A letter to Toby on her second Gotcha Day

Dear Toby,

Oh how things have changed since you came along! I’ve loved birds since I was a little girl, but I never thought I’d be able to have one of my own. I was at a bit of a low point when we got you, struggling with some personal issues and I can’t say how much I needed a lift.

As unbearably cheesy as it sounds, I was lifted on your wings. Taming you gave me a whole new purpose and a reason to look forward to coming home at the end of a work day. Moreover, thinking about you made me happy any time of day. You were a unifying force of positivity for my husband and me as we worked together to make sure that you were happy, safe and comfortable. We discovered that we both loved planning your environment for maximum enrichment and spending time training you and cajoling you into being part of our flock.

I remember how scared you were when you first came home, and the utter joy I felt when you started to open up and relax. Discovering your sense of humor and your sass came shortly after, but also the realization that you felt very connected to us, and wouldn’t go anywhere that your flock didn’t want to go.

Now that you’re a very grown up girl you certainly have your own sense of self and what you’ll allow, but you’re also a good listener and so eager to learn. I love that you are calming down some and starting to perch on a finger for longer times, rather than landing and flitting off to your other important business.

I’d like to say that you’re a great big sister to Kelly, but since you tried to chew off her foot and pull out her feathers I really can’t go that far! I think she’s been good for you, and taught you loads of birdy stuff that you didn’t manage to learn at PetSmart, so I hope you keep trying to love her a bit more.

Above all I want to say thank you for bringing me light and joy. I have truly enjoyed these two years together and I look forward to many more! Thank you also for forgiving your “papa” and I for all our many mistakes, I’m sure we’ll come up with more every year 🙂

I have a bad day, and then pass it on to Toby

Ordinarily Toby and I are best pals. She’s always happy to see me when I get home from work and very interested in having her fair share of undivided attention and time touching our beaks (well one beak and one nose) together and nodding our heads. But, I sometimes forget how sensitive the parakeets are to my moods and how important it is to keep my energy calm and even around them.

It’s sort of a gross story; there will be blood, so if that’s an issue for you then please read no further!

As background information, my lips are always super chapped; I know that chapstick is an addiction and I’m fully comfortable saying that I am hooked. Yesterday I hadn’t done my usual insane number of reapplications and on my drive home I was marveling that my lips didn’t feel that bad. I ran my teeth gently over my lower lip and, apparently having dislodged some dry skin, my lip started bleeding.

Not in a polite ladylike manner, but in a serious business, you better have some tissues steady stream. Of course I don’t have tissues, I don’t have an errant fast food napkin, and I don’t even have a clean sheet of paper to blot my lips on. Starting to panic a bit as the blood kept flowing I debated pulling over but realized I wouldn’t be any better off the side of the road. So, I used the only resource available and began dabbing my lips gently against my hands and arms to ineffectively mop the mess.

By the time I got home the bleeding had mostly stopped, but my arms were decorated with bloody lip prints up to my elbows! I’m laughing about it today, but yesterday I sat in my driveway for a couple of minutes trying to collect myself, called my husband and then felt like I was calmed down enough to go in the house.

I was SO wrong, both Toby and Kelly immediately knew that something was up – I scrubbed down at the sink and they were creepily quiet, not begging to come out at all. I approached and Toby was all tight-feathered and wary and Kelly retreated onto her sleepy perch and seemed quite prepared to ignore me entirely.

Once I opened their cages they both hunkered down in Kelly’s and wouldn’t even come out when I put their afternoon snack of blueberries on top of Toby’s cage.

Their attitude was, by this time, feeding my negative energy since I now felt stung by the rejection. I got changed into workout gear for the afternoon and inadvertently made the whole thing worse by putting on a t-shirt with striped sleeves, knowing full well that Toby does not abide stripes! The next time I tried to approach her she didn’t just back away she went after my hand aggressively to tell me to get the heck out.

I hung my head in shame and retreated to watch some reality television. Of course as soon as Patrick got home I started whining to him that Toby wouldn’t give me the time of day. He immediately pointed out that I was probably traumatizing her with my shirt, and upon changing she found me much more palatable.

Belatedly, I got in my requisite beak-tapping, head nodding ritual time and we have a pleasant evening. And if nothing else it’s a good reminder that parakeets are much attuned to their humans’ feelings and moods and they have their own set of preferences and interesting aversions.

Also, I learned to keep a box of tissues in the car and finally threw out the striped shirt. I certainly never thought I would be taking fashion cues from a budgie!

10 things that make me happy about my parakeets

I’m in a blogging group on facebook and someone launched a challenge recently to write a post about 10 things that make you happy. Initially I thought that would be a bad fit for Home Keet Home, but upon further reflection I realized there are certainly at least 10 things that make me happy about my parakeets!

It’s a well-timed exercise, we’ve been having a bit of a rough patch with them. Toby has been yelling all day to the birds outside, which wouldn’t be a big deal, but my husband works from home three days a week, and has some phone duties, so screeching parakeets is hardly ideal background noise. And as for Kelly, she was doing better with aggression for about a half a second and then tripled-down on biting and general nasty behavior. So, thinking nice thoughts about the parakeets and making a list of happy parakeet thoughts is exactly what I needed, and here we go:

  1. Being greeted with total enthusiasm when I get home from work, or wake up in the morning, or go to the bathroom and come back. No matter the length of time of my absence, there’s always someone at home so delighted to see me it makes them scream like crazy.
  2. Watching Toby and Kelly eat their fruits and veggies. Getting them to accept that fruits and vegetables were not the enemy was a long-term labor of love. Watching them tuck into a plate of grated cucumber with gusto is a fantastic feeling.
  3. Listening to them contentedly grind their beaks before nodding off to sleep. There is no more peaceful sound to me than the quiet crackle of parakeets grinding their beaks and knowing it means they feel safe and cozy.
  4. Seeing Toby and Kelly fly around the house. It’s just pure delight to see them use their bodies as nature intended. They are so at ease in the air and such deft aerialists. It also doesn’t hurt that they frequently fly around the house trying to find us – which is always a happy thought!
  5. Healthy parakeet poops. I’m sure that seems odd, since a common complaint that new parakeet parents have is finding poops all over the house. But, well-formed, tidy, parakeet poops are an amazing indicator of parakeet health and good poops make me smile!  Even better is a tidy pile of parakeet poops under their sleeping perch, which means they slept soundly and didn’t move around restless during the night.
  6. Toby and Kelly having peaceful moments together. Right now they are taking a nap together in Toby’s cage, and it fills my heart with joy. They have been struggling to get along lately, and these quiet moments where they nap together, or sit and watch the world on their window perch are rare and magical.
  7. Spidery little parakeet feet! Ugh, the tiny little feets just slay me with their cuteness. When I spy them ball their toes together and put up a foot for sleeping it’s the sweetest sight.
  8. Playing touch the tummy. When Toby first came home and was totally wild she would crawl around on the cage bars and we played a game where I would “torture” her by putting my pinky through the bars and gently touching her tummy and her “stinky pits” while she tried to bite me.  The stinky pit area of a parakeet it the fluffy bit at the top of the legs, or at least it is in my household! Anyhow, she would seem quite enraged by my taking advantage and I wasn’t sure whether she was playing the same game as me until one day I was working on my laptop near the cage and noticed she had gone silent. Looking over, I saw her staring dead at me, clinging to the cage bars with her tummy pushed up against them, waiting for me to play our game. Every time I think about that memory I smile, it was the first indication I had that Toby and I would be best buddies someday.
  9. They make me happy because if I’m not happy they’re not happy. Parakeets are crazy attuned to the mood of their flock, so if I come home from a bad mood I don’t just wreck my day (and my husband’s!) but Toby and Kelly’s day too. If I walk through the door angry, even if I’m trying to put on a good face, they will stay in their cages and act very meek and weird. Being mindful of their feelings has trained me to sit in my car for a few minutes if I’m feeling edgy and focus on getting centered and ready to be present with them and happy.
  10. Having my little girl crew climb all over me. Toby loves to sit on my glasses and nibble my eyelids and Kelly will crawl in and out of my shirt all day if I let her. I’m never going to be able to pet them like dogs or cats, but they show their affection and their desire for closeness in the own perfect birdy way, and it makes me feel like I’m being given the best gift to have them want that with me.

Toby moves to the big house

After waiting several weeks for the HQ Victorian Top cage that was solidly back-ordered, I finally canceled the order and decided to get the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White so that we could get Toby out of the small Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage and alleviate some of my guilt over her situation. It turns out the new flight cage is even more spacious than I imagined, which may be causing Toby some anxiety, but ultimately may mean that she and Kelly could be roommates again.

The new cage arrived just a couple of days after I ordered it, and I set to work immediately unboxing the pieces, wiping everything down and theoretically organizing it all by spreading it across the kitchen floor.

Quality wise, I knew it wasn’t going to be up to the level of the HQ Victorian Top, since the price-point was about $70 less, and it definitely is lighter-weight and much less like a piece of furniture. But, it’s reasonably well constructed and extremely functional. Right out of the box I noticed a few of the bars were bent all out of shape, we were able to put it to rights, but I’m sure I could have called the manufacturer and asked for a replacement front panel.

Once Patrick got out of work for the day we set to the task of assembly. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo I expected to get it put together in short order. But, one of us spent about 30 minutes looking for a tool that was totally unnecessary (not it!) and so we spent about an hour and a half total.

so many pieces!

Once together, we realized this was a much more spacious cage than the Victorian Top, having greater length and width. We didn’t have much time that evening to try and introduce the parakeets to the new cage, but they did watch us put it together with great interest.

Over the next few days I started migrating toys and perches to the new cage and we tried, without putting on a lot of pressure, encouraging Toby and Kelly to explore the new cage.  They are not in love with it so far, but it’s a totally different color and shape than either of the cages they are familiar with, so I can understand.

The following Saturday we moved the rest of Toby’s belongings from her old cage to the new flight cage and that was that. She went in with very little protesting when it was time for bed, but spent a ton of time wandering around in the cage looking for the best place to sleep. Strangely it also disturbed Kelly who would not settle down for hours – which is very unusual for her.

It’s so much room that we may try having them sleep together or even spend some days together, at present they don’t like hanging out in it even when the other cage is closed, but we’ll get them used to it at some point!

I’m pleased to have Toby out of her old cage and into something where she can really flap her wings and get some exercise. Also, this leaves me an extra cage for quarantining someone new, should that occur at any time in the next few months!  At that point (following quarantine) even if they can’t live three together we can have a single and a double and the parakeets will be able to choose the living arrangements.

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.

Toby’s new cage – our first traditional flight cage

Toby and Kelly have been living single for several weeks now and it’s still going great. They are both getting good rest, individual attention and have enough time to play without someone else bothering or attacking them. I had ordered Toby a new cage from Doctors Foster & Smith a while ago, but it was back-ordered and the fulfillment date just kept getting pushed out further and further. So, I finally decided to cancel the order and get her a traditional flight cage.

At first, we thought we would get another HQ Victorian Top Bird Cage, which has served us well for a long time. I love that it looks like a nice piece of furniture, instead of just a utilitarian bird cage. Also, it’s really solid and not at all flimsy, which is something that bothers me about the Vision Small Bird Cage that we used for a car ride. I know a lot of people love Vision cages because they contain mess and are easy to clean, but it just doesn’t feel like a permanent bird home to me.

Anyway, it initially seemed like a no-brainer to just buy another HQ Victorian Top and put Toby’s new cage right next to Kelly’s existing. I ordered the cage and didn’t even notice the back-order warning when I checked out (ooops!), so it wasn’t until 5 days later that I started wondering why it hadn’t shipped, and then realized I would still have to wait another month for delivery!

I thought about canceling at that point, but Toby has been such a good sport about living in her old Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage it’s really unbelievable. She goes right in at the end of the day and doesn’t even appear bothered that she can’t fly in her home cage. Because she’s being so chill about it I felt like we could wait the month.

Fortunately she’s continued to be a solid citizen about her living arrangement, because once the month passed the fulfillment date jumped again by two weeks! I know this has nothing to do with Doctors Foster & Smith, I’m sure it’s down to manufacturing delays for the cages themselves, but it was sort of a bummer realizing that not only were we delayed again, but I really couldn’t trust the new date either.

We were still pretty set on holding out for the HQ Victorian Top, but I started thinking about how much it would be a bummer to lose out on the flat top of the Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage, which I use every day to keep food and water out when Toby and Kelly are out playing. We also put baths up there and toys for them to play with one top of the cage. The Victorian Top cage is really cool for them to hang out on, but it doesn’t have utility space the way the Prevue Park Plaza does.

Since I had all the extra time waiting on the HQ Victorian it allowed me to really second guess the decision, and decide that we would all be better served by getting a good quality flight cage with a flat top.  Enter the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White, which is made by a company I already trust, and looks like it will be a great home for Toby.

The only thing I’m not thrilled with are the included plastic food and water bowls. I think that plastic bowls tend to get dirtier faster and don’t get as clean as stainless steel. I found these Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls which solve that issue. I like that they are a two part system so I can hang them wherever and just remove the bowls for filling and cleaning.

Because we have Amazon Prime it should be here in just a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to report on the cage set-up and how Toby likes her new digs.  Hopefully our first traditional flight cage will be a winner!

Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets