Budgie Food & Feeding Tips
Like any animal, budgerigars need to follow a diet that provides all their nutritional requirements. Budgies are not fussy eaters, so the task is relatively simple. The bulk of their daily intake is seeds, a good helping of fresh foodstuff to make things more interesting for them and to avoid monotony, and a mineral block to fill in the nutritional gaps.
Having said budgies are not fussy, they will choose a yummier food such as millet or grapes (the favourite food depends on the individual bird) in preference to the standard seed mix, so make sure you get the balance right. If seed, cuttlefish bone and a mineral block are always available, and treats are an occasional extra, you won’t go far wrong.
Aim to give your budgies the nutritional equivalent of what they’d get in the wild, and you’ll maximise your chances of keeping them both happy and healthy. A high quality dry seed mix should be the basis of their diet, along with some sprouting seeds, some fresh fruit and veg, a cuttlefish bone and a mineral block.
In the Wild
In their natural Australia habitat, budgies eat seeds, mainly from grasses. They like their seeds in all forms – dry and ready to fall, freshly sprouted, or taking root and turning into mini plants. Budgies also eat some leaves, mainly from the eucalyptus trees they favour for roosting and nesting. They also like fruits when they can find them, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble by descending in huge feathered clouds on farmers’ fields of barley, wheat and whatever else, and helping themselves.
Giving your pet birds access to this wide range is the key. Fortified mixes and supplements fill the nutritional gaps, but nothing matches a rounded ‘wild’ diet for ensuring a bird stays healthy and lives a long life. Poor diet is responsible for many budgie deaths, something that can seem baffling if you’ve been religiously feeding a seed mix that claims to cover the budgie’s complete nutritional requirements. The balance might be there in theory, but older dry seed loses its nutrients. This means a bird that regularly fills its crop with food can still suffer from malnutrition. You’ll get the same problem if you offer too much nutritionally poor ‘treat’ food such as bread, pasta and rice.
Budgies will usually opt for the less healthy options if you let them. If dry seed is offered to the exclusion of everything else in the early weeks of your budgie’s life, he may well turn up his beak at anything else you provide. You might think the most irresistible foods would be fresh fruit and veg; but to your budgie’s palate, nothing hits the spot quite like dry seed. If this is all the bird gets to eat, he may end up overweight, especially if the seed includes (as it usually does) a heavy dose of millet and other oily grains.
So keep it varied, and keep an eye on what he’s actually eating. Does the veg look untouched while the millet spray is stripped bare? If so, minimise the seed supply for a few days, effectively forcing your bird to try the other good stuff on offer.
Some breeders put all their budgie food on the cage or aviary floor, including the feeding dishes and bowls. Budgerigars are very happy with this arrangement – it’s how they do most of their feeding in the wild. A feeder secured to the side of the cage is also fine. Your budgie will perch and eat, and will not pine at all if you never offer food at ground level.
Your budgies drinking water should be changed daily. Even if the bowl or drinking station is protected from falling food and poo, the hyperactivity of the birds will inevitably throw dust, husks and feathers into the water. They may sometimes use a drinking bowl as a bath, too so make sure the water you use for the birds is clean. If the tap water where you live is fine for human consumption, it’s fit for budgies too.
You shouldn’t have to fortify your birds’ water with vitamin or mineral supplements – that should all be coming from the food. If medicine needs to be added to the water on doctor’s orders, clean the bowls and drinkers thoroughly every day.
There are five categories of essential budgie seed/grain, with grains and grasses being the most important (i.e. the ones that provide the bulk of the budgie’s intake in the wild) and should make up 50% of your pet bird’s intake. Our common corn crops of wheat, barley, rye and oats are all derived originally from wild members of the grass family. These should be included in a seed mix as fresh, threshed (hulled) grains – no pearl barley or rolled oats, and certainly no grain-based breakfast cereals, or anything roasted, soaked, baked or boiled.
Treat the following as checklists and interesting background detail rather than a set recipe for concocting your own seed mixes.
- Buckwheat (whole)
- Canary seed
- Sweetcorn kernels
Most native wild grass seeding heads are good, and a free source of food for your pets. Learn to spot and harvest the following:
- Annual meadow-grass (Poa annua)
- Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
- Orchard grass, aka cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata)
- Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
- Poverty brome, aka barren or sterile brome (Bromus sterilis)
- Rough bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
- Soft brome, or soft chess (Bromus hordeaceus)
- Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus)
- Timothy grass (Phleum pratense)
- Meadow soft grass, velvet grass or tufted grass (Holcus lanatus)
Herb-derived seeds should form a quarter of a good seed mix. You don’t necessarily need many of these varieties in any given mix.
- Mustard (yellow, red, black)
- Red Clover
Budgies love oilseeds, but they will eat them to the exclusion of other seeds if there are too many in the mix. Their oiliness makes them the budgie equivalent of a burger and chips, so it’s best to keep them to a minimum – no more than 10% of the overall seed offering. The seeds should never be roasted. Oilseeds do not store very well, so make sure you only buy them in small quantities. Anything more than three months old will usually be rancid. Millet, hemp, niger and rape are grains, strictly speaking, but they’re included here due to their high fat content.
- Flax (acquires a slimy surface when sprouting, that budgies don’t approve of)
- Hemp (bashed about a bit, to crack the tough husks)
- Niger (or Nyjer)
- Pumpkin (soaked and allowed to germinate first)
This family includes lentils, peas and beans. They should be whole (not split) and sprouting, rather than hard and dry. One or two from this list in a mix is fine, and the total legume element should make up around 15% of the seed mix. Any more, and you will be overdoing the proteins in the birds’ diet. One side effect of excessive protein is that it gives budgies the urge to breed. A handy means of hormonal arousal if you want your birds to breed, but just asking for trouble otherwise.
Note: many beans are toxic for budgies, so never experiment with anything not listed below.
- Adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo)
- Green peas
- Lentils (all types)
- Mung beans
- Yellow peas
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals vital to a budgie’s good health. It’s true that most of these nutritional needs will be met with a good seed mix, however you should always make fresh food available to your birds. Exploring and tasting different textures of food with his tongue is all part of a budgie’s sensory world and it will keep him alert, curious and happy.
Fruit and veg should always be offered raw, never cooked or processed in any way. Budgies have a natural fondness for fresh food, and you’ll only have a problem getting them to take it if you have left them for too long on a diet of nothing but seeds.
Note: Whether or not a food item has been nibbled or left untouched, remove it from the cage at the end of the day. Many fresh foods, especially fruits, are full of sugar, which will soon be growing bacteria as readily as a petri dish. Bacterial blooms of this nature can kill budgies.
Vegetables should form part of your budgie’s daily diet. As long as there’s seed available too, they’ll generally sort out the correct balance for themselves. If the bird’s droppings turn watery, it’s probably a sign of overindulgence in fresh foods.
- Aubergine (fruiting bodies only, without the stalk ‘hat’ and no green parts)
- Brussels sprouts (chopped up)
- Carrots (and carrot greens)
- Celery (stalks only)
- Chinese leaves
- Courgette (Zucchini)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Mustard greens
- Pak choi
- Peas (podded)
- Peppers of all kinds (even spicy ones)
- Savoy cabbage
- Spring greens
- Sweet Potatoes
- Tomato (ripe ones only)
- Turnip tops (the green sprouts)
The rule here is to go easy on the sweet stuff. Budgies don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but it is very easy to overfeed them with sugar-packed fruits. Offer two or three of these in small amounts about twice a week.
- Apple (segments, No seeds)
- Blackberry (bramble)
- Cherries (de-stoned)
- Common whitebeam berries
- Currants (black, red and white fruiting shrub)
- Dogwood (bitter, but palatable to some budgies)
- Elderberry (ripe, and not the leaves or stems, which are toxic)
- Melon, all types
- Mulberry (fruit and leaves alike)
- Nectarine (de-stoned)
- Oranges and similar (clementines, mandarins, satsumas, tangerines)
- Passion fruit
- Peach (de-stoned)
- Pears (segments, without pips)
- Persimmon (ripe ones only)
- Rosehips (sliced in half)
- Sharon fruit
- Sloe (Blackthorn) (freeze the fruits first to remove some off the bitterness)
Small amounts of herbs can be offered, and most budgies enjoy them as part of a varied diet. Bunches of herbs tied at the end and doused in water will be used by your birds as a shower-cum-towel: they love rolling themselves through wet foliage. Here are some common herbs that you can feed to your budgie.
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Coriander (cilantro) (Coriandrum sativum)
- Cress (Lepidium sativum)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
- Rocket (Eruca sativa)
- Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
- Savory (Satureja hortensis)
- Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Mint (Mentha – there are lots of different varieties)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
The following herbs should only be given in small quantities, as they can cause irritation in Budgies’ digestive systems if over-indulged in:
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) needs some circumspection too. Many budgies grow to love it, but if eaten in large quantities it can prevent them from absorbing calcium. Parsley is also mildly toxic; but your bird would need to feast on the stuff for several days before feeling the worse for wear.
You can supplement your budgie’s vegetable intake with some of these common weeds. Remember that picking wild flowers is illegal – this list is limited to weeds commonly found in gardens. The birds will eat both the leaves and the seeds. A word of warning - do not feed them to any of your pets if you have used any form of weed-killer or chemical pest-control near the source of these weeds.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) – the whole plant and the seeds
- Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) – plant, flower and seeds alike
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – the leaves
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) – seeds and fresh plant tops (douse them in hot water first to remove the stings)
- Plaintain – Greater or Common (Plantago major) – leaves and seed heads
- Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) – leaves and seed heads
- Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – leaves, flowers and seeds
- White clover (Trifolium repens) – flowers and seeds
- Worm-seed mustard (Erysimum cheiranthoides) - leaves and seeds
Don’t feed budgies any ornamental garden flowers (or houseplants) unless an expert has told you they are safe and edible. There are far too many decorative plants to list in their entirety; but Pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) are good budgie food, and if you don’t want to sacrifice the blooms you’ve planted in your garden, harvest the seeds in August and feed them to the budgies. The birds are also partial to Chamomile seeds (Matricaria chamomilla), which is something you might have in your herb garden.
As budgies are inquisitive birds who love getting their beaks and tongues into new things, it’s fun to let them nibble on novelties every now and then. A shop-bought treat or millet spray will do the trick; or you could introduce small amounts of cooked wholemeal pasta or cooked brown rice (with no salt added to the cooking water), nuts (almond, brazil, cashew, filbert, macadamia, pecan, pistachio, walnut), a little dried fruit (see Budgie dried fruit note above), and even some dried mealworms of the kind you feed to insectivorous garden birds.
Small pieces of chopped cooked meat or fish are acceptable too, as are chopped hardboiled eggs. Never offer any of these raw, and always remove any uneaten food after a few hours.
Feeding Budgies Bread
Bread, or toast, isn’t something your birds should be eating regularly. Avoid any standard shop-bought loaves, as these will contain salt which can damage budgies’ kidneys. An organic wholemeal loaf with no added salt is okay, in small amounts. There isn’t much nutrition in this foodstuff for budgies, and yet it will quickly fill their crops and tell their stomachs they’ve had enough. Malnutrition is therefore a danger if too much bread is fed.
The same no-salt rule applies to crispbreads. The budgies will enjoy nibbling the crumbly stuff, but it should be viewed as a treat, never a main course. Never mistake your budgerigars for little humans. They do not need butter, jam, peanut butter, marmite, honey or any other spreadable on their bread.
Seed Mix & Seed Sprouts
When choosing a seed mix for your birds, go for very best you can get hold of. It should contain a good balance of grass seed, grain, legumes and oily seed. However, the ideal seed mix isn’t to be found in any one type of commercially available budgie food. You also need to feed sprouting and sprouted seeds.
When seeds germinate they are transformed, nutritionally speaking. As they sprout they produce a rich supply of vitamins and nutrients lacking in dry seed. The sprouted seed is easy to produce at home, and you should be able to find a supplier too, if you don’t fancy DIY sprouting. This type of seed soon goes mouldy, so don’t store it for more than three days. If you only sprout or buy in small amounts, you can serve it as and when it’s ready and not have to worry about wastage.
If all this comes as news to you, and your budgie has been fed exclusively on a dry seed mix, you can still wean him onto other things. Like any fast food junkie, it might require the temporary removal of all temptation. Prepare a good food mix, using items from the food lists below, remove the dry seed for the time being, and place a portion of the mix where you usually place the seed. Hunger will force your fussy bird to eat what you give him; and because it’s actually good stuff, the bird will usually be won over in a day or two. After that, you can return the dry seed to the cage, while maintaining the varied diet.
All budgies are different, and some may be more resistant to change than others. Many take a few days to get used to a new foodstuff. Keep introducing it into the cage, though, and even the fussiest will finally succumb to natural curiosity and give it a go.
Many of the seeds in the lists below are suitable for sprouting. In the summer and autumn Nature does some of the hard work for you, offering a ready supply of seeding grasses. Don’t try sprouting grains, especially oats, as these soon go mouldy. Another one to avoid is flax, which goes slimy as part of the germination process, something budgies find very disagreeable. To get the DIY germination going, rinse a small batch of seeds under a tap in a plastic sieve and then soak in a bowl in fresh cold water for no more than 8 hours. Any longer than this and they will begin to ferment. Rinse the seeds again in a sieve, and then suspend it over the bowl and cover it. Between 24 and 48 hours later the seeds will start to sprout. Rinse them every 8 hours or so to prevent mildew forming.
Once sprouted, dry the seeds on a tea towel before giving them to the budgies. Never offer them too cold (i.e. from the fridge). The most palatable seeds for budgies are ones that have only just germinated. Serving them ones that have sprouted a little more is good for them nutritionally, however, so you should offer the seeds over a three-day period to catch the different stages of sprouting.