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Parakeets 101

Martha Stewart Living Television

With some care, attention, and training, parakeets can make wonderful pets whose company you can enjoy for up to 15 years. According to pet expert Marc Morrone, there are just a few basic guidelines you should follow when selecting and caring for a parakeet.

The optimal time to get a parakeet is at about 6 weeks of age. At that point, the bird should have its wings trimmed, which will keep it from flying and force it to perch on your finger when removed from its cage. To trim a parakeet's wings, stretch the wing out gently, and use scissors to clip off the feathers in a straight line halfway up from the bottom of the wing. Be sure to cut parallel with the wing. Repeating this process will teach the parakeet that you can be trusted; if the wings are left intact, it will fly away each time it leaves the cage.

Parakeets can also be taught to move from their perch to your finger or from finger to finger on command. While the bird rests on one of your fingers or the perch, gently push up against the parakeet's chest with another finger; it will soon learn to step onto the pushing finger. By repeating the command "Step up," the parakeet will eventually be trained to reposition itself when it hears the cue. Repetition is the key for training a parakeet, especially when it comes to teaching it how to talk. Choose the word you want the parakeet to repeat, and hold the bird close to your face while repeating the word. You'll need to do this twice a day, for 15 minutes each time. Keep in mind that some parakeets refuse to speak.

Provide your parakeet with the largest cage possible as well as a grill on the bottom to separate it from its droppings. It will also need a concrete perch, a cuttlebone, additional perches, and a few toys. Diet is probably the most important consideration in your bird's health; Marc suggests a mix made from equal parts seeds and pellets, with supplements of spray millet and leafy greens. An occasional treat of table food is okay, too: One rule of thumb is that if it's good for you, it's good for the parakeet. A clean water source is also essential. More parakeets get sick and die from ingesting bacteria in dirty water than any other cause. You'll need to wash out your bird's drinking container daily with soap and water, refill it, and add a vitamin supplement. You should also mist the bird with warm water each day to keep its feathers clean and attractive.

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