Budgerigar is the common name for small parrots belonging to the species Melopsittacus undulatus. Though budgerigars are often called parakeets, especially in American English, they are but one of more than 100 species commonly known as parakeets, a diverse grouping of small, slender parrots scattered over more than a dozen genera in the subfamily Psittacinae of the family Psittacidae. Melopsittacus undulatus is also known as budgie and warbling grass-parakeet, and perquito comun in Spanish, among other common names.
Budgerigars typically have green, yellow, and blue plumage and are the most popular caged bird worldwide (Grzimek et al. 2004). It is native to Australia where flocks of 10 to 100 birds, and even up to flocks of thousands of birds can be found in a wide variety of open habitats (Gzimek et al. 2004). The budgerigar is considered to have survived in Australia for over 5 million years (Marshall 2004).
While advancing their own survival, maintenance, and reproduction, budgerigars also add to the human wonder of nature with their beautiful colors and unique behaviors, and as caged birds, they also provide the enjoyment of mimicing human speech and adding aesthetic beauty and companionship. Human creativity has added to the uniqueness of budgerigars by producing many different breeds of diverse colors and feather arrangements.
Melopsittacus undulatus is only species in the Melopsittacus genus, and it is placed in the tribe of broad-tailed parrots (Platycercini); these are sometimes considered a subfamily (Platycercinae). In the latter case, the Budgerigar is sometimes isolated in a tribe of its own, the Melopsittacini, although it is probably quite closely related to Pezoporus and Neophema (Miyaki et al. 1998). The genus name Melopsittacus comes from Greek and means "melodious parrot." The species name undulatus is Latin for "undulated" or "wave-patterned."
Budgerigars are about 18 cm (7 inches) long and weigh 23-32 grams (0.8 to 1.1 ounces) (Grzimek et al. 2004). Wild budgerigars are noticeably smaller than those in captivity.
Like all parrots, budgerigar have zygodactyl toes, with two toes at the front of each foot and two at the back. All parrot eggs are white in color.
Wild budgerigars display a green body color (abdomen and rumps), while their mantle (back and wing coverts) is black edged in yellow (Forshaw and Cooper 1981). The forehead and face is yellow in adults, and barred black with yellow in young till they change into their adult plumage at three to four months of age. Each cheek has a small dark purple patch (cheek patches) and a series of three black spots across each sides of their throats (throat-spots), of which the outermost spots are situated at the base of each cheek-patches. The tail is cobalt (dark-blue), while the outside tail feathers display central yellow flashes. Their wings have greenish-black flight feathers and black coverts with yellow fringes along with central yellow flashes which only becomes visible in flight and/or when the wings are stretched. The bill is olive gray and legs blueish-gray (Forshaw and Cooper 1981).Adult females (left above) display beige to brown ceres while adult males (right above) typically have blue ceres or purplish-pink in Albinistic & recessive-pied varieties.
Budgerigars have been bred in many other colors in captivity, such as white, blue, and even purple, although they are mostly found in pet stores in blue, green, and occasionally white. Budgerigar plumage is known to fluoresce under ultraviolet light, a phenomenon possibly related to courtship and mate selection (Pearn et al. 2001).
The color of the cere (the area containing the nostrils) differs between the sexes; royal blue in males, pale-brown to white (non-breeding) or brown (breeding) in females, and pink in immatures of both sexes (usually of a more even purplish-pink colour in young males). Young females can often be identified by a subtle chalky whiteness that starts around the cere nostril holes. Males that are either albino, lutino, and/or recessive-pied (aka Danishpied aka Harlequin) always retain the immature purplish-pink cere color their entire life (Schulemann 2006).
There are presently at least 32 primary mutations in the budgerigar, enabling hundreds of possible secondary mutations (stable combined primary mutations) and color varieties (unstable combined mutations). Each of these primary mutations falls into one of four basic groups:
- Albinism : where eumelanin (dark pigment) is either partially or completely reduced in all body tissues and structures.
- Dilution : where eumelanin is partially reduced in only feathering.
- Leucism : where eumelanin is completely reduced from total or localized feathering.
- Melanism : where eumelanin is increased in the feathering.
Each of these mutations is inherited via one of the following dominance relationships:
- Autosomal co-cominant
- Autosomal complete dominant
- Autosomal incomplete dominant
- Autosomal recessive
- Autosomal polygenic
- Sex-linked recessive
Because birds have a ZW sex-determination system, sex-linked recessive traits are more common in females than in males, rather than the reverse as is found the more familiar XY determination of humans and other mammals.
Budgerigars are, very generally speaking, accepting of humans and other birds, but should never be housed with a bird other than another budgerigar. Care should be taken even when placing two budgies together, as they can do serious harm to one another if they do not get along. They are relatively easily tamed.
Bird lovers often comment on the differences in personality in each individual bird. Budgies each have their own unique ideas about how much they like to be handled, which toys are their favorites, and even what music they like or to which they are indifferent.
Habitat and behavior
Wild budgerigars are nomadic birds found in open habitats, primarily in Australian scrubland, open woodland, and grassland. Although capable of surviving long periods without water, they are normally not far from surface water, and favor eucalyptus bordering ephemeral watercourses (Grzimet et al. 2004).
The birds are normally found in small flocks of 10 up to 100 birds, but can form very large flocks, with even thousands of birds, under favorable conditions (Grzimet et al. 2004). The species is extremely nomadic and the movement of the flocks is tied to the availability of food and water (Forshaw and Cooper 1981). Drought can drive flocks into more wooded habitat or coastal areas. Grzimek et al. (2004) note that the flocks can fly swiftly and erratically yet with remarkable precision, with all budgerigars turning and twisting "in perfect unision."
Wild budgerigars are plentiful, and possibly the most numerous Australian parrot, with a population estimated at more than five million (Grzimek et al. 2004).
Bugerigars feed on the seeds of spinifex, grass weeds, and sometimes ripening wheat (LPKS 2007; Forshaw and Cooper 1981). Seeds are all taken on the ground or within reach from the ground (Grzimek et al. 2004). Peak feeding times are in the morning and afternoon, and the birds display pre-roosting aerobatics prior to returning at dusk to roost for the night (Grzimek et al. 2004).
Feral birds have been found since the 1940s in the Saint Petersburg, Florida area of the United States, but are much less common than they were in the early 1980s. Colder than normal winter temperatures in some years and increased competition from European Starlings are the main reasons for the declining population (Pranty 1992).
Wild budgerigars are monogamous (Grzimek et al. 2004). Reproduction involves the male standing on the female's back while some beak contact is made between the mates. The male will then wrap his tail under the female's raised tail, place his cloaca (male budgerigars have no penis) against hers and rub it back and forth to stimulate emission. The male may move away for a moment before returning for another session.
Breeding takes place generally between June and September in the North and between August and January in the South, but they are opportunistic breeders responding to the rains when grass seeds become most abundant (Forshaw and Cooper 2004). Populations in some areas have increased as a result of increased water availability at farms. The nest is in a hole in a tree, fence post, or even a log laying on the ground; the four to six eggs are incubated for 17-19 days, with the young fledging about 30 days after hatching (LPKS 2007; Forshaw and Cooper 2004; Grzimek et al. 2004). The young become sexually mature within 60 days of leaving the nest (Grzimek et al. 2004).
Domesticated budgerigars are easily bred. While in the wild they require a hollow tree or a hollow log, domesticated birds use breeding boxes. A hen will lay her eggs on alternate days; after the first one, there is usually a two-day gap until the next. She will usually lay between four to twelve eggs, which she will incubate for 17 to 20 days.
When the eggs start to hatch, the hatchlings are usually very helpless. During the second or third week, the hatchlings' eyes will open, and they will start to develop feather down, which typically indicates best-time for close-banding the chicks. After three weeks, the hatchlings will develop feathers of their genetic color.
By the fifth week, the hatchlings are strong enough that the parents will be comfortable in occasionally leaving the box. The hatchlings will stretch their wings to gain strength before they attempt to fly. They will also help defend the box from enemies. After the eighth week, the eldest babies should be eating and flying independently.
The budgerigar is one of the two parrots to be genuinely domesticated as a species along with the Agapornis roseicollis (rose-collared or peach-faced lovebird). Believed to be the most common pet parrot in the world, the budgerigar has been bred in captivity since the 1850s. Breeders have worked over the decades to produce a wide range of color and feather mutations. These include yellow, blue, white, violet, olive, albino, and lutino (yellow), clearwing, and spangled, and feather mutations can produce crests or overly long shaggy feathers known as "feather dusters."
Modern show budgerigars,, also called English budgerigars and/or Standard-Type Budgerigars, are larger than their wild-type (natural form) counterparts, with puffy head feathers, giving them an exaggerated look. The eyes and beak can be almost totally obscured by feathers. Such birds are reported to be more prone to genetic mutations because of inbreeding. Most budgerigars in the pet trade are not of the show variety and are similar in size and body conformation to wild budgerigars and thus aptly called wild-type budgies.
Budgerigars are intelligent and social animals and enjoy the stimulation of toys and interaction with humans as well as with other budgerigars. A common behavior is the chewing of material such as wood, especially for female budgerigars.
Budgerigars can be taught to speak, whistle tunes, and play with humans. Both males and females sing and can learn to mimic sounds and words. Both singing and mimicry are more pronounced and much more perfected in males. As a whole, females rarely if ever learn to mimic more than a dozen words or so. Males can very easily acquire vocabularies ranging between a few dozen to a hundred words. Generally speaking, it is the pet budgies and even more so the ones kept as single pets that talk the best and the most.
Although taste in toys varies from bird to bird, some toys which are universal favorites among pet budgies include:
- plastic balls, either light solid or hollow, perhaps with inside bell
- non-toxic chew-toys and fruit-tree branches
- natural ropes such as hemp or sisal
- natural (undyed and untreated) wood blocks and pieces
- wooden sticks, like from lollys or coffee
- ladders, either plastic or wooden and up to any length
- mirrors, which are especially liked by solitary birds
- plain brown cardboard and paper items, such as small boxes and paper rolls
- plastic olympic-ring toys
- pieces of raffia
- swings hung from high place or top of cage
- whole or pieces of brown paper lunch-bags
- natural (non-metal, undyed, and untreated) woven baskets are suggested by many pet guides as the safest way to provide a play gym for small Parrot species.
In captivity, budgerigars live an average of five to eight years, but are reported to occasionally live to 15 if well cared for (Russell 2005). The life span depends on the budgerigar's breed (show budgerigars typically do not live as long as wild-type (natural sized) budgerigars) and the individual bird's health, which is highly influenced by exercise and diet.
Although wild budgerigars eat grass seeds almost exclusively, avian veterinarians recommend supplementation with foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouted seeds, pasta, whole grain bread, and other healthy human foods, as well as pellets formulated for small parrots. Adding these foods provides additional nutrients and can prevent obesity and lipomas, as can substituting millet, which is relatively low in fat, for seeds mixes. Budgerigars do not always adapt readily to dietary additions, however. Chocolate and avocado are recognized as potential toxins (Wissman 2006).
With the exception of avocado, fruits are healthy, but must always be offered without any included seeds. Most vegetables are healthy, but both onions and potatoes must not be offered uncooked. Legumes (pulses) such as beans, lentils, and peas are usually preferred in their well-cooked or sprouted states (except for only lima and navy beans, which are toxic) but can offered in their dried state as well.
Commercial or well-rinsed wild non-toxic edible blossoms, flowers, and greens (such as daisies, dandelion leaves and flowers, fruit-tree blossoms, herb blossoms, hibiscus, nasturtiums, pansies, passiflorae, roses, sunflowers, tulips and more) are also very healthy.
Cooked cereals including barley, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain pastas, whole-grain waffles, whole or wild rices are all very healthy.
Sprouted seeds (one can sprout typical budgerigar seed mix, which will sprout whenever the seeds are fresh) are also healthy and highly nutritious.
A budgerigar named Puck holds the world record for the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words. Puck, owned by American Camille Jordan, died in 1994, with the record first appearing in the 1995 edition of Guinness World Records (Folkard 2004).
The budgerigar will typically speak words in the context to which he or she is accustomed to hearing them. For example, if the bird owner says "up" every time the bird is picked up, the bird may say "up" when it is picked up, or wants to be picked up.
Many budgerigars prefer non-verbal communication, such as stomping on their food dish and shrieking when they want fresh seed, rather than asking for it.
Budgerigar hen of natural coloration
SF Violet Blue male Budgerigar
Suffused Blue (White) Budgerigar
Young female Opaline-Cinnamon Olive Budgerigar
Budgerigar chick at eleven days of age
Male YellowFaced type I Cobalt Australian (Banded) Pied Budgerigar
Young Male Light-Green Continental_Dutchpied FullBody Colored-Graywings
A young sky-blue budgerigar with a few remaining pin feathers
Pet Continental_Ducthpied Yellowface type I Cobalt Budgie, wet from the rain and visible pin feathers
- ↑ BirdLife International 2004. 1. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species., World Conservation Union. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
- Folkard, C. (ed.) 2004. Guinness World Records 2004. Guinness World Records Limited. ISBN 0851121802
- Forshaw, J. M., and W. T. Cooper. 1973. Parrots of the World. 2nd edition. Neptune, NJ: T.F.H. ISBN 0876669593
- Forshaw, J. M., and W. T. Cooper. 1981. Australian Parrots. Melbourne: Lansdowne Editions. ISBN 0701810351
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (LPKS). 2006. The wild budgerigar. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Retrieved April 25, 2006.
- Marshall, R. 2004. Dr. Marshall's philosophy on breeding exhibition budgerigars. Bird Health Retrieved January 19, 2007.
- Miyaki, C. Y., S. R. Matioli, T. Burke, and A. Wajntal. 1998. "Parrot evolution and paleogeographical events: Mitochondrial DNA evidence." Mol. Biol. Evol. 15: 544-551.
- Pearn, S. M., A. T. Bennett, and I. C. Cuthill. 2001. Ultraviolet vision, fluorescence and mate choice in a parrot, the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus. PubMed. Retrieved May 7, 2007.
- Pranty, B. 1992. Budgerigar: Melopsittacus undulatus. Florida's Breeding Bird Atlas. Retrived December 28, 2006.
- Russell, D. 2005. Life span of a budgie. Birds Online. Retrieved December 26, 2005.
- Schulemann, G. 2006. How to tell the sex of a budgie. Birds Online. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
- Wissman, M. A. 2006. Medical conditions and diseases of the budgerigar and cockatiel. ExoticPetVet.Net Retrieved April 26, 2006.