Getting parakeets back in their cage

Here’s the scene: I’m home alone and the parakeets are spending free time out of their cages. I have a super small house with an open layout, so when they are out they are out everywhere in the house. To put even a finer point on it, my front door doesn’t even have a screen or storm door, when you open it it’s wide open to the terrible world. So – the doorbell rings in this scenario, if I have to open it then I better have a system for getting parakeets back in their cage with haste!

In some instances we’ve gone over and opened the window in the bedroom closest to the front door and yelled out at people, which is very handy when you wouldn’t have wanted to entertain the stranger anyway. But, when it’s a long-awaited package that’s signature required there better be a way to get that door open!

Patrick decided to try training them to go in using this Meditation Chime although I’m sure he could have just used the training clicker. Now that I’m thinking about it – if you found a Doorbell that sounded like yours you could probably literally train them to go in the cage anytime the doorbell rang.

At any rate, what we did was ring the chime, then put the budgies in their cages, shut the door, then ring the chime again and give them a little millet.

In short order, Toby has got it down flat. The Meditation Chime rings and she immediately looks very alert and hauls butt right back to her cage, then stands on the perch she always receives her millet. Kelly is much slower to learn anything, so we’re still working on her after several weeks. But, once Toby is in her cage Kelly tends to be more calm and pliable so it’s easier to step her up and put her home for the night. Kevin is usually already at home in his cage, or happy to go back when Toby does.

The hope is that given enough time, both girls and boy will hear the chime and hop right back into their cages. This would be great for times we unexpectedly need to open the front door, but also just for routine at bed time and convenience.  Time to make dinner, just ring the chime and you’ll be able to preheat the oven no trouble!

With the flock’s current home in the middle of the house, being able to reliably get them into their cage is key. So, hopefully Kelly will get with the program soon. With most parakeets I think you’d have a pretty easy time getting them all to go in their cage using a certain tone or signal.

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.

Running errands with budgies

It’s easy to feel very close to a budgie, as though you have a mutual understanding. What a wonderful feeling really, to have such a smart little pet that provides you emotional support and vice versa. I know I’ve certainly experienced how Toby and Kelly help me keep my emotions under control. So, it might seem logical or natural to use your best budgie pal as an emotional support animal, who accompanies you while out in the world in situations that may be stressful.

Here are just a few reasons I would caution you against taking your budgies out in public for anything other than necessity, such as going to the vet, or boarding them for a vacation.

      • Budgie lungs are very sensitive and going out in public can expose them to several toxic irritants. Did you know that many retailers pump fragrance into their stores through their HVAC systems? I have to assume that since we can’t safely use plug-ins, febreeze, etc in our homes that exposure to this kind of fragrance outside the home, even just for a run in to grab something, would be very dangerous. Even if the store itself isn’t using fragrance there are loads of fragranced products in many big box stores and the cumulative effect of being around those products (even if they are sealed) is troubling. Additionally, they will have much greater exposure to car exhaust traveling frequently, as well as the potential for cigarette smoke.
      • Beyond fragrance dangers, taking a budgie to a restaurant could expose them to fumes from the kitchen that you have no control over. Possiblly even non-stick coating which can be fatal. Additionally, even some casual restaurants use candles at the table which are also a big no for budgie-breathing.
      • Budgies are prey animals who are prone to being scared of anything seen as a threat. I know that not all budgies are fearful, but you must keep in mind their instinct will be either to freeze in place, which may look to you like calm, or take flight. You could have several successful outings with your parakeet before finding out that something totally random scares them like crazy. If they are in a small travel cage a fit of panic could cause them great harm. Worse yet, if they are out on your shoulder you could lose them forever. Just as a note, if you don’t have a travel cage make sure to get one or have another plan for transporting your budgie safely. You never know when you’ll have to evacuate your house due to fire or other emergency.


    • Danger from other human beings. Taking your parakeet out in the world will almost certainly cause a small spectacle. Drawing attention of other people to your budgie could result in harm if someone decides to grab at him, and doesn’t understand how breakable he is. I’m not going to stand on a soap box and say that humans are horrible, but I think that there’s certainly a capacity for thoughtlessness and danger with introducing your budgie to a lot of people.

Don’t get me wrong, the relationship between a budgie and their human is totally special, and I absolutely believe that a budgie can fulfill the role of an emotional support animal. I also think that the safest way to do that is in your home. It might be tempting to try running errands with budgies, but the ultimate cost can be too high.

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.