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!

Celebrating a “Gotcha Day”

Before parakeets I had never heard the term Gotcha Day, which means celebrating the day you got a pet instead of the day it was born. This is a cute alternative to celebrating a birthday when you don’t know the date your pet was born. For birds, celebrating their birthday is usually called their Hatch Day instead, or the day they came out of their egg. It’s weird, but even though we got Kelly from a local breeder I don’t know her hatch day.  I just never bothered to ask at the time, and it didn’t occur to me until much later that I should have found out so we could celebrate her hatch day properly!

We are fast approaching Kelly’s first Gotcha Day and I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past year of her life.

When Patrick first picked out Kelly at the RBC she was a couple of weeks older than the rest of her clutch and seemed so calm and composed in comparison to all the little half-feathered babies. We knew we wanted a confident parakeet who didn’t seem afraid of the world the way Toby was, so Kelly looked like a natural fit. We hoped she was a boy but felt that even if she was a girl things would work out.

Taking her home was a way different experience than bringing home Toby, who came home in a carboard box. Kelly was riding in style in her Travel Carrier and was curious about everything she saw outside the car window. We were shocked at how fearless she was and how interested in the world.

Once she was home she was definitely intimidated by her new surroundings and spent her entire first day motionless on a single perch, but after that she quickly adapted and began doing crazy baby acrobatics in her cage and demanding to be let out very frequently.

Which was our first big challenge, not having had a clipped parakeet before we had no idea how much work it would be to keep her safe and help her not be so frustrated when she saw Toby flying every day and couldn’t stay with her.

As Kelly matured we realized we had a biting budgie on our hands (literally!).  And while we were dealing with her aggressive tendencies we also realized that having a much more adventurous budgie meant making more modifications to the house. So far we’ve protected our dining room table successfully and had to swap around all of our artwork after she became obsessed with chewing wood frames.

Coming up I think we’re going to have to change out a ceiling lamp she’s recently taken a shine to, and of course we are still working on the biting. It’s like parents who have the first kid and it’s an angel who stays in one place and is very sweet, and then have a second kid who’s into everything and comes as a total surprise!

But, as I always add, there are so many things to love about Kelly that it really outweighs the negatives. Even if it causes me anxiety, I love her adventurous spirit and that she encourages Toby to try new things. I like how great she is at being a parakeet, she keeps her nails and beak in great shape all on her own and even helps me keep the cage clean by picking poops off the bars. She’s a good eater who’s always willing to try something new, and she’s extremely healthy.  As much as she likes biting us, she also does enjoy being part of the family. She’s always interested in what we’re doing and wants to be with us, probably more than Toby, who is a bit of a home body.

So – a very happy Gotcha Day to Kelly, I’m so glad that she came home with us!

Biting budgies – Kelly’s progress with hand aggression

This past winter Kelly’s juvenile hand biting, which initially seemed like very normal parakeet exploratory biting, turned into major hand aggression.  She was simultaneously going through her “teenage” phase, entering breeding condition for the first time, AND having a really heavy molt. We struggled with her very sharp and painful biting which we were almost completely unable to dissuade her from and which caused several bruises and even broken skin!

Fortunately I think we are coming out of the woods, after a final sharp escalation.

Shortly after I wrote the initial post in January, Kelly got much worse. She no longer limited her aggression to hands but would unpredictably bite any piece of you she could grab.

It was becoming difficult to trust her enough to interact with her at all, but at the same time we could tell she wanted to be with us, and would get more upset if we ignored her.

This culminated in a moment where Patrick lost his patience and almost his nose!  He had Kelly out on his hands and was working with her and the clicker, trying to increase the time between landing on his hand and biting it. She was feeling particularly aggressive that day and bit him, latching on very hard.

Patrick made the HUGE mistake of putting his face right up to her and sternly saying “NO”, whereupon she promptly bit his nose, hard enough to draw blood. Patrick put her down immediately and went to the bathroom. I think in that moment it was probably the best way to handle it, he didn’t give her the gratification of a reaction, but he did stop working with her, which may have been her intent in the first place.  Sometimes you just have to do the best you can in these situations.  He cleaned it off a bit and I asked for his permission to take a picture (in case he forgets when he sees this post – he said YES!).

Once he calmed down we talked about what happened and agreed that there was no way to blame Kelly for the nose bite. Patrick reacted in an aggressive way towards Kelly and it was reasonable to expect her to react in kind.

After that we decided to go all the way back to the beginning and treat Kelly like we would treat a new feral parakeet. We limited her interaction with hands and started by placing one hand at a time facing her through the cage bars. She would react aggressively every time by banging her beak against the bars, nodding her head very rapidly and trying to reach through the bars to bite the hand. We would keep the hand still and not move at all until she stopped of acting aggressively and went back to her usual routine.  Doing this a few times a day made a huge difference, in short order we saw a drastic reduction in the amount of time she would spend acting aggressively when presented with a hand.

I also started putting my hand in the cage with millet, the same way I would with an un-tamed parakeet and let both budgies eat millet while perched on my finger. As soon as Kelly started biting I would take away my hand and the millet.

While working on her in-cage we continued to really back off on pushing her outside the cage. We continued to allow her to hang out on us and explore our pockets and t-shirts, but tried to keep our hands out of it completely.

After a few weeks of these tactics combined we have seen a huge improvement.  I know that some of it is because she’s coming out of breeding condition and made it through her uncomfortable molt, but I think the big driving force was finally getting her adjusted to seeing our hands as non-threatening.

Recently she’s been stepping up with minimal biting that’s delivered much more gently.  She’s also stood on my hands a couple of times without biting at all, while I basically held my breath waiting to see what would happen!

She doesn’t see our hands as friendly birds the way that Toby seems to, but I think we are finally over the hump of having her accept that she can’t get rid of our hands, and they are not a threat, and sometimes quite helpful, if not desirable playmates.

Hide your hands – Kelly is a teenager – dealing with biting budgies

I have written before about our struggles with Kelly and biting, which were relatively unexpected since she was handfed and socialized by her breeder.  Well, we have just reached the next level of biting mania and willfulness.

There is a period of time during which a budgie is no longer a baby (after their first big molt) and before they are mature (about 1 year old).  During this time they do a lot of testing boundaries, acting out, and generally being defiant. Compounding this issue is that she’s come into breeding condition for the first time, so she’s very territorial and hormonal.

Kelly launched herself into this period with some real flair. She went from being scared of being on the couch one day to trying to burrow into it and shred the seams the next, she also decided that the dining room table wasn’t scary anymore and, in fact, needs to be turned into match sticks.  So, I can see that we are going to be doing a lot of “time outs” over the next few months.

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couch ostrich

The worst part is that the occasional biting has shifted in to high gear and is serious limit-testing.  I had a few bad moments the other day where I was surprised by it and ended up doing more of a frantic flap than a gentle roll to put her off balance.  She seems to know where the softest spots are and digs in.

We’ve pretty well failed on every method of deterrence so far, including: blowing on her lightly, saying no, putting her back in the cage, gently rolling our hands to keep her off balance and/or just not reacting to bites.

The crazy thing is that she only hates hands, you can put your face next to her and no matter what she will never bite it, she can even be trusted to groom eyebrows and have access to your nose. There is simply a major disconnect between the hands and the rest of the body.

I considered leaving her alone for a while but she loves being with us, she always wants to be on her people and preen our hair or explore our sweatshirts and it’s obvious that she enjoys interacting with us as much we enjoy her. And enjoy her we do, I hope that I don’t sound too Kelly-negative, she is so much fun and I wouldn’t change her for any other budgie.

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Going forward, I’m going to take a two-pronged approach, 1st I’m not going to step her up any more unless it’s in the context of structured reward-based clicker training. She needs a distraction as soon as she’s on the hand or she starts biting immediately and hopefully with the clicker training we can extend that period of time until she doesn’t bite at all. 2nd In case the hand issue is based in fear I’m going to work on allowing her to explore my hands when they are flat down on a surface and do not move at all. This may end up in me getting bit many more times as she examines the various textures of a hand, but hopefully it will help her become more comfortable with them.

Toby was pretty easy to convince that hands are benevolent bird-like objects, if we crook a finger at her and “nod” it she nods right back, beaks the fingernail gently and pins her eyes like she is greeting another bird (it IS as cute as it sounds).   Kelly, so far, is just not having it, but I know we went through this with Toby too; she did not bite this hard though.

Anyway – this has been sort of a rambling post.  The points are primarily that many parrots go through a “teenager” like phase where they are quite unmanageable and you may wonder where your sweet baby has gone. This is okay; they need to assert their independence and they will go back to being their nice selves after a while.  Also, sometimes even though a budgie has no reason to be a biter they are, and all of the tried-and-true methods of dealing with biting may fail – this is okay, just have patience and keep trying, and if you need to give up because you are too frustrated, that’s fine too, you can accept your budgie on their terms.  Biting, in my opinion, is not a valid reason to rehome a budgie, unless they are injuring other members of their bird-flock and simply must be single birds. Even in that case, actually, if you have the space and means to house them separately then please do that.

So, wish us luck and if you’ve got any other ideas let me know!

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What’s up with the flock?

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on what’s going on at our house.  Kelly has almost all her flight feathers and she’s doing great at flying.  It’s been a while since she’s hit a wall or ended up stuck on the floor.

As we had hoped, being able to fly with Toby has helped Kelly’s attitude immensely.  She’s much friendlier and more engaged with us, and generally interested in coming out of the cage, which is great for helping us discipline.  It wasn’t much of a “punishment” to put her back in the cage previously for a time out, but over the past week she’s been reluctant to go home and views being put in as a detriment to fun.

Kelly loves preening her human flock and seems like a burrower and an explorer.  As she gets even more confident with her abilities I can’t wait to see what she’ll get into!

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burrowing snuggle bug
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A sample of what we can expect from adventurer Kelly (this painting has been moved)

The only downside is that we are still struggling to convince her that biting us hurts. At times I think she tries to be gentler and forgets that our hands feel pain, it’s primarily non-malicious biting, just exploratory, but she happens to have a much stronger bite than Toby. It’s easy to tell the difference between her biting because she’s exploring her world versus biting because someone made her step up and she didn’t want to.

When she bites for any reason I usually remind her to be gentle, and roll my hand a little to put her off balance a bit, not in any danger of falling, just so she can’t bite me and keep her balance.

We’ve also been working on target training, going back and forth between Patrick and me with millet as a reward. Kelly struggled initially with landing on our fingers and practicing with an incentive was a big help in building her confidence.  It also reinforced our bond as a flock, since Toby was more than willing to show Kelly what to do for treats!

Speaking of Toby, she is growing out the last pin feathers of what was a tough molt. She’s been a bit of a winter-time homebody lately, although she and Kelly are enjoying taking flights together Toby is also just as happy to play at home or take a short hop over to the play gym. As ever, unless she’s at home she’s on high alert and usually doesn’t stay in one place for too long.

I’ve been noticing more of Toby’s visible iris lately, she’s over a year old now and it’s interesting to see the changes in her eyes as she matures.

We installed the K&H Manufacturing Snuggle Up Bird Warmer, Small/Medium Grey for a little extra heat this winter, and so far so good!  A full review is coming soon.  Also in preparation for winter I’m keeping an eye on our budgie’s feet looking out for dry skin.  We will make sure to keep regular bath times to help avoid scaly, cracking feet.

Additionally, we decided to put our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp on a timer so they get 3 hours per day, this is great year round but particularly in winter to keep up with vitamin D  absorption.  Full review is coming of the avian lamp as well.