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.

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!

The parakeets break up and separate households

In my post about parakeet girl fights I acknowledged that keeping two territorial females together was taking a risk. At that time, the reward of Kelly and Toby having each other for comfort and company in the same cage was worth the risk of injury from their frequent squabbles over toys and space. Well, my hubris caught up with me on this one and they are currently trying out living solo.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of upheaval for the budgies, I was away on business, and working late hours leading up to that, we made some major changes to the arrangement of our house and then they had to move to my mom’s house for a few days and the travel and change of scenery were very stressful for them.  Additionally, Kelly seems to be getting deeper into breeding condition versus moving out of it, we’ve been missing bed times lately and I’m sure that hasn’t helped.

I should also mention that Patrick and I been extremely stressed out lately, and I firmly believe that they know how we are feeling and it influences their behavior. Whether it’s true they can see our energy or not, or whether they can read facial expressions and body language, I know they are hip to what is going on with their humans.

So, overall they have been ramping up the violence while everything is in chaos around them, and I cannot blame them. I’m typically very rigid about my routine, it’s what makes me happy every day, and they are obviously  used to it as well.

The day before they went to my mom’s Kelly shredded one of Toby’s flight feathers, Toby was defending the porch on their cage and pushing Kelly towards the edge, so Kelly grabbed onto Toby’s feathers to try and pull herself back up. I was there and broke up the fight before major damage was done, but Toby’s feather has a bit of a different shape now.

This all leads up to the final straw fight – I got home from work one day and immediately noticed Kelly’s feathers on the floor. She’s not molting so that was a red flag, and the pattern of the feathers was wrong for that anyway, they were clumped together and as soon as I picked them up I realized they had been pulled out of her. I felt a pit in my stomach as I started examining the cage and the budgies for blood or other signs of damage.

Toby was all clear, but Kelly had dried blood on her foot and a cut. Thankfully it wasn’t actively bleeding so I didn’t have to worry about her bleeding to death, but it came as a sad shock that they had really hurt each other.

I let them out of the cage so that I could try to clean Kelly up a bit and make sure she was really okay, they continued going after each other and fighting, even after they had the entire house at their disposal.

With vacation coming up in just 3 days (thanks for that timing, babies) I knew that they needed to be in separate cages, at least while we were away. There was no way I could trust them to be together 24/7 without someone just coming in once a day to feed and water them. Not to mention how bad I would feel for the pet sitter if she came in to a blood bath and had to deal either with emergency medical needs due to injuries or worst case scenario, a body and a murderer.

Fortunately I had Toby’s old cage in the garage, so I pulled that out and spent the next couple of hours washing it down several times and stocking it with toys and perches. I now have justification for my excessive toy and perch hoard, since I had more than enough on hand to rig out an entire cage!

I moved Kelly into the Prevue Park Plaza since she had lived in it most recently during her quarantine last summer, but she did not tolerate the space. It’s not ideal for parakeets since it’s an 18” square but quite tall. She must feel very cramped and panicky in there because she just runs back and forth on the bottom looking for a way out.

Almost immediately I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but leaving her there to see if she would mellow out, Patrick and I went off to Petsmart to see if I could find a better option for her. They didn’t have any cages that I liked well enough to invest the money, unfortunately.

While we were still at Petsmart I checked our MiSafes Security Camera feed and I could see on our security camera app that even though it was night time dark, there was a white shape running rapidly along the floor off the cage, so before we even got home I had decided they were just going to have to sleep together that night and I would try Toby in the Prevue Park Plaza the next day.

Once we got home we let them out for a few minutes to try and get Kelly settled down and then moved her back to the big cage with Toby. There was some squabbling before bed, but nothing out of line, thank goodness.

The next morning I lured Toby into the Prevue Park Plaza and shut her in, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t start freaking out like Kelly!  She lived in this cage the first 7 months we had her, so there was a good chance she would accept it, even if it wasn’t ideal.

While she seemed confused about what was going on she settled in pretty quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Before we go away I still need to make some modifications so they both have enough perches and enough to do, but it is a HUGE relief that I don’t have to worry about them killing each other while we are gone.

As far as a long term plan – once we come back from vacation I want to keep them separated for another week or so until we get back into a routine and everything is finally calmed down and on their schedule. They can still be out for flight time together so that’s a bonus and they will get socialization time then.  Once we feel comfortable we will try having them live together again and see if their time apart hit a reset button, as I’ve read that it can.

If not then they can continue living separately, as much as I don’t want to maintain two cages. Alternately we might consider adding in a male parakeet to try and break up the tension. As much as Toby and Kelly occasionally like each other, Toby more bonded to me at present, and Kelly really hasn’t bonded to anyone. My theory is that if she had a bond with someone it might take her aggression down a notch, but experts can feel free to weigh in and tell me I’m dreaming!

Planning for the parakeets to take a vacation

Patrick and I realized recently that our entire central air system has to be replaced. Patrick went up in the attic one day to try and clean out the air handler, and when he realized it was full of mold (!!!!) the decision was made for us.  Especially with the parakeets and the increasingly hot summer weather here, we feel like we have to have the AC. The only issue is, the job takes three days, and the budgies most definitely have to decamp for the length of the job. I hadn’t ever thought about how stressful moving parakeets would be, but I’m certainly feeling it now.

Originally I wasn’t even thinking along the lines of having to move them at all, but we are going to have the ductwork and the vents shifted so the whole system will be more efficient, and that means cutting new holes in the ceiling, and not just generating a ton of dust, but also probably contaminating our main floor air with the ceiling air, which is highly suspect!  Even without the air issues, there will be a lot of activity and noise in every area of the house, and keeping them in a state of high alert and fear for three days just seems cruel.

I am crazy lucky that there wasn’t even a question of where they would go. While the sales rep was still talking to us about our various options I was speedily texting my mom to make sure the budgies could have her guest room for a short stay!  She has cats, but they can easily be shut out of that room, and I LOVE that she doesn’t burn candles or use any plug in fragrance or incense etc., which would be a huge deal breaker for budgie visitors.

Of course since she said yes I’ve been panicking about being separated from them, which is crazy because I travel for work and we’ve vacationed before and my mom has taken care of them in our home!

All sorts of crazy thoughts about what if they have a night fright and she doesn’t wake up, or what if the cats break in and knock over their cage?  I could “what if” myself into a padded cell on this one, and I’m sure all the while the parakeets would be totally fine and probably enjoy the change of scenery.

My mom even offered to let me stay over and sleep in the room with them, but since they go to bed at 7pm I think I’ll be fine staying at home!

So, in the coming weeks I will be away 2 nights for work, then the parakeets will be away 3 for the AC, then Patrick and I will go for 5 nights on vacation, and we’re using the pet sitter for the first time. After all that I’ll be ready to camp out near their cage and never leave home again or let them go anywhere!

As much as I wish I could keep them with me the whole time, I am so grateful that they have somewhere to go that’s safe and clean and where they will be cared for diligently and interacted with as much as they are at home, if not more.

Final thoughts on vacationing away from the budgies & a review of the Misafes Mini Security Camera

Well, I made it through vacationing away from the parakeets, and it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I expected.

We were on a cruise and my original expectation was that on port days I would have cellular service, which turned out to be completely untrue. I ended up purchasing a package of wifi minutes on the ship, but I was never able to send/receive text messages or make calls. I emailed my mom as soon as I could to let her know, but everything was going perfectly well at home anyhow. She spent at least an hour there every day so the parakeets got some time out of the cage, and I know that she worked with Kelly on stepping up and not biting, which we have been struggling with. I was worried about losing ground with her while we were gone, but instead I think my mom made real progress.

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What, me a biter? I’m far too sweet!

As expected, the only one with any trouble was me, which was why we bought the MiSafes Mini 1080p HD Wireless Day & Night Wi-Fi Camera for iPhone iPad Android (Black) before leaving. With Amazon Prime’s two day shipping I was able to purchase it during a freak out just a handful of days before the cruise.

Set up was a breeze, you plop the camera where you want it – it even includes a couple of mounting options, then download the misafescam app and pair the device to your phone. The picture is good, even in its normal quality mode, and you can switch to HD. The camera is in a fixed position which was perfect for our needs; we set it up to get a full view of the cage and were good to go. You could also insert an SD card and record, which I haven’t done since I’m only using it to peek in at them.

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This is the pic in normal mode

I love that there is a two-way speaker option so I can hear the birds singing away, we tested the ability to talk to them through the app and it worked, but I haven’t used it, thinking that could be pretty confusing for them. The night vision works very well too, although it’s a little creepy when they have their eyes open in the dark, you can see pinpoints of light.

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demon eyes in the dark!

The camera was comforting, although I didn’t use it as much as I planned due to the cellular issues. The ship’s wifi was not speedy and I wasn’t able to get the camera to connect every time. I also wound myself up the first night, we were staying in Miami and I had horrible cell service in out hotel room and no wifi. I checked on the parakeets at about 7:30pm and expected them to be bedded down for the night, instead they were still engaged in their nightly bouncing around before bed/fight for perch dominance routine.

I promptly lost service after that and wasn’t able to check on them until hours later, imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios of it getting to dark and them being stuck on perches they didn’t like, or having night terrors and me not being there to help them. When I finally got it to connect again they were absolutely fine, sleeping exactly where they usually do.

So – outside of external issues the camera has been fantastic. Even now that we are home I like to take a look at what they are up to during the day. If I ever felt like I didn’t need to look at them we could easily use this as a security camera, there’s an option to have it alert you if there’s movement in its field of vision, so I could see pointing it at the door and setting up that notification.

When we got back from the trip the ‘keets had a relatively brief period of readjustment where they seemed to be out of sorts and looking for my mom. Toby in particular kept flock calling when we were all in the same room. This has mostly worn off although I think Toby is still feeling a little mad at me it’s getting better every day.

At any rate, based on the level of anxiety I was feeling before we left I was pretty ready to write off taking week-long trips for a while. now that we are back I can see that a lot of my stress was unwarranted, the birds were totally fine, and I was as well!

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reunited and it feels so good!

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 🙂