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For the first time since getting our Cockatiel last September, we took a family vacation. Here's what happened when we left our bird home alone for a week. (read more)
First off, you should know a few things about me:
1. I love my pets.
2. I love traveling.
3. I will not choose pets over travel.
4. I will do everything in my power to make sure my pets are safe while we're out of town.
I am prefacing this blog post with the above because I don't want to mislead you. If you don't agree with my point of view on the things I listed, this blog post might really irritate you. So, if you're of the view that a pet should never be left home alone while you go out of town, turn back now, mash that back arrow, this way lay dragons.
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If you're still reading, I'm just going to assume you're trying to find out if it's okay for you to leave your bird home alone while you go on vacation.
I looked this up MANY times after getting the bird, knowing full well that we take one family vacation each year, and that, no matter how much I love the bird, we would be going, period.
So I Googled all sorts of things: "Can I leave my bird home alone for a week?", "Will my bird be okay if I leave it home while I go on vacation?"
You get the idea.
What I learned from all of this is that there are A LOT of people on the internet that are willing and ready to condemn you if you leave your bird home by itself for more than a few hours.
How people work and have birds remains a mystery to me.
Heck, I even joined a group on Facebook just for Cockatiel owners. Don't get me wrong, some people on that board were very helpful. But, there were a lot of people I would classify as "Keyboard Warriors", totally ready to tell you, in great detail, why they thought you were a terrible bird owner.
Take, for example, the one post I made on the board.
Just a few days after we'd gotten our bird, I started wondering if we'd made the wrong decision by not getting him a friend. I mean, I homeschool, we're home all the time, he's out of his cage 95% of the time he's awake, but there will be one week each year where he'd be alone.
Was that a good reason to get another bird? I wasn't sure.
The people on that board WERE very sure. If I didn't get another bird, I was not only a terrible bird owner, but I was also a terrible person and there was a special place for me in feathery hell.
I left the board.
I did NOT get another bird.
You know why? It's because I didn't want two birds. The same as some people don't want two dogs, or two cats, or TWO KIDS. I didn't want twice the poop, twice the flock calling, twice the cleaning, and, heaven forbid if the birds didn't get along, I didn't want to deal with my sweet, lovely bird turning into an antisocial avian.
Or, on the flip side, I didn't want my bird to decide this other bird was wonderful, and I was just the person who supplied the seed.
Selfish? Maybe. But, as you've figured out by now, I'm okay with that.
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When I started trying to figure out how to go about leaving our bird alone while we went to Colorado, I gave up pretty quickly on trying to find anyone who was actually going to post that they'd done such a thing. I mean, admit this to a bird forum and you're going to be tarred and feathered....
Hee hee hee.
If your bird didn't just die from loneliness, you might come back and find him bald, with a broken wing, a foot tangled in a toy, and clinging to life. If he did live (after suffering all of those horrors), he'd never want to speak to you again because you basically abandoned him and he thought you were never coming back.
Might as well start looking for bird psychologists now.
It didn't matter if you'd left plenty of food and water. It didn't matter if you left a bunch of toys, a large cage, and a mirror to help him feel like he had a friend. It didn't matter if you had a bird heater and every creature comfort. If you leave your house without that bird, you're killing him.
I just want to make sure you understand the severity of the situation.
Now, let me tell you what ACTUALLY happened, and how we prepared our little buddy for a week without his flock.
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If you haven't already got a cage you love, one that affords your bird room to move around, check out this Prevue Hendryx cage. Tuko loves it because he can really spread his wings, and we love it because it's easy to clean and easy to move.
There is a tray on the bottom that you can put a puppy pad in (I like these, they fit great and are affordable) and a tray on top where you can do the same. It's also on wheels so it's easy to move, and it even comes with a seed catch barrier, just in case you don't get the mess free feeder I talk about below.
GETTING READY TO GO
First off, we didn't tell him we were leaving. I'm halfway joking when I say this because I saw a lot of posts saying, "If you simply must leave your sweet pet, talk to him before hand, tell him you're going, help him to understand."
What the what?
We bailed at 4 a.m. on a Friday, took the bird out of the cage long enough to make sure everything was situated, put him back in, threw him a peace sign and said, "Don't throw any parties!"
Then we left.
That said, I did do some things in advance to make sure we'd come back to a live bird, if not one that was particularly happy with us. (I'll tell you all about that at the end).
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THE THINGS YOU'LL NEED
1. A VACATION FEEDER
I'd really get this even if you never plan on going on vacation. It's just the neatest and laziest way to make sure your bird has fresh food and makes the least amount of mess.
You dump your pellets (we use the type below) into the top of the feeder. The pellets drop down to a tray on the inside of the feeder. Your bird sticks his head in, eats the pellets, and any discards drop down into a little cup below the tray. Every few days we pull out the little cup and dump it back into the top of the feeder.
Talk about not wasting pellets! This is genius. Also, the fact that your bird eats inside of the feeder means minimal cleaning of pellets from the floor since he's not flinging them everywhere.
UPDATE - I had to swap from these pellets to a mixture containing ONLY brown pellets. Tuko decided he liked the yellow pellets in this mixture best and started tossing all of the others outside the cage. It was a huge mess and a huge waste. I'm half proud of him because he's so smart, but still, the change had to be made. Here is the link to the all brown pellets, in case you're having the same issue. LINK
If you go this route, which I think you should, make sure you're not doing a mix of seed and pellets in the feeder. If you do that, you can't dump the discarded pellets back into the top of the feeder, because they'll be mixed with seed hulls.
But, since everything I've read says you should give your bird seeds only as a treat (lest they get fat and unhealthy), you can just use pellets for the feeder and save the seed for a special cup in, or on the top of, his cage.
Whatever you do, I'm not judging you, I'm just telling you how to waste less food and spend less money.
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2. A LIXIT WATERER
Again, this is one of those things I recommend you get even if you never plan on leaving your bird home alone. It's just easier.
Fill the bottle, shut the lid, secure the waterer to your cage with the included bungee cord, and leave it be.
If you're worried that your bird won't drink from it (I was worried about this), leave a cup of water in there like normal for a few days. Really though, I did a lot of reading about this before hand and I wasn't able to find any cases where a bird didn't drink from the waterer.
They're birds, they're not dumb. They're not going to die of thirst.
Using this waterer means you don't have to change it very often (I think I put new water in once every month, if that), it doesn't get bacteria in it since they can't poop in it or spill seeds in it, and it's always nice and fresh for them.
So much easier than a traditional water cup. That said, I still put a water cup in his cage when we go, but it's the kind he can't poop in, like this. It just makes me feel a little better knowing I've got back up. It's not necessary, but if you want to do it, go ahead.
WHAT DO YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GET A BIRD? HERE'S OUR CHECK LIST
This is going to depend on your bird, but I would think in most cases it's going to be a really good idea.
If you put a mirror in the cage, your bird feels like he has a friend while you're away. You can rest a little easier knowing he's entertained, and your bird will feel less lonely because he has another handsome bird to chirp at and sing to during the day.
Our bird even took to sleeping next to the mirror at night, which we found out because we got home at midnight.
If you're not sure your bird will like a mirror, do this simple test. Put him on your finger, take him in your bathroom, hold him about a foot away from the mirror. Don't shove him into his reflection, that will probably only make him want to attack it. Give him some space, see what he does.
Our bird makes heart wings, bobs his head, and immediately starts to sing to the "other bird".
Once we got home we took the mirror out, but I'll put it back in if we have to leave for a bit, like to the movies, the store, etc.
I have heard stories about birds getting really attached to mirrors, so make sure you're not using it all the time, else you might end up with your bird preferring it to you.
HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED WHEN TUKO GOT LEAD POISONING
3. A MIRROR
Here's Tuko singing in the "toaster mirror". We actually talk about "toaster bird" now like he's a real bird. The conversations go, "Hey, where's Tuko?" to which someone else replies, "He's talking to toaster bird."
4. FORAGING/BUSY TOYS
We tend to change the toys around in our bird's cage every month or so. We keep the same toys, but we move everything so he feels like he's got all new digs.
I recommend doing this before you go on vacation so your bird gets to spend some time being interested by the new placement of things.
If you don't already have some foraging toys, you might give them a shot. Basically they're toys that make your bird think. Maybe he has to pull a lever to get a treat, spin a wheel for some seed, or, like our toy, lift a flap to reach the goodies inside.
Make sure you're not putting anything in that is perishable. The last thing you want is for food to rot while you're gone. Millet is a great idea, bird seed if you're not a seed feeder on a regular basis, dried fruits that come in the little bird snack bags, etc.
We like to use Nutri Pellets. They are small enough to fit in these particular toys (below), and dense enough to make your bird work on them for awhile, especially if you put three or four in the toy while you're gone for a few days.
Your bird will have to work for the treat. It's engaging, takes time, and gives him a way to be less bored while you're away.
This is Tuko's favorite toy, so of course I had to put it on here. I actually have this on Amazon Subscribe and Save because he loves them so much. At $6.99 each, they aren't cheap, especially since he shreds this in less than a week, but it definitely keeps him from getting bored. I highly recommend it if your bird likes to shred things. The next time we go out of town, I'll actually get the three stack of cupcakes to make sure he doesn't run out.
These are the snacks we like to put in Tuko's foraging toys. I highly recommend putting these (or any bird food you get) in your freezer for a week before thawing and storing per usual. I suggest this because we got a terrible case of pantry moths from one of the bags of food/treats and I've read many a review stating they'd experienced the same thing.
While these next one isn't a foraging toy, it is a toy our bird loves to use. Next to the cupcake, I'm going to say this is his second favorite toy, and the first favorite of the ones he cannot destroy.
He will spend large chunks of time putting the basketball in the net, taking it out, wiggling it around, etc. It's not turning him into Einstein, that's for sure, but it keeps him from sitting there with nothing to do.
The most important thing, whichever foraging or fun toys you choose, is that you try to keep your bird's cage interesting. Otherwise, he could just sit in one spot all day.
Sitting in one spot can lead to nervous behaviors like bumble foot, feather plucking, etc.
If you have yet to find a toy your bird loves, give the basketball a shot. I can't recommend it enough.
Birds love to shred things, you know this if you've ever left one alone long enough with your phone charging cord. Our Cockatiel loves this toy for just that reason. He can shred it to his heart's delight, and it lasts forever. He likes the cupcake more, but this one lasts longer and he can go back to it once he's shredded his cupcake down to a nub.
5. A BIRD HEATER
Since we were leaving in February, I wanted to make sure our bird wasn't cold while we were gone. I over rode the "away" mode on our Nest Thermostat to make sure the heat came on as usual, and I invested in a tiny bird heater he could snuggle up to if he got too chilly.
(I actually bought the heater right after we got him.)
It attaches to his cage with some screws, and we just put it right beside one of his 90 degree perches.
You plug it in, it heats to slightly warmer than bird temperature, and he loves it year round, cold outside or not.
WE TOOK THE DISNEY ULTIMATE NIGHTS OF ADVENTURE TOUR AT ANIMAL KINGDOM
OPTIONAL - A RING CAMERA
This was kind of a game changer for us, something I didn't purchase until a fellow bird owner commented on this post and mentioned that he used a Ring Camera to keep an eye on his bird, turn on lights and music, etc.
We'd already been considering a Ring Stick Up Camera outdoor solar bundle for the exterior of our house, so once we set those up (we got three), we loved how easy they were to use and decided to grab an extra for the inside, just for Tuko.
Now, when we leave town we put Tuko's cage in the living room, facing the TV. We turn the TV on during the day, then off at night when it starts to get dark. We don't talk to him much, only because I worry it'll freak him out (we'll see how it goes), but it's so nice to be able to check in any time and make sure he's doing okay. The Ring Camera does let you both talk to and hear from your bird, so if you enjoy whistling back and forth, and you aren't worried your bird will be wary of a disembodied voice, it would work well.
We have a Harmony Hub that lets us control our TV directly from my phone, but you may be able to do the same thing if you have a TV that's smarter than ours. If you want to make sure the Harmony Hub is compatible with your devices before you pull the trigger, you can check here to see the compatible list.
THE END & FINAL THOUGHTS
That's it! That's all we did to ensure our bird was happy and healthy while we were away. We left on a Friday morning, asked my mother in law to come by and check on him Sunday and Wednesday, and got back home in the wee hours the following Friday.
Having her check on him was a bonus. I'd still have left him if she couldn't come by, and I am sure he still would have been fine.
There is always a chance your bird could get hurt, but I'm the person who says that this can happen no matter how often you're home. It can happen while you're at work, while you're in the next room, while you sleep, etc. I mean, we're diligent owners and our bird still managed to fly away for almost a full 24 hours right before Christmas.
Leaving your bird while you go on vacation doesn't mean you're a bad owner. As long as you've provided the essentials there's a very high chance everything will be okay.
If you're wondering about leaving your bird with a sitter or a vet, you can certainly look into that. We chose to keep him home only because I'd read that birds can get stressed out in new environments, and because we didn't have anyone who didn't already have other pets that would not mix well with a bird. That said, if I were going to board Tuko, the first place I'd check would be with my Avian Vet.
So, the choice for us was either have him in his cage for a week in a place he knew, or have him in a cage for a week in a place he did not know, around animals who might scare him (cats, loud dogs, loud children that he doesn't know already, etc.)
I really hope this post has helped you come to terms with your decision to leave your bird home alone, and I really hope you're beating yourself up less that you were before you read it.
Oh, as promised, here's what happened when we got home:
Tuko was sleeping, he saw us and let us hold him for a bit before he went back to sleep. He didn't sing as much the next day, no doubt he was a little irritated, but by Sunday he was right as rain, like we'd never left.
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Have a good vacation!