Leaving the parakeets for vacation

Coming up soon we are going on our first vacation since getting the parakeets. It’s a cruise, and neither of us has been on one before. Usually at this point pre-vacation I would be bouncing off the walls with excitement and pretty much packed already but I am dragging my feet because I’m sad and nervous about leaving the “babies” behind.

I’ve seen a few alarming Yahoo questions where people ask things like “I’m going away for a week, can I just leave my parakeet extra food?” and thankfully responders always tell them that is a horrible idea. Not only could the parakeet somehow ruin his water/food and die waiting for you to come back, but how sad would that be for the poor parakeet(s) sitting alone waiting for you to come home?

We’re very lucky that my mom can come by every day and refresh their water bowl (even though they also have their Lixit Bird Waterer – 5 oz) and food and she even feels comfortable letting them out of their cage and hanging out until they are ready to go home, so they won’t miss out on too much free time. She absolutely loves animals and has a natural ability to get along with them, which is a major bonus for us! If my mom wasn’t available, or we were traveling together, I would hire a professional pet sitter with avian experience to come very day. I have a line on someone already and we’re doing a consult this fall, I definitely want to have a back up plan in place.

One of the things we have done while away on overnight trips is set up lights on vacation timers, I don’t like the idea of plunging the birds randomly into darkness, even though we do have a bunch of night lights, but in winter I don’t think they would appreciate going to sleep at 4:45pm when the sun goes down. Going away in summer I’ll just leave the curtains open and let them keep a natural day cycle. If left to their own devices they will usually put themselves to bed around 6:30 – 7pm.

I also laid in a supply of new toys and we plan to make some big switches a couple of days before we go so they have new stuff to play with and an updated layout to think about. I wouldn’t recommend waiting until right before you leave to make changes, you never can tell what toy or perch will randomly terrify a parakeet. Also, I don’t trust them not to hurt themselves on some things, and I like to monitor their interactions with new toys. That might sound over the top, but if you start reading reviews of parrot toys it seems like almost every product on the market has caused a bird to hurt itself.

So, they’ll have adequate light and some awesome new toys to occupy themselves, and my mom coming every day to take care of food and water and for some play time. There’s nothing for me to worry about at all right? Then I guess I’m just worried about me!

I have to admit I’ve seriously considered purchasing MiSafes Mini 1080p HD Wireless Day & Night Wi-Fi Camera for iPhone iPad Android (Black) so I could check on them whenever I wanted – although that might get expensive data-wise once I’m in international waters. Update – I totally bought that webcam and will review upon our return 🙂

When I was first looking into getting parakeets I read somewhere “how do people with birds go on vacation”, and the half-joking answer was “they don’t” And while I’ve been pretty devoted to 1 or 2 getaways per year in addition to traveling for work, I wonder if those times are coming to an end for a while. On the other hand, I know getting away and disconnecting can be very important, and I don’t want to discount how much that matters to both me and my husband.

I’ll update after we’ve actually gone on the trip and then I should have a much better idea of where my head is at. In the interim, I know we’re covering all the angles and the parakeets will probably have a great vacation from us!

Deciding to get Toby a parakeet of her very own

There came a time we had to admit we just weren’t satisfying all of Toby’s social needs, and likely there was no way we could. Additionally, we had created a situation where Toby felt responsible for being the leader of the flock, and it was clearly putting a lot of pressure on her trying to control and protect us.

The larger cage alleviated some of her frustration, but still, once she was out of the cage she wasn’t enjoying things as she had before. Instead of playing on the play gym or watching out the window, she would spend most of her time out repeatedly flying into our faces, and she had begun biting a lot more. She also developed the habit of landing on my glasses and biting my eyelids. The intensity of her interactions with us was heightened, not that she wanted to hurt us, just that we weren’t doing the right thing that would make her feel comfortable.

This happened every single time she was let our of the cage, unless you could engage her with a treat or a toy, and even that wouldn’t last long.

We both had to admit that being around Toby wasn’t too much fun for us anymore and she seemed to be pretty unhappy too. I am sure that some of it had to do with spring-time bird craziness, but more than that it really seemed like Toby needed something from us that we couldn’t provide, and her focus on us needed to be split onto someone else who would be able to reciprocate in ways we couldn’t.

I didn’t want to go through the whole process of taming a Petsmart parakeet all over again, I felt that with Toby in the house it would be way too difficult to split our attention evenly between taming someone in one cage (a huge time commitment) and making sure that Toby didn’t lose out on any of our attention. So, I started researching hand raised parakeets, which are fed by humans in their first weeks of life instead of by their parent parakeets. This doesn’t necessarily make them socialized, but by the time you take a hand fed parakeet home it does not think you are a predator, which is a huge leap!

Finding and bringing home Kelly is a story for a different day, but her presence in the house immediately helped Toby find balance and, I think, really helped Toby feel secure. Even better, Kelly is naturally dominant and self-assured, which took a lot of pressure off of Toby.

Initially we felt so sure that we wanted to just have one parakeet, even after reading all of the evidence that parakeets are flock animals and really shouldn’t be solo pets. I still don’t regret the way we went about it, easing in with one parakeet and developing that strong bond was an experience I wouldn’t trade, but I can say that I now believe parakeets are not meant to live alone, they need other birds to feel secure and socially fulfilled, no matter how strong their flock bond is with the humans in their lives.IMG_0854

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Parakeet night terrors/night frights

Night terrors, which you’ve probably heard of in human children, also happen to many species of parrots. Cockatiels seem to be most commonly afflicted, but it can happen to parakeets as well so it’s important to be prepared.

One can almost never be entirely sure of the origin of the night terror, it could be that the budgie is waking from a bad dream, or that he opened his eyes during the night and saw a scary shadow or a bug. They are definitely primed to be freaked out after dark to begin with because they are prey animals and they know it.

The night terrors that Toby had were alarming for both of us. I would be woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of Toby crashing around in her cage, flying around madly and blindly into the cage bars without being able to stop herself. This can be extremely dangerous because a parakeet can severely injure himself, possibly fatally.

I’m lucky that our house is all on one level and I’m not very far from the cage at night, even though it’s in the dining area. I really don’t know what to suggest to someone who’s birds sleep on a different floor than they do, short of a Baby Monitor, although that might seem excessive!

At any rate, I would wake up to the sounds of Toby crashing around and bolt out of bed to the dining room. To calm the parakeet down bring up the lights a bit and speak very gently to him – as soon as the lights come up enough he will probably stop flying around, but he may seem dazed and not recognize you.

I never advocate putting your hands in the cage after dark, so I don’t advise taking your bird out to comfort him. I firmly believe that in this state there’s no guarantee he will know who you are and find your touch comforting instead of more alarming. I did, after a particularly awful fright, feed Toby a little millet through the bars to lure her out of a bad spot.

The best way to handle it, at least for us, has been to leave the lights glowing just a bit more brightly than usual and once the parakeet has settled down and is in a safe place to go back to sleep, go back to bed and try to calm yourself down enough to sleep.

Also, it’s a good idea to have a nightlight or two for your parakeet to help them not be so scared when they wake in the middle of the night. We went a little overboard with Night Lights and for a while the kitchen looked like an airport runway. We’ve since scaled back to a more reasonable amount.

I’ve read that night frights can also be a symptom of calcium deficiency so if you find your parakeet having continued issues make sure you have a Mineral Block and Cuttlebone and watch out for feeding excessive amounts of spinach which binds with calcium and can lead to a calcium deficiency.

Toby had four night terrors in the first 8 months we had her, three of those we were not able to determine the cause (although I suspect mice), and one of them was absolutely my fault. I came out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and because I had my glasses off I stood next to her cage for a prolonged period trying to find her. She of course woke up and completely freaked out, who wouldn’t with some lunatic starting at you while you sleep?

Toby hasn’t had a night terror since we got our second parakeet, Kelly – I’m not sure if having a roommate makes her feel more secure, she does always want to sleep where she can see Kelly. Actually I think Toby would prefer to sleep snuggled up to Kelly, but Kelly’s not having any part of that!

The bottom lines are that you should have night lights and a mineral block for your parakeet, but they may still have the occasional unexplained night fright. The only thing you can do is get to the cage as quickly as possible, turn up the lights a bit, and speak soothingly to your parakeet until he calms down.

Picking a parakeet – selecting a healthy, happy new budgie

So – you’ve done all your research, or at least read Parakeets For Dummies, you’ve purchased and set up your cage, and you’ve decided it’s time to find your parakeet and bring him home. Picking a parakeet out is a lot of fun, but it’s also important to take care in making a final selection.

Or, in my case, you turn to your husband and very dramatically say you can’t live one more day without having a bird!

There are a lot of different ways you can find a parakeet, you can search on Facebook or Google for local parrot rescues and I would wager all of them have fistfuls of parakeets that need a good home. You can also search locally for hand fed parakeet breeders, which we’ll discuss further down the line.

For our first budgie we wanted to start with as young a parakeet as possible, and we wanted to try bonding with him as an “only child”, most rescues will not allow you to adopt single parakeets if you have no other birds at home, because of their strong desire to be part of a flock.

To that end, over a two-day period we made the rounds of every big box pet store in our area and cased each joint for their juvenile parakeets.  We were looking for the following characteristics specifically.

  • A parakeet that had all of the bars on his head, indicating he had not gone through his first molt at approximately 4 months of age.
  • A cere that looked as though it would develop to be more blue than beige – in hopes of having a male parakeet. I know now I was a bit wrong-headed about this, in a budgie as young I was looking for a solid pink cere would have been a boy. This is how we ended up with a girl!
  • Fully black eyes with no hint of an iris, which is another indicator of a juvenile parakeet.
  • Temperament-wise, a parakeet that was not attacking other birds, but also who was clearly not bonded to another parakeet.
  • No indicators of poor health, not puffy or overly sleepy, clear eyes and nares (nostrils), feet in good condition, well-groomed and alert.

Also, it’s a good idea to assess the condition that the parakeets are living in – do they have access to clean water and perches, some toys, and do any of the other birds in the cage look ill? Parakeets, even in a pet store environment, should seem pretty happy; you want to see lots of playing and singing.

It took us four stores to find our parakeet, she was the youngest we had seen in any of the locations, and through she didn’t seem afraid or traumatized, she was also clearly not best pals with anyone yet.

We found an employee and let them know we were ready to purchase. I was mildly alarmed by the fact that they didn’t ask whether we had everything needed to house and care for a parakeet, even if only to sell us on a few more items!

Instead, we watched in semi-horror as our new family member was caught with a net and unceremoniously deposited into a cardboard box, $20 later and we were on our way, driving home listening to the sound of parakeet nails slipping around on cardboard and probably both wondering what the heck we had just done….

Reservations aside, it was time to introduce Toby (named after the put-upon HR Rep in The Office: The Complete Series to her new home. Picking a parakeet can be both fun and stressful. In the end I recommend taking your time and making a choice based on the character of the budgie, rather than the color.

toby bars 1
Toby’s first day home

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