lot of spray; it’s a bit like sitting in the “splash zone” at a SeaWorld show, but anyone who has fought to get their budgies washed up knows that this outcome is well worth it!


10 tips for optimal bird cage placement

  1. Budgies like to be part of the family, so place the cage in a central location where they will get lots of visitors and interaction.
  2. Budgies are prey and retain those concerns even when living in your home, place the cage against a wall or in a corner so they feel secure.
  3. They will also feel safer if you put the cage up at about your chest level. Because they are naturally tree dwellers, they feel safer up high and being near the ground makes them feel very vulnerable to attack from above.
  4. Put the cage somewhere they can see out a window and they will likely get hours of enjoyment watching other birds and nature. Conversely, they may be scared of what they see out the window, particularly large birds or lots of traffic, so I wouldn’t recommend putting the cage directly up against a window where they can’t ignore it. Another caveat is to make sure they are NOT exposed to direct sunlight; they have no sweat glands and can overheat very quickly. Also, make sure there are no cold drafts in winter.
  5. If at all possible do not put their cage where they can see a television. The images can be scary to them and the flickering lights and noise can have a detrimental effect on their sleeping habits.
  6. Try to avoid the kitchen because of the fumes, I hope you don’t have non-stick cookware, but even regular cooking smells and smoke can be bad for your parakeet’s respiratory systems.
  7. The bedroom should also be avoided if possible, for a couple of reasons. One is that even though a child’s or an adult’s bedroom might seem like a place where a lot of time is spent there are most likely better and more trafficked areas. Two is that parrots, even parakeets, create a fair amount of air pollution via molted feathers, dust, dried poop, seed hulls etc. Breathing these things in is generally not going to be a problem, but deep-breathing every night while you sleep may cause some health issues, particularly in people who have preexisting breathing issues or allergies.
  8. Never put a bird cage on top of a refrigerator or anything else that vibrates. Apparently this can make budgies feel so insecure they lose their minds.
  9. Budgies need 10-12 hours of sleep per night so make sure the cage is somewhere that’s relatively calm and dark at night.
  10. Watch out for AC and heating vents – you don’t want to have hot or cold air blowing directly at your budgies.

Taken all together these seem like a pretty tall order, but you do the best you can and adjust if you see your parakeets having issues. For example, my cage is kitchen adjacent and only against 1 wall, so I’ve definitely failed on perfect placement, but unless I completely renovate my home’s floor plan it’s the best option we’ve got!

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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 Pet Feeder. 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 Food for Parakeets 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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Protecting your parakeets from in-home flight accidents

‘If only her wings had been clipped’ is a phrase I see pretty frequently on social media, and it makes me cringe. Not just because it usually accompanies a terrible story about budgie in-home flight injury or death, but also because in many cases the injury was entirely preventable.

There are dangers that are immediately fixable, like turning off ceiling fans or any fan without a blade guard, also turning off any exposed heating elements like stove tops.  Close the lid of your toilet and take away glasses of liquid. Budgies can and have been killed by all of these things.

Next step, if you have windows that could have windows without screens that you plan to open, EVER, install screens. When installed on the interior this will help your budgie not hit the glass, and even if they are exterior it will ensure that on hot summer days, or when airing out, you don’t lose your budgie out a window. You do not need to have a professional come and install expensive custom screens, you can make them from kits that are easily procured, such as this one: Prime-Line Products Screen Frame Kit (don’t forget to get the Window Screen).

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In the above picture you can see the right panel of the window has a screen that was made from that type of kit. Also the left panel has a stained glass window covering it, which the parakeets can tell is something they cannot fly through.

On windows that don’t open and therefore would not need screens you can invest in some inexpensive window clings that fit your decor, or the season. I have snowflakes on one window and ducks on the other and they have, without question, saved my budgies from head trauma or broken necks on countless occasions.  Here are some decal options, Nature Window Clings or Sunflower Floral Removable Mural for Window.

Another tip for windows is to install curtains or blinds.  If your budgies are out after dusk it is best to completely cover the windows. A dark, black window can be even more dangerous and enticing than one in daytime. There’s a story floating around about a budgie named Boo who hit a window at night and lost the use of her legs – it’s a touching story that’s  frequently used as a cautionary tale about full flight in the home, but I think we miss the point and it should be used to educate new budgie owners about the importance of covering windows.

Mirrors can also be a big issue for budgies, Toby learned early on that they were not going to magically turn into portals, but Kelly has struggled with the concept. I could have used some more pretty decals here, but one day I just decided to slap on some ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape – it’s not the most elegant solution, but it works.

You can do all this and still have issues, I’m sure there are things I didn’t cover here and your home is literally full of ways for your budgies to murder themselves. Also, if your budgie was clipped and is learning to fly you can expect them to hit some walls, appliances, etc and generally end up in the worst places. Rest assured they will figure it out, and much like watching a child learn to walk, it will be extremely rewarding to see your clumsy baby grow into a competent flier.

If you do your part and bird-proof your home, including windows and mirrors, you will be in a much better position to let your budgies fly safely and you won’t have to spend time regretting the “if onlys”.

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we love flying!

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