Parakeets as Pets
A parakeet is perhaps the best type of bird to have as a pet. Parakeets are inexpensive, easy to care for and entertaining. They provide hours of amusement with their lively chatter, playfulness, precociousness and curiosity. They're perfect for just about everyone, from families with children to single people living in apartments. Since 'keets are not quite as frail and delicate as many other types of pet birds, they can live anywhere from five to ten years if they are well-cared for.
With a clean cage, fresh seed and water, an occasional treat, some toys and other amusements, they will readily give you lots of love, providing lively talk and song. "Spoiled" 'keets usually get very excited when you return home from work or school. Most 'keets adore attention, and will play with toys in their cage (and just about anything else available to them), in order to get attention from their owners or from other nearby birds. Parakeets that are tame enough to be outside their cages love to nibble on earrings and other shiny jewelry. As a matter of fact, they chew and nibble on just about everything--clothes, furniture and drapes being the most popular objects of their attentions. Most parakeets also enjoy almost any kind of music and love to "sing along" with whatever is on the radio. They also love talking to other birds, both real ones outside and those they hear on audiotape or compact disc. Many 'keets never get tired of hearing birdcalls and will happily talk back to any bird they hear, live or recorded.
Parakeets are perhaps the least expensive type of pet to keep. Their cost varies from $5.00 to $15.00, depending on where they are purchased, either from a breeder or a pet store. Their seed costs about $1.00 per pound, and generally lasts for a week or two. Gravel is also a good idea to aid in digestion, since parakeets, like all birds, have no teeth and swallow their seeds whole. Gravel grinds up the seeds in their stomachs. A cage is the most expensive item to buy, but this is a one-time cost and varies in price, depending on the cage type. I do not recommend the very small cages (the ones that have about one cubic foot of space), because your bird needs room to stretch its wings without bumping into its toys. The next largest cage, which is at least two to three feet long and half as deep, is fine, and the cost is about $50 for a high-quality one.
You should also plan to figure in the price of liquid vitamins in times of stress or illness, seed treat and toys--most importantly a swing and a mirror. Treats that are recommended include millet sprays, honey treat, fresh greens (make sure you wash them thoroughly first) and homegrown greens sprouted from your bird's own seed. To sprout homemade greens, place a small amount of seed in a saucer or bowl on a damp paper towel and make sure the paper towel is kept moist. Fresh greens should begin sprouting in less than a week. These are very nutritious as well as safe--there are no pesticides in birdseed, so there are no pesticides on or in the greens.
Another item that should be kept in your parakeet's cage is either a cuttlebone or a mineral block. This is to keep your bird's beak trimmed, as well as to provide a source of calcium and minerals in its diet. Your parakeet does not require the most expensive toys available. It will be perfectly happy with a set of rings to climb through and a mirror. Many birds are very bright and may occasionally need different toys to maintain their interest, so make sure you have two or three different toys handy. Switch the toys every couple of weeks to prevent your bird from getting bored.
Originally, parakeets were only available in shades of yellow and green; the albino lutino, a yellow bird with pink eyes and white cheeks, appeared only as a mutation. Albinos are genetic mutations, unpredictable and unplannable for in breeding.
The blue-and-white color combinations arise when the gene for color is double-recessive. The gene for blue is "hidden" in the green gene, if it is present, and there is no way to know for sure until the birds are mated. There is no way to tell if a green parakeet's color genes are both green, or if the green bird has one green and one hidden blue gene. Therefore, it is difficult to get blue parakeets from green ones. It is not possible to get green parakeets from blue ones. Once a pair of blues is mated, that color is the only one that will be produced, with some hue variations. If you were to mate a blue parakeet with a green one, though, the results could be either green or blue.
Once the blues had initially grown in population and popularity, they were bred with the green-yellow birds, producing even more color variations, including multicolors, lighter-colored stripes (cinnamons), and shades of gray mixed with both colors. With an understanding of genetics, breeders have been able to generate parakeets in almost every imaginable color combination, producing an unlimited number of colorful birds.
Parakeets are fairly easy to mate, given a few simple conditions. The cage needs to be big enough, the room temperature should not be too cold (as a matter of course it should never be too cold, or a draft can give your birds a respiratory infection), about 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and a nesting box must be present. Unusual situations sometimes arise with breeding behavior. One parakeet of my own was so intent on laying that she laid eggs underneath her seed dish not long after she had hatched out a clutch of babies. These eggs were not fertile, though, and did not hatch.
Contrary to popular belief, parakeets don't usually mate for life, although they have been known to. When selecting a pair for breeding, make sure that the cock (male) is at least 10 months old, and that the hen (female) is at least one year old. When you have selected a breeding pair, put them together in a cage of their own, unless you have an aviary with lots of other birds. The ritual courting that parakeets go through is actually quite amusing. The male will "preen" (pick through feathers with his beak, using it like a comb) the female's head feathers, feed her, and "dance" for her, bobbing his head up and down rapidly and excitedly. This last act is sometimes performed when the birds are not mating, as an indication of excitement and immense happiness. There are birds who like to dance when music is playing, singing along and bobbing their little heads.
Wooden nestboxes are available at most pet stores, or can be purchased from someone who makes them. The nestbox must be the of the following dimensions, or the breeding pair will not use it: 8-1/2 inches tall, by 6-1/2 inches wide, by 6-1/2 inches deep. The opening of the box must be 1-1/2 inches in diameter, with a perch about one inch beneath it. Depending on the type of cage you have, the box can be attached to a special opening that the cage has for this purpose, or if the cage is large enough, you can actually put the box in the cage. Make sure you do not place the nestbox either too high or too low. If it's too high, the babies could fall out and be killed; if it's too low, the female will not want to brood in it. Be certain that you have easy access to the fliptop opening of the box to clean it occasionally and to check on the babies. If you put the nestbox in the cage, make sure that there is still more than enough room in the cage for the breeding pair to move around.
Nesting material is unnecessary, as the female uses the feathers that she loses when she sets to partially insulate and protect the eggs from breaking. Seed and water must be readily accessible to both the female and to the male; the male takes on the task of feeding the female when she stays in the nestbox.
When the female is actually ready to mate, she picks up her head and lifts her tail. The male will then try to mount her, climbing on her back and leaning over her side, holding on by one of his wings and spreading the other one out for balance. If the coupling is successful, the female should lay a day or two after this. She will lay an egg approximately every day or two until she has a clutch of about three to five eggs, which may or may not all hatch. The eggs should begin hatching after about 18 days, in the order that they were laid. The female will hatch her eggs every other day if they are all fertile. You should try not to disturb the box or the female too much, as it will make her very angry and may cause her to abandon the nest. Try to only handle the box when cleaning it. With birds that are not too wild, you shouldn't have to worry about the female abandoning the nest, but take care--birds' instincts take over when they start setting and 'keets tend to be very protective of their eggs. With a little luck and a little patience, you should soon have an extended family. Newborn parakeets are nidiculous (nest-reared), naked and with eyes sealed shut when they hatch. They grow very quickly, though, and are ready to leave the nest as early as four weeks of age.
Parakeets are nearly hassle-free to care for. All they require are fresh seed and water every day, a clean cage (cleaned about every other day), and lots of love and attention. To keep the cage clean, you will need to line the bottom of it with one of the following: brown paper bag (printed side down), paper towels (preferably of the undecorated variety), gravel paper (which the birds will quickly chew up and shred), or a thin to medium layer of gravel, which has to be changed at least every other day, preferably daily.
It's best to have at least two birds, since once bird by itself can get lonely, especially if you are not home during the day. Having two birds prevents parakeets from getting lonely and depressed, though if you only have one bird, sufficient toys can keep this from happening. If you have to leave your bird home alone for more than one day, either leave it with a trusted, cat-free friend or neighbor, or have someone check on it and take care of it every day.
Make sure you talk to your 'keet, and play music often, but not too loudly. Most parakeets aren't too picky about what kind of music you play. Music in general promotes good mood and good health, which will make both you and your parakeet happy.
Finally, don't forget to spoil your 'keet whenever you can. It will return the love and affection you give it, and will quickly win its way into your heart and become a member of the family.
Antoinette Templet is a freelance writer and parakeet breeder who resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.