Caring for your pet budgerigar
Quick facts: Scientific name Melopscittacus undulatus Life expectancy 7-12 years Adult bodyweight 35-55g Sexual maturity 6-9 months Origin desert regions of Australia Sexual dimorphism? Yes – males blue cere, females brown
Also known as grass parakeets or shell parakeets, budgerigars (budgies) are one of the most popularly kept pet birds worldwide. There are a variety of colour, pattern and feather varieties available. Budgies are highly social birds and require regular interaction with their human or bird flock. Budgerigars are chatterboxes, and love to sing. Pet budgies can also be taught to whistle and talk. Single male budgies tend to be the best talkers.
Whilst budgerigars can make excellent aviary birds, the information that follows specifically relates to pet budgies.
Cages should be considered a sanctuary and a resting place for your pet budgie, although supervised access outside of the cage is recommended for all birds for exercise and mental stimulation. Cages should be as large as possible, and at a minimum should allow your budgerigar to fully open his or her wings in all three dimensions.
Rectangular cages are recommended. Cages with curved sides are not comfortable for parrots.
Avian vets at Bird Vet Melbourne recommend that cages should back onto at least one solid wall to help your pet budgie feel secure. If placed near a window, part of the cage should have a restricted view so your budgie can hide if feeling nervous or stressed.
Cage equipment – perches, feed dishes, toys
Bird Vet Melbourne recommends that your pet budgerigar should have at least two natural branch perches of appropriate diameters in the cage. Natural wood perches are preferred. Avoid dowel and sandpaper perches as these can cause foot problems, and have minimal effects on claw length. Perches should be placed at opposite ends of the length of the cage, allowing your budgie to fly between them. Ideally place the widest perch in the highest position; this is where your budgie will sleep.
Food and water dishes should be made of stainless steel, and positioned to avoid contamination with droppings (i.e. not directly under perches). Hooded dishes should be avoided as they can make feeding difficult and may prevent bathing. Place feed and water dishes at opposite ends of the cage to encourage exercise.
Toys are very important for your pet budgie, providing mental stimulation for these clever birds. Budgerigar vets at Bird Vet Melbourne recommend that toys be positioned around the edges of the cage near perches. Avoid placing toys or SWINGS in the middle of the cage as this restricts flight. Toys should NOT necessarily be rotated . Budgies love to chew so chewable toys or perches are very important.
Please see our page on how to set up a cage for your pet bird for more information.
All parrots kept indoors should be provided with artificial full spectrum light (UV-A & UV-B) or access to sunlight outdoors to allow normal vitamin D metabolism (and breeding behaviour). If placing your caged budgie outside, ensure that they are supervised and have shade and are safe from predators.
Diet – “Vet for My Budgie”
Feeding a balanced diet is very important to prevent health problems in birds. Avian vets at Bird Vet Melbourne recommend feeding your pet budgie a mixture of the following 4 food groups every day:
- Mixed budgie seed – About 1 teaspoon per bird per day
- Dark leafy green and red/yellow vegetables EVERY SINGLE DAY e.g. spinach, silver beet, bok choy, broccoli, green beans, grated carrots, capsicums.
- Good quality bird pellets or crumble should be available at all times. Suggested brands include Harrisons, Pretty Bird, Vetafarm and Zupreem.
- Small amounts of low fat, low sugar, low salt human foods such as pasta, oats, toast and eggs can also be fed occasionally.
• A cuttlefish bone and occasional shell grit is recommended .
• Sprouting grasses
Do not feed chocolate, avocado, alcohol or coffee to your pet budgerigar as these are toxic and can be fatal. Fresh water should always be available. Food and water should be changed daily.
Trichomoniasis (Canker) in the Budgerigar
Caused by the parasite Trichomonas gallinum, this condition is frequently seen in budgies at Budgie Vet Melbourne, and can cause vomiting and regurgitation (often seen as sticky head feathers), crop distension and in some cases respiratory disease in young budgies, and is a common cause of death. This is a significant budgerigar disease in Australia and we test all new budgerigars for it.
Megabac – is caused by the fungi Macrorhabdus ornithogaster. It may cause vomiting and/or diarrhea, slow insidious weight loss, and is often fatal. Affected birds can not digest their food as the acid secretion in the stomach is affected.
Scaly Mites – in Budgies
Cnemidocoptes pilae are microscopic mites that cause excessive scaling of the skin as they burrow. These mites are found on the featherless areas of the skin, hence common places they are found include the beak, cere, around the eye, legs and vent.
Internal Parasites in budgerigars. WORMS and COCCIDIA
Round worms and coccidia are common problems in both pet birds and aviary birds when there is poor hygiene and birds inadvertently contaminate their food with their droppings. (Avoid putting shell grit on the floor of the cage for this reason.)
Cancer in Pet Budgies
Cancer is very common in budgies , types of cancers include , testicular cancer (Sertoli Cell tumours), Ovarian and Uterine cancer , kidney cancer (e.g. adenocarcinomas) and fatty tumors (lipomas and xanthomas).
Chlamydiosis/Psittacosis – at Budgie vet
The intracellular bacteria Chlamydia pscittaci causes chlamydiosis in many bird species. Many birds can be carriers of Chlamydia without showing any clinical signs, but where present these include discharge from the eyes and nostrils, yellow-green discolouration of droppings, anorexia, breathing difficulties, weight loss and the general ‘sick bird’ fluffed up look. See here for further information (link).
Circovirus/ ‘Runners’/’French Moult’/ Beak and Feather Disease in Budgerigars
This is a viral disease that causes damage to developing feathers, mostly in young birds. Affected budgies have poor plumage and may have stunted primary and secondary wing feathers or short tail feathers (‘Runners’). Some birds may die.
Polyomavirus is a virus that causes feather abnormalities in young birds. It also causes generalised immunosuppression that can affect a number of organs. Acute forms may cause sudden death in budgies aged 10-25 days. See here for more information (link).
Caused by a build up of uric acid crystals (usually in the joints) secondary to kidney disease, this can cause lameness in budgerigars.
High fat, high carbohydrate diets such as all seed diets combined with a lack of exercise predispose budgerigars to becoming overweight and developing lipomas and other health issues. See here for more information.