Saturday, May 28, 2011


Rosebud, a Rosy Bourke, with Ricky, a Normal male Bourke, in their outdoor flight near Portland, Oregon.
Rosebud and Ricky indoors.
Earlier I posted about letting handfed, tame Rosebud go. Never thought I'd sell her, but without a mate and being chased by her sister who has a mate ... well, it seemed she could be happier, and now I'm sure she is.  Located near Portland, Oregon she even has an outdoor flight, and her new owners were kind enough to send these pictures of her in new home. This outside flight inspired the post on housing birds outdoors.
Sizes and designs for outdoor cages or aviaries can vary widely. From small cages attached to a window from the outside, allowing birds to travel indoors and out, to enormous structures that house many, many birds.

The photo below was taken of me in 1962 at the San Diego Zoo in California. It’s a huge, heavily planted aviary. Walkways wind their way downward and are defined by round wooden handrails, fenced below to keep visitors on the the paths. It housed many large exotic birds, and still does.

As a child, my parents built my first aviary for Budgerigar Parakeets inside a very large garden lathe house. The aviary filled one corner and was 12 feet by 12 feet and seven feet high. It had a sloping tin roof to shed rain and the enclosure on three sides was of chicken wire. One wall was the side of a garden shed and solid.

In Southern California the weather was warm enough year around that no heat source was necessary. Birds could avoid drafts and did very well in that sheltered environment. Although young budgies did slip through the chicken wire occasionally, but they always returned.

Later, when we added Australian and African finches, my father built a long narrow aviary 18 feet long and six feet high, using smaller gauge wire. One half of the aviary had a fully arched, shingled roof and was enclosed with solid walls on three sides. The other half was all wire, including the top. Birds flew freely between the two spaces. In the enclosed half he added an electric light bulb near the ceiling with plenty of perches near it. As these were expensive birds vs. budgies, he wanted to be sure they had a heat source in the winter. They could crowd near the light bulb for warmth.

Low "half" doors on aviaries.
 Doors on all our aviaries were “half” doors. Meaning that they required an adult to bend over to enter. Rather than providing a double door as protection from birds flying out, the half door was all that was required. Birds tend to fly high and the door was low. They also flew away from us when we entered. Double doors, where you enter an area and close the door behind you before opening the actual door into the aviary, are common in zoo’s and offer more protection from avian escapes.

Java Rice Sparrows
However our half doors always provided enough protection. Our only “escapee” was a Java Rice Sparrow that my five-year-old sister was allowed to take to school for show and tell. A classmate opened the carrying cage door and the bird flew out. We lived several blocks from the elementary school, but that afternoon the bird was back inside our aviary. He found his way home and squeezed into the aviary through the chicken wire, which could have allowed his escape at any time. But, like most captive birds, his aviary was his sanctuary and he had no reason to leave it.

Even my indoor birds remain caged when I clean their cages. I leave the large front doors open and go in and out, turn away to retrieve things, and they never leave their home. It’s their security. Birds raised in captivity, which have always been in a cage, are afraid to leave it. Tame birds, on the hand, can’t wait to get out! Ours are used to a daily free flight in the kitchen and living room and take advantage of any other opportunity.

Below are a few aviary examples. May you be blessed with happy, healthy birds.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Some Cats are Great with Birds

"Chama and U-chan are very good friends, but it is a rare case.The relation between the cat and the budgerigar is very dangerous.Please do not do imitation easily!"

The quote above is not mine, but from the cat and bird's owner in Japan. See, some cats will accept and even "like" birds. But, as he says above, be careful! By the way, thank goodness this family was not affected by the devastating earthquate and tsunami in Japan.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bird Leg Deformities

If you missed the comment question at the end of the previous post, here it is with my answer:

“Hi Gail! I am about to get a baby Bourke's - I've had tiels and doves and others (some handicapped) for the last 30+ years, but have never had a Bourke. This baby is special, having a leg apparently splayed to the rear. If I could post a photo, I would... apart from offering flat perches, etc. do you have any advice to offer? Have you ever seen a defect/deformity of this type? The baby does attempt to use the leg/foot."

Answer: I once had a Budgie who lost a leg to a cat. She managed to live out a long life by standing on one leg and did okay. She could fly and land on a perch one-legged. Animals are amazingly adaptable. If your bird seems to fall off perches, then a low perch is wise, or possibly a flat shelf. Bourkes are sweet little birds and yours should make a nice pet in spite of the deformity.

That said, here is another possibility. See the photos sent to me early last year by Debbie in San Diego. This baby Splendid parakeet had a problem that was possibly worse than your Bourke’s. Look at the solution Debbie in San Diego devised. It seemed to work for this baby.

Debbie wrote:
“Scarlet is still doing great. She is now in a big cage and has most of her feathers. She has even made a few attempts at fluttering around. The splint is off. The first two days I wasn’t sure if it had worked. Her legs seemed weak and she sat down often, but after two days she gained strength and now all is good. The various perches in her cage are low and she climbs all over them. I am still feeding her, but she also plays around in the food bowls.”

Perhaps your bird might benefit from something similar, or perhaps it will use the muscles in its leg and over time recover on its own. It sounds as though it may have laid incorrectly in the nest in such a way that it caused the leg to splay outward. Pine shavings help to avoid this. Or, maybe it's something else entirely.

Best of luck with your young Bourke.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Hello All,
Eight home made parakeet nest boxes after a good cleaning.

Dry and ready to bring inside. Installation was the next day.
I retrieved all our nest boxes from the basement where they’d been stored since last year, shook out a few mouse turds (frown) then brought them up to the laundry room and thoroughly cleaned them with warm sudsy liquid dish detergent. 

After a good rinse, they spent the afternoon on the deck drying in the sun, as the photo illustrates. The sun is beginning to drop on the horizon and the nest boxes, now dry, are about to come indoors. The next day we installed them on cages. An inch or two of pine shavings covers the bottom of our boxes. Bourkes and Splendids like pine shavings (don't use cedar).

Budgies need an indented circle in the bottom of an empty box for their eggs. We're not currently raising Budgies, so all these nest boxes are for Bourkes or Scarlet-chested parakeets.

It’s important to keep an eye on your hens when they’re laying. We’d planned a trip to Chicago during the month of May and I didn’t want our hens laying eggs when I wasn’t at home. This resulted in putting the nest boxes up late this year.

Jewel's new box. It sometimes takes a few days
for birds to investigate a recently installed nest box.
Usually the male checks it out first to be sure it's safe.
 Even though I had someone who would come in each day to provide them with fresh water and food, I wanted to be present during breeding season. If anything unusual were to happen, such as egg-binding, I could recognize and respond to the problem and, hopefully, save a hen’s life. It’s also a good idea to check your nestlings daily. If for some reason a chick isn’t being fed, you can pull the chick and save it with hand feeding.

As you know, having a nest box stimulates the bird’s desire to breed and rear young. Without a nest box, they usually won’t attempt to reproduce. However, like every rule, there are exceptions. One year, I had one female lay her eggs in a food cup in early February.  She has since learned to wait for me to put up a box. I think she realizes that if she waits, one will eventually materialize.
This box slides open on the side, rather than from the top.

Last year Cherry, an older Rosy hen who didn’t lay eggs in 2009, surprised us by raising a total of six youngsters in 2010.  And here I thought she was finished. Apparently not. There was no change of cage or mate  … everything was the same as always. I’m curious to see what she does this year.

Another of my older hens — a Normal named Willow — also appeared to have gone into retirement. Although she raised numerous clutches over the years, in 2009 and 2010 she never glanced at the nest box and turned away her younger mate when he tried to feed her. My husband asked why it was necessary to put a box on their cage.

“You never know,” I said. “Look at Cherry who raised young last year after skipping a year. We’ve nothing to lose. We have the box and it only takes minutes to install it.” Of course, those “lost” minutes were his sacrifice, not mine … Smile.
Clyde outside Bonnie's nest box. 

Peeking inside a newly installed box.
This morning, I looked up from my desk, and Willow was in her nest box!  Will she lay eggs? That is yet to be seen. She was an adult bird when I purchased her a number of years ago, and she isn’t banded. So her age is unknown. If hens live a healthy long life, they eventually quit laying.

Some breeders sell off their older, non-productive birds. I don’t do that. If they’ve done well for me, they deserve a pleasant retirement in the home where they’ve become familiar and comfortable.

Peace & Blessings.
May your birds bring you joy. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Erik writes:

I am a regular reader of your bourke blog and have a couple of questions for you about my new bourke that I got yesterday. She is 8 weeks old and has spent most of this day sleeping. Is this a concern? Also her droppings were normal yesterday, but today it has seeds in it - is this  normal? I know this can be a problem in birds, but thought maybe she is  just a bit stressed and it will clear up in a day or two. She is eating and drinking regularly. I am very concerned at this point. I apologize in advance for asking you these questions, but you are very knowledgable and very experienced. Thank you for your time. Hope to hear from you soon.

Hello Erik,

Thank you for the compliments. I am always happy to share whatever I've learned about raising parakeets and to answer questions.

Young Pipsqueek should be eating
on her own by now, but isn't.
Eight weeks sounds young for a Bourke parakeet to be away from her parents. When birds leave the nest, they are fed for two or more weeks by their parents who help teach them to eat on their own. (Although handfed babies learn on their own with no help as soon as they're old enough).

Did the breeder tell you her hatch date and that's how you determined she's 8 weeks old? Or, has she been out of the nest 8 weeks? Have you witnessed her eating seeds, or attempting to? If she's alone, are there hulls in the seed to prove she's able to hull it on her own? Or, maybe she is reacting to a change in what she's being fed. Is the parakeet seed you are feeding her fresh? Hartz Mountain seed from a grocery store isn't the best place to buy parakeet seed as it may have been on the shelf too long. Also, hopefully, your parakeet seed is more than just white millet and oats.

For now, try offering her other soft foods, pieces of soft wheat bread, soft peas, corn, spinach, kale ... anything that she might like to eat. Nestling food is good if you have it, or can get it in a hurry. It's available online. Also, spray millet is easy for young birds to begin eating.

Don't want one to squirm away while the other is eating.
I suspect she may not be getting enough to eat because she was removed from her parents too soon. That, or the food may not agree with her. Taking birds away from their parents early requires handfeeding with an eye dropper. Exact Handfeeding Formula is what I use. Normally, if you're going to do that, they should be very young, not fully feathered. If she's fluffed up and looks sick, be sure she really is eating and not just pecking around and appearing to eat. Does her crop feel full? If she won't eat any of the soft foods we've suggested, and her crop seems empty, attempting to hand feed can't hurt and might save her ... if, in fact, she was taken away too soon.

But you said she appears to be eating and drinking. If eating is not her problem, and your concern is how much she's sleeping ... remember Bourkes are most active at dawn and dusk. They are early morning birds and sleep a lot during the day. So, maybe she's just exhibiting normal behavior. In the evening when the lights dim, she might become active. Check and see. Also, baby birds sleep more than adult birds, just like we humans.

Rarely a bird will hatch that--for whatever reason--isn't able to adequately feed itself. It is unlikely that this is the case with your bird. When it happens, however, parents will sometimes ruin their own health continuing to feed that youngster long past when it should be eating on its own. After decades of raising countless parakeet varieties, and more Bourkes than I can count, I've had three Bourkes handicapped in that it is rare.  

We're full and sleepy now.
The first one was given away to someone willing to feed it, but it later died. The second, when I realized the father was becoming extremely thin due to feeding his offspring over-long, I removed it and sadly ended up dispatching the bird in a humane fashion rather than let it starve to death (it was not tame). The third bird, I noticed wasn't thriving in the nest and removed it to handfeed. I am still handfeeding this very tame, sweet little "Pipsqueek," a year later. I'm unable to kill her. She does manage to eat some nestling food and picks up the hulls of other birds and runs them through her beak. She only gets an Exact feeding in the morning and usually in the evening now. God willing, maybe she will eat enough on her own someday. I'm not eager to hand feed her for a dozen or more years, smile.

That said, the fact that Pipsqueek has to come out every day for a feeding means that I also let all my other tame birds out at the same time. They get to spend more time with me, and I'm forced to put aside any jobs and allow the birds to bring me joy. So, this bird is really a blessing in disguise.

"Pip" can eat cooked mixed vegetables. Maybe yours will too. A change in diet might be your problem and your solution. Let's hope so.

Young, full-grown Bourke likes snitching samples of the baby's food.
It's fattening though, so not too much!  
Best of Luck! I hope your little one will start to thrive soon.

Peace & Blessings

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


In the next few days I will be replacing nest boxes on my cages. The birds have been fed healthy breeding formulas and they are ready, except for one final detail.
Tame Rainbow won't bite, but he also doesn't hold still.

I took a good look at some of our future fathers and, sure enough, two of them had very long nails, or claws if you prefer that terminology. I prefer calling them nails because it sounds friendlier, less sinister for my feathered companions than claws. Although these two guys had what looked like curved daggers.

Bonnie's mate, Clyde, gets a trim. He bites, hence the washrag.
Domestic caged birds are unable to wear down their nails like wild birds that have to scratch for their food.
A male bird with overly long nails may have difficulty convincing his hen to stand still during the mating process. And, although she must stand still if things are going to connect properly, how can she if his nails are painfully digging into her back? She’s going to squawk and throw him off, ruining any chance of fertilizing her eggs.

Hence, trimming nails when they’re much too long can be a valuable thing when breeding your birds. If you have a very tame, docile bird, it might sit on a perch and let you clip its nails. However, most birds won’t want you handling their feet and you’ll have to restrain them to trim their nails. You definitely don’t want to clip a toe instead of a nail. The bird should recover, but how sad to cause them pain and injury!

Make sure you have the foot held firmly and the toes spread so that you only clip what you want to clip. Some birds squirm more than others. Like us, they exhibit a wide variety of personalities and attitudes. I like using a bathroom washcloth to hold them. They can bite it all they want to and avoid biting me.

Rosy Bourkes have light nails with visible blood vessels
Budgies and Rosy Bourkes have light colored nails that expose the blood vessel within them. You DO NOT want to cut their nails so short that you run into a blood vessel. Better to leave a little nail beyond the dark line running through the nail.

Notice the black nails on a Splendid parakeet.
Lowest nail is already clipped, so no point on it.
With the Scarlet-chested parakeet shown here, his nails are black, so the vessel can’t be seen. I tend to err on the side of caution and am more likely to leave the nail longer than it absolutely needs to be, rather than chance cutting it too close. Doing that will make the nail bleed, and no doubt cause the bird distress you don’t want it to undergo. Sprinkle any wound with cornstarch; it will stop the bleeding and has antiseptic properties.

Remember to reassure your birds with a gentle, sweet voice telling them that you only want to help them. Tone of voice is very important when reassuring your birds. Losing your temper or yelling only upsets them. If you want their cooperation, be gentle, kind and friendly.

Peace & Blessings!