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 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.

Interviewing a professional pet sitter for parakeets

I had this great idea a while back that Patrick and I should take a family vacation with my mom and stepdad. We decided on a destination and dates, and then my mom and I started worrying immediately about who would care for our pets. As you know from prior vacation-related posts on the blog, my mom has taken care of the budgies when we travel, and she does an amazing job of looking after them and letting them have free time outside of their cage. But, I had to go into this knowing that a professional service would not spend upwards of an hour at my house every day! This may be offensive to other pet owners, but I felt that finding a pet sitter for parakeets would be even more challenging than dogs or cats.

We started researching pet sitters and found someone through word-of-mouth that came highly recommended – and even better, I discovered she is a bird owner herself with loads of avian experience. The only problem was that she wasn’t responsive to email and her voicemail was full. Both my mom and I chatted with her separately and she sounded perfect on the phone, but we couldn’t get to the point of scheduling consults and it was getting frustrating and a little worrisome. I have a feeling this may be one of those situations where the pro has the best intentions, but probably has a full slate of clients and can’t take anything else on, whether she wants to admit it or not.

So, back to the googling board, I found the CAPPs website and a link to a sitter who looked like she might cover my area. I sent a message and heard back within a few hours, which made feel comfortable. We were able to work out a time for her to come over very easily and within a couple of days had the consult.

Of course I’ve never interviewed a professional pet sitter before, but she made it very easy and had her own intake sheet with all of the questions listed that she needs to do her job. These ranged from the details of feeding and watering, to whether we have a security system and if she would be responsible for taking out garbage or bringing in mail. She also provided me with a vet release to sign as well as a contract detailing her liability and what would happen in a variety of situations, like potential animal bites etc. She counter-signed the documents as well and left me with copies for my records.

My favorite clause is that if something goes wrong and she has to get a locksmith to open my house I will be responsible for the cost of the locksmith – I love knowing that no matter what happens she’s going to get in there and take care of my babies!

She has over 200 clients that are mostly vacation (versus day-to-day dog walking) and more than 500 individual animals. She also has a staff of 4 and was prepared to talk about her scheduling system, how billing is handled, and how credit card information and personal details are secured.

I don’t think she is completely familiar with budgies, but she has cared for parrots before, I was delighted that she seemed interested in watching them and asking questions about their behavior, particularly once she realized they were interested in watching her too!

We talked about whether or not they should come out of their cage, because at present they are not trained to go back in at our command. The sitter usually would stay in a 30 minute block of time ($20 per session) and there is no way to guarantee the parakeets would go back home in that time frame, especially if they’ve been stuck at home for a few days! So – she’s going to see how it goes, and if she’s got a few blocks of time she will let them out and charge me the additional after the fact, which I’m totally fine with. We let her know that she can also use millet to lure them back home if needed!

Overall she seemed extremely organized, responsible, and very professional; but at the same time warm and friendly. I can’t imagine a better mix of traits for someone you entrust with the lives of your pets. We still have a ways to go before vacationing, but I feel very relieved to have this sorted out, not that I won’t worry about them every day anyway, but at least I feel secure that they will be in very good hands.

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!