How to avoid breeding parakeets

Now that we have added a boy to our formerly all girl flock, some folks have asked if we plan to breed parakeets. The answer is a resounding “NO”! I plan to avoid breeding parakeets for several reasons:

  1. I have enough parakeets and don’t want more, particularly with my husband’s allergies, three molting parakeets is about all he can take! Also, the world does not need me to make more parakeets, there are loads out there that need a good home. I see lots of home-based breeders who have a hard time finding homes for their babies.
  2. Breeding parakeets can be incredibly difficult. If it goes well, maybe not, but even provisioning a nest box, nesting material, and then keeping the babies and nest clean is more than I want to handle. And that’s just basic human intervention, assuming mom and dad budgie do their job caring for the babies. If they can’t or won’t I would have to take over feeding babies on a crazy schedule, with a full time job there’s no way.
  3. The health risks to my adult females is not worth it for me. Laying budgies can become egg bound, which is potentially fatal. Yes, I know that every female parakeet may lay eggs, whether they are fertile or not. But, we’ve been able to keep our two girls, both in breeding condition for over a year, from laying at all. If I can prevent it, I do not want the presence of a male parakeet to change that track record.
  4. If allowed to begin breeding we could quickly end up with an excessive number of parakeets. Also, I would then have to worry about the baby parakeets growing up and wanting to breed with their clutch mates/siblings. Animals don’t have a sense that incest is undesirable, so it would be incumbent on me to make sure they didn’t breed with close relatives. And basically everyone in the cage would be a relative.
  5. The cost of care and potential veterinarian costs would rise exponentially with the numbers of parakeets, and I’m not prepared to take on a large additional expense.

How do I plan to keep them from breeding and laying?

  1. Provide no nest box or anything that could be perceived as a nest. I’m aware that some budgies will lay just about anywhere, including a cage floor or just randomly while sitting on a perch. But, not providing anything that could be construed as a next box is one way to discourage laying. This means no flat wood perches, no food bowls that they can comfortably sit in, and absolutely no Coconut Hideaways , Sea Grass Bird Snuggle Huts or anything else that they can hide in, sit on, or may otherwise see as a desirable place to raise children.
  2. Limit daylight hours. We need to keep day and night even, if the budgies think that it’s springtime with longer days they may decide it’s a good time to start laying. We are going to make sure that everyone gets 12 hours of darkness and no more than 12 hours of light. If things start getting amorous we may push it back to more darkness than that.
  3. Separate the sexes. No one has expressed any romantic interest in Kevin yet, but it the cage starts rocking I will probably make the choice to keep Kevin caged apart from whichever girl wants to mate with him. We just got down to one cage, so that will not be ideal, but if they are only together under adult supervision, and with the third wheel of the other girl, hopefully we can keep these crazy kids from knocking beaks.

I know there’s no way to 100% keep them from laying eggs if their bodies tell them to do it, but I can still control what happens at that point. I’m sure that this is a bit controversial, or offensive to some, but I don’t believe that my female parakeets have a natural “right” to reproduce. I think that it’s okay for me, the ultimately responsible party, to ensure that we don’t bring more parakeets into the world. Here are some options for what to do if we end up with unwanted eggs.

  1. After the first egg is laid, complete the clutch with Dummy Eggs . Using the dummy eggs to get up to a full clutch of seven can make the budgie stop laying. At that point I would just leave her the fake eggs to care for until she was bored of them.
  2. As eggs are laid, shake, boil, or freeze them and then return to the cage. If boiling or freezing, make sure the eggs come back to room temperature before returning. Again, wait until the parakeet is tired of caring for the eggs and then remove.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that we can keep everyone in the friend zone. But, if not, I’m glad to have a plan for contingencies and unwanted eggs. I would encourage every parakeet parent to leave breeding up to the pros (including home-based pros, of course!) and also to be mindful of the fact that there is no shortage of parakeets out there already who are looking for good homes.

Introducing our new parakeet to the flock

Kevin finally made it through quarantine! It was harder and a lot less fun than we all anticipated and it makes me so glad that he has made it through and can be with the flock. Of course, introducing parakeets can be a tense situation, so the relief at his getting through quarantine was immediately followed by anxiety about merging him into the flock of Toby and Kelly.

This was compounded by the fact that Toby and Kelly can be pretty tough customers. They live separately now because of some violent interactions between the two of them and I was worried they would immediately attack Kevin. When we introduced Kelly to Toby we took it too fast, so this time the process was a lot more measured and thought out, although probably still a bit too speedy.

First, a few days before the official end of quarantine we started moving Kevin’s cage out into the dining area where Toby and Kelly live for half hour blocks of time. This way everyone could check each other out and learn a bit about the new guy. The change in Kevin’s demeanor was immediate, as soon as he saw other budgies he clearly felt a lot better about life. He was preening himself, making little noises, and eating in front of us. It was like a magical switch was thrown that turned him back into a parakeet! As soon as he would go back into his quarantine room he would go right back into fear mode, unfortunately.

After a few days of letting them see each other from the safety of their own cages, we allowed Toby and Kelly to come out and inspect Kevin more closely.

Introducing parakeetsThis may not have been the best idea, but it worked well in this situation. Toby and Kelly felt like they were in control of everything and Kevin was still so thrilled to feel safe that he tried to pack the preening of several weeks into a 45 minute period. Even when the girls got a little aggressive through the bars he didn’t react back at all, which was perfect.

Finally the day came where they could all be out together. We introduced everyone in Patrick’s home office space, a room that no one wants to be in (least of all Patrick haha)! That didn’t last long, Toby and Kelly wouldn’t stay in that room, even with millet, and kept flying back to their home base. We gave up on that in short order and put Kevin out with them on top of the cages in the dining room.

introducing parakeetsIt was utterly nerve-wracking!  They were SUCH bad girls! Toby immediately chomped on his head and tried to bite his wings. Kelly kept tugging (hard) on his tail feathers any time he was in range of her beak. When the girls began working together to corner him I thought all of my worst nightmares about his assimilating into the flock were coming true!

Patrick kept reminding me that they needed to figure out whether Kevin was a threat to them, and also to put him in his place and make sure he knew that they were top dogs. Kevin was perfection, no matter what they did the first day he didn’t react at all, just tried to observe them. He quickly realized that he couldn’t put his back to either of them and stood at the corner of one of the cages watching. He was still quite delighted to be out with them, even if it looked to me like a miserable time!

Toby got scolded several times for exceedingly ungracious behavior, and when we put them all in their homes for the evening Patrick and I couldn’t quite sort out whether we felt it went well or horribly!

The next day we decided to move Kevin’s quarantine cage into the bird area so they could observe each other at all times. They came out all together again and it did go better, although there was still a lot more violence than I would have liked I could see that they were testing him. If provoked, Kevin would make a small show of fronting back, but not actually fight, it’s awesome.

For his part, even if he had to watch his back, the transformation in Kevin was incredible! He was making sweet noises and flock calling, moving around, preening, and acting like the lovely guy we picked out at the pet store.

Every subsequent day has been even better, they still treat him a little like an outsider to their girl club, but Toby and Kelly have accepted his presence and don’t try to pull his feathers out (as much). Kevin is a fantastic addition to the flock and we couldn’t be happier with his attitude and his willingness to go with the flow. He and Kelly should be combining households soon and I think it’s going to be great for both of them.

introducing parakeetsIt’s a relief to have gotten through the initial introductions with no bloodshed! I’m excited for Kevin to get his flight feathers back so that they can fly together, and for he and Kelly to be roommates, which I hope will be good for both of them.

Quarantine is hard! Feeling stretched thin by everyone’s needs.

When we were first setting up Kevin’s cage for quarantine I had some very misguided and idyllic notions about how this 30 day span would play out. I pictured Patrick and I hanging out with Kevin tucked away in his room. No care for the outside world, just a magical time for taming and bonding. In reality, quarantine is hard, much harder than I expected.

For starters, Kevin has been a pretty tough sell on human interaction. He’s docile and he’ll put up with a lot of handling, but he’s really not into it. And he’s still pretty freaked out, which makes sense after living in a pet store for over a year. We are spending a ton of time with him, but it’s not all that gratifying. I know that part will pass.

The other piece of it that I hadn’t anticipated the emotional weight of is that while Patrick and I are in with Kevin teaching him that humans are a good thing; Toby and Kelly are losing a ton of their human time and outside the cage play time. They are not shy about letting me know it’s unacceptable. I was only able to let them out for an hour one day, so they next they were crazy clingy and on me like tiny flying shadows. Not that I’m complaining about that, it’s nice to feel loved!

Another thing I hadn’t calculated the time cost of is maintaining three cages in two separate locations. It’s usually pretty easy to clean up after Toby and Kelly, and get their food and water in the mornings. But with a third cage in a different location with no sink in the room….it’s kind of a pain in the rear. I’m sure this is hyperbole, but some days I feel like all I do is take care of budgie needs without really enjoying any of the budgies. I can’t imagine how people manage quarantine when they’ve got a larger flock to tend!

After a few days of both Patrick and I trying to be everywhere at once we decided to divide and conquer.  Patrick is largely taking care of Kevin’s physical needs and training and I’m taking care of the girls. I’m still getting at least 30 minutes with Kevin every day, but I don’t feel pressure to push him on taming, I can just hang out and feed him Millet, say nice things to him and working on stepping up and other easy things.

Patrick, on the other hand, has trimmed Kevin’s nails, given him a bath, and even made him taste some vegetables. He has also spent hours challenging Kevin to move around outside and inside his cage, and helped Kevin learn how to climb on the cage bars.

It’s a fairly large bummer for me to miss out on all of this, but I don’t see another way to go about it that’s fair to Toby and Kelly. I thought I was really going to enjoy this quarantine time, but in reality it’s full of unanticipated challenges.

Introducing Kevin – our third parakeet and first boy!

We did it! This past Saturday, after much hemming and hawing (Patrick) and excessive preparation (me) we went to Benson’s and picked out our third parakeet and first boy budgie. His name is Kevin to fit in with the rest of our Office-inspired flock names. He’s definitely a mature gentleman. We didn’t ask at the store how long he’d been there, but based on his visible irises and lack of baby bars he is at least one year old. That’s totally a minimum, comparing his eyes to Toby’s I think there’s a good chance he is two plus.

I had received a recommendation from a reader to get a mature fellow who would be able to stand his ground against my dominant ladies. When we arrived at the pet store Saturday morning we found they only had four males available in their entire parakeet aviary. Two of them were under a year old and there was one gent even older than Kevin. We must have watched them all for at least an hour and what we saw of Kevin’s behavior and health looked very good. We were able to watch him eat and drink and forage around on the floor. He would frequently perch by himself, but if he was joined by other parakeets he was happy to chat to them and be part of the group. His eyes are bright and clear and his nares are free of any obstructions or anything that would make me concerned about respiratory infection. His feet look a tiny bit dry but there’s no sign of mites on either his feet or his cere. Although we couldn’t quite hear him we could see that he was singing his heart out, which is something we are sorely missing in our flock of screeching ladies!

Before we left the shop they had us sign a form indicating that if we weren’t able to care for Kevin they would take him back at any time. Every employee we spoke to also took care to ask us if we were familiar with caring for parakeets and had everything we needed for Kevin at home. I thought that was a really nice touch and showed me that they care about animals. They also clipped Kevin before we took him home. I know, I am an incredibly staunch opponent of clipped parakeets in your home. But, it made me feel more secure transporting him and I feel like it will give us a leg up in taming him during his quarantine. Also – they did a super tasteful job, not as severe or debilitating as Kelly’s clip was.

Arriving home we transferred Kevin from his cardboard box to his quarantine cage. Even though I have written a whole lengthy post about what to expect when you first bring home your parakeet it has still been a horrible couple of days feeling bad for Kevin! He is obviously terrified and didn’t move for many hours after coming home. We weren’t even sure he had eaten until 22 hours in, which was nerve-wracking. Again, even though I KNEW exactly what would happen, it still felt awful seeing him so scared.

I put our “Nanny Cam” trained on his cage and I’ve been peeking at him every so often during the work day. It really makes me sad seeing him just sit in one spot for hours, but I know that he will eventually understand that his new cage is a safe space. He can hear Toby and Kelly and they are definitely freaking him out a bit too.  They are totally unaware that he’s in the house, since he hasn’t made a peep yet. Occasionally they hear a bell ring and get a bit curious, but until he starts vocalizing they should be blissfully ignorant!

One thing about quarantine has been much harder than expected, and that’s the way shutting the quarantine room door has messed up our heat. Now the quarantine room gets stifling warm, and the rest of the house is much chillier. So, we’ve had to resort to leaving the door cracked open a bit when the girls are safely stowed away. I know it totally violates the separate air space tenet of quarantine, but I couldn’t very well freeze Toby and Kelly for 30 days!  As it is, Kevin has the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Kelly had been acting chilly over the weekend so now she has the K&H Thermo-Perch. Toby appears to be totally fine with the temperature but we’re keeping an eye on her.

Bringing home Kevin has been so different already, I hate that he’s tucked away and can’t ease into the rhythm of the household. We’re making a big effort to sit with him, but it’s not the same as his being able to observe us all the time and see that we are not threatening. He seems like he will do okay ultimately. He does show some fear when we put our hands in the cage to change water or food, but he doesn’t flap around like crazy or totally lose his mind.

He seems tentatively curious about his surrounds outside the cage. You can see his head swiveling around when he hears noises to try and figure out what the heck is going on. He has been eating regularly since his 22 hour hunger strike and his poops look great. Kevin has not shown any interest in playing with the toys in his cage, but I don’t think he was exposed to toys so we will have to show him how to play down the road. Failing that, I’m sure he’ll pick it up from Toby and Kelly!

I don’t want to squander these 30 days and I want to make a big effort towards bonding with him. On the other hand, I’m a total softy and I know that he would feel so much safer and more comfortable if he was interacting with Toby and Kelly. Overall it’s exciting but also so weird, until he starts making some noise it’s very easy to forget the is there at all, it’s almost like we still just have two parakeets. I can’t wait until he’s as noisy and demanding as the rest of my budgies. Seeing the difference between Kevin and Toby/Kelly makes me regret ever saying that the two of them aren’t very tame. They aren’t trained to do much, certainly, but compared to someone straight from the pet store they are entirely tame.

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

Mom guilt – parakeet edition: coping with feelings of failing your feathered kids

I’ve written a lot recently about the chaos in our household. We are typically homebodies who follow a rigid schedule, but the past few months we had to move the budgies to my mom’s house, then separate them into two cages, and then left them to go on vacation for a week. To top it all off, as soon as we got home from vacation I started a new job. It probably goes without saying that my feathered mom guilt is currently off the charts.

I’m totally loving my new gig, but it’s the first big change I have made, career-wise, in ten years.  So, learning a whole new company and role has been a bit of a challenge. Over the past few weeks I think I’ve made it home on time maybe 3 or 4 days, which has resulted in some pretty devastating mom guilt about short-changing the parakeets on both time out of the cage and attention.

My typical schedule involves getting up and out by 6:50am, so in the mornings I don’t get to give the parakeets a lot of my time. I feed and water them, wish them a good day and then bolt out the door!

Afternoons are a different story, since I get to work so early my day is technically done at 3:30pm, which leaves the parakeets a ton of time for outside the cage play and flight.  I get home around 4pm and let them out immediately, and they are out and at their leisure until about 6:30-7pm or whenever we want to start dinner. We’re not always playing together during that time but they get a lot of flying in, and we bond for however long they are interested in me.

Days where I don’t get home until 6pm I feel just awful. I know they have been sitting in their cages all day cooped up and itching to really stretch their wings. It’s pretty easy to start beating myself up that I’m failing them, and they are going to forget who I am and turn feral again. Or that they will hate me specifically and not want anything to do with me.

Some days if I haven’t had a chance to check in on them with our Security Camera I indulge in a horrid fantasy that because I was negligent one of them probably got terribly injured. That’s a fantastic way to spend the drive home stuck in rush hour traffic, by the way, I highly recommend it….

And yet, every day when I get home, regardless of what time it is, they are always happy to see me. I get yelled at as soon as I open the door and Toby is thrilled to come out and sit on my shoulder or tap her beak on my fingernails. No matter the time, Kelly is delighted to sit on my other shoulder and nip at my neck, leaving tiny little red marks that last for hours (hey, it’s how she shows affection, who am I do judge!).

I can’t wait, though, until everything settles down and I’m home at my usual time more frequently.  All I really want to do is spend my days letting these guys crawl all over me and run my life! And I actually have no good ideas for coping with the mom guilt, except doing the best you can with the time you do have.

The parakeets break up and separate households

In my post about parakeet girl fights I acknowledged that keeping two territorial females together was taking a risk. At that time, the reward of Kelly and Toby having each other for comfort and company in the same cage was worth the risk of injury from their frequent squabbles over toys and space. Well, my hubris caught up with me on this one and they are currently trying out living solo.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of upheaval for the budgies, I was away on business, and working late hours leading up to that, we made some major changes to the arrangement of our house and then they had to move to my mom’s house for a few days and the travel and change of scenery were very stressful for them.  Additionally, Kelly seems to be getting deeper into breeding condition versus moving out of it, we’ve been missing bed times lately and I’m sure that hasn’t helped.

I should also mention that Patrick and I been extremely stressed out lately, and I firmly believe that they know how we are feeling and it influences their behavior. Whether it’s true they can see our energy or not, or whether they can read facial expressions and body language, I know they are hip to what is going on with their humans.

So, overall they have been ramping up the violence while everything is in chaos around them, and I cannot blame them. I’m typically very rigid about my routine, it’s what makes me happy every day, and they are obviously  used to it as well.

The day before they went to my mom’s Kelly shredded one of Toby’s flight feathers, Toby was defending the porch on their cage and pushing Kelly towards the edge, so Kelly grabbed onto Toby’s feathers to try and pull herself back up. I was there and broke up the fight before major damage was done, but Toby’s feather has a bit of a different shape now.

This all leads up to the final straw fight – I got home from work one day and immediately noticed Kelly’s feathers on the floor. She’s not molting so that was a red flag, and the pattern of the feathers was wrong for that anyway, they were clumped together and as soon as I picked them up I realized they had been pulled out of her. I felt a pit in my stomach as I started examining the cage and the budgies for blood or other signs of damage.

Toby was all clear, but Kelly had dried blood on her foot and a cut. Thankfully it wasn’t actively bleeding so I didn’t have to worry about her bleeding to death, but it came as a sad shock that they had really hurt each other.

I let them out of the cage so that I could try to clean Kelly up a bit and make sure she was really okay, they continued going after each other and fighting, even after they had the entire house at their disposal.

With vacation coming up in just 3 days (thanks for that timing, babies) I knew that they needed to be in separate cages, at least while we were away. There was no way I could trust them to be together 24/7 without someone just coming in once a day to feed and water them. Not to mention how bad I would feel for the pet sitter if she came in to a blood bath and had to deal either with emergency medical needs due to injuries or worst case scenario, a body and a murderer.

Fortunately I had Toby’s old cage in the garage, so I pulled that out and spent the next couple of hours washing it down several times and stocking it with toys and perches. I now have justification for my excessive toy and perch hoard, since I had more than enough on hand to rig out an entire cage!

I moved Kelly into the Prevue Park Plaza since she had lived in it most recently during her quarantine last summer, but she did not tolerate the space. It’s not ideal for parakeets since it’s an 18” square but quite tall. She must feel very cramped and panicky in there because she just runs back and forth on the bottom looking for a way out.

Almost immediately I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but leaving her there to see if she would mellow out, Patrick and I went off to Petsmart to see if I could find a better option for her. They didn’t have any cages that I liked well enough to invest the money, unfortunately.

While we were still at Petsmart I checked our MiSafes Security Camera feed and I could see on our security camera app that even though it was night time dark, there was a white shape running rapidly along the floor off the cage, so before we even got home I had decided they were just going to have to sleep together that night and I would try Toby in the Prevue Park Plaza the next day.

Once we got home we let them out for a few minutes to try and get Kelly settled down and then moved her back to the big cage with Toby. There was some squabbling before bed, but nothing out of line, thank goodness.

The next morning I lured Toby into the Prevue Park Plaza and shut her in, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t start freaking out like Kelly!  She lived in this cage the first 7 months we had her, so there was a good chance she would accept it, even if it wasn’t ideal.

While she seemed confused about what was going on she settled in pretty quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Before we go away I still need to make some modifications so they both have enough perches and enough to do, but it is a HUGE relief that I don’t have to worry about them killing each other while we are gone.

As far as a long term plan – once we come back from vacation I want to keep them separated for another week or so until we get back into a routine and everything is finally calmed down and on their schedule. They can still be out for flight time together so that’s a bonus and they will get socialization time then.  Once we feel comfortable we will try having them live together again and see if their time apart hit a reset button, as I’ve read that it can.

If not then they can continue living separately, as much as I don’t want to maintain two cages. Alternately we might consider adding in a male parakeet to try and break up the tension. As much as Toby and Kelly occasionally like each other, Toby more bonded to me at present, and Kelly really hasn’t bonded to anyone. My theory is that if she had a bond with someone it might take her aggression down a notch, but experts can feel free to weigh in and tell me I’m dreaming!