New Year's Bird
January 1, 2012 8:38 PM   Subscribe

I think we found a parakeet in our backyard. What should we do?

I'm pretty sure that this parakeet (it is a parakeet, right?) is an escaped house pet. It flew right down to us while we were gardening in our San Francisco backyard. It readily ate the birdseed we put out for it, didn't seem very scared of people, and was easily caught. It's currently in our living room, with an overturned laundry hamper as a cage while we figure out what to do with it.

We made a trip to the pet store and determined that a cage was too expensive for what will probably be a temporary stay but did buy it some parakeet food, a cuttlefish, some millet, some toys, and a water bottle. We fitted out the hamper with some makeshift perches and it seems pretty content.

Ideally, we'd like to return it to its home. I've posted to the Yahoo group for my neighborhood, on Craigslist, and on Facebook with no responses so far. We'll post fliers around the block tomorrow (how far could it have come?).

In the mean time, how do we care for it? He's been pretty quiet in the cage, sitting on a perch since we brought him inside and I imagine that's because he's tired after being on the run for some time but I hope he's not sick or we're doing something wrong. He's not in any drafts or anything. We know NOTHING about keeping birds as pets.

If no one claims him, I can conceive of us keeping him but we haven't really decided yet. Do we call Animal Care and Control if we need to have someone else care for him? I've checked their website and there aren't any lost birds listed.

We do have a cat who so far is interested but not overly so. Obviously we're watching the cat but at night, I'm not sure what the best thing to do is. Do people really cover bird cages at night with a sheet? Is that just to keep them from being noisy?

Also, our 3-year old has named him Kornseed.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pet parakeet should have a legband. It's the bird version of a dogtag.

No legband? It's your bird now. Kornseed is a kool name.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:48 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a budgerigar! I took care of some of these cute fellas when I was growing up. If he wasn't too scared and you were able to catch him then he most likely is somebody's pet.

It's pretty easy to take care of them - have food in the cage at all times. Put fresh water for him every day. You can try to see if he'll eat some veggies/fruit, but many of these birds don't like to eat veggies/fruits if they're used to eating seeds. Here's a list of foods they are not allowed to eat. You can put some newspapers on the floor of the makeshift cage and don't worry if he starts biting and playing with it, they all do that.

If you can take him out of the cage and play with him for about an hour a day, that would be good too, parrots tend to get bored easily and then depressed (close all your windows/doors!). Also, they can take a few days to get used to new environments and new toys that are put in their cage.

I had an escaped budgerigar once and I never found him again. They can fly far, I mean, they are birds after all.
posted by carmel at 8:54 PM on January 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

As a former parakeet owner myself I can tell you that yes we did cover the cage with a sheet, it seemed to calm the bird and he slept, I can tell you they can not see well at night at all - if they get loose they will fly towards any light that is shining. If you do get to keep it parakeets are quite fun, ours had the run of the house during the day and talked constantly. At night we would tell it to go to bed and it would fly to it's cage and we would shut the door until the morning. They do poop wherever whenever though :-)
posted by sandyp at 8:55 PM on January 1, 2012

Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue looks like a great local resource for learning how to care for your bird or rehoming it if you decide it's not for you.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:56 PM on January 1, 2012

Yep, it's a budgie, and I think a female, based on the photo. (The colour of the nostril area is the guide, but it's not a perfect indicator.) There have been reports of the occasional escapee flocking with the Telegraph Hill parrots, but it's more likely to be a local pet.

Mickaboo is the main Bay Area bird rescue organisation: they'll provide good advice.

Covering the cage is generally meant to protect birds from frights at night. In the meantime, perhaps get her a mirror?
posted by holgate at 8:57 PM on January 1, 2012

Don't let it out during the day with the cat though!
posted by sandyp at 8:58 PM on January 1, 2012

Assuming the flyers don't work out, congratulations on your new budgie. They are very easy animals to keep, and that's coming from someone who really despises pet care. They're also pretty smart and hold the world record for largest bird vocabulary, though they can be pretty difficult to understand--their imitations of human speech often sound like buzzes, whirrs, or guttural sounds.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:59 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could try your local Goodwill store for a bird cage. I see them at mine all the time. Just clean it really well before you put Kornseed in.
posted by Joleta at 9:03 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh she (!) does have a mirror - it's on a little toy ladder we got her. There is newspaper at the bottom of her makeshift cage. Currently, her beak is tucked into her wing - super cute!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:04 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, one thing: poor air quality is a noteworthy danger for budgies. They're really not good pets for smokers or folks with wood stoves or other sources of air pollution in the house.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:06 PM on January 1, 2012

Two other things:

Teflon can be deadly to birds. Here's an article about that. If you cook using teflon, beware that just putting the bird in a different room might not be enough.

If you do decide to keep the bird, getting a second one might be a good idea, so that they can keep each other company. If you decide to get a second budgie, try to get one that is hand fed, so that you can play with them both.
posted by carmel at 9:23 PM on January 1, 2012

And on one leg, too, which is often how they sleep. (I said 'she' because it looks from the photo like a brownish cere, which is associated with females. But if it's more purplish, it could be a young he.)
posted by holgate at 9:27 PM on January 1, 2012

Overheated Teflon (nonstick) pans are toxic to birds. I sometimes used a cover for my birds, especially on the weekend. I had two birds and they start making a lot of noise as soon as it's light. A sheet over their cage let me sleep in on weekends. Birds do need exercise so if you keep it, it needs to be let out of the cage some everyday. There's a good bird vet off Taraval, they can show you how to trim wings.

Kornseed is an excellent name.
posted by shoesietart at 9:32 PM on January 1, 2012

In case you decide that the bird is not for you, and you cannot hand Kornseed over to a rescue, I volunteer with the SFACC on and off and I do know that unlike most city run shelters, they do not euthanize due to space, which means that most animals that come through the shelter, leave in good homes. You can also call them up or go by to talk to them about it as well. My vote is for keeping Kornseed, it seems as if he/she has claimed you for her own.
posted by ruhroh at 9:49 PM on January 1, 2012

Do cover the bird at night; if a noise wakes them and they see movement, they can freak out and slam into the cage walls. Being covered makes them feel safe.

I recommend feeding a pelleted diet instead of seed or millet, if you can't find the owner. Birds love seed and millet, but it is unhealthy for them, makes them fat, and greatly increases their cancer risk.
posted by Nattie at 9:52 PM on January 1, 2012

Also, the bird will feel safest if you can put its enclosure somewhere about waist-high, in a corner. Birds are prey animals so they are constantly scanning their environment for anything that might get the jump on them; being in a corner means there are two fewer sides they have to worry about being approached from. It does not make them feel any more cornered than a cage normally would, since they know they cannot fly through cage walls.

Similarly, most birds do not like to be touched or approached from behind their head, as this is a blind spot. If you're going to pet the bird, let it see your hand from the front so they see it move. Some very trusting birds will not be bothered, but even then you can startle them into biting sometimes.

Try to avoid picking the bird up like, in a fist (for lack of a better description). This freaks them out and leads to behavioral problems. Get the bird to step up on your finger and hope it lets you carry it where you want to put it. Budgies can be difficult about this, though, so you may find yourself having to grab it. Just try not to if possible. It's easier to let them tire themselves out flying for several minutes while you try to get them to cooperate; then they're easier to handle.

Note that budgies are frequently severely inbred because they're bred for color. They can be terrible at flying so if you let the bird out and it just flies into walls, it may be better not to let it out; they can break their necks
posted by Nattie at 10:02 PM on January 1, 2012

Sorry, accidentally hit post!

Finally, make sure your child knows not to be loud with the bird, or shake its cage, or make sudden movements around it; children get excited about birds and just want to play, but these things can really freak the bird out. Encourage them to play with the bird by being slow, gentle, and relatively hushed. If your child can whistle, or sing lullabies, those are good ways to interact. I had a pet budgie when I was five and the bird trusted me greatly and played with me a lot so children can learn to be good with them, but I was a relatively sedate, bookish little girl so it may take more work with a more boisterous child. Encourage them to think of the bird as a little thing to be taken care of, and not so much something to play with like, say, a dog. (You can play with budgies but it's a more delicate distinction; mine walked up and down the stairs of a little two-story dollhouse I had, and climbed on the doll furniture. It was good exercise for the bird, but not what I would have thought of if someone told me to play with the bird to get it exercise; I'd have imagined something more vigorous at that age. This just happened to be what I did at playtime.)
posted by Nattie at 10:09 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a local humane society? call them and let them know you have found a bird, they keep lists of reported lost and found pets, and can often link up finders with lost pet owners. Also, put up flyers in pet stores and vetrinarians. There are also lots of online pet communities that would be happy to help you find the original owners, or give you info on it's care. It would be really nice of you to find it's family - I lost a bird years ago, and it was so heartbreaking, I still feel sad about it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:03 AM on January 2, 2012

This is exactly how my mom found her first parakeet -- on the side of the road. He immediately bit her, and so was named Bitey forevermore. Kornseed is a much better name! Also, definitely cover the "cage" at night, it helps them go to sleep.

I suspect that, barring an illness which will make itself known shortly if any, s/he is probably just tired from all the adventure. Some of my mom's parakeets have been relatively quiet and sedate personality-wise, and just liked to chill out. If s/he is easy to catch when out of the cage, let him or her fly around a little but don't overdo it in case he or she is coming down with something.

You might also want to call any specialist vets in the area -- not all vets handle small birds, and those who do might know about one on the loose.
posted by at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2012

We scooped up a budgie out of our S.F. backyard about a decade ago before the cats could get it. It was quite happy in a cat carrier, same as yours is!

Since a boyfriend had lost his own bird years before when he forgot he'd left a window open, I wanted to make sure this little guy got back home if possible. We put "FOUND" signs up around our block and also dropped off a couple at local pet stores, just in case someone had gone there. That seems to work well for dogs and cats who go missing, too.

We also posted on Craigslist that we'd found the bird, but didn't describe it fully to prevent looky-loos coming to the house. We got a couple of people emailing to ask for a fuller description, but it wasn't their bird.

In the end, we had it for about a week before our local pet store put us in touch someone who dealt with budgie rescue (don't think it was Mickaboo, but might have been), and she took the bird.
posted by vickyverky at 10:04 AM on January 2, 2012

Well as a follow-up, Kornseed (née Wilbur, apparently), went home to her/his family yesterday. I posted fliers around the neighborhood and got a call about 3 hours later from someone who lives about 10 blocks away. Amazingly she says that the bird has been missing for a couple weeks and was one of 3 that escaped through a loose door on a new bird cage.

Thanks for all the tips on making Wilbur's vacation home a hospitable place. We're thinking about getting our own bird now that we've had this experience. Our little girl was sad to see the bird go home but recognized that it needed to see its family and our cat has gone back to being the mild-mannered couch potato that we were accustomed to!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:22 AM on January 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

aww, so glad you found it's home. Losing 3 birds must have been really hard for them, at least they got 1 back. Just as a heads up, if your cat was interested in the bird, it may not be the best idea to get one - cat saliva has bacteria that is really dangerous to birds, and the slightest scratch can lead to a fatal infection. Thanks for taking care of the little dude, though, I can only hope that my lost bird found it's way to people like you.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:51 AM on January 8, 2012

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