Vultures visit my street – and remind me why cages next to windows are a bad idea

We had some excitement near our house recently, there was some nice fresh roadkill across the street and a wake of vultures showed up to have a feast and party.  Toby’s reaction provided me with a good reminder of why we don’t keep our bird cages next to windows!

Patrick first noticed the vultures on Saturday morning when one swooped low going over our house. First there was just one, but by the time they figured out how to land near the street, there were 6 vultures fighting over whatever poor animal had gotten hit by a car.

Of course as bird lovers we were fascinated! Particularly by how much like a flock of parakeets they were. Just like Toby and Kelly they were always on alert for danger, and they fought over food just like our budgies too. A few vultures were always sitting on top of a tree keeping lookout.

We kept moving from room to room trying to get the best vantage point, and my husband was snapping tons of pictures.

Since it was a Saturday morning Toby and Kelly were out and about doing there own thing, we hadn’t been paying much attention to them, and they really hadn’t paid us much mind either. Then while I was standing next to our big front window Toby came over to see what was going on, and the poor thing froze in terror as soon as she spotted the vultures.

Now mind you, these vultures were not 10-20 feet away, they were all the way across the street and down quite a bit, but she just absolutely went still as a statue frozen in place with her eyes wide wide open.

I tried soothing her with my voice and she didn’t budgie. I even tried getting her to step up by pushing my finger against her tummy and she didn’t move a muscle! I probably could have petted her wherever I wanted and in that moment staying still so the vultures didn’t see her would have remained top priority!  Of course that wouldn’t have been very kind, and instead I immediately closed the curtains and removed, in her mind, the threat of the vultures coming to get her.

As soon as the curtains were shut she was able to move again and went back to her home cage, shaking off the fright quickly.

It made me so glad that our bird cages aren’t next to that big window or any windows with a direct view of the outside world. Even though you might think it’s fun for your parakeets to watch the world go by, and it probably is 90% of the time, the other 10% is full of stuff going by that’s going to scare them. Like vultures, other predators, or even “silly” stuff like a hard wind blowing leaves around.

We humans all know that the flock is safe at home behind glass, but Toby’s reaction to those vultures really drove home for me that the parakeets don’t have that on board assumption of safety, so it’s important that we help them feel safe by using good judgement in cage placement.

 

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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!

 

Keeping ants out of parakeet cages

I’m betting that one of the last things a parakeet parent wants to see is a line of ants trooping into their bird’s cage and stealing food! Ants are a common household pest and can be very difficult to eradicate. While I have never had ants go directly for my parakeets’ cages, I have fought many a war against them and I always come out the victor! Here’s my recommendations for getting rid of ants in a way that is safe for your parakeets.

First, as soon as the weather starts to warm up get a jug of TERRO Perimeter Ant Bait and follow the directions to surround the perimeter of your home. Of course if you don’t live in a single family detached home you may have to skip this step. I feel like it creates a first wave defense to deter the ants, although it will need to be reapplied periodically throughout the warm months, especially if you get a lot of rain.

While you’re going around your house with the Terro, look for cracks and crevices that ants could crawl in and possibly access your home. These can be sealed with Caulk or Great Stuff.

You can also take a peek at your trees for early carpenter ant activity. If the carpenter ant colonies outgrow their home trees they may come looking to take up residence inside your walls (eww), so if you see any your can lay out Terro traps at the base of the trees. I use both the Terro Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits as well as the TERRO Outdoor Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stakes . It won’t take out a whole colony but it does keep their numbers in check. We have also had several trees close to our house removed because the ants were out of control. I’ve used these traps mostly for carpenter ants, but they will work on any variety.

Once you’ve laid all your outdoor traps and can focus on interior protection I recommend going around all your windows on the inside and caulking gaps here too. If you use caulk on the interior of your home make sure your parakeets are in a separate and well-ventilated area or outside of the house entirely. Caulk can have dangerous and deadly fumes. You can also keep stricter rules about cleaning and food storage during summer months. I’m never truly lax at any time of year, but during summer I make sure food is always put away and that food garbage from snacks etc. is always cleaned up promptly. A cup with juice residue left out by a human being could be a juice bar for a conga line of ants in short order!

This also applies to parakeet feedings of fruits and vegetables. My parakeets do a fair amount of food flinging. It is a key part of the daily routine to check walls and floors for food scraps or smears. It’s also important to keep the floor clean with daily vacuuming or sweeping for dry spills and wiping down for wet.

Even with all these precautions it is quite likely that ants are going to pass through your house at some point, and it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong or are “dirty”.

Once you’ve got ants you will want to try and follow them to find out where they are coming in and out of your house and see if you’ve got an obvious breach. It’s tempting to seal that up right away if you find it, but don’t! First, whether you find the access point or not, get some TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and lay them in the ants’ path. Things are going to get gross after that, as the word gets out to the colony that there’s this awesome sugar well free for the taking. It’s tempting to want to kill all the ants you see at the trap but don’t. It is imperative that you leave the trap and the ants alone while they are actively feeding and taking poison back to the colony.

After a few days the activity will drop off and once you are no longer seeing ants at the trap you can go ahead and seal up any access point you had found. Otherwise just remove the traps at that point; you don’t want to draw in a totally different group of ants if they are just wandering around.

The TERRO Liquid Ant Baits have no discernable odor and are safe for use in the home but your parakeets should not be in contact with them. So, no putting any variety of Terro trap in their cages and if they are floor wanderers be VERY careful about that too. You could try taking them to another room for a few days when they are out or block off the traps to budgie access by hiding them under a heavy book.

If you prefer not to use a poison at all you can get Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) instead. DE is a natural powdery substance made up of phytoplankton. It is completely non-toxic and even edible for mammals, but when an insect with an exoskeleton comes into contact with the DE it’s lights out! The DE pierces the exoskeleton and the insect dries up and dies.

One summer I was at my with end with a colony of carpenter ants trying to move into my house, it turned out they were coming in under my baseboard heat radiators. I didn’t feel comfortable having the traps near the radiators, even thought they weren’t on at the time, so I bought a bag of DE and a powder dispenser to lay it down under the radiator. Then once the ants were dead I was able to easily vacuum up the DE powder and the ant carcasses.

You can lay down a ring of DE around the base of your parakeet cage if you have ants that are climbing up to steal your parakeet’s food. This would be much safer than having poison close to their cages and even if they land in the powder it should not cause them any harm. I have even heard of budgie owners treating their parakeet for mites or lice with DE and applying it directly to the bird. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and I am not providing treatment recommendations for your budgie. Please seek the advice of a professional vet if you have any questions about medical treatment for your parakeet. Home Keet Home accepts no liability for anything with which you treat your parakeet).

There are loads of other natural remedies that insist ants won’t cross a line of cinnamon, or mint, or you can drown them in dish soap. I’ve tried them all over the years and for my part prefer the efficiency of the TERRO Liquid Ant Baits and/or DE. I hate to say that I have murder in my heart, but when it comes to ants I am guilty as charged, particularly if it means ants bothering my parakeets!

 

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, 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!

Toby moves to the big house

After waiting several weeks for the HQ Victorian Top cage that was solidly back-ordered, I finally canceled the order and decided to get the Prevue Pet Products Wrought Iron Flight Cage with Stand, Chalk White so that we could get Toby out of the small Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage and alleviate some of my guilt over her situation. It turns out the new flight cage is even more spacious than I imagined, which may be causing Toby some anxiety, but ultimately may mean that she and Kelly could be roommates again.

The new cage arrived just a couple of days after I ordered it, and I set to work immediately unboxing the pieces, wiping everything down and theoretically organizing it all by spreading it across the kitchen floor.

Quality wise, I knew it wasn’t going to be up to the level of the HQ Victorian Top, since the price-point was about $70 less, and it definitely is lighter-weight and much less like a piece of furniture. But, it’s reasonably well constructed and extremely functional. Right out of the box I noticed a few of the bars were bent all out of shape, we were able to put it to rights, but I’m sure I could have called the manufacturer and asked for a replacement front panel.

Once Patrick got out of work for the day we set to the task of assembly. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo I expected to get it put together in short order. But, one of us spent about 30 minutes looking for a tool that was totally unnecessary (not it!) and so we spent about an hour and a half total.

so many pieces!

Once together, we realized this was a much more spacious cage than the Victorian Top, having greater length and width. We didn’t have much time that evening to try and introduce the parakeets to the new cage, but they did watch us put it together with great interest.

Over the next few days I started migrating toys and perches to the new cage and we tried, without putting on a lot of pressure, encouraging Toby and Kelly to explore the new cage.  They are not in love with it so far, but it’s a totally different color and shape than either of the cages they are familiar with, so I can understand.

The following Saturday we moved the rest of Toby’s belongings from her old cage to the new flight cage and that was that. She went in with very little protesting when it was time for bed, but spent a ton of time wandering around in the cage looking for the best place to sleep. Strangely it also disturbed Kelly who would not settle down for hours – which is very unusual for her.

It’s so much room that we may try having them sleep together or even spend some days together, at present they don’t like hanging out in it even when the other cage is closed, but we’ll get them used to it at some point!

I’m pleased to have Toby out of her old cage and into something where she can really flap her wings and get some exercise. Also, this leaves me an extra cage for quarantining someone new, should that occur at any time in the next few months!  At that point (following quarantine) even if they can’t live three together we can have a single and a double and the parakeets will be able to choose the living arrangements.