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Budgies and their care

  • Male: – Cock
  • Female: – Hen
  • Young: – Chicks
  • Scientific name:
    Melopsittacus Undulatus
    ( Melos
    – Greek for ‘song’
    Psittacus – Greek for ‘parrot’
    Undulatus – Latin for ‘wave-lined’)
  • Incubation – 18 days
  • Clutch size – 4-10
  • Plummage complete around 28 days
  • Fully fledged at 6 weeks
  • Puberty – 4 months
  • Longevity – 5-10 years but in ideal conditions they can live for 20 years

History

Budgerigars are native to Australia where they travel in large flocks of several hundred birds across the plains and grasslands in search of food and water. They lead a nomadic lifestyle appearing anywhere the rains have turned dessert into lush pasture as if by a sixth sense. Wild budgies are green in colour and are much smaller than today’s domestic bird. Budgies are natural aerobats and fly at speeds of up to 70mph, covering many miles each day, they can change direction as fast and as efficiently as any swallow.

A naturalist John Gould first came across the wild budgie back in 1840, he soon realised the value of these beautiful birds and set about trapping them to bring back to England. Only a few of the birds survived the long journey and even more died afterwards as no one knew how to care for them. However some did survive and started to breed. Sailors then saw a way to turn a fast penny so began to trap the budgie and bring it back to England to such an extent that the wild stocks were nearly depleted. In 1894 Australia realising that these birds were now being trapped and exported in their hundreds and thousands banned the catching and trading of budgies. Today all budgies offered on the pet market are captive bred.

Budgies as pets

Budgies are very popular as pets as they are comical, cheerful, inquisitive and hardy. They should never be kept singly as they become quickly bored and a bored bird will start to pluck out it’s feathers in distress. Once the habit has been formed it is nearly impossible to stop. If two birds are to be kept in the average pet shop sized cage it is unadvisable to obtain two females as they will often quarrel. Either two males or a male and a female are best, the male and female will not breed if there is not a nest box readily available.

These popular birds are often bought as children’s first pets because they are relatively inexpensive and easy to keep but please remember as with any other pet purchased for a child the novelty soon wears off and the parents must be prepared to take on the continuation of care.

A young budgie can be distinguished by the horizontal bars on the top of it’s head, these bars begin to fade with age leaving the top of the head a solid colour. Adult male budgies have a bright blue cere and females have a brown cere. The cere is the two waxy membranes that resemble nostrils above the beak. Juveniles have a light almost neutral coloured cere changing colour as they mature making it difficult to correctly sex a young bird. Cere is derived from the latin name cera meaning wax.

The beak is made from light weight Keratin and it is the typical shape of the parrot family and is excellent for removing seeds from the husks. It is very strong and the birds use it as an aid for climbing.

The budgie has four toes not the usual three as seen in most birds, they are paired two to the front and two to the back, this is called Zygodactyl which is from the Greek word zygon meaning yoke. The claws in the correct environment will need no attention as the bird will wear them down naturally but should they need trimming ask your vet to show you how the first time and you should be able to carry out this procedure easily yourself thereafter.
Cages

There are many different shapes and sizes of cages available today, unfortunately none of them are big enough for your birds to be able to fly: at best they will be able to stretch out their wings. It is down to your personal preference, but do bear in mind your birds will spend the best part of the rest of their lives cooped up in the cage so the bigger the better. Cages with very decorative turrets are ornamental only as your birds will not be able to use such small pockets of space. It would be cruel to keep birds in any cage continuously as they do need access to free flight for several hours each day. The best cage to buy is a rectangular one with enough space for your birds to stretch their wings to the side and above their heads without touching the bars. The bars should be horizontal as your budgies will get some exercise and amusement by climbing. Remember when buying a cage has to be a home not a prison.

Your birds will appreciate some toys with which to play. One mistake that is often made is to over furnish the cage with toys to compensate for lack of free flight. No amount of toys can be a substitute for this. All they do is clutter the cage and the birds have even less room to stretch. Three toys such as a ladder, mirror and bell are ample, but you could buy others and rotate them. Two or three perches will be necessary, the best are from natural willow, apple, oak, elder, poplar or mountain ash. They should be of varying thickness so that the birds’ foot muscles are exercised and the nails are worn down. The leaves should be left on as the birds will love to strip them off, and tear away at the bark. Take care that any outdoor branches have not been treated with any chemicals. The perches should be placed so that the birds can roost comfortably without touching the top of the cage.

The bottom of the cage can be covered in sand paper sheets or wood shavings.

You will require a food bowl and a water dispenser, modern cages often have both attached to the outside of the cage but with access from the inside. These are definitely best as it prevents the birds from soiling from above.

Your birds should have access to a daily bath as part of their routine, again there are baths that are especially designed to fit in the open doorway.

The cage and all of its accessories, including the perches, should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week. Any perches that have been badly soiled or destroyed should be replaced.

You will need to consider carefully the best place to situate the cage. The living area is usually the first choice but it is often too frightening for the birds with the glare and noise from a tv or stereo. Budgies themselves are very noisy too and can interfere with your relaxation. Do not put the cage in front of a window, or near to a fire or heater, or in the kitchen as the fluctuation in temperature will have an adverse effect on your birds.
Aviaries

Aviaries are by far the best way to keep any pet birds as it allows unlimited flight and in turn the birds will be much happier and healthier for it. Because of the size it is possible to keep more birds together with possibly a variety of breeds and you will have many hours of amusement watching their antics. Budgies however should always be kept with others of their kind, or larger birds such as parakeets or cockatiels, as they are natural bullies and will harass smaller birds. If you keep a mix of the sexes and you do not want them to breed do not provide nest boxes, or remove any eggs as soon as you find them.

There are two types of aviary to consider – the indoor or outdoor types.

The outdoor aviary consists of a secure outside flight area with a hatch or door into a sheltered sleeping area. The aviary should be situated out of any draughts and preferably be exposed to the cooler morning sun not the full heat of the afternoon sun. The outdoor flight area should be constructed solidly with timber and weld mesh. The mesh should be sunk into the ground for at least 46cms to prevent predators digging in. The floor ideally should be of concrete to make it easier to disinfect to prevent disease. Again perches as already discussed will be necessary. Budgies like to observe from above so they will prefer the perches at the top of the aviary. You could make a ‘bird tree’ by securing a larger branch in a bucket of soil or sand or by standing bamboo canes in the bucket and tying smaller twigs horizontally at various heights. Hang treats at different locations each time in the aviary as the birds will get enjoyment in hunting for their food.

A bird bath must be provided which can be a shallow saucer or an ornamental garden bird bath that will make a very decorative feature in the aviary. A cheap alternative is an overturned dustbin lid with a few stones for the birds to stand on. The water should be changed daily.

The hatch or door into the sleeping area must be made secure so that when you put the birds in for the night you do not have to worry about any harm coming to them. Birds can die of shock if only harassed by predators.

An indoor aviary can be made inside a shed or barn with exactly the same construction. If the building is completely secure it may not be necessary to provide a separate sleeping area.

Both aviaries should have wasted and discarded food removed daily and should be thoroughly cleaned out every week.
Exercise

Any bird needs regular free flight to exercise it’s muscles, ensure good blood circulation and maintain a healthy heart. It is cruel to keep a bird cooped up permanently in a cage without access to free flight. A bird that has permanent access to free flight will live much longer than a caged bird. Caged birds as already discussed need several hours free flight every day, but this is not without its dangers:

All fireplaces should have a guard on at all times so that the bird does not get burned or escape up the chimney.
All windows should be closed and the curtains drawn. Your birds will fly into the clear glass window pane or will become entangled in net curtains.
All doors should be closed with a sign on the outside warning others that the birds are out .
All other pets should be put into another room and remove any houseplants as the birds will strip them.
Never leave your birds unattended as budgies are by nature destructive and will chip away at wallpaper and furnishings. Escaped birds very rarely return as once out of familiar territory they are unable to find their way home. They do not survive long as they will starve not being able to find the right foods to sustain them and other larger birds will often attack them because of their bright colouring.

With all the necessary precautions paid heed to there is nothing better than watching your birds enjoy their freedom.
Diet

There are many commercial bird seeds on the market to choose from. Only buy small quantities at a time as the nutritional value deteriorates with time. To check that your feed is still fresh place a tablespoon of seed on a soaked piece of kitchen towel and keep it moist, the seed should start to sprout in under a week, your birds will love these sproutings too.

Budgies only eat the kernel of the seed and discard the husks. Check the food bowl each day and blow away any husks, birds have been known to starve to death because their owners thought there was seed in the bowl but it was just discarded husks. In the wild budgies will eat many different types of grass seeds so collect some seeding grasses and hang them in the aviary or cage and watch your birds strip out the seeds.

Other green foods that can be provided are fresh herbs, young grass shoots, shepherds purse, watercress, corn kernels, chickweed, groundsel, dandelion (including the root, as it contains essential minerals in it), lettuce and spinach. They also will appreciate a piece of apple to peck at or some grated carrot.

They love a spray of millet but this should be restricted for birds kept in small cages to prevent them from becoming obese.

A saucer of grit, especially for birds, should be provided at all times. The birds swallow the seeds wholesale and the grit in the gizzard is needed to grind the seeds down.

A cuttlefish bone should always be available as this contains a valuable source of calcium and phosphorous and it helps to wear down the beak. Should the beak overgrow it will prevent your bird from eating and a trip to the vets for a trim will be necessary.

An iodine block should be provided to substitute any deficiencies in the diet and aid the thyroid.

Budgies drink very little water but fresh water should be available to them at all times.
Healthcare

Ectoparasites – red mites, feather mites and lice are often suspected when your birds have prolonged loss of feathers, bald spots, ruffled plumage or are scratching continuously. The red mites live on the blood that they suck from the bird. They are rarely seen in the day as they rest up in the cracks and crevices in the aviary but become very active at night causing the bird a great deal of discomfort. There are many commercial preparations that are effective against red mites, they contain pyrethin which is completely safe to use on your birds. You will have to treat the whole area cage, perches, toys as well as the birds. Red mites are carried in to your birds on the wings of flies.

The other forms of mites and lice are rarely seen in the pet bird but if they are both the bird and equipment once again should be treated with a hexachloride, malathion or derris root preparation.

Scaly face is another mite transferred by flies, again it is rarely seen in pet birds but it is visible when they are affected and can be dealt with quickly. The mites burrow into the birds beak, eye lids and legs leaving behind hundreds of tunnel like openings. The bird exudes a sticky substance and the skin debris from the tunnelling sticks to the liquid forming crusts. It can be effectively treated by applying a thick layer of Vaseline to block the air supply to the tunnels suffocating the mites.

Psittacosis is suspected when the bird is listless, has ruffled feathers, tucks it’s beak into it’s chest, has cold like symptoms, conjunctivitis and the droppings are soft with traces of blood. If you are worried that your birds are showing any or all of these symptoms please consult your vet immediately as pssitacosis can be transferred to humans. If caught early enough it can be successfully treated in both birds and humans.

Moult – your birds will moult their feathers, including their tail feathers, several times a year with the first time being around three months of age, and the main moult every autumn. This is a perfectly natural process that all birds go through to replace their feathers. During this time your birds may seem a little of colour and will require especially nutritious food. Older budgies may find the moult very stressful and you may need to put them in a cage alone and provide some extra warmth under a heat lamp.

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