The budgie, or parakeet, is among the smallest of the parrot species commonly kept as pets. They are also the most popular pet bird by a large measure, due in part to the fact that they are quite affordable. These small parrots are exceedingly friendly and easy to tame. While they can sometimes be difficult to understand, they are also quite capable of mimicking human speech.
Origin and History
The budgie and other parakeet species are native to Australia, where they are still found in huge flocks in grasslands. These wild species, however, are slightly smaller than the birds normally found in pet stores, which have now undergone decades of captive breeding.
The English naturalist John Gould brought the budgie to Europe around 1838, where they quickly became favorites as pets. By 1894, Australia banned export budgies, leading to a lucrative breeding business in Europe. The bird was slow to find its way to America, arriving about 1920, but became wildly popular by the 1950s.
There are two types of budgies common to the pet trade—the American budgie or parakeet and the English budgie. The American variety is the one most commonly found in pet stores, while the type often seen in exhibitions and shows is the larger English budgie. English budgies have a different appearance than American budgies, but both types belong to the same species.
Budgies are gentle and docile birds. They are also very easy to tame, especially if acquired at a young age. Pairs of birds make good company for each other, but when in living pairs and entertaining one another, they may not bond as well with their owners or mimic speech as fluently. Budgies are also very playful, active, and quieter than some other types of parrots.
Colors and Markings
The normal wild coloration of a budgie is a light green with black bars on their wings, back, and head. Typically mature females have a tan or beige cere (the fleshy part around the nostrils), and the males have a bluish cere. Young budgies also have bar markings on their foreheads that recede with age, and their eyes typically have dark irises that gradually become gray with age. Through selective breeding in the pet trade, a huge variety of colors and patterns are available, including violet, blue, yellow, pied, albino, and the classic neon green.
Unlike other parrots, budgies are widely available at nearly all pet stores, so care is necessary when selecting a bird. Where possible, it's better to buy a bird directly from a breeder. It is best to choose a young budgie that has been handled regularly if you want to tame your budgie easily. You can expect to pay more for a hand-reared or very young bird, but it may be worth the extra cost since it will make the hand-taming process quicker and easier. Pet stores typically have older birds, so hand-taming them may be more of a challenge.
Look for a bird that is bright, alert, and active. The feathers should be smooth, shiny, and lay flat on the body. The vent should be clean, dry, and free of fecal matter. The scales on the feet should be smooth, the nails and beak should be smooth and not overgrown, and the nostrils should be clear and clean with no clumping of the feathers surrounding them.
Budgies are active and playful and should have a large cage that allows room for toys, sleeping, eating, and flight. Minimum dimensions for a cage are 20 inches long by 12 inches deep by 18 inches high, but bigger is always better. The spacing of the cage bars should be half an inch or less to avoid escapes and to prevent your bird from getting stuck. Horizontal cage bars offer the best opportunity for climbing and exercise. Place at least a couple of perches at different levels, with enough space for your budgie to comfortably move between them. Offering a variety of perch sizes, shapes, and textures will also help keep your budgie's feet in good shape. A nest to sleep in, dishes for food and water, various toys, and things to chew should all fit inside the cage.
Even if they have a large cage, budgies will still need playtime and socialization opportunities outside of the cage. The flight is very natural and important for a bird, but you should only allow your budgie to fly in a very secure and safe area. If you have concerns about being able to control your bird's flight area, consider having the wings trimmed some to decrease the flying abilities.
Like most parrots, budgies are social birds, and thus many owners keep budgies in pairs so that they can entertain one another. Budgies seem to be happiest when kept in pairs. A single bird can be fine as long as you are able to spend a significant amount of time interacting with them on a daily basis.
Variety is the key to a healthy diet for your budgie since these birds are diverse foragers in the wild. Seeds can be a nutritious part of a budgie's diet, but because these are high in fat, seeds should only make up a portion of the diet. Pelleted diets are often a good choice for birds, as they are nutritionally balanced. Seeds and pellets can be fed in combination, but other foods should also complement the diet, including a variety of fresh vegetables (carrots, broccoli, corn, spinach, beans, etc.) and fruit.
Have patience with your budgie anytime you introduce a new food, as they can be scary to birds. Sprouted seeds are also an excellent way to add variety to your bird's diet, but avocados, chocolate, sugar, and salt must be avoided.
A cuttlebone can be provided as a source of calcium, but grit is not needed and can be harmful if your budgie eats too much.
Free flying time is critical to the budgie; try to offer several hours each a day in a room that is safe. A large houseplant can be a great playground. Your budgie needs a variety of toys to offer exercise and mental stimulation. It's best to rotate the toys every month or so to prevent them from growing bored.
Common Health Issues
Budgies are prone to some of the same issues as other parrots, but also have some that are unique to this species. They can be susceptible to goiters caused by iodine deficiency or develop tumors if the diet includes too many seeds and not enough fruits and vegetables. Budgies can also be subject to psittacosis (also called parrot fever, caused by a bacteria) and they can fall prey to scaly mites that affect the skin on the legs and around the eyes.
When it comes to great pet ideas, the budgie isn't the only bird in town. Other small parrots you might want to consider are:
Loukopoulos, Panayiotis et al. An outbreak of thyroid hyperplasia (goiter) with high mortality in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus). Journal of veterinary diagnostic investigation : official publication of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, Inc vol. 27,1 (2015): 18-24. doi:10.1177/1040638714559025
Psittacosis Fact Sheet. New York State Department of Health.