Lonely? Live With a Budgie or Two.
Getting a budgie
All the clamour of wives and kids receding far behind me, I was finding the house and life itself a rather empty and colourless place. Despite my best efforts with various dating sites, I hadn’t managed to find a nubile princess to fill my life and was beginning to wonder whether I ever would, and if such creatures really existed outside of the minds of those who wrote the ads for the sites exhorting the lonely to sign up.
As I like to return to Mexico - where I lived and worked for many years - for an extended holiday once a year, it is hard for me to have a pet, the obvious solution to get some instant company. I like most animals: dogs, cats, and all the other assorted creatures humans bring home for their amusement and companionship. But who would look after them while I was away, and kennelling them for months had never seemed fair.
I can’t remember why, but my mind turned to birds, specifically parrots, as I had owned one I bought from a street seller in Mexico many moons ago and he had become a very loveable and loving addition to my home. So off I went to the local pet emporium and could have been found mooning over a huge Amazon parrot with a sign on the bars advising all and sundry that “He Bites!” Having had a finger bitten to the bone in London Zoo as a child by a large Macaw, I knew just what damage these beaks can do, so I restrained myself to muttering “Pretty Polly” type endearments to a cynical pair of glittering black eyes as I waited to be served.
“Like him, “ smiled the pet shop owner, whom I knew from previous dealings. I explained my situation and enquired the price, expecting it to be around a couple of hundred pounds (My parrot in Mexico had cost about a tenner!). “He’s £1800,” she replied, “but the smaller parrots range from about £800 and up.” Whew! I looked at some rather dismal looking gray creatures in a cage that looked a little small for them. “They are not easy to get any more,” Ms. Pet Shop explained.
While we had been chatting, all sorts of chirrups, squawks and “bird chat” had been going on in a large aviary at the rear of the shop. Still talking, we wandered over there and she introduced me to the brightly coloured world of the Budgerigar, better known as Budgies, or ‘Keets, an Australian native and a member of the large family of Parakeets. “They are pretty smart, too,” I was told, “you can have one or a pair in just about any color under the sun, and…” She cast a keen glance at me, “they are as cheep (ahem) as chips!” Indeed they were. They began at £15 each and the most expensive were only £30. Didn’t seem much money to possess such a vibrant and special creature.
So “Ozzie” and “Woody” were unceremoniously bundled into cardboard carriers and now reside by the front window in my home. But owning and homing the birds required a steep learning curve (and a few more ££££‘s) on my part.
I had already acquired a small cage for a fiver at the local boot sale. Into this they went for the first week. This might have been longer had I not been reprimanded by various unnamed authorities on Google, saying, “Your cage is too small for a pair of budgies!”
Back onto eBay until I settle on a whopping, 33” wide x 40” high x 19” deep “Montana” cage, by San Diego Company. This may not sound large, but it really is, especially atop its large, wheeled trolley. The cost of this was £112, plus £12 delivery, bought from good old eBay.
This arrived in two huge cardboard boxes, flat-packed (don’t you just hate those words?) and had to be assembled, which took some help and a couple of hours of thought and screwing.
Why is it that these manufacturers think a couple of rough sketches and a few lines of typed instructions are enough to allow people to easily put together something with the complexity of a small Eiffel Tower? Even the door locks had to be assembled… I mean!
We finally had it done after some false starts and some language that had the watching budgies covering their ears. “Where am I going to put this thing,” I whined. “Your problem,” said mate, Geoff, nursing skinned fingers, grabbing his electric screwdriver and beating a hasty retreat to the door.
Ozzie and Woody’s new home was huge, it was heavy and it had more feeding bowls, a maze of bars, hooks and catches, than a flock of birds could have used.
Now it was time for this inexperienced budgie owner to transfer the inmates from their, what now seemed now, tiny cage into this menagerie-sized enclosure. Budgies are very adaptable little chaps and they now viewed this restricted area as home and didn’t want to move anywhere, thank you very much. I was unfamiliar with handling these seemingly fragile creatures, who vigorously opposed the idea of being enclosed by a smelly hand. So after some false starts and some hysterical parakeets, I hit on the idea of unhooking the Montana from its plastic base and trolley, putting the small cage inside and returning the large cage as previously. I then opened the door to the little cage (I now had two-handed access by means of a large, 18 inch by one foot door). There they were, in a cage within a cage, rather like two prisoners in solitary within the Scrubs!
Several hours went by, I made supper (chicken, with some misgivings); still two little faces staring at the open door appearing as if the freedom it offered was a ruse to lure an unsuspecting budgie into a predator’s maw. I finally had enough, leaned in, and with much fluttering, squawking and loss of feathers, (mostly from the budgies) tipped the small cage up (the floor wasn’t in there) and they exploded into the vaulted spaces of their new home.
After a week, you would have thought they had been born there, brought up, paired-off and settled down there without a break in the harmony of their lives. They absolutely loved the place, and a budgie soon lets you know when he’s happy or the reverse about something.
Budgies are rather clever little birds, they are also nervous, very cautious, aware and quick. It takes a while to win their trust. After all, owners must seem like The Jolly Green Giant to them, and your hand similar to the one offered Fay Wray by King Kong. When you have a pair, you also must accept the fact a budgie prefers the company of another budgie to you, a fact that disturbs many parakeet owners; work it out, would you sacrifice quality time with your lovely female companion to dally with a 600-foot high parrot? If you really want companionship from your budgie, buy one male bird as he will bond with you. I just don’t believe in forcing any species to live alone in a cage. Confining them itself is enough of a insult.
When you begin to shop for your new pals, you discover that the small cage bird market has been depressed of late and people have turned to fish in tanks. Many shops that sold budgies don’t any more, although this is now changing for the better again. I can’t really see the attraction of tropical fish. It costs a small fortune to set up a decent sized tank and then another small fortune to run it, with the heating, lighting and maintenance. And then you are hardly awoken by a dawn chorus from the guppies, or have a sand shark perch loving on your finger as he gives you a kiss. Budgies do all this. In fact, the birdsong from a contented budgie rivals many of your garden songsters…once you are used to it, even the squawks are melodious and inoffensive (Did I actually say that? Ah, love!).
There are as many opinions about how and what to feed budgies as there colours of birds. I have found they enjoy much of the food you eat as well as their adored millet, lettuce and mixed parrot seed. They like a nibble on a bit of nice ripe cheddar; the corner off your Tesco’s sandwich (that they don’t eat, they tear up with glee and drop onto the cage floor for daddy-bird to clean up). Boiled egg yolk is good for them as is some fruit (forget banana, they don’t like it and it makes a stinky mess of the cage). As budgies occasionally eat insects in the wild, they are almost omnivorous in what they will consume. Just use your loaf and don’t put a sirloin steak or half a cooked chicken in the cage. Small amounts, variety and healthy things, those budgies like. They are not big eaters, but they do nibble, on and off all day, so they like some variety.
Another facet of budgie behavior I found strange at first was their need to nap a lot. Budgies should be covered at night from around sundown to when you get up in the morning (provided the sun is up). I remove their night covering - a green blanket - slowly so as not to alarm them, they don’t really like dawn coming up like thunder! Then I recover their favourite corner of the cage with an old, green T-shirt. This gives them a sort of tree-house in which they feel secure and away from random draughts which aren’t good for them. I have also put a large, branched apple bough horizontally all along the inside top of the cage. This makes the enclosure like the top of a rain forest and they love it. Natural branches make the best perches, they can grip them better and the various thicknesses help exercise their feet and the roughage helps keep their talons worn down. Stick to fruit trees as some trees are poisonous to them.
Next, think kids and their toys. Budgies are just like small kids sometimes, indeed, they have the intelligence of a small child. So being bright, they get bored in cages and need amusing. There are lots of toys available to caged parrots and parakeets.
They like swings (and you swinging them), swings and other toys with mirrors, a ladder and toys with bells on. Also, install perches at different locations and levels to help them with food bowls and to add interest to your cage. Try to leave a good area free of objects across the length of the cage as a fly and flutter area, which they will often use, liberally coating the lounge carpet with feathers.
My cage has three small doors with sliding bowls for ease of feeding, in a way, I wish they were not there as it is more convenient to use smaller containers which hook on the bars. One of these fixed containers is the water bowl and the birds need clean water daily as seeds and droppings get into it. They also occasionally have a bath, which the male bird uses and loves, but the female does not (so far). For her, I also have a spray bottle and Ozzie enjoys this in warm weather getting very excited like a bird might in a tropical deluge, flapping vigorously and biting at the water droplets on the bars. While I am on biting, budgies will often bite you, too, underlining the old adage about biting the hand that feeds you. There are several ways to handle this, the best is stop moving and admonish the little bleeder in a deep voice, trying not to let it rise to a shriek; as he sees he is having little effect on you, he will usually back-off until you go to scratch his poll again. Of course, different birds, different personalities...no wonder the pet shop owner paid me to take Woody!
Cleaning can be a bear until you get the system down pat. I use newspaper as anything else, such as sandpaper, is prohibitably expensive in a large cage like this. They need the floor papers changed every couple of days and a complete clean out once a week at least. This is easy as these are two plastic trays which slide out and I can get in the cage with a brush to get the seeds and droppings that fall through to the floor. Special cleaning sprays are for sale everywhere to clean and disinfect the surfaces without being poisonous to the birds.
This brings up a warning. Budgie are extremely susceptible to many household cleaners. This also includes the fumes given off by very hot cooking utensils coated with Teflon. This is one good reason not to keep the birds in the kitchen and to be careful with all these substances around the home. Also, be careful of household plants do not have leaves poking through the bars in reach of inquisitive beaks. Many plants are lethal to parakeets. If you intend to breed, you may have, as I do, a wooden nest box inside the cage. Budgies love chewing things made of wood and even eating the bits they lever off. This should not be a worry as it doesn’t hurt them.
Along with their various food items and water, budgies need grit supplied to help with the grinding of seeds in the crop and several minerals which come in little blocks to be attached to the bars. Keeps their little beaks nice and sharp, too, Ouch! And don’t forget the ubiquitous cuttlefish which provides a source of calcium. Bird food manufacturers, such as Trill, also provide delicacies such as Toppers, which my budgies love and other seed, honey and nut bars which last and last. Once you get your cage set up, clean and smelling sweet, with all the toys and food items they need and love, your budgies will reward you with contented chirping and crooning sounds easily interpreted as contentment..
With regard to whether you should let your budgies out to fly around the room or the whole house, I have so far come to this conclusion. Doing this is encouraged by budgie fanciers, who maintain, "No cage is ever large enough." So I have left the door open on several occasions and may persist in this experiment in the winter when the windows are all closed (and the radiators covered!). So far, the inmates have showed no interest in the world beyond their "home." Ozzie did escape once and chose not to fly, scuttling around like a winged house-mouse until I threw a towel over her and put her in the cage. But they are getting a bit chubby, unless it's all feathers, so I my have to drag them out screaming and say, "Fly, for God's sake, you're a bird, aren't you?" But, hey, procrastination is the spice of (my) life, what's the hurry, they seem very happy and chortle all day with budgie contentment.