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Bird Basics: Proper Parakeet Husbandry


Pet Column for the week of March 24, 2014

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According to Dr. Kenneth Welle, parakeets make very good pets, and they are suitable for someone who hasn’t had a pet before. (Photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.)

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Netherton
Information Specialist

Ever think about getting a bird, but aren’t quite sure what caring for one entails?

“Parakeets make very good pets, and they are suitable for someone who hasn’t had a pet before,” says Dr. Kenneth Welle, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, who is board certified in avian medicine. “However, owners need to make a commitment to providing proper care--including veterinary care--for their pet.”

There are more than 100 known types of parakeets, small, long-tailed parrots that belong to the order Psittaciformes. Most commonly, when the term parakeet is used, it is referring to the budgerigar, a specific type of parakeet. The budgerigar is native to Australia. Parakeets of other kinds are native to Africa, Asia, and South or Central America. The average life-span of a parakeet is approximately seven years, although they sometimes live to be 10 to 15 years old.

“When you are selecting a parakeet, observe the whole group of birds,” says Dr. Welle. “Just because a bird doesn’t look sick doesn’t mean it’s not sick. Healthy birds should have an upright posture, be active and vocal, have smooth features, and their droppings should be fairly formed and relatively dry.”

Parakeets are very social animals that tend to do well in pairs and groups. Being in a small group of birds is probably better for the animal than being alone, although it may be harder to keep a parakeet in a group tame because it will have less dependence on people.

A parakeet’s diet should consist mainly of pellets. Seeds may be given, but only in small quantities--no more than a fourth of a teaspoon a day. Vegetables and greens that are low in carbohydrates should be provided. Supplementation of calcium is not needed unless the bird is starting to lay eggs.

The ideal cage would be large enough for the bird to fly in. It should have more horizontal space than vertical space, so the bird has enough room to fly from perch to perch. The cage door should be large enough for a hand to comfortably fit through.

The cage should be easy to sanitize, and it should have a wire grate on the floor to restrict the bird from getting into its droppings. For cages with a wire grate, newspaper is a common substrate to line the tray of the cage. If using a cage without a wire grate, Dr. Welle recommends using Carefresh pet bedding (a soft bedding the can be purchased at most stores) as the substrate. If using Carefresh, the droppings would need to be removed every day.

A gentle solution cleanser, such as dish detergent, should be used to clean the enclosure. A very dilute mixture of bleach and water can be used as disinfectant if the animal has a disease, but all residue from the bleach must be gone before putting the animal back into the enclosure.

Diseases common to parakeets include gastrointestinal parasites (a fecal exam should be done at the vet upon first acquiring the animal), fungal infections, psittacosis (caused by a bacteria and this can be transmitted to people), viruses, and tumors.

Parakeets may have their wings clipped to keep them from flying. Clipping means the lower half of the primary flight feathers are trimmed, like a haircut for a bird.

Birds with clipped wings are tamed more quickly and easily. However, clipping introduces the risk of broken blood feathers and takes away the opportunity for the healthful exercise of flying. Dr. Welle advises discussing the decision to clip a bird’s wings with an avian veterinarian.

Just like cats and dogs, parakeets enjoy toys. They like to put their head under bells to hear the echo when the bell rings. Males especially enjoy mirrors. Parakeets also like anything they can chew, such as cardboard and softwoods.

Parakeets have a natural tendency to be afraid of humans, and since most are not hand-raised, they are not imprinted on people like many hand-raised birds. Therefore, when training these birds, Dr. Welle recommends using a food-based reward as positive reinforcement. Feeding the bird a seed from your hand will allow the animal to associate getting a treat with handling.

They are excellent talkers and can have an extensive vocabulary. Males especially talk due to their biologic need to be vocal.

Does a bird need to go to the veterinarian annually like a cat or dog? According to Dr. Welle, bringing a bird to an avian veterinarian for a yearly check-up is a good idea.

“It is especially important to visit your veterinarian in the early stages of getting an animal,” says Dr. Welle. “A veterinarian can help educate new bird owners about their pet and make recommendations for proper husbandry to keep them healthy.”

For more information about parakeets, speak with your avian veterinarian.