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Budgies

Written by Grace, Pootspete

Budgerigar, aka Budgie or Parakeet (Scientific Name: Melopsittacus undulates) is a very common bird. For easy reference I will use the word "Budgie(s)" in this article. Budgies belong to the parrot family. They are colorful, graceful, small to medium size, full of energy and have long tapered tail feathers. They were first seen in the late 1700's.

The budgie is a native to the Australian mainland, but has been seen throughout Asia, some tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Central America and South America. They are very social among their own kind and with people. They love attention and make wonderful pets.

There are a very wide variety of budgies! They consist of about 120 species with many types of sub-species.

It is believed that John Gould, a naturalist and member of the Zoological Society of London, brought the budgie from Australia to Europe in the late 1800's.

Being that they belong to the parrot family, it would make sense that they are eager to learn to talk.

Budgies come in over one hundred different kinds of colors. The primary color is green (which is typical in the wild as camouflage). There are various shades of blue, opaline, gray, white, yellow a/k/a lutino, pied (combination in one bird), cobalt, mauve, whites, greywings, clearwings, fallow, violet, spangle and some rarer shades of color. Budgies are 7" to 9 3/8" in length from the top of the bill over the head to the tip of the tail. Give or take a few. The tail itself measures 3 1/8" to 4 1/2". Budgies can weigh anywhere from 1-1.4 oz or 30-40g. Their droppings are small and firm and can be picked up with a tissue. A budgies first molt is around 3 months. Usually they molt in spring, but can be any time. Check out more on molting here. Their life span is about seven years. But, if taken care of properly and no unforeseen illnesses, the life expectancy of the average budgie could be 12-14 years. Wow, that is a long time to enjoy such a beautiful and loving bird.

Budgies have a hooked upper bill that they use to climb, hold onto things, or to dig. On occasion one of my budgies loves to dig at the bottom of its cage. They also use their beak to chew, break seeds, and peel fruit. Most budgies have what you call a unfeathered cere at the top of their beak that surrounds their nostrils. The coloration of the cere on a budgie is different for the male and the female making it easy to sex them.

They are fairly intelligent birds. Among the species, each one of them has their own set of calls. You will find with some birds being quite good at mimicking sounds they hear. Some will repeat words, phrases and even whistle!

I Want One

When purchasing your budgie, take into consideration where you purchase your budgie, the cleanliness of the store or breeder. Budgies can be bought for under $20, but I have seen them higher due to being specially bred or the type of mutation. Budgies do like attention, especially if you only have one bird. Singly or in pairs, they make wonderful pets. If you happen to decide on getting a male and female, they are monogamous, so once they find a mate it is usually for life unless of course one of them has an untimely death, then the other would find a new mate that is if you provide another budgie. You want to buy a young budgie and one that looks lively. You will see that their head and brow are striped; the eyes solid black; the cere tannish pink; the beak a bit black and the poorly formed or unformed necklace are the markings of a baby budgie. Budgies are very good fliers. In the wild they would fly back and forth across many miles searching for food and water. In my view, if you can provide your budgie with free flying time, then they would be a much happier bird. More than likely when you purchase your budgie from a pet store their wings will be clipped for easier handling and somewhat safety reasons (Budgies still can fly with clipped wings, but not upward). They will grow back in about three months time. There is a debate on whether one should have their birds wings continuously clipped, please check out the wing clipping article.

Another thing to consider before buying your budgie is do you have allergies? Some people are allergic to feathers and the dust budgies give off. So make sure you are healthy enough to obtain a budgie.

Where is My Budgie Going to Live?

First you want to find your Budgie a good home. A roomy cage with minimum dimensions of 20" long x 12" deep x 18" high. Still an ideal size of 40" long x 20" deep x 32" high is even better. You want a cage that has horizontal bars so your budgie finds climbing much easier. Attaching perches with different diameters or branches with some angling is more comfortable for your budgies feet. A swing comes in handy, especially at night for sleeping. Cage covers can be provided. Some budgies like to be covered; others do not to it. In reaching a decision, cover one side or part of the top so that no light shines in directly on your budgie. This will give it a chance of either resting under the cover or coming out to see things for itself. Mirrors are optional, in my opinion. Do not over crowd your new budgies home, as you want it to have some flying room. A bathing cup is good; unless you teach your budgie later on to bathe under a running faucet. Clips to hold spray millet and fresh food are ideal.

Do not place your budgie in the kitchen, as the fumes from cooking, especially if you cook using nonstick cookware, may be toxic.

Budgies require a constant room temperature. Extreme changes in air temperature can prove fatal. Most budgies need a humidity level of 60 to 70% and 12 hours of daylight.

Remember to place your budgie's cage where no draft, air conditioner, fan will blow directly onto its cage.

Maintenance

Cleaning of the water and food dishes daily is essential for basic cage care. On a weekly basis you should wash all the perches, toys, cage bars. If you do not have a grate, but even still, the floor should be washed every other week. If you have an aviary you should do a total wash down with a hose and disinfect yearly. If dishes, toys and perches need replacing then do so.

What Do I Feed My Budgie?

A good mixture of canary grass seed, white millet, yellow millet, oats and groats and red millet, niger seed and linseed are ready made seeds you can find at your local pet store. The higher quality seeds come with a mixture of thistle, anise, sesame and safflower seed. Your budgie will de-husk their seeds and swallow the kernels whole. There may be a vitamin pellet included with iodine, which prevent thyroid problems. Vitamin B is good. Best place to store your seeds is in a dark, but airy place. Make sure you budgies food is in a tightly seal compartment. Usually they are sold in bags with zip locks. You want the feed to be as fresh as possible, and also you do not want any little critters getting inside. Some people store unused seed in their refrigerators until ready to use. Greens should be fed to your budgie once a day, but should not be left in the cage for more than an hour or so. Budgies in the wild feed on grass seeds, eucalypt leaves, buds and bark and other greens. Budgies are vegetarian and should not eat meats and milk. You should also offer your budgie fresh foods like green peas, cucumber, beet greens, carrots, unsprayed lettuce to name a few. Fruits that are good for your budgie are apples, apricots, bananas and most other fruits. Do not feed your budgie anything that is in the cabbage family, raw and green potatoes, green beans, grapefruit, rhubarb, plums, lemons, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine and avocado.

The budgies digestive system is designed to supply it with enough energy to fly. That is why budgies need a constant supply of nourishment. Budgies take in their food rapidly; their digestive tract is short and food passes through it in a few hours. If you heard the saying, "Birds Never Stop Eating" that is true. Budgies will starve to death if not given food for 48 hours. Budgies shell the seeds when they eat. Therefore what may look like a container with food might be a container full of shells (husk). Do not be fooled and let your budgie starve. This is a common feeding mistake That is why it is so important to feed your budgie daily. Budgies are also hookbills and crack open their seed to eat, so they do NOT need grit as many people believe they do.

You will also need a mineral block and a cuttlebone, which hangs in your budgies cage. These provide minerals and trace elements that your budgie needs, and the cuttlebone also trims your budgies beak. A cement perch also helps in trimming of the toenails. You can offer millet ever so often as a treat. Naturally supply fresh water daily. View more in our feeding and food article.

What Is My Budgie Doing?

You may find many times that your budgie regurgitates. For example, when a female budgie is sitting on her eggs, sometimes the male will bring her food in this way. Also, this is how the female budgie feeds her babies. Now, if your budgie is regurgitating food for you, it is the budgies way of saying it loves you. This is the ultimate compliment a budgie can give. Awww...

You may have noticed your budgie cleaning or pulling at its feathers. A budgie will normally preen its feathers daily, keeping them clean and free of dust. So you might see your budgie sliding its feathers through its beak, nibbling at its feathers, scratching its head with its claws, and fluffing up. This is all normal. Suppose you find your budgie is actually yanking out/pulling out feathers repeatedly (or yanking out one of its mate's feathers) then you should consult a veterinarian as to why this is happening, it could possibly be boredom.

What gives with my budgie rubbing its head way in the back just before where his tail begins? That is your budgie rubbing its oil gland to spread all over its body for healthier feathers and keeps them water resistant. It is the cutest thing to watch.

Training and Handling Your Budgie

I will touch on this only briefly, as there is a whole good article on Training in the article section. Take it slow at first and let your budgie get used to you and its new surroundings before trying to get it on your finger. Most budgies talk, but not all. You need to be patient and repetitive when training your budgie to talk. Remember also that a talking bird is a mimic.

Keeping Your Budgie Healthy

If you feed your budgie well and keep their house under sanitary conditions, free from dampness and drafts, they will in all likelihood suffer very few aliments. Still, unfortunately unanticipated instances may occur and your precious budgie becomes sick. Budgies are masters of hiding illnesses. One of the first indications that your budgie is not feeling up to par is its general listlessness. Feathers are puffy and fluffed out and possibly his head tucked into its back feathers, sitting on the floor, breathing difficulties, and diarrhea. Closing one or both eyes and constantly tucking up one foot could also produce a red flag. Examine your little budgie carefully to see if its eyes are dull, and whether or not the droppings are watery or off-color. More dangerous warning sign is the loss of appetite or increased appetite, especially for water.

There is no substitute for taking a sick budgie immediately to a veterinarian. Take a look at the vetcare article (or one of the many other health-related articles). If you have more than one budgie, remove the ill one and isolate it from the other birds. It would probably be a good idea to take all your budgies to the veterinarian to make sure nothing was transferable.

Some of the common illnesses your budgie could get are Psittacosis (Check out new article on Psittacosis in Article Section), Aspergillosis - respiratory infection, Candidiasis, cold and sinus inflammations, diarrhea, egg binding, egg pecking, eye infections, feather plucking, goiter or thyroid gland enlargement, mites, and Salmonella, worms just to name a few.

An interesting observation which I have read several times in books are many budgies which die before the age 5 could be a result of not being fed properly. There is also a window of time where a budgie might develop a tumor. If a budgie starts acting poorly around age 5 through 7 it is probably a tumor. You need to take your budgie to a veterinarian, especially if you see its breastbone sticking out or that your bird has trouble sitting on its perch. If your budgie makes it through this time it will probably live a long life and die of old age.

Another area of having a healthy budgie is to make sure its beak and claws are not too long. If not taken care of, this could cause your budgie discomfort in the long run. If the beak becomes over grown, your budgie may not be able to eat. You should go to a veterinarian to have this procedure taken care of.

A healthy budgie sleeps with its head pulled back into its shoulders If your budgie is ill, its head may droop drowsily farther forward into its breast. Budgies need a good 10-12 hours of sleep daily. Budgies also take naps during the day when it is quiet. They will often stretch and yawn before falling asleep, or after waking up. Budgies will often sleep just by closing their eyes. But they will also perch on one foot sometimes, like a flamingo, to give their other foot a rest for a while.

Budgies are highly inquisitive birds and are as smart as a 2 or 3 year old baby, yikes! They can maneuver into small corners and wedge themselves into holes when they are exploring. Never bring your budgie out when cooking. Clipped or unclipped wings, they can manage to fly right into the pan and be severely burned. That is why it is so important to be sure to never let your budgie roam around without you being there to help keep an eye on it.

Let your budgie play and exercise daily. It is so important to your budgies well being physically and psychologically. Since budgies are designed to fly long distances, then they need to fly at least a couple of hours each day supervised in your home, which should be a safe environment.

Safety

Remember if you let your budgie out of its cage that means you NEVER let it out of your sight. Accidents can happen. You may need to bird proof your home or where you budgie lights. Remove poisonous plants (see article on harmful plants), electrical wiring or string. Budgies love to chew and climb.

Bathing

In the wild, budgies take baths by rolling in grasses that are full of dew. But you cannot do this in captivity. You can purchase a plastic birdbath, which can be attached to the open cage door. One of my budgies find it more appealing dipping in its drinking cup. If you budgie is at liberty, with your supervision, to find its own way into a kitchen or bathroom and partake in a dripping faucet, that is truly enjoyable to witness.

Exhibiting

Budgies are used in exhibitions. One in particular is the English Budgie. English Budgies look quite different than the native Australian budgie. They are much larger and have a large crested head. (Too cute) They too come in many colors. If you are a breeder and are able to show one of your prized budgies certainly can be a rewarding experience. To breed a high quality budgie is to find out what is required and the official standards of perfection for exhibition. You can gain information on this topic through bird societies.

In closing, may your budgie(s) live a long and healthy life and bring much joy to you and your family.

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