How a Lonely Little Understimulated Budgie is Learning to be a Bird
As many of our loyal Sunday Brunch readers know, Kiwi is a beautiful little yellow and chartreuse budgie who needed a good home and found me through Craigslist. My first parrot — yes budgies are small parrots — was a normal green female budgie named Sydney and since falling in love with her and spending every day of her 11 year life with her, I’ve always loved these tenacious little parrots. I even bred them for a while when I lived on the mainland where an outdoor aviary was practical.
I wanted another budgie but was unable to locate a breeder in the area so that I could get a baby that was young enough to be either already tame or easy to tamed. Basically, parent reared budgies that are handled daily by humans become perfectly tame pets whereas parent reared budgies who have little social contact growing up and after weaning are left to themselves in cages with other budgies are sometimes quite difficult to tame without a lot of time and patience, seldom becoming as sweet and totally trusting as socialized babies without a large investment of time and tons of patience. I was at a busy point in my life and wanted to bond with a budgie but with a reasonably short training period.
One day while browsing Craigslist was a photo of this gorgeous little bird and a message that he needed a good home because the teens he lived with were leaving for college. I called and explained about my knowledge and experience with budgies and asked if the little guy were still available. I was told that he was; in fact I appeared to be the first serious caller. I expressed surprise and then the lady asked me a strange question: “If you are selected to take him, what do you plan to do with him?”
Now I was a bit confused. I understood why she would want to know what type of home he would be living in but I had already explained why I would be a responsible budgie owner. Yet the very direct inquiry regarding what was I going to do with him I felt was a strange thing to ask. I quickly understood once the lady explained to me that she had been called by several people who wanted to feed the bird to their large snakes. I was TOTALLY APPALLED!! How horrible!
She then went on to tell me that numerous people had called asking for the bird and when asked about his future learned that they only wanted to sell him to another home from pure simple greed. Money isn’t the root of all evil but the love of money is that root. I could not believe how people were willing to prey upon this lovely little life in horrible or greedy ways. How very sadly this speaks of human beings. Thankfully, the Windy City Parrot team and you, our loyal readers and customers, are not among these mean, greedy people but truly feel compassion, love and a desire to provide the best for the feathered lives over which we have taken responsibility.
I assured her that he would have a safe and happy home shared with another parrot, Mango but would be kept safe and secure. He would not be food for any creature and would not be used for profit. I explained I really had no intention of even breeding him unless he clearly showed me that he had a strong desire for a girlfriend and a single clutch (group of eggs) as a family. Because of the number of unwanted parrots already in this country I didn’t want to potentially contribute to the problem of unwanted parrots by breeding more unless I knew in advance that all babies had good, loving homes waiting anxiously before mating occurred. She told me that she would be glad to let me have Kiwi.
I then asked about his background. I learned he had been obtained from a breeder as a pet for her twin high school sophomores. I was told he was tame, would step up on command, ate some human foods and was a very happy budgie. The kids had now completed high school and were going away to college in another area and would be living in dorms where pets were not permitted. I asked if Kiwi would have his own cage provided with him and was assured I would receive his regular cage when he was delivered.
Avian Science Lesson:
Many people do not think budgies are parrots at all and others believe finches and canaries are parrots. Let’s learn exactly what a parrot really is in order to fully understand why Kiwi is a parrot, albeit a small one.
Parrots have hooked upper bills designed for cracking seed, but their feet are a dead give away. All parrots have feet with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward, designed for grasping perches and holding food while opening seed, using the foot as a hand.
Non-parrots such as soft-billed finches and canaries as well as birds of prey all have feet with three toes pointing forward and one toe pointing backward. While still effective for perching, their feet are also better designed for walking and not so much for grasping food much like a hand.
Other birds such as ducks and water birds have webbed feet where all the toes point forward and are attached by webbing to improve swimming ability and walking on wet, marshy swampland. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and interesting examples of webbed feet belong to the Blue Footed Booby (gee, I wonder how they ever thought of that name for this species).
End of today’s avian science lesson.
Because the people lived nearly an hour away in the far northern end of our long, thin county, they were planning to be just a few miles from where I lived and would call me to meet them in a close by public plaza for transfer of the budgie. I agreed and when the time arrived, my friend and I drove to meet Kiwi and his soon-to-be former humans. The lady I had spoken to on the phone turned out to be the mother and her twin teens were with her. I asked them questions about Kiwi and was told a slightly different story. They said he’d step up once in a great while, didn’t really like people, human food, fruits or vegetables, only pizza crust and seed.
The beautiful little parakeet was in a very small cage, about 10 inches square. There was a single toy hanging from the center of the cage, two plastic perches, a seed dish and a water dish. There was also a mirror hanging on the side bars of the cage. I asked about his larger cage only to learn there wasn’t one at all. The bird was just over two years old.
I took Kiwi home and allowed him some quiet time to adjust from the travel stress and strangeness of a new place. I fed him fresh seed and water, gave him a small piece of millet which he went nuts for right away, possibly never having had any before.
I have a large, very nice cage available for him but Kiwi was terrified of it. I soon concluded that he had never (or rarely) been offered the chance to get outside this little 10 inch square prison. He was addicted to the bird in the mirror, the only love and companionship he’d know, at least so it appeared.
The beautiful little budgie was silent. Silent budgies are a concern because they love to sing and twitter all day or at least a few hours of the day, often singing themselves to sleep or even twittering in their sleep.
After a few days of fear, Kiwi noticed the sun conure that was coming and going into and out of his cage at will when anyone was home — almost all the time since I work from home. He watched this larger bird closely but still didn’t make a move or any real noise. Mango did not try to go too near Kiwi, as if he understood the emotional upheaval of being offered the choice to exit his cage if desired.
It was a full two weeks before Kiwi came to the door of his cage and looked out of it. He didn’t yet dare step over the threshold, but at least he was coming closer. When Mango got his fresh fruits and veggies, Kiwi got a share also of tiny pieces chopped to the smaller size he could manage. But he would not touch them.
After a few weeks, Kiwi finally took that huge first step — the one out the door of his cage and onto the top of his larger but too-scary cage. He began to walk about the tops of the two cages (his and Mango’s) and explore a little bit. At first it was only for a minute or two per day before he’d run back to safety, but as the days passed his ventures took him out longer and longer each visit out.
Kiwi even began to walk closer to Mango. Don’t get me wrong; he didn’t approach him but he did come closer to him as if testing the waters of a possible friendship. Mango didn’t back off but he did not agress toward Kiwi either, seeming to accept the new neighbor just fine.
The first time Kiwi tasted fruit, Mango had grabbed a rather large bite of apple in his beak and was munching on the end inside his beak. Kiwi bravely walked up and took a bite from the other end of the same piece of apple! What a brave little bird to take such a huge step forward. Plus, Kiwi clearly liked the apple and began experimenting with the non-seed food choices placed in his own food dish. Larger items, such as a piece of vegetable corkscrew pasta, he still likes to eat from one end while Mango eats the other.
One day Mango got into his bath, an oval repurposed part from a vegetable / rice steamer that isn’t too deep for him. Kiwi watched interestedly. He wasn’t brave enough to attempt the large bowl, even though I had mounted a wooden perch into it in such a way that Kiwi would never have any difficulty walking up the oak branch and getting out of the bath, but so far he has only decided that Mango’s water dish is safe enough to bathe in.
Kiwi became happy enough that he began to whistle, twitter and sing. He even agreed a few times to step up onto a human hand. He moved into Mango’s cage so I added tons of new toys in smaller sizes in addition to those appropriately sized for Mango. Kiwi chooses to use some of the large toys and many of the smaller ones. Mango does the same thing, both of them sharing everything.
to protect the identities of Kiwi and Mango
we hired actors to show how loving the relationship has become
At last, I decided that Kiwi’s need for the mirror friend he’s used as a crutch to feel less lonely for his time stuck in the tiny cage had passed and removed the mirror. For the first day he sadly searched for it, but then completely accepted that little bird that looked like him had left and became even closer to Mango.
Mango sleeps in a Snuggle Hut inside his cage. Kiwi has now taken up the guard position just outside Mango’s entrance door; I suppose he wants to be sure nothing happens to his new friend. Just a couple of days ago, Mango was sitting on his Manzanita perch which is rather short. Kiwi proudly walked up and sat on the outside edge of the same perch. He didn’t exactly snuggle up next to Mango, but there was only an inch or two between their chest feathers and both appeared to be perfectly happy.
It does appear that Mango, the sun conure who has ancestors that long generations ago were taken from the rain forests in Brazil or the jungles nearby can enjoy being friends with the little yellow and green pied budgie whose ancestry hails from the Land of Oz, Down Under.
I believe that at last Kiwi has begun to learn to be a parrot, a healthy pretty well adjusted little parrot with a wide choice of foods to enjoy, toys to play with, songs to compose and sing and a lot to live for now. I believe Mango enjoys a better quality of life having the companionship of his little yellow and green Ozzie friend who whistles, sings, chatters, and I have even heard him secretly practicing a few sounds that might become words soon.
I am so sorry that Kiwi did not have the best quality of life during the first two years of his life. High school age teens have so much going on in their lives and with no ill intention on the part of the kids, he was simply ignored as they went through two of the most important and fun years of their lives. No longer will Kiwi ever be locked up in a too small, far too boring enclosure that offers nothing to do. He will enjoy chances to learn new things, see new things, have his toys moved around often and new ones added frequently. He can continue to learn from Mango until he is ready to begin to learn one-on-one from humans — a time that could take quite some time yet. Depending on his past treatment, perhaps he will never fully trust the human hand. But he clearly loves human attention, responding when whistled to with similar whistled of his own.
I know that Mango has taught Kiwi a lot. So have Kiwi’s human contacts. While he has a lot left to experience and learn in coming months and years, the joyful sounds he now makes for hours on end tell me that he now loves his little life rather than merely surviving life.
If you have small or medium small birds in your life and you encounter a little budgie or, as they are also called, parakeet in need of a good home, ask a few questions. You may find that you, too, can rescue a precious bundle of fun from a boring jail-like situation. If that happens for you, I do hope you will allow yourself to relax and enjoy watching the blossoming of a shy, ignored little bundle of beautiful feathers blossom into the true flower of life it was intended to be.
I’ll never regret taking Kiwi from his situation and hope he lives a long, long healthy life. I think in his past situation he would have eventually wasted away from simple boredom.
Remember, give your parrot, large or small, the best quality of life you possibly can. You will never regret sharing you life with one of these small birds with their truly huge hearts. Just remember, if you also have larger parrots, you will need to supervise the two species when they are enjoying out of cage time at the same time. Should the larger parrot become annoyed with the smaller one, feathers could fly and a bigger bird is stronger than a little budgie, although budgies are fast moving, one hard bite from a macaw could be a disaster.
The original question posed in the title of this article “Will a Medium Size Parrot from Brazil Adopt to a Small Parrot from Oz, the Land Down Under?” I can now answer with a resounding YES! And YES, Kiwi is learning how to be a bird. I’ll keep you all posted on his progress and his humorous, loving little spirit as it comes out more and more to the delight of so many.
written by nora caterino
approved by mitch rezman
your zygodactyl footnote