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.

When will my parakeet talk?

This is a very similar post to when will my parakeet let me pet him, in that the answer is typically “don’t count on it”.   Many parakeets may learn to mumble a few garbled words, but fewer will be intelligible and barely any will have the clarity and vocabulary of a Disco the parakeet.

There is some correlation between budgies that learn to talk and sex, boys tend to be a lot more vocal in general, have sweeter songs, and a greater capacity for speech. When we first brought Toby home we thought she was a boy, I knew some about how the color of the budgie’s cere can be used to determine the sex, but I didn’t know that it was different when they are juveniles.  So, I should have been looking for a baby with a solid pink cere which would have absolutely been a boy, instead all I knew was boy=blue, not that young hens typically have light blue ceres with white around their nares (nostrils).

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hindsight 20/20, obviously a baby girl!

The employee at the pet store where we got Toby also said it looked like she was a boy, of course I know now that pet store workers typically have no specialized knowledge, and though the employee was well-intentioned, he probably knew about as much as we did about parakeets.

Anyhow, the result was that we brought home a girl thinking she was a boy, and even though she proved to be mostly quiet over the next couple of months we tried and tried to teach her to speak a simple two word phrase. We held her close to our mouths and made sure she was watching while we slowly sounded out the same words over and over and I’m sure she thought she’d been brought home by lunatics. When that failed, we moved on to playing YouTube clips on repeat of phrases, with the same lack of any result.

When we brought home Kelly we knew sooner that she was a female, and in the past six months we have mostly focused on trying to teach them any sort of cool sound, like playing the Lyre bird, which Toby really responds to and also this reel of R2-D2 noises with the screeching taken out.  Patrick thinks he hears them do some R2-D2 on occasion, but I’m not sure about that.

If you have a young male budgie he may be quite inclined to speak, if you repeat the same words and phrases often ie: “pretty bird” he might even pick them up on his own.  I’ve heard also that many females are capable of learning words.  I think it must depend mostly on the individual parakeet’s interest level, with a better chance of interest in males vs. females.

Originally we were pretty invested in Toby learning a word or two, and working with her on that dovetailed neatly with getting her hand tamed anyway, but if your budgie doesn’t seem interested in learning to speak then I would waste a lot of time on it, there are tons of other fun things you can teach your budgie and their natural vocalizations are (in my opinion) pleasant enough anyway.

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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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Healthy Weight for Budgies

I’ve been watching my waistline and trying to get fit lately and it made me reflect on my parakeet’s weight. Similar to humans, there is a target range for budgie weight that relates to optimal health.  This range is about 1.1 to 1.4 ounces (or 25 to 36 grams).

It may seem sort of impossible to weigh a flying target that amounts to less than a package of 2 Reese’s peanut butter cups, but it’s actually pretty easy.  Some folks get an official Bird Scale, which comes with a perch and should be very simple for a large parrot to use, but for a small parrot like a budgie, I have found it’s easy enough to use a basic Food Scale (and some Spray Millet).

Toby is very happy to do a photo shoot on the scale for treats, you can see that the scale shows she appears to be at the upper limit of healthy weights, but I didn’t weigh her at the best time of day so it was a bit elevated.  For the most accurate weight reading you will want to weigh your parakeet after their first morning poop but before they have had breakfast.

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It’s quite common for budgies to become obese, particularly if they are sedentary and stay at home in their cage most of the time.  Also a lot of commercially available seed mixes are high in fats and it can be extremely difficult to get parakeets to eat healthy (just like people!).

This is another reason I would advocate strongly for allowing your budgies to be flighted; this will really help them get the exercise they need to maintain a healthy weight.  If you choose not to have flighted budgies then please make sure yours have the largest cage possible/lots of toys to play with and when outside of the cage you encourage them in physical play.  Either way your budgie should have the biggest cage you can manage and a suitable number of toys and perches.

So – what are the health risks associated with obese budgies?  The big one is liver disease/fatty liver. Liver disease occurs because birds store excess fat in their livers, and over time an obese bird’s liver tissue is replaced with fat, compromising the liver function.

The symptoms of liver disease could be difficult to detect at first or confused with other diseases, they include (but are not limited to) loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, depression, distended abdomen and lethargy.

The best way to avoid fatty liver disease is to help your budgie maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle, and offer a diet that includes a good quality seed mix (like Dr. Harvey’s Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets) and depending on your preference, pellets (Roudybush Nibles) as well as vegetables and fruits.

As long as you are keeping an eye on your parakeet’s weight and offering a good diet and lots of opportunities for exercise your parakeet should be able to easily avoid the perils of putting on a few ounces.

Additionally, thinking of the holiday season, it may be particularly tempting to feed your parakeet some human treats, or even things like crackers, cereal etc, but they don’t need it and it’s not good for them.  Since it should be pretty easy to avoid I recommend not feeding any “human” food at all outside of veggies and fruits.

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.