How to Choose, Care For, and Train a Parakeet
A Little History on Parakeets
Parakeet means "little parot." They originally came from Australia. At first, parakeets were basically one color—a drab, dark green. But with careful breeding, parakeets are available in all sorts of colors. You can have blue, green, or two-tone birds, like yellow and green or white and blue. There are also all-yellow parakeets and pastel colors. I once had a light green bird that the pet shop called "sea-foam" color.
When they were exported to England, they were called budgirigard or "budgies" for short. They were very popular in the United States in the 1950s and '60s and were sometimes referred to as budgies, but that has fallen out of use and now they are all called parakeets.
Bringing Your Parakeet Home
First, you've got to pick out a smart bird. They usually have a whole bunch of parakeets in a big cage. Some are pecking at each other, and some are fluttering about. You have to watch for a while, find the color that you like, and then watch how he or she interacts with its fellow 'keets.
Male or Female?
Male parakeets have a blue cere, a piece above their beak that has two nostrils. The female has a white-ish/beige cere. Very young birds have pink ceres. Some people believe that only males can be taught to talk. This is not true. My best talker was a female named Angel.
Healthy, Steady Birds
A healthy bird has wings that cross in the back and nice-looking pink feet. Healthy birds do not have an overgrown or gnarly beak.
Wait until the bird you like gets to the end of the perch, then approach it and talk to it quietly. If it looks interested, that's a good sign. If you put a finger very slowly to the end of the perch and it goes ape-shit, this is not a good sign. You want a parakeet with steady nerves.
Caring for Your Parakeet
Once you get it home, you will have to have all the equipment it needs to be a happy, healthy parakeet.
Cages and Perches
A roomy cage is needed and enough perches for it to hop and climb. Perches should be made of wood because plastic perches can grow cold under the bird's feet. It is very important to place the cage away from any drafts.
If you must have a cat you can have a parakeet also, but the bird must be kept in a cage that has bars that are very close together on all sides plus the top of the cage, so the cat can't put its paw through at all. The cage must also be on a stable table and must not hang from a hook or be in any way unstable, otherwise the cat will jump up on it. Parakeets sometimes get out of their cage by accident, and of course, if you have a cat, it could be mean disaster for the bird. There might be a murder in the house.
Lining the Cage Bottom
You will have to line the bottom of the cage with sturdy paper. You can use a paper grocery bag and cut it to size. Pet shops sell pre-cut paper liners that already have gravel loosely attached. Gravel is also necessary for the bird's health and digestion. You can buy a box of gravel and sprinkle it on your homemade liners. Whatever you use, the liner should be changed once a week. Do not use a paper towel because most parakeets will shred them to bits and you will have a big mess on your hands.
Food and Treats
Parakeets like a variety of food and treats. You can buy parakeet seed which is a certain mixture of seed that is right for parakeets. They should have a cuttle bone and a keetcake for minerals and to help digest food. Most birds like to have a millet spray hanging in their cage. Remember, parakeets are great nibblers so be sure to check their food supply every day and make sure their water is fresh. You can also give them fruit and veggies of practically any kind. You can cook up some frozen mixed veggies, drain them, and put some in a little feeder.
Parakeets do molt, and you will find wing feathers and even an occasional tail feather. Usually a tail feather has grown pretty long under the existing tail before the old tail sheds. Parakeets will clean their feathers often. They will run their beak down the full length of their wing feathers and poke around for loose feathers. After this ritual, they will shake themselves like crazy and one little white feather will float in the air.
Understanding How They Sleep
Parakeets have a strange way of sleeping. They will often go to their swing and swing for a while before going to sleep. When they're ready for sleep, they will stand on one leg and lock it in place. I don't know how they do this, but they do. They will then lift up the other leg and hold it close to their bodies and they will twist their head around and hide it under their wing. Amazingly, they are secure this way and will not fall off the perch.
A parakeet will learn in time that when you get its cover for its cage, it will fly back to its cage and get on the swing for bedtime. Parakeets do like to have their cages covered at night. Be sure your cage is out of any drafts.
Signs of a Sick Parakeet
A sick parakeet will be all puffed up. They will not look sleek. Their wings will not cross in the back but kind of hang down. Their droppings will be watery and not look like the normal ones that are perfectly round and white with a dot in the middle. Sadly, sick parakeets seldom recover although you can take it to a vet who handles birds and see if anything can be done.
Training Your Parakeet
If you want to be able to train your parakeet to sit on your finger and play with toys outside its cage, it is important to have a single bird. Two birds are not interested in anyone else, but if you are not planning to spend much time with your new pet, it's better to get two so they can keep each other company.
With a single bird, you can hang a mirror in the cage as they like to coo and kiss at the mirror. It is amusing to watch a bird interact with its mirror image. They will sometimes go into a trance where their head feathers stick out, the whites of their eyes will show, and they will keep bobbing their head up and down while making strange sounds to the image in the mirror.
Help the Bird Get Accustomed to Sitting on Your Finger
The first step to train your parakeet is to get it used to your finger. Approach the bird with your forefinger very slowly inside its cage, until you can place it just under it's breast. Push up a little bit and the bird will eventually move to stand on your finger.
A trained bird will like to sit on your shoulder and fly around the room at will. When you first let your parakeet out for its first fly-around, it will probably fly into a window. It usually will do this only once. And then it will fly to the windowsill. I once had a parakeet that continued to fly into the window until it knocked itself silly and I just let it stay in its cage.
Try a "Training Stick" to Help Your Bird Get Around
My dad made a "training stick" out of two dowels. One was about two and a half to three feet long and the other was glued to one end and was about three inches wide. When the bird was up high on top of the curtains or some other high place, I would use this to get the bird to hop on it and take it down to either put it on the table or back in its cage.
Parakeets will soon learn what toys belong to him or her. They like a weighted toy bird that they can peck at and knock down and it will pop right up again. My birds liked a circular ladder that they could climb and ring a bell at the top. I also had a toy ferris wheel that the bird could use its beak to spin around.
I used a wooden match cardboard slide cover to make a tunnel that was just the right size for the bird go in and out of. Be creative with your parakeet's toys. You might find something new in the pet shop or make something yourself for it to enjoy. Just be careful that there is nothing that could harm the bird.
Teaching Your Bird to Speak
You must repeat the words you want your parakeet to learn. Simple words like "pretty bird" "watcha doin'" "Hi, birdy" and the like are probably the easier words to learn. They will say these words in different order all day long while making parakeet chirping sounds.
Proper Care Will Give You Many Years With Your Pet
If you keep its diet well balanced and give it fresh water every day, let the bird get exercise and rest, your parakeet should live a number of years and bring you a great deal of entertainment.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.