A local pet store has a sign up that says
Parakeets will make your dreams come true!
This may be a justified claim, under certain circumstances. For instance, if you’ve ever had a dream about giant Marshmallow Peeps coming to life and pecking you in revenge, a parakeet can certainly make that dream come true. More appealingly, though, if you’ve ever wanted to be like Saint Francis of Assisi, that’s a dream parakeets have the power to help you with. Or you could be like Uncle Remus with a blue bird on his shoulder.
The bird has proven to be a somewhat expensive dream come true, however. A budgerigar is about $20 in the stores, but if you buy a baby budgie from a small breeder like we did, it’s a little more expensive. You also likely have to follow the buddy-up procedure. But that’s just the start.
Next there’s the cage. We got about the largest we could find with parakeet-size bar spacing, solid metal. I forget how much we paid, but cages run about $60-100.
Then you need perches and toys. Since budgerigars are miniature parrots, they need mental stimulation: brightly colored toys they can climb on, objects they can peck and pull at, bells, and so on. Plain wood perches like the dowel that comes with the cage are bad for bird feet, so natural wood perches are a good idea, and those can be surprisingly expensive for a product that literally grows on trees.
(We also got a fluffy bed, which he snuggles into when he’s feeling chilly. The first morning after we put it in the cage he had ‘bed head’ when he got up, which was hilarious. Also, when I go to cover the cage, sometimes I get to see him shuffle over into bed. Very cute.)
Then there was the initial vet checkup. We did it to be on the safe side, and so that the vet would have some baseline info on the bird. Then things got expensive, as we had to replace all our cookware.
The problem is, Teflon (PTFE) non-stick coating gives off toxic fumes when heated, assorted fluoride compounds. While the fumes are arguably safe to humans at the levels emitted during regular cooking, they are apparently much more deadly to birds. Opinion seems to be mixed as to exactly how deadly, and to make matters worse, there’s no warning–humans can’t smell the gas, so one minute you’re making an omelette, the next minute you’re equipped to take part in Monty Python’s most famous sketch.
We decided we had to play it safe. So, we replaced all our pans with stainless steel. New saucepans, new frying pans, new wok, new crepe pan, new baking sheets.
So overall, the actual price of the bird is a tiny fraction of the cost of getting a budgie, 10% at most. It still seems a bit odd, really, that the bird is so cheap when the actual investment required (in time and money) is so significant. With other pets, like a dog or cat, you at least have to come up with a chunk of cash for the animal. Hence the regret seen regularly on budgie forums, that people buy them because they look cute and are cheap, not understanding what they’re getting into.
We were at an outdoor street fair the other week. Someone was selling budgies, giving away a free cage with each bird. Needless to say, the cages weren’t really large enough to be a parakeet’s primary cage. It made me angry, but what can you do? I have to remind myself that millions of small birds die every day, of hunger or predation or illness. I can only make sure our bird is well looked after.