Asked Parakeet Questions
[back] I am thinking of getting a parakeet. What do I need to know?
Make sure you read everything here! :) Then get the book "The New Parakeet Handbook" by I. Birmelin and Annette Wolter (link to Amazon at left).
I found this book to be the most comprehensive one I've seen yet, though I am sure there are others out there! If you've found a book to be particularly helpful, please email me so I can post it here.
If you are having trouble finding information on the Internet, it could be because parakeets are really called 'budgerigars' (or 'budgies' for short). Try using those search terms instead of 'parakeet'.
[back] My new bird looks terrified. How do I help the bird acclimate to its new surroundings? How do I get it to go on my hand?
Birds can be like this until you tame them and teach them that they don't have to be scared of you. I think it's built into them to be naturally very vigilant, because they are easy prey out in the wild. The best way to tame them is with constant practice.
The first thing to do is make your hand seem less scary. When you put your hand in the cage, do it very slowly...maybe hold a palm full of birdseed in it. Then (and this is the boring part so make sure you are in a comfortable position with your arm is supported!) sit there. Sit there and don't move your hand for like 10 minutes. While you're doing this, talk to your bird(s) softly, maybe sing a little bit. This will help them relax a little. They probably won't eat out of your hands the first several times you do this but they will at least start to learn that your hand is not a threat and that you are respecting their space.
Whenever you feed/water your new budgie, move slowly. I've found that if I pause before putting my hand in their cage, this helps them calm down. I'll open the door slowly and deliberately and get their food dish, making it clear that I am not going to grab them (their worst fear).
Eventually you will teach them to go on your finger. Once they are less afraid of your hand, you can bring your hand into the cage and slowly bring your index finger up to one of the parakeets and hold it still right at the belly. There is something about applying gentle pressure to the belly region that makes a parakeet step up to a perch - so we want them to treat your finger like a perch. If they are scared and still fleeing around the cage, continue the hand exercises above until they are more used to it.
Have patience! It can take a while to tame a bird. If there are two it can take a little longer, though I definitely recommend having two. Birds are highly social and need constant companionship. If you're at school or work for several hours during the day, it's very lonely for your poor keet. Now, why does it take longer to tame two? Well imagine if you were them. Imagine that you would be living in your bedroom with your best friend. Sure, sometimes you'd disagree, but at least there's another being around that you could relate to. Well, suppose every once in a while, this huge, scary monster comes in, wildly swings open your bedroom door and thrusts their enormous hand inside, groping clumsily at you. Of course you would flee! So have patience. Eventually your birds will understand that you are not a threat. Parakeets are pretty smart. More studies are coming out that show that birds are even smarter than many people realized - African Greys, the smartest parrots, score similarly on intelligence test as dogs. Interesting, eh?
[back] How much time should I spend with my bird?
Most books say at *least* 15 minutes a day, but it should really be more than that. Spend as much time as you can. If you don't have more than 15 minutes a day of good, quality time for your keet, either get it a companion, or rethink getting a parakeet as a pet.
[back] What kind of coffee should I buy?
Hey wait. This is a *parakeet* page. Why are you asking about *coffee*?? Well I am assuming you like birds, right? Otherwise, why would you be sitting at your computer with your eyes all watery and tired, reading endless page after page about your cute keet? Well, if you like birds, you can help them by only buying shade grown coffee. There is a huge problem now in South & Central America where poor farmers are clearcutting the forests to grow coffee, and birds and other animals are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.
Coffee is originally a plant that likes shade to grow well, though it grows *really* quickly in the sun. This rapid growth ends up depleting the soil of nutrients and leaves land useless after only one crop. As a result, farmers must rip down more and more woods in their increasing attempt to grow food. (Note that many farmers do not get paid fairly, so you should look not only for 'shade-grown' coffee, but also 'fair-trade' coffee.) Isn't it worth paying a few cents more to know that your actions are helping some family send their children to school and eat?
It's not the farmer's fault that they were born in a country where making money and putting food on the table is difficult. They are only doing what they need to in order to survive. Here's where we can make a difference though -- start seeking coffee that is kinder to the environment. Look for 'shade-grown' and 'fair-trade' coffee. It tastes better anyway, and may even have less pesticides and more antioxidants, and thus be a healthier choice.
More information about shade-grown coffee, and helping birds: (these links takes you off this site. These links are also on the 'links' page)
(note: I don't drink coffee so I don't recommend any one company one way or another. There are a lot more companies out there - make sure when you get coffee, you are getting the shade-grown stuff!)
[back] Is there any chance that my bird was caught in the Amazon illegally?
Parakeets, no. They originally come from Australia. Parrots, maybe. It is illegal to import wild-caught birds to the U.S., but not to some other countries, and even though it's illegal, it's possible that some birds were smuggled in anyway.
It is horrible to think that a bird has been ripped away from its home and shipped in deplorable conditions where it's scared and injured and will never see its loved ones again. The equivalent action for people would be kidnapping. Wild birds should not be made into pets, it is not only unacceptably cruel, but they do not make good companions, having been through severe trauma and not having been tamed. You should only seek birds that are bred here and handraised to be pets. Make sure you ask about this and only deal with a reputable breeder or store!
For more information on birds caught illegally in the wild, read: (these links takes you off this site. These links are also on the 'links' page)
[back] Shopping List for your new parakeet
[back] What do I feed it?
Feed your budgie a varied diet. The book mentioned above goes into this in more detail. You can offer either seeds or pellets (my avian vet recommends pellets, and likes the brand Harrisons... unfortunately I was unsuccessful at getting all of my keets to switch over because one was older when got it. It is easier to introduce good food right at the start.
Pellets are supposed to be a healthier choice. If yours will only eat seed, add a drop of vitamins to their food every morning. Don't add the vitamins to water even if the label says so, because it will cause bacteria to grow in the water and this can be harmful to your keets. (More advice from my vet.) You should clean out the dish with soap and water and rinse well (take all the cleanliness precautions you would for yourself - birds can be sensitive to the environment and you don't want your parakeet to get sick).
Try to add veggies to your bird's diet - a variety of food is healthiest. (For people too!)
to Harrison's bird food online (this
link takes you off this site. It is also on the 'links' page)
[back] Where in the house should I place the cage? How should I set up the cage? What type of cage is best?
The cage should be someplace where there is activity, like the living room. The cage should not be in direct sunlight or in a drafty spot. Parakeets came from Australia so they can handle warm or cool temperatures but they can NOT handle rapid changes in temperature. For this reason, do not place the cage in front of doors, windows or vents.
The other thing to consider for a happy, secure bird (and a happy parakeet is more likely to be a friendly parakeet!) is the placement of the cage in relation to the floor. Do not keep the cage on the floor. Birds live in trees. Trees can be pretty tall! :) Birds feel uncomfortable when they are not high up... in their minds, it feels dangerous because they are vulnerable to predators. Eye-level is the best height, because If the cage is lower than your face it will seem like you are towering over it and the bird will feel threatened, uncomfortable, and nervous.
More information on cages is here. (this link takes you off this site. It is also on the 'links' page)
[back] Should I let my parakeets out?
Yes, of course. They need to fly and stretch their wings. Imagine how stuffy and boring it would be to be locked in your house all day and night. If you want to control where they go when they're out, give them an attractive play area. I put a play station on top of my keet's cage and it's easy to keep clean - any droppings fall harmlessly through the bars. Make sure food & water dishes are not catching droppings (don't position them directly under perches).
Make sure your birds always have access to fresh food and water when they are out.[back] How do I know whether it's a male or female? Can I tell by its personality?
Exceptions: Some male parakeets, like yellow ones (shown here) and pied (keets with mixed colors) will have purplish ceres that can be misleading. If it's leaning toward purple it's a male. If it's pink and leaning toward maroon or brown, it's a female.
The female's cere color has to do with estrogen, a female hormone. If the cere is very brown, you can tell the female's estrogen levels are high. This tends to be accentuated when they are nesting or preparing to start a family. If the cere isn't very brown, it could be due to low estrogen levels, or it could be a young bird, or it could be a yellow or pied male! (I thought this yellow fellow was a female for a few years until the surprise hatching of an egg! See my parakeet chick pictures for more on that story [links are at the top].)
[back] How long do parakeets live?
It seems like many people have their budgies for 5-7 years, maybe 10 if they are lucky. But it seems like they can live up to 15 years if they are healthy, eat a good diet (like Harrison's pellets and some seeds & veggies/fruits), and live in an environment free of scented sprays, candles, and other irritants to the lungs. (BTW, those are not healthy for people to breathe either.)
[back] Should I clip my bird's wings?
I don't think so, but that is my opinion - I'm not an authority on this. I chose not to clip any of my birds wings and they are very well-behaved and can usually be put away easily. If they can fully fly, they will be able to get a lot of healthy exercise.
From my experience, it seems like a bird with full flight capabilities is not as paranoid... maybe because they know they have a way out if they don't feel safe. The parakeet I have that never had been clipped is actually the tamest, most well-behaved one. Maybe that's just a coincidence. This one is up to you, but my opinion is that it is better not to.
[back] What about toys?
Definitely indulge your keet in toys! They seem to like swings, bells, shiny things, and things made of rope, leather, or string. Circulate the toys so they don't get bored of them - maybe once a week take out some toys they haven't seen in a while and put away the ones that have been out.
[back] How do I get my parakeet to take a bath?
What often works well is putting a mount-on-cage baths that you can fill with a little bit of water (not cold and not hot, just room temperature or slightly warm). In the wild, parakeets bathe themselves by flitting about wet grass; they rarely get into water 100%. So they don't need the water to be deep. Attach the bath to their cage using twist-ties so it's nice and secure and leave it there all day, everyday (change the water every day though -- even if this is a pain -- because they won't use it if it's not fresh).
Here's an (adorable!) example of a parakeet bathing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwtoc8IiDMg (1 minute vid)
[back] Should I get another bird to keep my keet company?
Yes. Lonely is the bird that is alone. Parakeets by nature are flock animals - they are not solitary by nature. Unless you are a stay-at-home parent or are otherwise always home and able to spend a LOT of time with your parakeet, you should get another one to keep it company. The only bad thing about this is that if you haven't developed a relationship with your bird, it will care mostly about the other parakeet and not pay much attention to you. If you already have a relationship with your budgie, it will not change much once you get another bird.
I would recommend working with the new bird before putting it together with your other keet, or else the newcomer may not grow attached to you. If you can, keep it separated in a different cage, as far away as possible from the other keet, and work with the bird often. After a few weeks or months (whenever you think it's ready), you can put them together.[back] Can parakeets get along with cockatiels?
Yes. They seem to get along better with other parakeets, but they can get along with 'tiels. Some parakeets can be more assertive than their larger, gentle companions, but I've read that the two can get along just fine.
[back] I have two parakeets and they sit next to eachother and rub their faces together. What does this mean?
When they rub their faces together, that's a very affectionate kind of play, it's like little kids holding hands or playing pat-a-cake. Bird friends can do this and so can bird lovers.
[back] Is there any way to keep the mess down? How often do parakeets go to the bathroom?
Well, you can remove the useless screen at the bottom of most cages so they are directly on the floor (it's better for their feet anyway). Then put their food dishes directly on the bottom. For extra protection, you can get one of those little wraparound skirts. If you let your birds out, you can make the top of their cage the playground so any droppings fall harmlessly onto the lined cage bottom. If you have a female that loves to chew (males don't chew as much), try giving her toys to keep her busy so she won't harm furniture and window sills.
Parakeets go to the bathroom around every 15 minutes. The droppings harden quickly so they will not stick to the bird's feathers; this makes them easy to clean up.
[back] Do keets choose only one mate?
Parakeets do seem to be monogamous but if the bird they prefer passes away or is otherwise gone, they will find comfort in the companionship of another keet. So I do recommend having more than one to keep eachother company. (I talk more about this above in "should I get another parakeet to keep my bird company?") Keets are surprisingly-well adaptable to living with other bird species as well and are generally congenial so you can pair them up relatively easily. They can fight but this can sometimes be triggered by things that can be kindof similar to triggers for human arguments -- not having enough needs met, being cooped up, boredom, lack of freedom. Sometimes addressing these other concerns helps with parakeets who are not getting along.
[back] Ouch! My bird bit me! What do I do?
NEVER EVER EVER lose your temper and strike the bird, grab it or act harshly in any way! A bird that bites is a bird that is scared for some reason. The only way to combat that is to help the bird gain your trust. You will never gain trust with the bird if you respond to biting with violence or harshness.
If you have accidently lost control of your temper and acted harshly, make a note to yourself that you will start over and try a new way to deal with the bird. You will have to work hard to gain back the bird's trust. The only way you can do that is by consistently showing that you are calm and never react in that way again.
Now that I went over how important it is to retain a good nature, you still have a biting bird to deal with. If your bird is biting you because you are violating its space, you can reduce biting by showing it that you respect its messages.
I've had my parakeets lunge at me and lightly peck me to let me know they didn't feel like playing, or were tired, or just wanted to be left alone. I respected their wishes and calmly retreated. Now when my birds want to let me know to leave them alone, they don't have to give very strong messages - they will open their beaks slightly and ignore offers to jump on my hand. They're very gentle. I haven't been bitten in eons. (BTW, I am not the kind of person who can tolerate being bitten well... I was terrified of this when I first got parakeets because I'm pretty sensitive. Luckily it hasn't been much of an issue. Parakeets do not bite as hard as some other birds do, so that's another good point about them as pets.)
I do have one parakeet that I adopted, and this one is the biter that won't quit. This bird has a very violent temper, but it saddens me because I know she is like that because she must have been very scared little bird when she was younger. I have had to teach her manners, however. I've found some success by blowing on her quickly to surprise her when she bites. She finds it unpleasant, but it doesn't hurt her. I have also said in a low, calm, stern voice "SHHHH.... BE NICE" and that also helps. She is much, much nicer now then when I first got her and now she and rarely bites, but I need to spend a lot of time with her or she will forget that I am not a threat and become aggressive again.
I did read somewhere that if you yank your hand away suddenly after a bird bites, it will learn that it has to bite in order to get you to go away (what it wants). I am guessing that if you calmly and slowly move away, or even keep your hand there immediately after, but move away after a few seconds, the bird will not learn the association between acting badly and getting what it wants.
If your parakeet is still biting and the above advice doesn't seem to have worked, call an avian vet for advice or ask for the recommendation of a good animal behaviorist that specializes in birds.
Most budgies seem to learn biting out of fear. Maybe their environment changed, maybe a young child visited and put their hands in the cage and scared the bird, maybe a cat or dog frightened it, maybe kids ran past the cage and alarmed it... whatever happened to make the bird bite, try to restore the bird's trust in its environment by being consistent, moving slowly, spending time with your parakeet and respecting its wishes by paying attention to their body language. Have patience - your budgie will respond to your kindness eventually.
Some budgies can teach their bad manners to other birds so you might want to try and deal with this behavior problem before getting another bird.
Here is some good advice on how to keep your parakeet from biting -- this expert, The Parrot Whisperer, has wisely recommended that if you twist your finger, the bird will lose balance and it will learn that is the consequence of biting. Birds hate losing their balance. This technique is wonderful (although it does require the bird be on your hand). I would try this first before resorting to anything else. Here's the video:
[back] How do I keep my parakeet from soiling my room? I really want to let him out but I don't want to keep washing all my things.
The best way around this is to construct a place for your keets that is more fun than any other place in your room. For me, I made the top of the cage a playground - I bought one of those bendy perches, some toys and a mirror, hooked up some millet spray and now my keet prefers to hang out there versus anywhere else. This is easy for me because the droppings just fall through to the bottom of the cage and I do not have to worry about my furniture or windowsills.
[back] How do I know if my bird is sick? What do I do?
If your bird is all puffed up and looking sleepy for loooong stretches of time, like... hours and hours and hours in a single day... it's probably sick. Most birds conceal their illness very well until they are *extremely* sick. In the wild, if they moped around listlessly like us at the first sign of illness, they'd get snatched up by a predator right away. Birds are vigilant and alert because they have to be to stay alive. Even though life is more relaxed in your house than it is in the wild (or at least I hope it is!), you can't erase eons of behavior-shaping in birds. It's in their genes. So if your bird is NOT acting alert and vigilant, that's a bad sign. Put a lightbulb near the cage to give your bird a little extra heat. If this doesn't seem to help after a day or so, bring your bird to an avian vet. I have a link to an avian vet locator web site on the links page.
It is normal, however, for your birds go to go through periods during the day where their activity levels rise and fall.[back] I cut my birds toenails and they bled! What do I do?
Put a little dab of cornstarch or a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding. If it's really bad and won't stop bleeding, rush your bird to an avian vet right away! A few drops of blood lost from a parakeet's tiny body can be serious! It's a good idea to have cornstarch or a styptic pencil on hand in case you ever need it quickly.
[back] I think my bird has scaly mite. What do I do?
This warrants seeing an avian vet. More info on scaly mite is here (you can also search the Internet). I did have success though, in putting a small dab of vaseline on my birds legs only (NOT on the feathers!). This supposedly suffocates the mites. Whatever you do, don't buy those 'mite defender' things that you hang in the cage. They have a noxious smell which is supposed to eradicate mites. Instead they can eradicate your keet... I would not recommend exposing your parakeet to those toxic fumes.
Scaly mite is different than mites -- it's worth calling your vet for advice if you're not sure whether to use an over-the-counter product or not. Scaly mite manifests as scaly skin on the legs but no where else.
[back] If tail feathers (or any other feathers) fall out, do they grow back?
Yes. It might take a while until their next molting, but feathers do grow back. In fact this is essential for a bird's survival. Feathers get ratty over time, losing some of their insulative and protective qualities. If you wore the same shirt every day and nothing else, the same would happen to you and eventually it wouldn't keep you warm anymore. A bird's answer to this is to generate new feathers.
[back] How do I get my parakeet to breed?
First you need a female and a male. Then, you hope that they like eachother. Then add a nesting box and some nesting material. Then wait.
(How long? I don't know. Weeks? I think they are more likely to be ready in the spring & summer when the days are longer and it's in built into their genes to raise families then. Though they may do it anytime of year.)
There is something about the presence of a nice, safe place to lay eggs that the nesting box fulfills which helps trigger the parenting instinct. The nesting box also provides darkness - which plays another role in the female's hormones and parenting instinct.
Be careful, though, not to let your parakeet raise more than one brood a year. It's too demanding on their bodies; they need to build their health back up. Also be concerned if your keet lays more than 8 or 9 eggs... sometimes parakeets can get into a mode where they just do not stop laying eggs and they will do this until they die. It's very draining to produce an egg, and the body will suck nutrients from the body and calcium from the bones to provide what's needed for the egg. Being calcium-deficient puts birds at serious risk for egg-binding. If you see that your bird is trying to lay an egg and can't, this is an EMERGENCY. You can try to help by rubbing a little olive oil around the cloaca (where the egg will come out) but if this doesn't help, get your bird to an emergency room pronto!
I recently had a female that would not stop laying eggs. It may have been related to the fact that I kept taking the eggs away. She layed more to replace those I removed. (I didn't realize this could induce excess egg-laying, or else I would not have done it.)
I asked my vet if not removing the eggs is best and she said that in some cases, that can play a role, but not always. There's about a 50% chance that this was why, but some birds still lay eggs like a little machine even if they are never removed. My keet laid 16 eggs! I had to bring her in for a shot of hormones and remove her from the male. She's doing fine now. My vet said I can probably put her back with the male in the late fall when birds are less likely to nest, but that I should keep an eye on her. If she's looking like she's trying to nest, don't let her. Remove any fledgling nests she's starting - she will not lay eggs if there is no place for them. The vet also said that some people have had success with having a dog walk around nearby, even if you have to borrow your friend's dog and bring it past the cage once. This makes the bird feel less safe and less likely to nest.
If your birds do have young, make sure you have good homes in mind for them if you can't keep them all - you can check with pet stores (some will take home-bred parakeets) or check around with friends.
[back] I found an egg on the bottom of the cage, what do I do?
If the female is not sitting on it, you can probably remove it. Read the entry above to learn more about nesting behavior in parakeets, and how to encourage or discourage it. Females can lay eggs even if there is no male - the egg will not hatch, however, because it isn't fertilized.
[back] Can I tell if the female is pregnant? How long before they lay an egg when they have one inside?
It takes about 2 days for an egg to form, travel down the cloaca and come out. You can't tell the female is pregnant - she will not look swollen. You might be able to tell when she's about to lay one because maybe you'll see her straining a bit at the bottom of the cage. If you see your budgie straining for a few hours, your parakeet could be suffering from a potentially-fatal condition known as egg-binding, where the egg will not come out. If you see this, you can try to dab some warm olive oil around the opening, but if this does not help her, get her to a veterinarian pronto! This is an emergency situation and your keet can die if this is not treated quickly enough!
[back] I want to put a nesting box in the cage, but the birds flip out whenever I try. What do I do?
Birds flip out when you put new stuff in their cage because they are scared of it. I've had pretty good success with putting something in the cage really slowly. Once it's in, I will tie millet spray with twist ties to it. They love millet sprays. it's a great parakeet treat. After a while they will explore the new thing only because they are dying to get to the treat. Leave it in the cage for a few days/weeks and they will get used to it.
If there isn't enough
room inside the cage for a nesting box, you can get ones that mount on
the outside of the cage.
[back] The female is biting holes in her eggs - what does this mean?
Females will do this when they are calcium deficient. Go out and buy your parakeet a cuttle bone, put that in the cage near a mirror or something fun and she'll gnaw away at it. Also buy some vitamin drops and mix in 1-2 drops with her birdseed (stir with a clean finger or spoon). That way you'll help her build back her stores of vitamins. Egg laying can be very demanding on the body, nutrition-wise. Don't put the drops in the water even if the label says so because that can cause bacteria to grow in the water really quickly and be harmful to the parakeet. (That's what my vet said anyway - in the food is best.)
[back] After the mating, how long is it usually before the female lays her eggs?
After about a day or two. (Please see http://www.petpublishing.com/birdtimes/breeds/keet.shtml - also on the links page.)
This site is dedicated to Dr. Piety, without whose kindness, wisdom, and sharing of knowledge this would not be possible. You are missed.
firstname.lastname@example.org ...when I am not playing with my keets, I design web pages.
Please note that I am not always able to respond to e-mail due to the large volume received, but I am happy to collect questions & suggestions to add to the FAQ page. Please check the FAQ first to see if your question has already been addressed before emailing. Thank you so much for stopping by!
I am not a vet; my only source of knowledge
is my own experience.
For definitive advice, please consult with a veterinarian that specializes in birds.