How long can parakeets be left alone – dealing with human absence

Once a person becomes owned by parakeets, whether a single or a flock, it is hard to think about leaving them for any length of time. But, humans frequently have commitments that take them away from home for more than a business day, whether that’s traveling for work, visiting family or even being in the hospital. On the other side of the coin, parakeet owners may still wish to take either short or long trips for pleasure and I think that’s okay. Having any sort of pet doesn’t necessarily mean you should never want to leave your home again!  But, the question is, how long can parakeets be left alone safely?

I don’t think that parakeets should be left alone for more than a weekend, or two nights. There are too many things that can go wrong and even though none of them may have ever happened, you can’t predict the first time your flock will have a night terror. Or when your parakeet is going to get stuck in a toy and need help getting out. Or when they will decide to bathe in the drinking water, or throw all the seed out of a bowl. Even if none of this has ever happened before it could the moment you step out the door for your first weekend away!

That all sounds pretty dire, and sort of conflicting with my belief that having parakeets shouldn’t chain you to your home! The way I live it is that the parakeets are never alone for more than 24 hours, that’s what I’m comfortable with. Anything greater than that and either my mom comes over, or if she’s unavailable the professional pet sitter comes. Having these resources is key, and I highly recommend working out a plan for who can take care of your parakeets before you actually need them! That way in case a medical or other emergency takes you away from home you’re just a phone call or text away from having your parakeets care covered.

There are steps you can take before going away to reduce the likelihood of disaster and assure that your parakeets are almost guaranteed access to food and water. One is to look at your cage with a critical eye, if there are any toys with small crevices, or ropes that a little parakeet foot could get stuck in, swap them out for something else. Also, think about their routine, are they used to having you close curtains for them every night?  Would it be scary for them if the curtains were left open?  If that’s the case, you may wish to keep them closed and use Light Timers to signal morning and evening. In general I think light timers are a good thing to use while on vacation or otherwise to build a routine.

Additionally, your parakeets will almost certainly miss the noise and bustle of the humans in their household – so make sure to leave the tv or radio on, or better yet, get an Amazon Echo .  Using the Amazon Echo I can turn music on for the parakeets when I get up in the morning and turn it off at their bedtime, no matter where I am.  It helps them keep their usual day time rhythm.  If I had a smart home I could also use the Amazon Echo to adjust lighting and even heating and cooling.

A way for you to feel better while you’re away is to invest in a Wireless Security Camera – using the camera with its app on a smart phone you can take a peek at your parakeets either day or night and make sure they are A-Okay.  You can even use the camera’s microphone to talk to your parakeets.

As far as the basic necessities go, make sure to have multiple sources of both food and water, that way if one is compromised they will still have access. We like to provide the following:

          • For both food and water – Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls, these are non-porous (as opposed to plastic) resist staining and are good at reducing the slimy or scummy feeling on the inside of a plastic water bowl. They are also very easy to clean.
          • Silo Bird Feeder – this reduces the likelihood of all of the food being compromised by poop or kicked out of a bowl. Although it probably does not reduce the chances to zero. I would have this in addition to bowl(s) of food.
          • Silo Waterer – just like the silo feeder, this helps ensure a clean source of drinking water that is much less likely to be contaminated.
          • Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz – Either in addition to the silo and bowl of water or instead of the silo. There is a greater risk of mechanical failure with these because the ball can get lodged in the metal tube, meaning it could be full of water without the ability to actually dispense any. These also require fairly frequent cleanings due to slimy buildup, and you have to be very careful to clean thoroughly, which isn’t easy because of the small size.

The first time you leave your parakeets is bound to be nerve-wracking. Once you’ve got your systems in place for feeding and watering, and you feel good about their physical safety it does get easier. Ultimately the question of how long can parakeets be left alone is a very personal one and depends on what you are comfortable with, there aren’t any easy answers!

Using a professional pet sitter for parakeets

Regular readers know that over the winter I researched local pet sitting services, interviewed a sitter and hired her for our summer vacation. I had a great feeling about her at the time, but leading up to our trip I got increasingly anxious about leaving Toby and Kelly with someone totally untested. It didn’t help that I kept seeing horror stories of people leaving their parakeets in the care of close family members and coming back from weeklong trips to find them near death or worse.

I worked myself into a pretty good state over the whole thing. Particularly after all the chaos of them staying at my mom’s for a few days and then having to separate Toby and Kelly into two cages after their bad fight that left Kelly with a bloody foot. I updated the pet sitter that they shouldn’t be out at the same time – to me, this stacked the deck even further against her. How would a woman who had limited experience with birds in the first place handle letting them out one at a time and getting them back into their proper cages?

It got to a point that I think I would have canceled the whole trip if I’d had the foresight to purchase travel insurance! No such coverage existed and off we went, but only after I harassed the pet sitter several times in the week leading up to vacation to confirm all the details. I even made an agreement with a colleague that she would get into my house somehow if I couldn’t verify that the sitter was taking care of the parakeets.

The first day of vacation I checked on the parakeets several times using my Misafes security camera, they were fine all day of course but I only made it until about 4pm before breaking down and asking the pet sitter how it went via text. She related that they had both had some time out of the cage, Kelly was very easy to get back in, and Toby was harder but very sweet and sat on her shoulder.

Huge sigh of relief, the details were precisely what I would have expected from my girls and it made me feel relieved that the pet sitter had actually been there and that the parakeets were being taken well care of, not just having food and water changed and being ignored.

I didn’t text the pet sitter every day after that (just a few more haha), but I did spy her a couple of times on the Misafes security camera. I never watched long because that would seem a bit creepy to me, but every time I saw her she was taking care of the parakeets and seemed totally engaged in what was going on with them.

The trust that she was building with me helped me enjoy the rest of our vacation with only minimal concerns about the parakeets physical and mental well-being, but on the flight home everything started creeping back in. I wondered what condition I would find the cages in, whether the parakeet’s perches would be covered in poop, or if our Bird Cage Liners had been removed every couple of days.

We opened the front door and what I saw absolutely astonished me. Not only were the cages scrupulously clean, as though I had been at home the whole time following my cleaning schedule, but she left a detailed checklist showing what maintenance had been done each day, and the coup de grâce was a short note written every single day with any notable information about how they had behaved and/or particularly adorable moments.

Now, given the choice between the two I would still love to have the pet sitting service my mom typically provides, not only does she spend hours of time at my house waiting for the parakeets to tire out but she’s also an extremely economical choice (read: free). For the times I can’t “hire” my mom, hiring the professional pet sitter was the best decision I ever made and I would strongly encourage anyone to do their research and utilize a professional pet sitting service over leaving the care of your parakeets to neighbors, friends, or in some cases, even relatives.

And, not to be totally grim, but if something had gone terribly wrong it’s much more comfortable to be devastated by something a professional did and be able to file a complaint and never utilize their services again, instead of having to see the person who you blame for the death of your birds every year at Thanksgiving.

Taking the parakeets for a car ride

We had the previously mentioned central air conditioning project happening at our house early this week, so the parakeets made their way over to my mom’s house for a bit of a vacation. It turns out I was way too cavalier about the process of moving them, and it was extremely stressful both for the humans and the parakeets.  It all worked out in the end, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes on this one, especially since the level of stress was exponentially greater than the length of the drive, which was only about 15 minutes!

The plan was to move them in our Small Vision Cage – which I had originally purchased with the intent to get them some time outside this summer. It seemed to me like a good size for both of them to have space to perch and move around, but small enough to comfortably fit in the car.  In the weeks leading up to the outing I introduced them to the Small Vision Cage and had them go into it and play with a favorite toy or enjoy some Millet. But, I didn’t do enough, and I never took them outside. By the time it occurred to me that I should get them used to the outside world it was the day before they had to decamp, and we felt that if they were traumatized by the back yard it would be that much harder to get them into the little cage when we needed to.

I should have devoted much more time to getting them used to the Small Vision Cage. Over a period of weeks I should have shut them in it repeatedly and I should have taken them outside in it.

Instead, the morning of the move came and after giving them loads of time to fly around and (theoretically) tire themselves out we lured them into the Small Vision Cage.  As soon as I shut the door they panicked. Toby went crazy climbing the bars around and around looked for a way out and Kelly immediately started doing the acrobatic tricks she used to when she was in her starter cage (park prevue) which she found way too small for her liking.

I had already packed a bag with their food and water bowl, Night Lights, Millet, and the Lixit Water Bottles rode in the cup holders of our car. As soon as I saw how badly they were taking the Small Vision Cage I realized we needed to get this done quickly. Patrick and I grabbed their main cage and stowed it in the trunk of his car – thank goodness for the surprisingly roomy Honda Fit – and we went back in to grab the budgies.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, we live on an extremely busy street near a highway entrance. The posted speed limit is 40 but night and day we’ve got people flying down the road going much faster. It can be scary even for a human, and the parakeets freaked even more once we got outside. Kelly had the equivalent of a night terror and thrashed back and forth careening around in the little cage and hitting all the walls and Toby in the process.  This, of course, set Toby off and she started flapping around madly as well.  At one point Kelly landed on the bottom of the cage (which I had padded with a towel) and her wing stuck out at such an odd angle I was sure it was broken – although I was wrong.

I made a fast dash to get them in the car where it would at least be quieter and had Patrick run back to the house for any kind of towel I could cover them with. He came out with a dish towel that only covered two sides, but I felt like we ought to just get going and get this over with.

I should have had a properly-sized cover ready and should never have taken them out of the house for the first time on the busy side with the cage uncovered.

The car ride was a total nightmare. Kelly alternately flew around like a crazy lady or tried to bite Toby. Toby at first was okay perching but kept getting displaced by Kelly and ended up clinging to the cage bars staring at me like I had betrayed her in the worst possible way!

Arriving at my mom’s house we hustled them in and put their main cage in the house as quickly as possible. Letting them out of the little cage we ascertained almost immediately that although they were shaken they were not at all injured as I had feared. Patrick and I spent about an hour with them making sure they were calm and settled in – I do think that having their regular cage made them feel immediately at home. They wanted to take a nap after they calmed down, so after we knew they were comfortable and not freaking out any more we left them to rest.

Over the next few days I’m pretty sure they had an amazing vacation, like a human kid who’s goes to grandma’s they got loads of attention and flight time and had a great time checking out a new environment. My mom’s guest room has windows onto her beautiful yard and bird feeders, Toby and Kelly spent hours watching the birds and I think they may have picked up a couple of new sounds too!

At our house it was way too quiet and very sad!  I even missed cleaning up after their mess, and especially in the mornings it was a bit bleak not having them there to wake up and start the day with.

Soon enough it was time to bring them home, and this we did with a couple of modifications that made it a lot easier, but still not at all fun!

We decided to split them up, Toby would ride home in the Small Vision Cage since she tolerated it better, and Kelly would ride in the Kaytee Travel Carrier she originally came home in, but completely covered with a (clean) dish towel.

Getting Toby into the Small Vision Cage was extremely easy.  She is so darn sweet it slays me, and she was not remotely suspicious when we lured her in with some Millet.  She took being closed in a lot better this time around, probably because she didn’t have Kelly amplifying her fear.

Kelly  refused to go in the Kaytee Travel Carrier. When we arrived at my mom’s we had joked that Kelly would be easy to stow because she could easily be grabbed. Well, Kelly took that memo and decided to take a stand. We tried holding her, perching her on our hands, luring her with Millet and she wanted nothing to do with any of it.

We ended up putting a huge spray of Millet in the Kaytee Travel Carrier and then stood there with our eyes closed for about 5 minutes pretending we were asleep until she relaxed enough to go in after the millet. Finally we were able to close her in and get the show on the road.

Kelly did a million times better being fully covered and didn’t panic or cause any harm to herself at all. I think being in the smaller cage and being covered helped her feel secure, she made little singing noises almost the whole way home and seemed very content.

Toby did fantastically well solo in the Small Vision Cage with just the front covered. At time she seemed anxious but she never panicked and I think being able to see and interact with me helped her stay calm.

I should have put consideration the first time around into their personalities and I should NEVER have kept them in the same cage for travel in light of the fact that they are both territorial females who would naturally attacked each other when they were under duress.  

Arriving home we set them back up as quickly as possible and let them out. We were all joyous at their home-coming; they flew back and forth from human perches to window perches and let us know they were very happy to be home.

The next morning Toby greeted me with a song before I was even in eye-line of their cage and was so excited to see me she escaped when I took out their water bowl for a refresh 🙂 we were happy to have them come out and say hello again even though it’s not part of our normal routine.

I can’t believe we have to leave them again in just a few days for vacation, and I’m increasingly nervous about the pet sitter, even though I’m sure she will be great. But, I’m so glad to have this behind us – and hopefully it will be a long time before the parakeets have to take a vacation from our home again!

The parakeet instruction sheet I left for my mom when we went on vacation

–  The mail is on a hold until X/X so it might be delivered that day or Saturday, but before that you don’t have to check the box every day
– Plants will have been watered so they will be fine on their own
– Dehumidifier is running right into the basement sink & does not need to be emptied
– Garbage does not have to go out to the street

– I’m going to leave the little living room light on (the one on the wall), just leave that on the whole time, we have been lately because they have had a couple of fights in the middle of the night and they need light so they don’t freak out.

– Their curtains (dining room) we will just leave open, the front ones we’ll leave mostly shut to minimize heating the house. The dining room light we will leave off. They can just have a daylight sort of day 

– The bowl water please refresh with filtered tap daily.

– Food –wise, they get one tablespoon of the pellets and two tablespoons of seed in each bowl. I usually stir it around in the hopes they will accidentally eat pellets. Every day just throw out what’s left from the day prior and start fresh.

– When you let them out you can move the play gym over so it’s on the hardwood floor still but near the big cage, that way Kelly can jump over by herself. She will try to fly to the perch by the sink window and she can’t make that, so please keep a close eye on her and when she needs help just hold your finger about 5 inches above the floor and say step up, she should jump up and then I usually hold her near whatever I think she was trying to get to and see if that’s what he wanted.

– Kelly WILL definitely bite you, especially if you try to move her from someplace she doesn’t want to leave. She bites harder than Toby but doesn’t break the skin. If she does bite hard and you can avoid yelping, we are trying to just say “no” and remind her to be gentle, but don’t retreat.

– The tray system under the cage is heavier than it looks. You have to take off the security flap and set it aside – then be sure to use both hands to slide out the tray with the paper liners and set it on the floor. Unfortunately you can’t just pull it most of the way out, in my experience. I’ve been removing the top sheets and discarding every day, but it could go a couple of days without being removed, I’m sure.

– If the birds are out and you don’t mind doing it, I usually take a damp paper towel and try to wipe down any perches with poop on them every day, especially where Toby sleeps on the brown wood perch her poops pile up every night. But also the other perches and toys, and every few days I wipe down the grate at the bottom because they walk around down there sometimes. If you try doing that while Toby is in the cage she’s definitely going to get territorial and attack your hand and/or the paper towel but it’s doesn’t hurt it’s just annoying.

– There’s a stick vacuum in the little blue room for doing under/around the cage. It’s not cordless but it stretches far enough. You don’t have to vacuum every day but every few would be good, I mean obviously you can use your discretion, it gets pretty gross.

– Millet as much as you want. Kelly only sort of gets it, she likes millet when she’s in the cage but doesn’t seem to care when he’s out.

– Toby still likes to have her head scritched or to scritch herself against your pinkly if you put it through the cage bars but you have to watch out for Kelly, she doesn’t quite understand it and will push Toby out of the way to bite your finger. She’s not aggressive about it, I’m pretty sure he thinks that is what Toby is doing and she’s just mimicking.

That looks like a lot, but it really only takes about 15 minutes a day 🙂