Although all budgerigars have different personalities, they share certain behaviours. This is just as well, as a knowledge of normal behaviour versus abnormal behaviour is important when deciding whether all is well in your cage or aviary.
Budgie Behaviour | Male and Female
Generally, there are no big behavioural differences between cock and hen birds. They both feed, chatter and socialise in the same way, and both can be either passive or aggressive depending on their mood, personality and circumstance. Hens have a louder and more shrill voice than cocks, and often squawk more too. They are also less inclined to learn human words – although it is not unheard of for female budgies to talk.
In the mating season – a vague and sprawling concept, as in captivity the ‘season’ can be pretty much any time of year – both sexes can become more territorial and aggressive than usual. Females can be particularly sensitive in these times of surging hormones, and a normally placid bird might suddenly attack your hand. Fortunately, its beak is no sharper than usual in these hormonal periods, so there’s little danger of bloodshed. These spells will last three to six weeks.
Hormonal birds will also want to mate, and if there’s no willing or available mate, the bird’s toys, food, or indeed you, might become the centre of its sexual attentions. This instinct can be gently discouraged by putting the budgie back in its cage if it’s taking out its frustrations on you. Removing mirrors and potential nesting spaces can also help get things back to normal.
Budgie Behaviour When Hot
An over-heated budgie will raise his wings slightly as he perches. The feathers around the cere (the nose area) might be raised too. If he’s very hot he will open his beak and pant. Always make sure there’s a shady area in the cage in which he can cool himself down.
Budgie Behaviour When Cold
A chilly bird will sit huddled on his perch, with his feathers fluffed up. Move him somewhere warm or, if the bird is outside, provide some warm shelter, or switch the aviary heater on.
If it’s neither too hot nor too cold, if there’s nothing ailing him, and if he’s generally healthy and happy, your budgie will display the following 'typical’ behaviours.
Budgie Wing Stretching
Like any animal, budgies need a good stretch after a long period of inactivity. It’s a good time to admire the bird’s beautiful wing feathers, as he will stretch his leg and wing on one side, then the other. Both wings are then raised, to finish off the exercise and get the blood flowing to the muscles. This will be done in silence, and should not be confused with the aggressive (and noisy) wing-raising behaviour often seen at a crowded food bowl.
Budgie Head Bobbing
Male budgies enjoy ‘head bobbing’, and watching them in action is very entertaining. The fast and fluid up-and-down motion of the bird’s neck is often accompanied by chattering. If your male bird has a female friend, he will usually demonstrate his ‘rubber’ neck for her benefit – the action is part of his mating display. If allowed to follow its natural progression, a bout of bobbing will escalate into mutual feeding and mating.
Pet budgies, however, are happy to bob their heads at other times too. An outgoing bird (and all budgies have slightly different personalities) will tend to bob more often than a quieter bird. Females occasionally catch the bobbing-bug, but it’s usually males who indulge the habit. They will bob to another male, to you, to a mirror, to a favourite toy, or even to an item of food or a particular section of their cage. Head-bobbing sometimes becomes part of a ritual song and dance. It usually indicates that the budgie is happy and excited.
If you show your appreciation of head-bobbing to a tame bird, he will get into the habit of bobbing to gain your attention. You can never tell exactly what’s passing through a budgie’s mind, but when he’s head-bobbing you can be sure that he’s feeling good.
Baby budgies often head-bob too, to show that they’re hungry. Once weaned and perching with the adult birds, young budgies often cling to their parents in this way for as long as they can, head-bobbing for food. Backed up by the chirrup that means ‘feed me!’, the action usually gets results; but eventually even the most attentive parent will lose interest, and the chicks then have to fight their way to the food trays like everyone else.
First thing in the morning, budgies often flap their wings violently as they perch. Sometimes their feet leave the perch and they perform a noisy hover, warming up their wing muscles and scattering clouds of seed husks and loose feathers. This is nothing to do with display or aggression – they simply need to shake their wings after a long period of rest. They will often accompany the mad flapping with calls and chirrups.
Note: Budgies need to exercise their wings a lot more than this, and if you’re not keeping them in an aviary with space for free flight, you will need to let them fly around in the room outside their cage.
Budgies enjoy gymnastics too, climbing the sides and roof of their cage, and hanging from suspended toys like feathered squirrels.
Playing with Toys
Your budgie will investigate any item you place in his cage, getting his beak into all its corners and nibbling its edges. Some are more timid than others, and an unadventurous bird might leave a new toy for several hours, or even days, before venturing near. Once the item has been explored thoroughly and played with for a day or two, the bird will lose interest. It’s therefore important to replace old toys with new ones, on a rotational basis.
Anything that hangs from the cage roof and moves around or makes a sound will bring hours of exercise and amusement, as will something that rolls. Many budgies form strong attachments to ping-pong balls, nudging them along the floor with their beaks. A toy with a reflective surface may sometimes trigger a mating response from a bird, especially if he lives alone in his cage. If he begins regurgitating seed to a toy, it’s best to remove the object and let his attention focus elsewhere.
Budgie Obsessed With Bell
Budgies, especially lone birds, become very attached to their toys. A bell, being an item that moves and makes a noise, is often a favourite. Tapping and ringing the bell may become part of your bird’s regular routine, and it can sometimes start to verge on obsessive behaviour. This is a sign that the budgie needs companions. Removing the bell may make him pine; but budgies are adaptable and clever birds, and he will soon recover his poise, and will shift his attention to other areas of his cage. Keeping toys on a rotation basis will prevent any obsessive attachment. But, again, it is best to introduce another bird into your bell-ringing fanatic’s life so that he can channel his feelings in a more natural direction.
Budgie Eye Pinning
A favourite toy, or an exciting new one, may trigger ‘eye pinning’ (sometimes known as eye flashing). This is when the budgie’s pupils dilate and contract rhythmically as he focuses on the interesting object. Pupils also dilate when a cock bird is about to regurgitate to his mate or best friend.
Although the budgie’s beak manages to reach most places in a preening session, or when scratching an itchy patch of skin, he can’t reach his own face, head and neck. Mutual preening helps out here, where a companion bird deals with the parts his companion’s beak can’t manage. Failing that, the budgie will scratch himself with his foot, or on a toy, perch, or the bars of his cage. For some birds this becomes a pleasurable activity, and they will happily massage their heads and faces in this way on a regular basis.
Budgies love chewing things – it is a natural behaviour that they will seek to satisfy one way or another, so it’s best to provide them with something to chew on. Balsa wood is ideal, as is a stick or wooden perch (made from a suitable wood – see the Budgie Perches section above). Cuttlefish bone doesn’t count as ‘chewable’, as it crumbles to powder as the bird pecks.
Budgies, like us, yawn when they’re tired. The beak opens wide, the eyes close, and the neck stretches out. Sometimes the bird will do this several times. It’s nothing to worry about, just a precursor to sleeping. You should only be concerned if the budgie’s beak remains open for long periods, or if he shakes his head or makes coughing sounds. This indicates a problem, possibly a blockage of some type, and you should take him to the vet as soon as possible.
Budgie yawns can be just as contagious as human yawns – you might well find yourself joining in, and pondering on this strange cross-species phenomenon.
Behaviour in Pairs
Budgies usually enjoy each other’s company, and a pair (whatever the gender of the birds involved) will generally be a self-contained miniature flock, enjoying all the grooming, chattering and socialising natural to their species in the wild.
It’s very unusual, but sometimes a pair of birds will not settle down together happily. They might fight, or they might stay on opposite sides of the cage. There will be no mutual grooming, and they will not sit and chatter together. In these situations the birds should be separated. Sometimes a mirror can help break the ice – the birds will interact with the ‘newcomers’, and that might shift the social balance of the ‘flock’ sufficiently for them to become more friendly.
A bonded pair of birds will display to each other. The cock will sing his best songs and bob his head, and will offer an irresistible lunch of regurgitated seed. The pair will touch their beaks together too, and preen each other on the face and head. The two will tend to stay close, often side by side on a perch.
From the moment a budgie moves from its nest to a perch, it is part of the flock, and its behaviour is all about bonding. It will merge its life with the birds around it by doing what they do – eating, grooming, chattering, flying and washing together. A budgie bonds with its neighbours by joining in and enjoying the process. When birds become good friends, they will tap their beaks together in a kind of ‘budgie kiss’, and will preen each other’s face and head.
If you are the budgie’s flock – if you have opted for a single bird and are providing it with all its social stimulation – you will need to reflect these needs. Talk to the bird, bring it out the cage and allow it to sit with/on you as you walk, talk, eat, watch TV, etc. When this is done with the time and dedication it demands, you will have a very happy bird, and will have formed a deep bond with it. Friendship with a tame and socialised bird is every bit as satisfying as time spent with a well-trained pet dog.
Preening or Grooming
Preening is the budgie’s way of keeping clean and well-groomed. The birds will often do a little grooming of each other, usually in the head and chin areas; but most preening is a solo job. Budgies have a feather-oil gland at the base of their tail, and a preening session consists of taking this oil with the beak and running it down each feather, starting at the point where the feather attaches to the skin. Every feather needs the full treatment, so a preen takes a long time. Budgies often do this together – like most things, they seem to work best when carried out as a flock activity.
The preening will usually finish with the bird puffing up like a feather-duster and shaking everything into place with a violent shudder. The tail is then swiftly waggled, to add the finishing touches to the preening session.
Budgie Mutual Preening
A budgie is unable to preen its own face and head. He can scratch them with his foot, but nothing beats having a preening companion. Pairs, or any gender combination, will oblige by grooming these out-of-reach places. You can give a finger-trained bird the next best thing by scratching his head with your finger. If he fluffs up his head feathers and closes his eyes, you’re doing well. If he keeps his feathers tight and pecks at your finger, you haven’t got the magic touch he’s looking for.
Budgie Behaviour Problems
The only problematical behaviour you are likely to encounter from your budgie is aggression due to hormones or jealousy, and sexual behaviour triggered by the mating season madness. Wherever one bird is causing grief to another on a regular basis, it is good policy to separate them. Don’t leap to conclusions and isolate birds as soon as they quibble, though – low level nagging is the budgie norm.
Unwanted sexual behaviour, including the budgie rubbing its rear end on your hand or shoulder, can be discouraged by distracting him with a toy or tasty treat. Diverting his enthusiasm in this direction can help to prevent a recurrence of unwanted physical affection.
A budgie gently nibbling a finger is one thing; an aggressive attack is something else. The birds bite for a number of reasons. In the early days it’s most likely to be due to fear. You’re probably moving too fast with the relationship, and the budgie still sees your hand as a potential threat.
Some birds become territorial and will defend their cage space. Ironically, this often happens after you have finger-trained them. The problem usually stems from allowing the bird to go to and from the cage without your assistance. When you bring him out for free-flight sessions, always remove him by letting him perch on your finger first, and always return him in similar style if possible.
A bird that has bonded with you may react out of jealousy. If you have a strong one-to-one relationship, he may come to view you as his mate. Should you give anyone else your attention, your budgie may express his displeasure by biting. The only way round this is to break the monogamy, and have other people socialise more with the bird too.
Tired birds occasionally resort to biting. A budgie who is being played with when he’d rather be in bed is liable to become irritable. The answer here is to establish a regular bedtime (no later than nine o’clock), and not to play with him after that hour.
There is also the possibility that a bird is biting because he thinks you like it. Odd as this may sound, a budgie craves action and attention, and if you respond to his bite with some stern but affectionate words, they may reinforce the behaviour. You are unlikely to yell at the bird, so he is unlikely to be afraid, and the vicious circle will continue. If your pet bird has been finger-trained you can respond to his aggression by ignoring it or, ideally, removing yourself from his vicinity. With no positive feedback, the bird will eventually get the message that biting brings no reward.
Some birds bite because they know you’re about to put them back in their cage, and they don’t want to go. The best thing in this situation is to break the routine – take him out at different times, return him before the play session has finished, and give him a treat once he’s back behind bars. If the biting is a nuisance, hold the budgie gently but firmly in your hands when you return him to the cage.
Budgies are rarely aggressive by nature: their burst of temper will come and go quickly. They will fight over food, and will often clash briefly over friends, toys or territory; but this is all a normal part of budgie society. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this surface level of social aggression is to do with food, personal space or mating.
With mating season testosterone bubbling in his brain, a dominant cock bird might try to make life miserable for his neighbours. Similarly, a hen with nesting on her mind may become short-tempered too. It’s important not to over-react in these circumstances – the birds' madness will disappear once the mating urge has passed, and as long as it’s not one timid bird taking all the grief, the flock will sort its problems out without you having to intervene. If a single bird is being bullied all the time, you may have to remove it while the aggressive one is attempting to be king or queen of the roost.
An aggressive bird will use his beak as a weapon.