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A shameless plug for parakeets. January 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Today is the first anniversary of the arrival at Hawk’s Haven of two of our three budgerigars, Taco (blue) and Belle (yellow). (Laredo, green, arrived about a month later.) Our friend Ben is going to use this first anniversary as an excuse to shamelessly plug budgerigars, or parakeets, as they’re typically known in the States.

Our friend Ben has literally had parakeets since before I was born. (My parents bought my first parakeet, named by them Philomelia, the Elegant Fowl, while I was still in the womb.) I have never not had a parakeet. I would never want to be without parakeets.

Why? Well, first, a bit of background. Our friend Ben loves and has raised quite an assortment of birds over the years: budgerigars, several true parakeets (grass parakeets, Bourke’s parakeets), the exquisitely colored rosellas, our beloved bronze-winged pionus, Marcus Hookbill, and a number of species of Amazon parrot, including Plutarch the Parrot, our yellow-naped Amazon, the leader of the flock. And all have been fascinating and delightful. In fact, I wish I had a rosella and Bourke’s parakeet right now, along with Plutarch and our budgie trio, and I wish our Marcus were still with us. But whatever other birds have been part of the family, parakeets/budgies were always among them.

Again, you may be asking, why? Budgies are cheap and commonplace. You might think of them as the avian equivalent of hamsters and gerbils. But if you thought that, you’d be vastly mistaken. These bright-colored little Aussies have as much personality as any person, even the famously personable Aussies themselves. They have big parrot personalities stuffed into their beautiful little parakeet bodies.

If you’re willing to get just one at a time, they’ll bond to you like a dog and learn to speak English (or your language of choice) with fluency and ease. (Admittedly, “L” is a challenge for them, which is why saying “pretty bird” is a lot easier than “I love you” or “hello.” But once they start learning, they’ll get around to “L” and everything else if you practice with them.) Our friend Ben has read of budgies with 100-word vocabularies, and there are legendary budgies that supposedly could speak 250 words. (Even dogs supposedly only recognize 200.) The trick is to practice with a single word, patiently and not for too long each time, much like teaching a trick or an obedience command to a dog, and then add another word once the parakeet has mastered the first, and then the next word, etc., always making sure you include all the earlier words and phrases in each practice session. Budgies can also learn to whistle, sing, and mimic other sounds.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood opted to get a trio of parakeets after our beautiful budgie Willow died, because we house our parakeets in a huge (for them) cockatiel cage and we thought they’d enjoy each other’s company, and because our Plutarch is quite fluent and affectionate, so we didn’t feel it was essential that the parakeets either speak English or bond closely with either of us. If you get more than one, it’s far more likely that they’ll bond with each other rather than with you, and it’s much harder—though not impossible—to teach them to talk. So if you want a pet, get one parakeet, and give it the affection and attention its personality and intelligence deserves.

Let’s get back to why I’m plugging parakeets. After a lifetime of bird companions, our friend Ben still feels that you can’t do better than the humble budgie. They’re cheap and readily available, come in a huge assortment of gorgeous colors, don’t require a lot of space or expensive accomodations, are intelligent, amusing, and affectionate, are appropriate for all ages, and are comparatively long-lived. (They’ll easily reach their teens, and I’ve had one who lived into his twenties.) What more could you ask of any pet?!

In case our friend Ben has convinced you, let me offer a few dos and don’ts of parakeet keeping:

* Do give your parakeet(s) a spacious cage. As noted, we keep ours in a huge rectangular cage designed for cockatiels, so they have plenty of room to fly and roam around.

* Don’t put your parakeets in a round cage. Studies have shown that birds, fish, and humans become  uneasy in round or circular rooms, and are much happier and calmer in rectangular or square rooms.

* Do let your parakeet out if you want to and don’t have cats or dogs. It’s easy to finger-train a budgie, and can enhance the human-parakeet bond. But don’t feel obligated to let your budgie out. As long as you provide a spacious cage, add and rotate plenty of interesting toys, and spend lots of quality time interacting with your bird, out-of-cage time is optional.

* Do keep a butterfly or large fish net on hand in case your budgie flies the coop and you need to get him or her back in it ASAP.

* Do keep a small travel cage on hand in case you need to take your budgie to the vet’s. And do find an avian vet in your area before you need to see one. (Note that budgies are hardy little birds and seldom need to see a vet, but better safe than sorry.)

* Do provide millet sprays, honey- or fruit-based seed treats, treat and conditioning mixes, cuttlebones or calcium/mineral blocks, and other treats along with a good basic seed mix for your parakeets. Budgies are grass-seed eaters in their native land, so you may have trouble getting them to eat a wider assortment of things, such as fruit and veggie fragments, shreds of lettuce, tiny pieces of bread, etc. But no worries. If you give them fortified seed and vitamin-enhanced water, and make sure they have mineral blocks, they’ll flourish. (In all the years, OFB has only had one parakeet who was ever willing to eat fruits, veggies, and lettuce. And trust me, I’ve tried with every one.)

* Do provide entertainment. Parakeets, like people, thrive on stimulation. Give them brightly beaded swings, mirror toys, rope toys, bells, everything. And rotate the toys so the budgies don’t get bored. If you haven’t been to a big pet-supply store like Petco or PetsMart lately, you’ll be in for a surprise when you see that vast assortment of parakeet toys, foods, and supplements available. Choosing among them is so much fun! Remember that a parakeet’s sense of sound, sight, taste, and smell is as acute as ours. If it looks, smells, and/or sounds good to you, chances are your budgie will agree, so go to town! But don’t turn your parakeet’s cage into a funhouse. That’s where rotation comes in. Three or four toys at a time are plenty, especially if you have millet sprays or treat sticks hanging from the ceiling.

* Don’t forget the furniture. Besides several kinds and textures of perches, two pieces of parakeet furniture that our friend Ben thinks are essential at all times are a swing and a ladder. Make sure they’re substantial, not dinky.

* Do buy a parakeet magazine and book when you buy your first bird. A book will tell you the basics, and a magazine will show you all the latest treats, cages, food and nutrient info, and gizmos.

* Don’t buy sanded perch covers and floor mats. When OFB was a child, sanded perch covers and floor mats were considered essential parakeet-cage items, much like carpets in human habitations. The glued-on sand was supposed to help file down the bird’s claws (perch covers) and add grit to their crops so they could digest food (floor mats). We’ve come a long way, birdie. These days, there are many textured perch surfaces to help hone those claws, and grit, cuttlebones, and mineral blocks take care of the nutritional angle. Apparently the floor covers did nothing but collect detritus and the sand-covered perches hurt birds’ tender feet (ouch).

* Do clean your cage once a week. Our friend Ben and Silence have friends who clean their birds’ cages daily, and if your birds are messy, or you’re a clean freak, it certainly won’t hurt, might help. But parakeets, who typically eat dry food and don’t splash water around, really only need to have their cages cleaned once a week. We pull out the seed tray, discard the dirty newspaper sheets, wipe everything down with a paper towel, add fresh newspaper sheets, replace the seed tray, sweep up around the cage and stand, the end. All told, it takes less than 20 minutes a week to keep the cage clean, and that includes a daily 2-minute sweep of the floor beneath the cage.

Ack, our friend Ben sees from that last point that I’ve failed to discuss what to do with your birdcage. It’s important to give it a stable base or hang it securely from the ceiling. Since our cage is big, a sturdy footed base (made to support this particular cage) is ideal. Situate the cage where it gives the bird(s) both security and stimulation. In our case, the parakeet cage is next to Plutarch’s cage, against the wall in the kitchen next to our table and directly opposite the sliding deck door. This means that our parakeets have Plutarch’s lively company, Silence’s company while she prepares food, both of us providing company while we read the paper, eat, and/or converse at the table, the great view out the deck doors, and music whenever Silence is cooking or we’re eating. Not to mention visits from our dog Shiloh and three indoor cats (another great reason to make sure your bird’s cage is secure and up off the ground and your parakeet is integrated into the rest of the family). Btw, we’ve never had a problem with our bird and cat/dog interactions as long as the birds remain in their cages. The dogs love them, and the cats don’t seem to recognize that they’re the same things they watch with such hungry intent through the windows.

So, please: If you’ve never known the joy of having parakeets, or wonder what would be an ideal pet for a child, consider the colorful, friendly, larger-than-life budgie. I promise, you’ll never regret it!



1. Dr. Huma Ibrahim - January 26, 2010

I miss my rosellas Diego and Diva but would never again get any bird unless I was sure I was going to be in the same place for at least 10 years.

Or could take them with you when you moved! Plutarch, Marcus, and our parakeets all made two moves with us without a hitch. I think they actually enjoyed the changes, unlike our cats, who had an adjustment period each time before they settled in.

2. Becca - January 27, 2010

But, I don’t NEED a parakeet! You make them sound so tempting. We’re about to venture out into the rabbit realm. Maybe later on the birds…

Rabbits are affectionate and adorable, Becca! Just remember to watch those electric cords (and pretty much everything else within reach) if you let them out in the house. No unsupervised play for bunnies!

3. Parakeet Tips - October 3, 2010

I love parakeets! OFB sounds like a true enthusiast as well. I got my first one in the fourth grade and I currently own three (Caesar, Bonnie, and Baby Girl). They have such a personality. One thing I’ve learned is like you said get one bird at a time, its the best bet to really get them talking and tame.

Ha! I’ve had them all my life and would never want to be without them. This is the first time I’ve owned three, but Silence and I are really enjoying them.

4. Andie - May 25, 2011

This is really good information. I got my little budgie last week and I’m still getting used to things, probably not as tough for me as it is for Hermes though!

Aw, thanks, Andie! Hope you and little Hermes have a long and wonderful relationship!

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