Beginners Guide to Keeping Budgies
There’s no point embarking on any kind of pet-keeping half-heartedly. Budgies are relatively easy pets to look after, but that doesn’t mean you can just bring one home and then forget about it. The bird will require daily feeding, lots of attention and regular cleaning. Here's a few tips on keeping your budgie happy.
- A suitably sized, well designed and regularly cleaned cage in a warm room
(or an aviary with an enclosed area for roosting)
- A well-balanced and varied diet
- Fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing
- Cage and cage accessories for comfort and stimulation
- A stress-free environment (no predatory cats, no all-night lights, no children prodding things into the cage)
- Company – other budgies, or just you (and a mirror for those times when you’re not able to interact with your pet)
- Space to fly
What to Look For When Buying a Budgie
- Buy from a reputable breeder if possible.
- Don’t buy a bird younger than eight weeks old.
- If buying from a pet store, ask how old the budgie is. If the store isn’t sure, it’s best not to buy from them. Shop birds might have been in the cage for a long time without a buyer, and you want to avoid bringing home a bird more than six months old, as it will be ‘set in its ways’ and harder to settle in and hand-tame.
Have a fully-equipped cage set up and waiting for the new bird; and make sure it’s in a suitable location and install the following essentials:
- Food & water (and a mineral block)
- Perches & toys (a bell, mirror, swing)
- Cuttlefish bone & something to chew (balsa wood is good)
- A bath
Other Things to Think About...
- If you want your bird to talk, bear in mind that male (cock) budgies learn more readily than females (hens). If you have more than one bird, it will be harder to cut through their constant chatter and teach them human words. You can never guarantee that a budgie will learn to talk.
- Don’t be nervous! You will need to put your hand in the bird’s cage to finger-train it. Only by taming your budgie in this way will you be able to let him fly outside the cage and get him back inside easily. Budgies sometimes peck fingers, and although this is unlikely to cause too much pain or draw any blood, it is still worth considering, as a nervous hand isn’t going to get very far with the training process. It’s worth mentioning this to your children, if they are the ones who will be interacting with the budgie.
- If choosing two birds to live together, any combination will work, as budgies crave the company of their own kind. Bear in mind that males sometimes fall out when their hormones tell them it’s mating season; that females can get very defensive if the nesting mood takes over; and that cocks and hens will do what males and females of all species do, given half a chance!
- Feed your budgie every day, with a mixture of seeds and fresh food. Go easy on the treats, including millet sprays.
- Accept that there will be a certain amount of mess from scattered seed husks and moulted feathers.
- Expect a good deal of noise. All parrots are noisy, and budgies are no exception. The majority of their repertoire, however, is a gentle, musical twittering. There are still a few squawking sessions, however; and hens have a more shrill tone than cocks, and tend to squawk a bit more.
- Like a dog, a budgie isn’t just for Christmas! This little feathered bundle of energy and personality is likely to be with you for at least seven years, hopefully many more.
Taming a Budgie Fast
Taming individual birds requires time and effort. If you want to tame a budgie fast, you’ll need to hold several training sessions each day. That way, you might have a hand-tamed bird in a week or two. The more time you put in, the fewer days or weeks it will take to gain his trust.
Building trust is the key – this is the first step, whether you’re attempting to get a budgie talking, perching on your shoulder and performing a couple of tricks, or simply aiming for a cageful of birds happy with your presence.
Finger-Training a Budgie
- To make the bird believe that your finger is the best perch in the world, bribe him with millet. Budgies go mad for the stuff. It should only be used for treats, as it’s rather fatty, but in small amounts it’s the budgerigar equivalent of chocolate.
- Lodge a sprig of millet between your thumb and the base of your index finger. Put your hand in the cage, making sure that your finger is close to where the bird is perched, but that the millet is only accessible via your finger – any sneaky nibbling from a perch or the bars of the cage is only going to slow down the training process.
- . When you first stick your hand in, the bird will probably retreat to a corner and watch. Budgies need time to get used to any new addition to their environment, and your millet-stuffed hand represents a major intrusion. But, with a bit of patience, you’ll get there.
- Keep your hand in the cage for five minutes at a time, with your finger a short hop away from where the bird is perched. Repeat this several times during a single day, with at least half an hour between attempts. Eventually your budgie will be unable to resist the lure of the millet, and will edge closer. Again, make sure he can’t reach the food without using your finger. If you chase the budgie around the cage in an effort to get him on your finger, you will only succeed in spooking him and setting your quest back a few days.
- Once he’s used to having your hand in the cage, you can speed up the whole process by gently rubbing your perch-finger at the top of the budgie’s legs, and he’ll step aboard without thinking. After a week of this, use the same leg-stroking technique to get him onto your finger, but this time without the millet.
- At some point – and the timing of this depends on the individual bird – he’ll be unable to resist any longer, and will hop onto your finger. This is what you’ve been aiming for. The budgie now thinks of your finger as his favourite perch, and will happily return to it – even when he’s outside the cage.
Gaining your budgie's trust is the key.
Keeping Budgies in a Cage
Budgies are flock birds, and they will live happily together. However, an established bird may still get a bit shirty if a new member is introduced to the flock – especially if that flock consists of just one or two birds.
Any new addition will need a period of quarantine, to make sure there are no health issues, and to get all the birds used to each other. For the first four weeks you should keep the new budgie in a separate cage, close to the other birds. This will give everyone a chance to acclimatise. After this time has elapsed, bring the cages close together so that the budgies can make their first beak-to-beak contact.
Maintain this status quo until the birds seem at ease with each other. The first physical contact without bars should take place in the cage the birds are due to occupy together. If this is the already the older bird’s territory, swap the fixtures and fittings around to make it a different, neutral space. Put food stations on both sides of the cage, to allow the budgies to feed separately if they so desire.
If there is any bickering or squawking, don’t panic – this is natural, and as long as there is no persistent violence taking place, things should quickly calm down once the hierarchy has been established. Offer the birds millet, to take their minds off confrontation via group feeding.
If the birds fight a lot, you may have to keep them apart longer and try again in a week or so. The larger the cage, the easier the transition should be.
If you are only keeping one bird, you will have to provide all the social stimulation it needs. This means spending as much time as you can with it every day – which is the ideal opportunity for finger-training the budgie, and attempting to teach it a few words and phrases.
Keeping Budgies in Pairs
A pair of budgies will generally be happier than a single budgie. They are sociable birds and in the wild they live in large flocks. Two birds and a couple of mirrors will recreate the contact and noise of a flock (albeit a very small one). It would be easy to say ‘the more, the merrier’ but this could be taken as suggesting that happiness increases with the size of the flock, which is neither true nor (for most of us) practical. All your bird needs is a companion, and its socialising needs will be met.
Taming two birds at the same time is no trickier than taming one. In fact, the moral support they give each other can often speed things up. Once the braver of the two has hopped onto your finger for the first time, the second is likely to follow. If you’re unlucky and have a really panicky bird in your pair, progress may be slow. But, again, you have no way of speeding things up, so just persist, remain calm and gentle, and you’ll get there in the end.
How Many Budgies Fit in One Cage?
To find out how many birds you can accommodate, you will need to work out the cubic capacity of your cage. This is the height x the length x the width, so that a cage measuring 90cm (35 inches) in all dimensions will be 729,000cm3 (42,875 cubic inches). Each budgie requires 65,000cm3 (4,000 cubic inches), so in a cage of these dimensions you could fit 10 birds. Note: this is the maximum number, and you should always provide as much space as practicalities allow.
If you intend keeping other species of bird with your budgies (see the sections below), adjust the calculations accordingly. Birds of similar size to budgies will require the same space, while a larger bird such as a cockatiel (and you should never introduce anything larger than that to a budgie aviary) will need three times the cubic space of a budgie.
Keeping Male Budgies Together
If your pair are both male, you may get a lot of bickering. Having said that, arguing is all part of the budgie’s social life, so it’s not such a bad thing as long as neither bird is being bullied. The angry noises of bickering budgies may not be music to your ears, however. It is important to realise that buying a budgerigar means bringing noise into the household. This is usually musical and gentle on the ear; but a couple of males with mating season hormones kicking off can be a challenge.
If you’re very unlucky, and one of the birds becomes bullied and his health suffers as a result, you will have to accommodate a second cage and separate the budgies. It’s worth underlining that this is a very uncommon dilemma.
Keeping Male & Female Budgies Together
Many keepers recommend keeping a cock and hen, if you’re limiting yourself to just two budgies. They will tend to live together very amicably, with the important proviso that at some point their thoughts are going to turn to mating. If you don’t want to add budgie chicks to your aviary, you can quell the call of nature by making sure there are no potential nesting holes in the cage (i.e. anything in the cage with a hollow, including coconut shells or other toys that could be adapted into nests). If the tools are not available, two (or more) birds can live happily and celibately together.
Neutering your budgies is not a good option. Such a small bird is likely to die as a result of such an operation.
Keeping Female Budgies Together
Hens can cohabit perfectly well, and will actually squabble slightly less than males as a rule.
Factors that may upset this equilibrium include the later addition of a male to a pair of hens. There is probably not a species in the animal kingdom that would fail to fall out in those circumstances. Come the mating season, hormones will surge and three will definitely be a crowd.
The same principle applies to two males and a single female.
Three females? No problem.
Keeping Budgies with Other Birds
Budgies will mix happily with other small birds, including their fellow Australians the cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus), and many other small parrots, parakeets and lorikeets. Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) generally get along with budgies too. Popular pet birds that should not be kept with budgerigars include all parrots larger than cockatiels; love birds (family Agapornis), which, despite their name, have been known to bite chunks out of other species; and unless you have a huge aviary, canaries (Serinus canaria domestica).
Letting a Budgie Out the Cage
Ideally, once your budgie is finger-trained (and relaxed hopping on and off your finger) you’ll be able to let your budgie out the cage on his first adventures. There are few things to do when preparing a room for budgie exploration:
- Close the curtains, to prevent him crashing into the window and possibly injuring himself
- Close all doors and windows and cover all fires and chimneys
- Put fragile ornaments out of reach – these are likely to be on ledges: just the sort of place your bird will want to perch on
- Make sure there are no dogs, cats or unruly children in the room – an early trauma could set your taming efforts back by days
- Make sure there are some out-of-reach places for the budgie to perch – curtain tops and book shelves for example: your bird will be nervous on the first few flights, and will favour somewhere high and secure
- In time he will start to perch on chairs, furniture, the floor, and you: make sure you’re happy for him to land pretty much anywhere, as flapping your arms around to wave him away will scare him
- Put some toys in the room – anything from a ping pong ball on the floor to a budgie-sized climbing frame on the sideboard
- Remove any houseplants you don’t want nibbled
- Cover or remove mirrors – it doesn’t always happen, but some birds have been known to fly headlong into them
On his first adventures in the outside world, your budgie is likely to hop off your hand just as you try to withdraw it from the cage. If, on the first few attempts, he seems flustered when you put your hand back in for a second attempt, leave him be. Pick up where you left off in the next session.
Many budgies head straight to the top of the cage when they’ve been taken out for the first time. Let him perch there while he takes in his surroundings, and put some treats there to make him feel safe and rewarded. Talk to him gently, and eventually offer your finger again. Try to take him away from the cage, and let him flutter wherever he will.
If, after his first journey beyond the bars, he flies straight back inside the cage, try to get him back on your finger, or close the cage door. It’s best, at this stage, not to let him climb to and from the cage unaided. If he does this, he may come to view your hand as an unnecessary intruder in his territory rather than the means of getting from his cage to the world beyond.
Getting a Budgie Back into the Cage
Once finger-trained, your budgie will be manageable outside the cage. When it’s time to go back inside, present your finger. In the early days you may have to stroke his belly or use the millet lure. Again, it’s best not to allow him to go in or out without using you as a perch.
An untamed budgie who manages to escape the cage is a trickier proposition. Your best bet here is to put his favourite food inside the cage and leave the doors open. Eventually he’ll return. If there is more than one bird, it becomes trickier still, as leaving the doors open will allow the others to escape too. If nothing can tempt the escapee to your finger, you may have to resort to netting him.
Recapturing an Escaped Budgie
If your budgie manages to escape from his cage before he’s properly finger-trained, you may have problems getting him back inside. There are even greater headaches if the bird manages to abscond from an outdoor aviary, or finds a window you forgot to close and high-tails it that way. Indoors, you will recapture the budgie eventually, and the main problem lies in minimising his stress. Outdoors, there are far greater difficulties, and no guarantee of recapturing the bird.
A budgie-catching net is not something you want to use unless absolutely necessary. It’s handy if an aviary bird needs isolating for some reason (like transporting to the vet, for example), and also if a bird has escaped and won’t return to the cage without drastic intervention.
You can buy bird-catching nets in online stores, and you can also use a soft towel or pillowcase for capturing him. The advantage of the net is that it comes on the end of a long stick, so you can catch the bird while you’re some distance away from it.
No matter how tame your bird, and no matter how many times he’s been netted, the process will be stressful for him, so never use a net routinely – only in emergency situations such as an escape.