Parakeets (aka budgies or budgerigars) are always healthier and happier when their cages are covered at night.
They sleep better, which has surprising benefits for their humans, too.
So the short answer is – Yes, you should cover your parakeet’s cage at night.
Sleep and Your Parakeet
Sleep isn’t just important for your parakeet’s good health. Sleep makes your budgie a smarter bird.
Chances are that you have heard of studies that found that college students make higher grades when they don’t put in all-nighters to cram for an exam.
Sleep-deprived students not only get lower grades, but they also get more colds and flu, have more difficulty disciplining their eating habits, are more prone to driving accidents, and are more likely to suffer depression.
Budgies don’t go to college, but scientists have learned that parakeet brains are similar to human brains in their need for sleep.
Parakeets spend about a quarter of the night dreaming, in rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep.
They need to get their zzz’s to process the songs they hear other parakeets sing, and the phrases you are trying to teach them.
When they wake up groggy, not refreshed by uninterrupted sleep, they have more trouble remembering the words their owners repeat to them.
Parakeets are like college students in that they perform better when they get at least nine or ten hours of sleep time.
What Goes On After You Cover the Budgie Cage?
Budgies don’t go to sleep as soon as the lights go out. They usually wander around their cages for about 15 minutes.
There are some budgies, scientists with night vision equipment have discovered, that only use some of their toys and ladders when their owners aren’t looking.
Almost all parakeets will circle their cages several times before they decide where they want to sleep for the night.
They will climb the walls of their cages and stop, hanging to the wires in the cage, to take their rest.
Some parakeets will hang upside down from the ceilings of their cages for the night.
When you are looking, or when parakeets take naps during the day, they will usually roost on the floor of their cage.
But a parakeet left to its own preferences will naturally sleep in a position that would protect it from predators.
In the grasslands of Australia, where parakeets live in nature, clinging to a limb keeps parakeets out of reach of rats and snakes while they sleep.
They don’t have this threat when they live as pets, or at least we hope they do not, but it’s an instinctual method for the parakeet to protect itself.
Parakeets begin to go into dream sleep just a few minutes after they start sleeping. Their dreams don’t last very long.
For the first hour, parakeets mostly sleep with one eye open. Scientists who fitted budgies with tiny EEG electrodes have discovered that one-half of a parakeet’s brain is awake when it has one eye open.
This way, if a parakeet in the wild has made a horrible mistake in choosing its place to sleep, it can quickly wake up and fly away.
After the first hour, the parakeet has slept through the first hour, it spends more and more time dreaming until the beginning of the fifth hour.
At this point, it will wake up, eat a little birdseed and take a drink, stretch its wings, and go back to sleep on the side or the ceiling of the cage.
Parakeets thrive on twelve hours of sleep a night. They can’t get the sleep they need when they are exposed to constant overhead lighting.
Budgies under constant overhead lighting get only about half as much total sleep as when they have 12 hours of darkness out of every 24.
They get a smaller percentage of REM sleep time when they can consolidate their memories of the day, including the words you are trying to teach.
Parakeets that are exposed to light all the time don’t hang upside down or cling to the sides of their cages to sleep.
They flop down in the bottom of the cage and get the best sleep they can. They are not as alert during the day, and their naps are not restful, either.
But for female parakeets, there is another effect.
Light Affects Egg Laying Patterns
In Australia, where parakeets originated, winter is the dry season. There are fewer insects to eat.
The grasses aren’t making any new seeds for the birds to eat. Winter would be a bad time to try to raise baby birds.
Female parakeets in the wild don’t get the urge to lay eggs until the days start getting longer in the spring.
By the time the length of daylight passes 12 hours a day, they are ready to lay eggs even if they have not found a mate.
Female parakeets that live in constant light will lay eggs even if they have not mated.
Making the egg drains the female bird of nutrients, especially calcium.
They will become more interested in their eggs than anything else, even if those eggs will never hatch.
One very good reason to cover a female parakeet’s cage at night is to keep it from wanting it to lay eggs.
If your female budgie has a mate, and hatching out nestlings is desirable, then it’s OK to leave the lights on a little later every evening.
But even in this situation, 12 hours of light a day is enough.
The male budgie in the same cage needs a long time to rest, so it can learn and remember the words you are teaching it.
Covering your parakeet’s cage at night blocks light that may be interfering with normal biorhythms.
Making sure your birds get 12 hours of darkness every night makes them smarter birds.
It helps with family planning. But another reason to cover your parakeet’s cage at night is temperature control.
Cover Your Budgie Cage to Keep Your Birds Warm
The grasslands where parakeets originated in Australia aren’t really tropical.
Nighttime temperatures are often around 50° F (10° C) in the winter. On rare occasions, there can be frosts.
Daytime temperatures are around 70° F (21° C) in the winter and up to 90° F (33° C) in the winter.
Summer evenings are usually about the same as winter afternoons, around 70° F.
Parakeets do well when they are kept in constant temperatures of about 70° to 75° F (21 to 23° C).
They suffer fewer infections, they are more active, and they learn more words.
Parakeets like the same temperatures humans do. To keep your parakeet cage at the right temperature, here are some things you need to do.
Parakeets are happier when their cage is placed near a window, so they have a view of the outside world (as long as the outside world doesn’t include any feral cats that come up to the window).
They enjoy the sunlight. They enjoy the fresh air.
But parakeets need to be protected from drafts in the winter.
You can use a window cozy to keep out drafts during the day and cover the cage for additional protection at night.
Similarly, it’s never a good idea to place a budgie cage directly against an air conditioner.
The birds will get too cold. But if it’s not possible to put the cage out of your AC’s blast at night, you can at least cover the cage.
Another way to keep your parakeets warm in the winter is to give them a cage heater.
A “snuggle up” heater is placed on the side of the cage. It is controlled by a thermostat to keep the cage at a constant 75° F (23° C).
As long as the cage heater has a thermostat, it’s OK to leave it running inside the cover.
But for the first few nights, check on your birds, without turning on the lights, to make sure the thermostat works properly and your birds don’t overheat.
Even though budgies in nature live in a dry climate, forced air heating can make indoor air too dry for them in the winter.
Your parakeet’s nasal passages and lungs can dry out. Their linings become inflamed and cracked. This leaves them vulnerable to infections.
The easiest way to prevent this problem is to run a humidifier, but a humidifier won’t do a lot of good while your birds are sleeping with a cover over their cage.
Offer them bath time or a quick mist from a spray bottle just before bedtime, when you cover their cages for the night.
One More Reason to Cover Your Parakeet’s Cage at Night
Bird cage covers don’t just block light. They also muffle noise.
Blocking a cat’s meow goes a long way toward keeping your parakeet stress-free. So does blocking traffic noise.
A bird cage cover doesn’t eliminate noise, but it keeps your bird’s cage a quieter, calmer place.
What Do You Need to Look for in a Bird Cage Cover?
Not just any cover for your parakeet’s cage will do.
Black plastic blocks light, but it can also suffocate your birds. You can’t make a bird cage cover out of trash bags. Lack of air flow is also the problem with cardboard.
Cotton sheets let air through, but they don’t block enough light. Neither does burlap. And towels and blankets are just too heavy.
You will get better results with a bird cage cover from a pet supply store than trying to do it yourself.
Any bird cage cover you buy should be:
- Breathable. The fabric should let air flow through to keep your birds comfortable.
- Shading. A bird cage cover does not have to block 100% of light in the room (you’ll be turning off the lights), but the inside of the cage needs to be dark. It’s OK for the interior to be as brightly lit as a moonlit night.
- Easy assembly and disassembly. The bird cage cover should be easy to put on at night and easy to take off the next morning. A magnetic buckle that fits the top of the cage is useful, but magnetic straps on the sides of the bird cage tend to come loose during the night. Hook and loop tabs are more secure.
- Demonstration videos.Placing a cover on your bird’s cage securely and quickly may take some practice. Brands that have demonstration videos may be easier to use.
- Size. The bird cage cover must cover the entire cage. It can’t let any light in at the sides, top, or bottom. This means that any cover you buy needs to be just a little larger than the cage.
- Shape. Not all parakeet cages are rectangular. There are round, domed, and even pyramid cages for parakeets. The shape of the cover must match the shape of the cage.
- Top cover. Don’t forget to block light at the top of the cage. You may need a specially shaped bird cage cover for cages that have a play area on top for times you let your birds out.
- Toxicity. Nylon and polyester are safe choices, but cotton-polyester blends are often treated with formaldehyde, which is toxic to your bird. Polyester is non-toxic, but it tends to hang on to seed balls and dander. Some scrubbing may be necessary when you buy a polyester bird cage cover.
- Odor. If your bird cage cover has an odd chemical odor, send it back for a refund or toss it. Parakeets and chemicals aren’t a safe combination.
- Door. The cover should also have a door that you can open for quick inspection of the birds at night should you need to look into their cage.
- Washability. Most of us don’t have time to hand wash a bird cage cover once or twice a week. Any bird cage cover you buy needs to be machine washable and dryer safe.
- Durability. A one-year warranty is a good indication that the cover should stand up to at least 50 to 100 runs through your washer and dryer.
Look for bird cage covers that have dozens of reviews from happy users. Then let your bird review your bird cage cover.
If your parakeet calms down as soon as you cover their cage, you know you made the right choice.
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