Have You Kissed Your Parakeet Today?

Parakeets, or Budgies, are social, friendly, and enjoyable to watch.

I love birds, especially the smaller hookbills like cockatiels and love birds. Sometimes, however, the simple little parakeet gets overlooked for its potential as a companion bird. They are simply happy little birds with some interesting social skills and normal wild bird urges.

My birds are mostly American budgies, the sleeker, smaller bird of the two types. They love to chatter, love to play with sticks and on ladders, and will come to see what you have when you put food dishes into their cage or aviary. The birds I have are a grayish-blue, from a solid white hen and a bright blue male. They get along fairly well, as long as Papa bird is given first place at the food, water, and toys.

In fact, Papa is an English budgie, with a large, round forehead, and of a greater size than the Americans. His offspring do not inherit his puffy head or full size, but they are somewhat larger than their Mama bird.

Budgies are hearty birds, surviving in the desert-edges in Australia. They live in flocks, and quarrel over mates and nest space. Unlike other birds that require nesting materials, a budgie hen wants only a bare wooden box in which to lay her eggs. Wood chips and other debris will be systematically removed, as in the wild these could harbor disease or pests that would be fatal to the chicks when hatched. The problem is, without a cushion of some sort, the babies’ legs might not develop straight, leading to a condition called splayed legs. This condition prevents the birds, as they mature, from standing up properly on the perch. It’s only an aesthetic as far as the bird is concerned, as it won’t prevent the budgie from going about a happy life. But it can be prevented.

A very wise breeder of parakeets and other small hookbills told me this secret. Before allowing the hen in to the nest box, sprinkle a little insecticide like Sevin Powder, which won’t hurt the chicks at all, and then put in about an inch of soft, dry playground sand, available at any home improvement store. The hen won’t be able to get all of this out of the next box, and the chicks will have support while their legs grow strong.

Most people aren’t interested in breeding parakeets, for many reasons. But I love the interaction between the mating pair, as they tap their beaks together rapidly, waggle tails, and feed each other. I get so excited when the chicks hatch, and when they are ready to fledge and leave the nest box. Then I have to make up my mind, do I keep the youngsters, for further breeding, or do I find good homes for them? It’s never an easy decision.

As pets, budgies are wonderful. They chatter, might screech a little, but will so love to have their people around them. People take the place of their flock, and so you must be prepared to give even this tiny bird a good share of your attention if you don’t want him or her to become a screamer.

Parakeets live an average of 12 years, which can be heart-breaking. It doesn’t take half that long to become attached to them. They also have a tendency to develop tumors, which can cause all sorts of nerve problems and blindness. Be sure to buy your bird from an established breeder who can tell you the health history of your parakeet’s family. I purchased a beautiful white parakeet from a local bird store of good reputation.  However, there was no history to accompany the bird.   I named her Sen after a character in the animated movie Spirited Away.  Over the years, Sen gave me many beautiful chicks of sweet temperament.

One day, Mike noticed that Sen was at the bottom of the aviary, and not flying away when he reached in to check her out.  She had gone blind.  We set her up inside in a small cage with a low perch, water and food where she could easily find it, and hoped for the best.

Sen was okay for a couple months, then she had a seizure.  As I watched, she had a series of them,  causing her to go rigid, then to shake as it passed.  I took her out of the cage and held her, and the warmth of contact seemed to stop the seizures for a while.  But Mike and I knew it was time to take her to the veterinarian.

Like all good vets, the doctor checked Sen out to insure we weren’t just disposing of a pet we no longer wanted.  The diagnosis was that a tumor had first damaged her optic nerve, and had continued to grow.  We had made the right choice in taking her in.

Even knowing we did the right thing, I cried as I said goodbye to my sweet girl.  In her last hours, she came to like being held and comforted.  But it was time to let her go so she would not suffer.  We asked for her body, and took her home.  When we lose birds, as everyone does, we put them in our freezer.  Every solstice and equinox, we have a funeral pyre and send them on their last flight.

Overall, in a small house or apartment, or even outside in an aviary, budgies provide charm, entertainment, and affection for their owner or cage mates without a lot of fuss or noise. If you are thinking of getting a parrot but have little experience, starting with a parakeet could be just the answer. Enjoy looking for the right bird for you, and many happy years ahead with your new pet.

More Old Stuff

Still writing like crazy on non-bird projects.  Here’s a story about a cockatiel named TJ and instructions on a simple foraging toy.  Enjoy!

A Cockatiel Can’t Deal with Changes

All of my cockatiels are housed inside my living room, and given the run of the house every other night or so. Few of them like to leave the living room, and some nights they just don’t want to leave the cage. It’s more often a summer night that has them out looking around, and more often the youngsters than the older birds. Just for references, I have 14 cockatiels, one that was purchased, the rest rehomed to us.

There are some couples in the flock, and some loners, but our most recent arrival is a real character named TJ. This beautiful normal gray cockatiel is larger than most of our birds, fully feathered, and has a full, tall crest. He whistles and talks, but we don’t know just what he is trying to say. He has a yappy little dog call, a squeaky toy call, and a strange whirring sound that I love. He gives kisses, he runs across flat surfaces with his head pulled back and his wings out to the sides, and loves to tap on my calculator. Last night he whistled at an empty soda can, and was so entertained by the metallic echo that he repeated it until Mike and I were laughing too much for him to hear it any more.

Not long ago, I was able to turn one room in our house into a bird room, but mostly for the finches. Some budgies are in there, but most of my hook bills are still in the living room. When we had finches in a three cage rack in the computer room, TJ loved to come land on the top of that, and sing for a while before coming down to explore my desk. We had to put a cover on the top of the highest cage to prevent him from pulling nesting materials out of the nest box. The finches did not appreciate that.

It never occurred to me to try to make TJ aware of the change when we took the finches out of the room. I opened his cage and went about various chores that had to be done before I could relax at the computer. Before I finished, I heard Mike talking to TJ, asking him if he was okay. TJ had flown into the computer room, not seen that the cages were gone, and smacked into a wall, before sliding to the floor. He seemed dazed, but didn’t act hurt. He shook his head repeatedly, and I was watching him the rest of the night to see if we needed to take any emergency steps. Luckily he was fine.

Now TJ lands on my lampshade or file cabinet, and waits for me to give him a hand to step onto. I then transfer him to a shoulder where he can choose to stay, or can easily jump down to my desk. I have convinced him he can’t type, not having thumbs for the space bar. However, one evening he returned to the living room early, or so I thought. When I tucked in the cockatiels and did a head count, one was missing. I heard TJ calling from down the hall

I went into the bird room, and yes, there was TJ. He was perched on top of the same rack of cages that used to be in the computer room, happily saying hello to all his little friends. The finch chicks have fledged, and the nest box is long gone, but that didn’t seem to bother TJ. After a few more minutes of communing with the lower orders, he stepped up and let me put him away for the night. I am glad he will never know that the zebra finches were still not amused.


Note: So much has changed since I wrote this.  I obtained my dream aviary, and put many of the cockatiels outside.  TJ fell in love with Teena, and they raised some chicks, but then Teena passed on.  TJ was never happy inside after that, and too agressive outside.  So I found him a good home where he is an only bird on whom lots of love and attention are lavished.

A Simple Bird Toy


I can’t claim credit for thinking this one up, it was published in Bird Talk just a month or so ago. But I did try it, and wanted to let you know how it went.

The toy is a simple foraging and chewing toy, made out of a plain brown paper lunch bag, and shredded paper. I used pre-shredded stuff because our shredder overheats quickly. Must be all those credit card offers!

I put one handful of shredded paper into the bag. Then I tossed in NutriBerries, Birdie Os, a different seed than usually fed, and some nuts. I tied the top with one strand of the shredded paper, and put it in the cage.

The cockatiels took time to get used to it, and spent lots more time nibbling the paper bag. Eventually they opened it up and got all the paper out. Not sure if they even noticed the treats. Next time I may give them just the paper.

The lovebirds ripped the bag open on the first day. Because it was placed on a platform in their cage, they were able to get most of the treats out, and really seemed to enjoy it.

I had lots of fun making up these bags, and will try them on the budgies next, and maybe the sun conure. I’d love to hear if you have tried these with your birds, and how they reacted.


Birds in a Cage: It’s Complicated

Why is it some birds get along with any and all cage mates, and some don’t? This is a question that has many answers, and none of those answers will hold up if applied to a different scenario. Here are some things I have observed in my own flock.

Zebra finches are notorious for needing lots of space when mated. In fact, it’s an accepted rule of thumb to keep either a single pair in a cage, or at least three pair in a larger cage. With three, the combatants are faced with too much going on to pick on any one couple. This has worked for the most part, but I have found that even with three couples in a big flight cage, some days one of the birds just violates some unwritten law of zebra finch behavior, and all the others, even the mate of this poor fellow, will start to pluck him and batter him. Then it’s time to pull that one out and give it a rest. But then you have to watch that the structure of those left behind doesn’t create more unrest.

Zebras also seem to dislike white birds that are claiming to be zebra finches. The white birds have to be protected from the normal grays. And as I really like the looks of the white and light colored zebras, I’ve used several tricks to keep them from being picked on. One thing that works well is putting silk ivy vines around perches, to create screened areas for resting. This also attracts the males to pull at the silk leaves, and means one has to be vigilant to clip threads or remove tattered leaves before anyone gets caught in them.

I’ve been told I am very lucky to have a pair of parrotlets who have lived happily together in the same cage for going on three years now. The little hookbills are very wild and have always gotten along with each other. Perhaps part of that luck is the fact our conures like to go tease them by walking on the top of their cage. Banding together to fight off the invaders may have strengthened the bond between them. But my second pair of parrotlets has been even closer to the conures. Recently I became concerned enough to pull the female when the male began to beat up on her. I kept her in a cage where her former mate could see her, and he did seem to miss her, hanging on the cage as close to her as he could be most of the time. After a week of this, I reintroduced her to the cage, and instantly the male was chasing her, plucking her, and being horrible. This time, he came out of the cage.

It just so happened that a new female parrotlet breezed into town about then, and was set up in a cage behind this male. Poor little first girl was completely forgotten. The new girl is now in the same cage with the male, and things are going pretty well. She’s a bit more aggressive than the original mate, and stands up to the little bully. Meanwhile, the first girl is starting to come out of hiding in the cage and look at the world around her. We are hoping a hand-fed male with a gentler disposition might come along to keep her company without a return to the domestic violence.

Lovebirds are another group with special cage needs. Eye ring species, like fishers and masked, should not be kept with non-eye ring species, like the ever-present peach face. Well, my first lovebird was a peach face, and I decided to get a masked to keep him company. They got along famously, and when I realized they should not be bred together, I worried they would not accept other mates. Luckily that was not a problem. Currently I have one cage with a fisher, the original masked, and an offspring of the original peach face. When I put that last youngster in with the other two, they picked on her mercilessly. So I moved her into a nearby cage where she could see them and be seen. On nights when the lovebirds had flight time, this youngster would try to sneak back into the original cage. After a few weeks of chasing her out, I decided to let her take her lumps again. And to my surprise, the three of them settled in to a happy life together.

No matter what you hear about housing birds together, your experience could be so different, you will think you misread or misunderstood the warnings. But I almost suspect the birds have read those warnings too, and get a kick out of keeping us humans guessing.

Note: I no longer have parrotlets, and am not breeding my zebra finches. I have the first love bird, as I have previously written, and am highly disappointed in his lack of offspring right now. I am consoling myself with the three violet chicks who will be off to the handfeeder next weekend.

Emus and Aviculture

More time off, please enjoy these things I created in the past.

Fun Emu Facts Quiz

See how many of these you can answer before looking at the answers below.

1.               The Latin name for emu is ___________________________.

2.               Emus are the largest bird native to ____________________.

3.               In Arthur Phillip’s Voyage to Botany Bay, published in 1789, the species was named ______________________________.

4.               Emu breeding colonies were set up on Maria Island off Tasmania and Kangaroo Island near South Australia during the 20th century. Which colony, if any, survives?

5.               What is the top speed an emu can reach?

6.               What do you feed to an emu?

7.               The average size of an emu clutch is _____________________.

8.               Is a clutch of eggs is incubated by mom or dad?

9.               How tall are emus on average?

10.            What is the market price for emu meat?

Answers to Emu Quiz:

  1. The Latin name for emu is Dromaius novaehollandiae
  2. Emus are the largest bird native to Australia.
  3. In Arthur Phillip’s Voyage to Botany Bay, published in 1789, the species was named New Holland Cassowary.
  4. Kangaroo Island emus survived.
  5. The emu can sprint at 31 miles per hour for a short distance.
  6. Emus eat plants and insects.
  7. Eleven eggs are average, with as many as twenty possible.
  8. The male will brood the eggs, and stops eating, drinking, or defecating until just before the chicks hatch.
  9. They stand 59 to 72 inches, and about 3 to 4 feet at the shoulder.
  10. Ground emu meat can be had for $4.50 per pound.

Ten Signs You Might Be an Aviculturist

By Demi Hungerford

1.   You’ve asked your family to bear witness that the house WAS clean for a second or two before the feathers and seeds started falling again.

2.   You own a Shop-Vac, but don’t have a shop.

3.   Your dishwasher is often full of bird dishes.

4.   You have an extra crock-pot for “soak.”

5.   You think there is nothing sadder than an empty birdcage.

6.   You have two wardrobes: Bird Clothes and Outside Clothes.

7.   You have been chastised at Disneyland for noticing the sparrows and ducks and mud hens.

8.   You have two groups of friends: “Okay around birds,” and “Don’t invite to the house.”

9.   Bird food is a higher priority than people food.

10.   You can’t understand why people think breeding birds should be profitable.