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Grooming Your Parakeet

Your parakeet must be able to bathe regularly, and he will need to have his nails and flight feathers trimmed periodically to ensure his safety.
Although some people would say a parakeet’s beak also needs trimming, I believe a healthy bird who has enough chew toys seems to do a remarkable job of keeping his beak trimmed all on his own. If your parakeet’s beak becomes overgrown, though, please consult your avian veterinarian. A parrot’s beak contains a surprising number of blood vessels, so beak trimming is best left to the experts. Also, a suddenly overgrown beak may indicate that your bird is suffering from liver damage, a virus, or scaly mites, all of which require veterinary care.
Grooming Your Parakeet
Grooming Your Parakeet

Preening:

Preening is one of your parakeet’s ways of keeping himself well groomed. You will notice him ruffling and straightening his feathers each day. He will also take oil from the gland at the base of his tail and spread it on the rest of his feathers, so don’t be concerned if you see your parakeet apparently pecking or biting at his tail. Preening, combined with your assistance in bathing and nail and wing clipping, will keep your parakeet in top shape.

Bathing:

You can bathe your parakeet in a variety of ways. You can mist him lightly with a clean spray bottle filled with warm water (and only warm water), or you can allow him to bathe in the kitchen or bathroom sink under a slow stream of water. Many parakeets prefer to bathe in their cages, either in a small, flat saucer of warm water, a plastic parakeet bathtub, or an enclosed birdbath that you can buy in your local pet supply store. Bathing is important to birds to help them keep their feathers clean and healthy, so don’t deny your pet the chance to bathe! Some parakeets combine bathing with mealtime by rolling around in damp, fresh greens provided by their owners. Offer your parakeet an opportunity to do this by providing the tops from beets or carrots or a leaf of lettuce (not iceberg, please—it doesn’t contain any nutrients) for him to play with. He will bathe indirectly as the water from the greens falls onto his feathers. Unless your parakeet has gotten himself into oil, paint, wax, or some other substance that plain water alone won’t remove and that could harm his feathers, he will not require soap as part of his bath. Under routine conditions, soaps and detergents can damage a bird’s feathers by removing beneficial oils, so hold the shampoo during your parakeet’s normal cleanup. Let your bird bathe early in the day so his feathers have an opportunity to dry completely during the day. In cooler weather, you may want to help the process along by drying your parakeet off with a blow dryer to prevent him from becoming chilled after his bath. To do this, set the blow dryer on low and keep it moving so that your bird doesn’t become overheated.  Your parakeet may soon learn that drying off is the most enjoyable part of his bath!

Nail Clipping:
Parakeets and other parrots need their nails clipped occasionally to keep the nails from catching on toys or perches and injuring themselves. Trimming your parakeet’s nails is a fairly simple procedure. Unlike some of the larger parrots, a parakeet’s nails are light in color, which makes it easier for you to see where the nail stops and the blood supply (called the quick) begins. In parakeets, the quick is generally seen as a pink line or area inside the nail.
 You need to remove only tiny portions of the nail to keep your parakeet’s claws trimmed. Generally, a good guideline is to remove only the hook on each nail and to do this in the smallest increments possible. Stop well before you reach the quick. If you do happen to cut the nail short enough to make it bleed, apply cornstarch or flour, followed by direct pressure, to stop the bleeding.

Wing Clipping:

The goal of a proper wing trim is to prevent your pet from flying away or flying into a window, mirror, or wall while he’s out of his cage. An added benefit is that his inability to fly well will make him more dependent on you for transportation, which should make him easier to handle. However, the bird still needs enough wing feathers so that he can glide safely to the ground if he is startled and takes flight from his cage top or playgym. Because this is a delicate procedure, I strongly recommend that you enlist the help of your avian veterinarian, at least the first time, so you are clear about what to do and how to do it. Wing trimming is a task that must be performed carefully to avoid injuring your pet, so take your time if you’re doing it yourself. Please do not just take up the largest pair of kitchen shears you own and start snipping away, because I have had avian veterinarians tell me about parakeets whose owners cut off their birds’ wing tips (down to the bone) in this manner.
 You’ll find step-by-step instructions on how to trim your bird’s wings on quote in down. I encourage you to groom your pet in a quiet, well-lit place because grooming excites some birds and causes them to become wiggly. Having good light to work under will make your job easier, and having a quiet work area may calm down your pet and make him a bit easier to handle.

Wing Clipping Step by Step
The first step in trimming your parakeet’s wing feathers is to assemble all the things you will need and find a quiet, well-lit place to groom your pet before you catch and trim him. Your grooming tools will include:
* Washcloth or small towel to wrap your parakeet in
* Small, sharp scissors to do the actual trimming
* Needle-nosed pliers (to pull out any blood feathers you may cut accidentally)
* Flour or cornstarch (not styptic powder) to stop the bleeding in case a blood feather is cut
* Nail trimmers (while you have your bird wrapped in the towel, you might as well do his nails, too) Once you’ve assembled your supplies and found a quiet grooming location, drape the towel over your hand and catch your parakeet with your toweled hand. Gently grab your bird by the back of his head and neck (never compress the chest) and wrap him in the towel—firmly enough to hold him but not too tight! Hold your bird’s head securely through the towel with your thumb and index finger. (Having the bird’s head covered by the towel will calm him and will give him something to chew on while you clip his wings.) Lay the bird on his back, being careful not to constrict or compress his chest (remember, birds have no diaphragms to help them breathe), and spread his wing out carefully. You will see an upper row of short feathers, called the covert feathers, and a lower row of long feathers, which are the flight feathers. Look for new flight feathers that are still growing in, also called blood feathers. These can be identified by their waxy, tight look (new feathers in their feather sheaths resemble the end of a shoelace) and their dark centers or quills—the dark color is caused by the blood supply to the new feather. Never trim a blood feather. If your bird has a number of blood feathers, you may want to put off trimming his wings for a few days, because older, fully grown feathers act as a cushion to protect those just coming in from life’s hard knocks. If your bird has only one or two blood feathers, you can trim the full-grown feathers accordingly.
To trim your bird’s feathers, separate each one away from the other flight feathers and cut it individually (remember, the goal is to have a well-trimmed bird who is still able to glide a bit if he needs to). Start from the tip of the wing when you trim, and clip just five to eight feathers in. Use the primary covert feathers (the set of feathers above the primary flight feathers) as a guideline as to how short you should trim—trim the flight feathers so they are just a tiny bit longer than the coverts. Be sure to trim an equal number of feathers from each wing. Although some people think that a bird needs only one trimmed wing, this is incorrect and could actually harm a bird who tries to fly with one trimmed and one untrimmed wing. Think of how off balance that would make you feel your parakeet is no different.
Now that you’ve successfully trimmed your bird’s wing feathers, congratulate yourself. You’ve just taken a great step toward keeping your parakeet safe. Now you must remember to check your parakeet’s wing feathers
and retrim them periodically (about four times a year is a minimum).
Blood Feather First Aid
If you do happen to cut a blood feather, remain calm. You must remove it and stop the bleeding to ensure that your bird doesn’t bleed to death, and panicking will do neither of you any good. To remove a blood feather, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to grasp the broken feather’s shaft as close to the skin of the wing as you can. With one steady motion, pull the feather out completely. After you’ve removed the feather, put a pinch of flour or cornstarch on the feather follicle (the spot where you pulled out the feather) and apply direct pressure for a few minutes until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after a few minutes of direct pressure, or if you can’t remove the feather shaft, contact your avian veterinarian immediately for further instructions. Although it may seem like you’re hurting your parakeet by removing the broken blood feather, consider this: A broken blood feather is like an open faucet. If left in, the faucet stays open and lets the blood out. Once removed, the bird’s skin generally closes up behind the feather shaft and shuts off the faucet.

Molting:

At least once a year, your parakeet will lose his feathers. Don’t be alarmed, because this is a normal process called molting. I say "at least once" because many pet birds seem to be in a perpetual molt, with feathers falling out and coming in throughout the summer.
 You can consider your bird to be in molting season when you see a lot of whole feathers in the bottom of the cage and you notice that your bird seems to have broken out in a rash of stubbly little aglets (those plastic tips on the ends of your shoelaces). These are the feather sheaths that help new pinfeathers break through the skin, and they are made of keratin (the same material that makes up our fingernails). The sheaths help protect growing feathers from damage until the feathers complete their growth cycle.
 You may notice that your parakeet is a little more irritable during the molt, this is to be expected. Think about how you would feel if you had all these itchy new feathers coming in all of a sudden. However, your bird may actively seek out more time with you during the molt because an owner is handy to have around when a parakeet has an itch on the top of his head that he can’t quite scratch! (Scratch these new feathers gently because some of them may still be growing in and may be sensitive to the touch.)
 Some birds may benefit from special conditioning foods during the molt; check with your avian veterinarian to see if your bird is a candidate for these foods.
Be particularly alert after a molt, because your bird will have a whole new crop of flight feathers that need attention. You’ll be able to tell when your parakeet is due for a trim when he starts becoming bolder in his flying attempts. Right after a wing trim, a parakeet generally tries to fly and finds he’s unsuccessful at the attempt. He will keep trying, though, and may surprise you one day with a fairly good glide from the top of his cage or playgym. If this happens, get the scissors and trim those wings immediately. If you don’t, the section that follows on finding lost birds may have more meaning than you can imagine.

If Your Bird Escapes:

Now that we have covered wing trimming, it’s as good a time as any to discuss the possibility of your bird escaping. One of the most common accidents that befalls bird owners is a fully flighted bird (one without a wing trim) escaping through an open door or window. Just because your bird has never flown before or shown any interest in leaving his cage doesn’t mean that he can’t fly or that he won’t become disoriented once he’s outside. If you don’t believe it can happen, just check the lost and found advertisements in your local newspaper for a week. Chances are many birds will turn up in the lost column, but few are ever found. Why don’t lost birds ever come home? Some fall victim to predatory animals in the wild, while others join flocks of feral, or wild, parrots. (Florida and California are particularly noted for these.) Still other lost birds end up miles away from home because they fly wildly and frantically in any direction. And the people who find them don’t advertise in the same area that the birds were lost in. Finally, some people who find lost birds don’t advertise that they’ve been found because the finders think that whoever was unlucky or uncaring enough to lose the bird in the first place doesn’t deserve to have him back.

How to Catch an Escaped Bird:

If, despite your best efforts, your bird escapes, you must act quickly for the best chance of recovering your pet. Here are some things to keep in mind.
* If possible, keep the bird in sight. This will make chasing him easier.
* Make an audiotape of your bird’s voice (ready for just such an emergency) and play it outside on a portable tape recorder to lure your bird back home.
* Place your bird’s cage in an area where he is likely to see it, such as on a deck or patio. Put lots of treats and food on the floor of the cage to tempt your pet back into his home.
* Use another caged bird to attract your parakeet’s attention.
* Alert your avian veterinarian’s office that your bird has escaped. Also notify the local humane society and other veterinary offices in your area.
* Post fliers in your neighborhood describing your bird. Offer a reward and include your phone number.
* Don’t give up hope.

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