Parakeets and light timers – they are not just for vacations!

Like you’d expect, we bought our set of Programmable Plug-in Digital Timers when we were getting set to go on vacation. But instead of removing them when we got back we left the timers as is, and find them to be an invaluable resource that makes our every day lives easier. Here’s how light timers have practical use every day.

  • We never forget to give Toby and Kelly the full spectrum lighting they need on a daily basis. Toby and Kelly have a AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp (and the Avian Sun bulb that it needs to do any good). When we first got the set Patrick and I would consistently forget to turn them on, or would turn it on and leave it for hours more than they needed per day. With the lights plugged into a timer they get three hours of full spectrum lighting every day, and it’s set from 12 – 3pm, which is a time that they are usually at home in their cages and, if it’s a weekday, typically taking an afternoon snooze. Without the light timers they would never get that consistent dose of full spectrum lighting.
  • Bed time routine. Kelly is super easy to get into a bed time mode. Somehow she usually knows when it’s 6pm, goes home, and put herself to bed. Toby, on the other hand, would stay up until all hours if she was allowed to. Even after we get her into the cage at night, (usually resorting to target training and millet) she flaps around for a while and generally resists the fact that it’s not party time anymore. To help her settle down we try to provide as many cues as possible that bed time is imminent, and one of those cues is lighting. Before I start tying to put them to bed I close the curtains behind them, then Patrick and I get Toby settled in her cage and shut Kelly in hers. The next step is to turn down their ceiling lamp (on a Dimmer switch). This gives them fair warning that night time is coming, so they have a chance to eat a late dinner and get the last bit of their energy out. Finally the last lamp, which is on a timer, goes off at 7:30pm. At that point they have had a ton of warning that it’s bed time, but I also didn’t have to remember to turn off the last light and think about the time. If it was up to me and I was in the midst of making dinner, or messing around on facebook that light would probably be on way too late, and Toby would definitely take advantage!

Basically anything I can do to automate a process is awesome! If I didn’t already have it sorted I would buy another set of timers and try to put a radio on them or a the television so the birds would have company during the day.  As it is we have the Amazon Echo for their entertainment, and that’s probably a whole post all of it’s own!

The only negative I do want to note about this set of Digital Timers is that it covers up both outlets when plugged in, so you can’t use the other outlet for even a nightlight or to plug in your vacuum etc.  They can also be a bit confusing to set, but once you’ve got it taken care of they are very reliable and using light timers definitely takes a few routine tasks off my mental plate.

Parakeets and food silos = less mess?

When we first got Toby’s new cage I was dismayed by the included food bowls, which are plastic trough-like rectangles with a divider for food and water. We’ve always used Stainless Steel Bowls, which I think are very easy to keep clean and I like that they can help reduce slimy buildup in the water dish. I ordered a set of Stainless Steel Bowls with right attachments on the same day that I ordered the cage, but I didn’t realize they would take a few weeks in shipment. I guess delays are somewhat of a theme here lately!

I started off putting Toby’s steel bowls from her old cage on the bottom of the new cage, but she refuses to go down to the bottom and feed. Then I filled the troughs with food, but she could not for the life of her figure out how to access the trough.

Fortunately, a while back I bought a Food Silo on a whim and just never installed it. At the time of purchase I was thinking it might be a good back-up feeder if we were gone for a long day or on vacation. Even with someone coming in every day it couldn’t hurt to have a secondary, protected source of food.

I hastily installed the Food Silo in Toby’s cage so she would have somewhere to eat, and she took to it immediately with great gusto. Moreover, Kelly loved it too and would go hang out in Toby’s cage just to eat the same food that she had out of a different vessel! For my part, it was awesome to be able to fill the Food Silo from outside the cage, instead of opening an access door and risking escapees on busy workday mornings.

Seeing how much Kelly liked Toby’s silo I quickly ordered one for her so they could both experience the joy of the in-home Food Silo .

Here’s where things got messy. Once Toby was totally adjusted to the Food Silo she started entertaining herself by using her beak to shovel all the seed out of the silo tray. She was throwing out 3+ tablespoons of food per day. And she can’t forage through the discarded seed because we can’t take the grate out of her new cage without leaving inch wide gaps at the base. Although she won’t go to the bottom anyway so it’s a total wash.

Kelly is much more responsible with her silo, but Toby comes over when the cages are open and does the same thing in Kelly’s cage! So, they may truly end up being vacation or other exception only.

I have seen tons of reviews about how much mess the silo feeder saves parakeet owners, but that is definitely not the case for us. I had not taken into account how much mess I was saving by using relatively deep stainless steel bowls and only feeding two tablespoons per bowl per day. With that low volume of food it’s not enough for them to kick food out of their bowls, even if they want to sit in the bowl with their food. I’m glad that Toby finally adjusted to her troughs so I can get rid of her silo, although I suppose the experience was quite a lot of fun for her, food silos are too much mess for my household!

The face of a mess-maker!

 

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.

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 🙂