For Britain’s bird lovers and young ornithological obsessives, It’s widely accepted that the beautiful budgerigar or ‘budgie’ is something of a ‘beginner’s bird’ for those looking to start a little aviary of their own, and so it’s no wonder that they are one of the most popular choices of domestic pets in the UK.
However, looking after one is far from child’s play, and there is quite a lot to learn before you purchase a wee winged wonder!
Sadly, a lot of misinformation still exists about the care of budgies, and so many new birdy owners are given the wrong advice when it comes looking after a feathered friend.
So to help you avoid running into any issues, we’ve put together this in-depth, trustworthy guide, to clue you up on everything you need to know about budgie caregiving!
- Lifespan: 5 to 10 years
- Average Height: 18 cm
- Average Weight: 30 – 40 g
- Popular Breeds: N/A – But selective breeding has created a variety of different coloured budgies
- Diet: Budgie Pellets, Seeds, Fruits, Vegetables
- Origin: Oceania/Australasia
IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Before you decide you really want a budgie, you need to consider these important caregiving factors:
- Budgies are social animals – In the wild budgies live in flocks of thousands, and so thrive on the company of others and get lonely without it. This means you’ll need to be able to devote plenty of time to your pet or provide them with another few budgies!
- Budgies can live up to 10 years (or more!) – Make sure you are prepared for a long commitment to your pet.
- Budgies can be noisy – Budgies are birds, which quite obviously means you’re going to have to put up with lots of chirping and tweeting. If you like peace and quiet, it’s not the bird for you.
- Budgies don’t like being petted – If you like stroking pets, a budgie may not be for you as it can take a lot of training and taming just to get a bird to accept your finger as a perch let alone accept a big cuddle.
- They can’t be toilet trained! – If you have dreams of being a budget Long John Silver with a budgie on your shoulder, be prepared for that shoulder to become covered in poop. Budgies can’t be toilet trained meaning you should be prepared if you plan on letting one fly freely around the house
- Budgies can be messy – even when kept in a cage, seeds, feathers and bird poop can all find their way through the bars and onto the floor, so beware if you plan on keeping your budgie indoors.
- You’ll have to do lots of cleaning – To keep their environment safe and free of bacteria, you will have to clean their environment every day, with weekly and bigger monthly cleaning sessions schedules too!
- They get bored easily – Let’s face it, sitting around in a cage all day is next to no fun, and so you’re going to need to buy more than just a cage and food for your new friend. Toys and entertaining contraptions can help keep budgies occupied and happy!
WHERE TO BUY A BUDGIE
Once you’re sure budgies really are the pet for you, your next question is probably where to buy one from. Thankfully, they are a widely available bird and can be bought from many pet shops, breeders and animal shelters/bird rescue centres.
We would recommend contacting local animal shelters and bird rescue centres first, as there’s no question that the best thing you could do is rehome some unwanted little budgies!
However, if you’re looking for a specific rarer variety of budgie with an interesting plumage. your best bet is to go with a breeder who will likely have a lot of knowledge about the various mutations of budgie and will hopefully have trained, tamed and treated them kindly if they are a responsible breeder.
You need to make sure that whoever you buy your budgies from is reputable, and that they’ve housed the animal correctly before they come home with you.
This is because birds living in poor conditions could easily be carrying illness or infection, which would cause you and your family needless distress or grief should you purchase a suffering animal.
In regards to certified breeders and shelters, it’s unlikely they would raise birds in conditions which would be detrimental to their health, but for certain pet shops or irresponsible breeders who are housing tons of animals at one time – the same level of care potentially might not be given.
Therefore, when buying any budgie you should always ensure that you come and view their current premises first hand to check they are being given proper care, and you should avoid ever buying one blind over the internet!
When choosing your feathered friend, you also need to be suspicious of any groups of birds who look unwell or are too young to be separated from their mothers.
Remember, if anything doesn’t look or feel right, just turn and walk away, there’s plenty of other budgies, and plenty more reputable sellers out there!
CHOOSING YOUR BUDGIE
Before choosing your little chirper, you first need to make sure they are in good health and ready to be given a new home.
Healthy budgies should have been bred and raised in a clean environment that has plenty of space, with good access to food and water. So if you’re witnessing anything other than that upon purchase from a seller, your alarm bells should already be ringing!
If you can, make sure you’vve observed a budgie personally before making any firm decisions.
Ultimately, you will be trying to determine if the bird is healthy, as you don’t want to purchase an ill bird that will lead to heartbreak and grief in just a few short weeks once it’s health deteriorates further.
Firstly you want to observe a budgie’s behaviour amongst others. They should be playful, noisy and active, responding well to the other birds in their cage. If they make little noise and are isolating themself from others, they are more than likely unwell. Obviously, this is more difficult to determine if the bird is alone in its cage, but you should still be able to tell if they are lethargic and ignorant of the world around them.
You then need to observe their physical health.
The easiest way to determine if there are any issues is by studying their plumage. A healthy budgie should have a sleek and shiny appearance, with no missing or severely ruffled feathers. Sometimes, breeders may clip a budgie’s wings, so if you suspect the bird’s plumage looks unkempt, make sure to check it is not just as a result of this.
They should also have a clean beak with no mucous or dried matter visible around or in the nostrils. Signs of this suggest a budgie is suffering from a respiratory disease, which can be fatal and are nearly always contagious in budgies. You should, therefore, be sure to study the beaks of other birds sharing the same space, as even a healthy-looking bird may be infected if living with a clearly ill bird. If you’re not sure, again, check with the seller, as some hen budgies can develop a waxy, scaly covering at the base of their beak when carrying eggs, which obviously is nothing to worry about!
The beak itself should also be in good shape, without looking crooked or too large for the bird’s face, as this could indicate an underlying health issue.
Another way to spot respiratory disease is to listen to their breathing between chirps. When it’s not singing the bird should not be breathing noisily, so any clicking or wheezing noises would more than likely suggest a problem.
Finally, your observations need to take you to the lower body of the bird, starting with the feet. An able budgie should have four talons on each foot, two pointing forwards and two backwards.
This should allow them incredible dexterity and if you notice a bird looking off-balance or clumsy, they may well have a deformity. The legs may also look swollen or scaly if they are suffering from a disease.
Last but not least, you’ll need to cast your eye over the bird’s rear end! The vent from which the budgie releases their droppings should be relatively clean, as a messy vent may indicate a bad diet or health issue.
When purchasing a budgie you need to take care and make sure you are not purchasing one too young to have been separated from its mother. Budgies who are not ready to be independent will likely suffer from stress and health problems if taken away too early and so you need to be able to spot the signs of a seriously immature bird.
Budgies are usually successfully weaned between 8 and 10 weeks after hatching, meaning any bird over 10 weeks old should be self-sufficient.
The easiest way to tell the age of a budgie is by observing markings on their head.
A very young budgie will have horizontal bar markings across the length of its head which begin to disappear as it approaches adulthood and begins shedding feathers for the first time.
A budgie’s first moult usually occurs after three to four months, so you will know that a budgie that’s forehead and crown doesn’t display any bars will be at least older than 12 years old, and suitable to be taken home.
We accept that some people want certain sexes of budgie when looking for a pet, and that many of you will also be looking to avoid the possibility of mating when pairing up birds.
Thankfully, determining their sex is something you can probably work out yourself without the assessment of an expert, which comes in handy if you feel the seller perhaps isn’t quite as clued up as they should be!
The main way to correctly determine the sex of a bird is by looking at the cere, the nose and nostril area situated above the beak.
Simply put, a hen or female budgie will usually have a cere with a brown shade of colour and a cock or male budgie will have a cere with a blue shade of colour. During mating season these ceres will become enlarged and scaly in females and an even darker shade of blue in males.
It couldn’t be easier to identify, and thankfully requires absolutely no studying or searching for bird genitalia!
However, sometimes there may be exceptions to the rule.
If a female budgie has low hormone levels or is feeling ill it will confusingly be a shade of blue, and likewise, males may have a more brownish hue if they are suffering from the same issues.
Luckily, these are quite rare occurrences, and so unless you plan on studying ornithology, this is your best bet at working out a budgie’s sex on your own.
Handling and Taming
Birds like budgies are used to avoiding larger preying birds and animals in the wild, and so a new humongous owner’s petting advances will instinctively make them scared.
Typically, poking your finger in their cage for a little tickle will result in panic and on occasion a painful bite, and so you really need to be patient and accommodating when introducing yourself to your bird.
It’s unlikely your bird will ever come to enjoy petting and so we would discourage it entirely, however you can tame your bird to not become fearful of your finger and use it as a perch to increase your birdy bond.
However, it can be a long and arduous process.
That is why it’s best to choose a bird that has already received some training, taming or just general human interactivity with humans from a breeder, as this will help them get used to you and your family far quicker.
To tame a bird to respond nicely and without fear, you first need to ensure your bird trusts you and has become used to your presence.
Talk to your bird every day in hushed reassuring tones and always calmly approach their enclosure, making your face as visible as possible. After a few days, you can then slowly begin introducing them to your hand, without placing it inside the cage.
Once you feel your budgie is unfazed by your presence, you can then begin attempting to approach them.
Using their favourite treat, lodge a goodie in between your thumb and the very bottom of your index finger, so that the finger acts as a perch to get to the food.
Then slowly and calmly place your hand in their cage and hold it near where the budgie is perched.
Naturally, the first few times you do this, it’s unlikely your budgie is just going to hop to it and start walking all over your finger. Instead, they will probably retreat to a safe distance and watch, waiting to see what your next move is.
Hold strong and still for around five minutes, and then repeat the exercise about five times a day with hourly intervals. Eventually, a budgie will realise you aren’t there to cause harm and that you also have a tasty treat in hand.
They should begin to feel comfortable hopping aboard your finger and after a while, you will even be able to place your finger in the cage without a treat, yet with the same joyous results. Because they have now come to view your digit as their favourite perch!
Obviously, we realise at this point some of you are going to struggle not to pet your bird with your free hand once you feel you’ve made this huge leap in aviation communication.
So if you’re going to do so, we suggest only petting a bird from the neck up, and against the grain of their feathers as opposed to head to tail. This will minimise irritation, although we can’t guarantee it will eradicate it!
Before you bring a budgie home, you need to have its living environment all set up, which will classically be a high-quality birdcage.
This needs to be made out of strong material, with sufficient space for your budgies to take a small amount of flight in and it also needs some ease of access features to help you clean it and restock it with food and water. This will often just be a removable base for quick cleaning and cage doors which allow you to get in without releasing a load of budgies into the room!
Size is the most important thing for starters (that’s right gents it matters!) as your budgie or budgies need to be able to fly two wing beats minimum between perches. The recommended guidance is that the width of the cage must be three times the budgie’s wingspan and a height three times the length of your bird.
Now obviously, we don’t expect you to whip out a ruler on your way to buy a budgie, so instead, you should use these rough guidelines before cage purchase.
In general, budgies require a cage with minimum dimensions of 45.7cm x 45.7cm x 60.9cm. But again, it is important to stress that these are the minimum dimensions, and that really, you should be purchasing the biggest cage you can suitably house.
These numbers, however, get slightly more complicated when you factor in that you might well be housing a much larger group of budgies than just one!
The first thing to do is consider whether getting a birdcage at all is the best idea. For large groupings of birds, you could instead purchase an aviary, a large enclosure to keep many birds, often kept outside. This is probably your only option if you plan on keeping a very large amount of budgies. But if a birdcage is really what you desire, there are several on the market which can accommodate a number of smaller birds at once.
The bar spacing is also something you’ll need to take note of too, as budgies are small birds and get caught or stuck between the spaces if they are too large. The recommended spacing for budgies is no larger than 1.26cm.
Naturally, the cage also needs to be in good condition, with no sharp edges or stray pieces that your bird could hurt themselves on. If painted you must also ensure this has been done with non-toxic paint or varnish.
Finally, in terms of design, it’s also never a good idea to go with circular-shaped cages, as they can make a bird feel constricted and confused by the lack of defined room structure.
Cage Set Up & Interior
Simply placing your new birds into a cage isn’t going to solve everything, and to give them the best welfare possible you also need to think about the environment you’re going to place the birdcage in and the items it’s going to have within it.
We recommend placing the cage in a quiet area of your home, preferably in a corner so they can always be aware of people approaching them, and by having one side covered by a wall, it also gives budgies an area to retreat to if scared.
There then needs to be a balancing act as to how high up you place your budgie cage. Too low and it will make the bird feel inferior and even frightened when they feel a presence looming over them, and if they are too high you won’t be able to interact with them properly! Generally, it’s advised to place the cage around chest height to avoid these issues.
The cage should also be out of the way of any direct sunlight or sunny windows and away from any radiators or potential fumes. Birds find all kinds of fumes highly toxic, from tobacco smoke to cooking fumes, to smelly aerosols.
You can place the cage on any type of flat, sturdy furniture you would deem secure, although for aesthetic reasons owners often tend to opt for a nice bird stand. If this is the right choice for you, just remember that stands are more easily knocked over as opposed to other types of furniture, and so they need to be placed somewhere where people, pets or children won’t accidentally bump into them.
You need to also bear in mind that birds can be messy, and so ideally you need the surface below them to be easy to clean or covered so that pellets and poop that find their way through the bars are going to be easily taken care of.
As for what goes inside, a basic set-up should cater to all a bird’s needs with feeding and drinking bowls for eating, toys, a swing, and chewing items for entertainment and a lining at the bottom of the cage to collect mess. Although not necessary, you may also want to provide a birdbath, as birds can enjoy preening themselves and may do so in their drinking bowls if a bath is not provided, contaminating it and making it dirty!
Cage covers are an optional extra for your birdcage, but can be helpful if you don’t wish to be disturbed so early in the morning.
As well as helping budgies nod off if there are too many bright, light distractions outside their cage, they also prevent them from being awoken by sunrise and singing down the house!
However you’ll need to remove this cover at a regular time each morning to prevent this being cruel, so if your bird isn’t particularly noisy come dawn and seems to get a good night’s sleep without one, there’s really no need to introduce one into their lives.
Your budgies will need a few perches in their cage so they can relax and watch the world go by without getting really tired wings or having to stand on their bird poop infested floor!
But although this may seem like a really simple purchase, it can actually have quite a large impact on the health of your budgerigar’s feet! So pay close attention!
While you might assume smooth cylindrical perches are the best and comfiest option, (and are certainly the kind you’ll most often see sold with birdcages), they are actually not the most supportive perch for your bird’s needs.
Instead, birds prefer natural branch-like structures that replicate what they would use in the wild, allowing them to peck at it, strip it’s bark and improve blood circulation in their feet.
Therefore we recommend using a natural perch, that is thick and varied in surface, with birch, alder, willow and poplar all being good choices. You can bake these in an oven for up to an hour to remove nasty mites and parasites living underneath the wood.
As they are trickier to clean, they’ll also need to be regularly replaced.
Entertainment & Exercise
To prevent budgies from becoming bored, they’ll need plenty of stimulation. Filling your cage with swings, foraging toys and chew toys will help bring out all of their natural instincts, and as well as bringing them enjoyment, will also support their coordination and balance when climbing around the cage.
This will also give them plenty of exercise, but if your budgie is tame, you may well want to let them spread their wings a little more outside of the cage!
To do this, you need to ensure they are going to be flying in a safe and secure room where you can supervise their every move!
Make sure all the windows and doors are closed to prevent getting lost outside and keep other pets that might try and harm them out of the room.
To prevent nasty accidents, you should also ensure blind are close correctly to prevent budgies from getting trapped and that things like fans and shredders are turned off.
Remember how toxic certain things can be to budgies too! So try and remove or at least stop budgies from chewing painted items.
To prevent birds from becoming ill, you’ll need to have a fairly regular cleaning routine consisting of daily spot cleans, weekly upkeeps, and big monthly cleanses.
To take this on, you’ll need:
- Cage Liners This can be newspaper pages or paper liner
- Paper Towels or Wipes If using wet wipes, ensure they won’t cause any harmful toxic fumes
- A Towel For drying off cage areas and items
- Bird-safe disinfectant
- Scrubbing brush or strong toothbrush
- Spare accessories and bowls For when you need to remove current ones for cleaning
- Pet Carrier or Spare Cage For when you have to remove a bird to apply disinfectant
Unfortunately, as you can see from your required cleaning arsenal, keeping a birdcage in good nick and ensuring budgies are in a healthy, happy home can be very hard work.
Here’s what you’ll have to do as a minimum each month:
Change Liner, Wash Dishes, Clean Accessories, Clean Outside The Cage, Clean Cage Surface
Clean Cage Tray, Clean Cage Grate (If Applicable), Cleanse Perch and Accessories
Clean and Scrub Entire Cage, Clean Surrounding Floor, Deep Soak Accessories and Grate, Dry Cage.
For the once a month full birdcage clean, this obviously requires you to remove your bird or birds, and so it is handy to have spare cages or travel carriers to temporarily place them in.
To read a more in-depth guide to cleaning bird cages, see our guide here.
As budgies live in flocks in the wild it’s recommended that you don’t just keep one budgie, and instead have at least two paired up in a cage.
Ideally, these budgies would have been brought up together, and so will already have bonding experience as opposed to being two strangers thrown into the same environment, risking fighting or squabbling.
The general advice is to keep male and female budgies separate to prevent breeding and the arrival of unwanted budgie babies! You should, therefore, stick to housing groups of same-sex birds.
The ideal budgie diet should be balanced and based around a hearty helping of good quality budgie pellet food. These should ideally be pelleted foods specially designed for budgies which will contain the correct nutritional balances for your little bird.
You might find this confusing as we are so used to feeding garden birds seeds, however, pellets are better than seeds because they prevent a budgie being selective and only eating the tastiest treats, causing them to miss out on key nutrition.
It also goes without saying that your little pets will need constant access to clean drinking water, taking care to replace their bottle with fresh water every day.
As a treat, you’re also able to feed your budgies a small portion of fruit or vegetables every day to help give them a boost of vitamins and minerals. Mineral supplements are also acceptable in this regard.
Historically, you may have also heard whisperings that budgies need access to grit to help them grind down their food, allowing them to more easily digest their budgie pellets. However, we now know that unless specifically recommended by a vet, most healthy budgies don’t require this and it will probably just do more harm than good.
Introducing New Foods – Beware!
One of the most important things to note when beginning to stock up on budgie food is trying to ensure you aren’t always mixing and matching or constantly switching up their diet.
This is because sudden changes to their food intake will be something of a shock to the system and more often than not results in digestive issues and illness.
If you do want to introduce new items into their diet, it’s best to do so very slowly and in small amounts over the course of a week, which will help them adapt.
This applies to everything! So even if you’re slowly switching from a seed diet to a healthier pellet diet, it needs to be done slowly.
You can do this by limiting your bird’s seeds meals into regular 1tsp doses, refilling their bowls every time they are empty. Then, slowly begin introducing 1tsp doses of crushed pellets in amongst your doses of their regular seed meals.
It is an annoying process and you might need to be patient as it can take up to a month or more to fully make the switch. However, it is all for the benefit of your bird’s wellbeing!
Safe Fruit & Veg
Pellets/seeds are the only food your budgie will really need to thrive, but there’s no denying it’s fun and nice to treat your feathered friend to a bit of variation in their diet.
Around 10% of your budgie’s daily intake can be fruits or vegetables, which will usually work out at around a few small pieces around half the size of your thumb – so not very much! We suggest focusing on vegetables rather than fruit as fruit tends do be very high in sugar and so of less value to your bird. Always wash them well to try and remove any pesticides and if possible choose organic fruits to avoid this problem altogether.
Make sure to keep them in a separate bowl to your bird’s pellets and be sure to keep an eye out for whether they’ve been eaten or not. Fruit and veg obviously lose their freshness a lot faster than pellets, and so the likelihood of bacteria building up when they are leftover is much higher. As a general rule, try and only leave food out for a few hours and remember to wash up their bowls and replace them after every meal.
Try to use organic fruit and veg if possible and always wash them well, as it’s not good for budgies to come into contact with pesticides. Cooking removes important vitamins so only offer fresh, raw fruit and veg to your budgies.
Some fruit and veg that you can offer your feathered friends include:
- Sweet potato
- Leafy greens
- Salad cress
Budgies more than any animal seem to suffer from bad diets and overfeeding, resulting in chubby unhealthy chirpers!
To avoid this happening we really can’t stress enough the importance of a good diet, and exercise.
Avoid seed-based diets that are high in fat and try and limit the amount of high-sugar treats like fruit, millet and other popular birdy snacks you give them.
Foods To Avoid
You’d be forgiven for thinking your tweeter is fine to eat any fruit or veg you throw its way, but you need to be careful!
As previously stated, budgies are very sensitive creatures, both in personality and stomach, and there are a few foods you definitely shouldn’t feed them if you want to keep their guts healthy!
Unfortunately, budgies have fairly good appetites and can have a taste for almost everything. But just because your birdy seems to be lapping up your offerings, it doesn’t mean they are safe.
For example, although some fruits are perfectly fine for parakeets to chow down on, others make a very, very poor choice. Here are some of the main fruits you need to avoid:
These contain lots of citric acids which can be extremely upsetting on a bird’s stomach.
Cherries, Peaches & Apricots
Rather than the actual fruit, it is the stones within these three treats that are potentially lethal to birds. Although you might assume simply removing the stone from these fruits will solve the issue, it is sometimes possible for the stones of these particular fruits to have become damaged or cracked within. If this is the case, the harmful chemicals within them will have contaminated the edible parts, making them toxic to budgies.
Apple Seeds & Pear Pips
For the same reason as above, be careful if ever serving a budgie apples or pears as their seeds contain compounds which can create cyanide in the blood. So be sure to make sure they are all removed!
Here is a list of some of the main foods you should avoid feeding a budgie:
- Apple seeds
- Fish and seafood
- Raw meat, poultry, fish
- Milk or dairy products
- Mushrooms and other fungi
- Pear pips
- Green Tomatoes
Although budgies can be incredibly communicative creatures, they’re unlikely to ever let us know when they are suffering from pain or illness.
It’s therefore vital that you get to know your little bird’s behaviour and can spot when something’s not quite right, as well as understand some of the symptoms you need to be looking out for if you suspect they are ill.
Budgies can fall ill very quickly and so the best practice for preventing them from becoming seriously sick is to check them for illnesses or injury daily.
Spotting Symptoms & Health Checklist
Watch out for any of these signs of illness on a daily basis to ensure your bird is happy and healthy:
- Watery droppings
- Fluffed up feathers
- Lethargy/sleeping more often
- Bald patches or loss of feathers
- Limping or holding one leg up
- Unusual bleeding
- Watery eyes or nostrils
- Overgrown beak
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking much more or less than usual
- Unusual lumps or swellings
Beak & Nail Issues
Although a rare condition, you may occasionally notice that your budgie has an overgrown beak and is suffering from the consequences.
The inability for the upper and lower beak to connect properly due to their oversizing can make simple tasks like eating extremely difficult for budgies and so they’ll need a specialist vet to correct the issue by filing down the beak.
Another part of the budgie that may become overgrown is the nails/talons, usually as a result of their perch not offering a surface that allows them to grind their nails down naturally over time.
Again it’s best to see your vet have these trimmed, and they can then tell you how to do the procedure yourself at home if it is a regular occurrence.
When To Go To The Vet
You should seek the help of a veterinary professional as soon as you suspect or notice your budgie in pain, ill or suffering.
It doesn’t take long for an ill bird’s situation to become dire, but unfortunately seeking immediate veterinary help for birds is not as easy as popping to the local vet surgery.
This is because they may require specialist medical help that a general vet may not be trained for.
Therefore you need to make sure you are always prepared for the worst and already have your bird registered with a vet who specialises in avian health should they ever become ill.
Dealing With A Sick Bird
As you now know, budgie diseases and illnesses are often highly contagious and so it can be a real worry if one of your birds falls ill while sharing a cage with others.
So how do you keep the others safe?
Well, if you are truly prepared for your budgie cage’s cleaning routine, you should already have travel cages or temporary cage’s on hand for when you disinfect their main premises.
These also come in handy when birds are ill.
Any sick bird needs to be taken to the vet and so you must quickly remove them away from other budgies and put them in a cheap, solitary cage in a similar area of the room so they do not get freaked out by a new surrounding.
You then also need to remove any other budgies from the cage and also put them in a temporary cage or travel carrier. This is so you can disinfect their main home, and kill any existing bacteria which may spread the disease or illness to the others.