Melopsittacus undulates

» Also referred to as the Budgie, Shell parakeet, or simply Parakeet in the American pet trade  
» About 7" long and 30 to 40 grams
» Endemic to the interior of mainland Australia
» The green budgie with the yellow face is the natural color
» Very common in aviculture. There are many color mutations 
» The most popular and common pet bird throughout the world

Budgerigars or Budgies (more commonly but erroneously referred to as parakeets) are pretty much what the breeder and caregiver make them. Unfortunately, aspects of the pet trade are really screwing up this potentially delightful little species by turning it into a dime store/chain pet store throw-away species. Many of these birds being sold through the pet industry are now produced with little concern for genetics or hardiness. Their potential life-span has been shortened considerable by this push ‘em out mentality. Poorly bred birds have a tendency towards fatty tumors, particularly on a seed-only diet.

If you can truly find a healthy hand-fed baby budge from a legitimate breeder or quality bird shop that cares about the quality of the birds that they sell, the bird has the potential to be an incredible companion. They can be affectionate, clever, curious, little dynamos. Be sure to buy one that is weaned to pellets and veggies as Budgies can be very difficult to convert from a rigid see-only diet, which is a death diet for Budgies. They do not do well on total pellets, especially ones with coloring.



Reminiscing About Our First Parrots

Over the last several years, I have talked with hundreds of parrot owners from all over the country and even around the world. Sometimes, we reminisce about our very first parrots. It was usually a budgie — still commonly called a parakeet. The budgerigar or Budgie is only one of many birds in the parrot family that are classified as parakeets... and yes, budgerigars are parrots. They are actually still the most popular parrot in America.

I always loved wild birds as a child and my first pet bird was a budgie. When I was in the 4th grade, we bought a beautiful little yellow budgie that we named Mickey Finn. 

We bought him in a pet shop. We bought a cage, gravel paper to fit in the bottom, a roly-poly penguin, a Ferris wheel, a bath with a mirror in the bottom, a mite protector, some sandpaper perches and an assortment of little boxes of seed to feed him. Each box had a different name that made it sound like an exciting food that would make Mickey's feathers shine, keep him healthy and make him sing, talk and maybe even do a tap dance. The store guaranteed us that we had everything we needed to make Mickey happy—what did they know? Of course many of the items we bought for him were actually dangerous or could create problems - especially the mite protector and the sandpaper perches. These are still sold but have no place in a bird's cage.

As I recall, he quickly took over the household. I loved Mickey. He was my best buddy and I spent a great deal of time working with him. Mickey chattered endlessly. He would chirp, sing and whistle constantly with an occasional verbal gem thrown in for fun. He became an excellent talker and even picked up expressions from television. At the time, one of our favorite television shows was Bums and Allen. One day, out of nowhere, he announced to my mother, "You're in a jam, Gracie".

One time when my grandmother was visiting, Mickey landed on her shoulder as she was going out the front door and said "Shut the door stupid, the bird's out!". Luckily, he stayed put as she quickly hurried back into the house. Mickey loved to admire himself in our antique wall mirrors so much that my father painted green leaves around the bottom of all of the hanging mirrors. This way the little narcissist couldn't see him self and left the mirrors alone.

Mickey usually "helped" me with my homework. As I would write down the words on paper, he would busily try to eat them or he would try to play wrestle with the pencil. I doubt that my teacher would have accepted my excuse for not getting my homework done if I told her that my budgie ate the words as I wrote them down.

Dive Bombing

When Mickey was out of his cage he was an equal opportunity dive bomber, buzzing everyone regardless of who they were. Because of my father's job, my parents had frequent dinner parties. My brother Roger and I were usually allowed to visit with the company for a while before we went to bed. 

I clearly remember one evening when Mickey got out and flew around the room. One woman went hysterical as if he was going to torture her, kill her and then possess her soul. She screamed and screeched, threw her arms around and tried to swat him out of the air. I think Mickey took this as a challenge and it took quite a comedy of errors for us all to try and capture him and return him to his cage. My brother and I were jumping over the furniture and bouncing off the couch. It was great fun for the three of us — Mickey seemed to love the chase too!

Once my father caught him, the woman insisted that the fearsome flyer be placed completely out of sight or her husband would have to take her home immediately. I just couldn't understand and probably still can't why anyone would have such an overwhelmingly phobic reaction to my terrific little guy. This was even before Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" single-handedly created a whole generation of "aviphobes". I guess some people still believe that flying birds and bats are the same and are instruments of great evil. How sad. Even bats are usually gentle, harmless creatures trying to live their own lives and do not deserve their negative reputation. In truth, Mickey was totally innocent—just out for a fun time!

Mickey loved liquids and would take a bath in anything. We had to be very careful at mealtimes or he would try to go swimming in a boiling pot on the stove or the soup at the table. We always made sure that the toilet seat was down and that the bathroom door was closed. If he heard you pouring liquid from a bottle, he was right there to take a shower in his perceived waterfall. Unfortunately, he also had the habit of sharing my father's evening cocktail with him.

The Lone Ranger Was A Bad Hombre

We only had a short time to enjoy Mickey. One evening while my mother was ironing, my brother and I were watching The Lone Ranger. Mickey was flying around the room. As the Lone Ranger fired his gun, Mickey suddenly dropped from the "sky" and landed on the ironing board. He was dead.

To this day, we all remember that the Lone Ranger shot Mickey and killed him. It was probably the combination of drinking my father's martinis and a very bad diet. Of course, back then, we didn't really know about the nutritional abuse of a seed only diet. I remember being terrified that I might have helped cause his death by occasionally feeding him some food off of my plate. As I recall, we fed him nothing but Hartz Mountain seeds and were told that "people food" (especially harmless vitamin A rich parsley) would make him sick. I guess this was the first of many "pet industry" lies that have affected my life. To this day for this and other reasons, I will not buy any Hartz Mountain products.

I was devastated by the loss of my pal. One of my most vivid childhood memories was leaning against my brick schoolhouse fighting back tears while all of the other girls jumped rope. I remember that some "kind" teacher patronized me by saying "Oh my dear, it was only a little bird". Only a bird! That really upset me — Mickey was probably my best childhood friend! I believe that he had a profound effect on me and is one of the reasons that I have dedicated my life to exposing "pet industry myths" and providing bird owners with the best information that I can.

My parents went out and bought another parakeet from a pet store. We named him Mr. Peepers but he just was not healthy so they took him back after a few days. About that time, a general that my father worked with was trying to find a home for a Siamese kitten named "Little Joe The Mighty Wrangler". So JoJo came to live with us and we didn't get another bird. Because my father was in the Air Force and we moved so much, it would be years before I had another pet bird.

Budgies In The Family

Both of my grandmothers fell in love with Mickey Finn during visits from California. My grandma Lu, bought a budgie when she returned home. He was quite a talkative little fellow and the Santa Ana newspaper even did a photo story about how much he liked to talk on the phone. He even said hello to me on the phone from 3,000 miles away. That was something special to brag about to all my school friends.

My other grandmother who lived in Berkeley went home and bought a budgie, then another, and another ... Before she died, I think that she must have had at least a dozen each of Peppy and Hoppy. I may have been the only one that really appreciated a visit with my grandmother's birds. Her upstairs apartment was small but had lots of windows. On a clear day, I could see both the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge.

Grandma Mamo (that's what my brother and I called her—I've never known why) never kept the budgies in cages, so you had to duck into the apartment very quickly so the birds didn't fly into the hall. She had built some ledges for the birds to live on and the whole place was theirs. I don't know how many 'keets Grandma Mamo had at any given time. I think that there were at least a dozen or more! My mother always tells me that I exaggerate the stories of my childhood, so I am not really sure.

All I know was that it was a wondrous event to have the chirping birds flying around my head — all shades of blue, green, violet and yellow landing all over me. A trip to my grandmother's was not complete without a visit to the carefully weeded Budgerigar cemetery by the side of the house. Each little grave was marked with a special stone. Years later, long after my grandmother had died, I returned to the house that was no longer in the family and some of the stones were still in their proper places. Of course, the people who lived in the house then had no idea that the little stone garden was a bird cemetery.

Tippy The Tutor

After my parents moved to in southern California, we bought a budgie that I named Tippy. (We had a dog named Tuppy.) Tippy turned into a great little talker too. I was busy with college so I spent every moment I could with him when I was home. He loved to sit on the shower curtain rod and talk to me while I took a bath and got ready for school or to go out in the evening. He was almost incessant with the same inquiry, "whatcha doin?" He repeated it over and over unless he received what he considered to be an adequate answer—"I'm taking a bath", I'm doing the dishes" or "I'm TRYING to study" to which Tippy always replied "how nice for yoooo!"

Tippy actually taught our neighborhood mockingbird to talk. One afternoon, we thought there was an echo coming from the fireplace. Each time Tippy would say "Cutie Bird", we could hear "Cutie Bird" reverberating down the chimney. When I went outside to look, there was a mockingbird sitting at the top of the chimney carefully listening to Tippy's every word. The mimic mocker was our neighborhood mockingbird and actually hung around for a few years.

If anyone uses the expression "you'll have to eat those words" to me, I immediately remember trying to study with my little companion. Tippy diligently followed the pencil point and tried to eat every line as I applied it to the page. One of my regrets was leaving Tippy behind with my parents when I transferred to another school and I really missed him but my parents loved him and took the best care of him that my mother knew how to.

Sadly, we still hadn't learned the lessons of proper bird keeping and the seed-only diet took its toll on Tippy's lifespan. I had one more Budgie while I was married. His name was Herbie. Again, we made a poor choice about where we bought him. He was a sweet bird but never very healthy and at the time, I had no idea how to get him to eat healthy foods.

The Importance Of Proper Nutrition

Even with better nutritional knowledge, the reality is that the majority of budgies are still on a dangerous diet that will cause serious nutritional health problems and a shortened lifespan. Many people trust their local pet shop when the employees sell them a dozen little jars of different seed mixtures explaining that they combine to create a total diet. I believe that seed is seed is seed is seed and even with a tremendous variety of seed as the total diet, any bird will still suffer from malnutrition.

A good diet for a budgie is basically the same as for any other pet parrot—just smaller portions avoiding too many fats from seed and nuts. Foods that are healthy for people are usually healthy for budgies. These include high vitamin A vegetables and fruits (grated or chopped carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, greens, parsley, carrot tops, peppers, apricot, peach, papaya, etc.) whole grains (whole grain bread, a mixture of fresh seeds, sprouted seeds, chopped nut meats), an assortment of healthy fresh protein sources (chopped very hard boiled egg including shell, cooked quinoa, small pieces of well-cooked lean chicken, turkey, fish), and other vegetables and fruits. I do not recommend feeding pelleted diets to Budgies - there are to many chemicals, colorings and other questionable ingredients.

Seed can be a part of the diet but should be kept to a minimum (5-10% at most) as it is high in fat and a low-fat diet is particularly essential for budgies who have a tendency for life threatening fatty tumors. Never starve a budgie to convert them to a healthy diet - they will die. The key is to constantly provide healthy foods by experimenting with color, texture, size and shape. Probably the easiest way to get a budgie to eat new foods is to let him eat off of your plate. Two of Tippy's favorite foods were carrot tops weaved in his cage bars and grated carrots. 

Find A Genetically Healthy Bird

Since so many budgies are now production raised, it is difficult to find genetically healthy young birds that have been weaned to a varied nutritious diet. If you are looking for a bird that has the potential for a healthy long lifespan, it is worth doing your homework to find a breeder that really is concerned about raising healthy birds for the pet market. I have actually met more than one Budgie around 30 years of age. They ate from their caregivers' plates who ate a healthy diet. Make sure the birds have been weaned to a varied diet. They can be switched to a healthy diet but it is much better for them to be started on one. With the right techniques, patience and gentleness, even most parent fed chicks can be easily tamed to be exceptional pets.

Some budgies stay tamer if their wings are trimmed while others have a strong enough bond with their people that they can have full flight and still be cuddly affectionate pets. If the wings are not trimmed, caregivers must take extreme care bird-proof the house and to make sure doors and windows are kept shut when the bird is out of his cage. Kids need to truly understand not to go in and out while the bird is out. Budgies are one of only a few parrot family birds that can remain quite tame even if more than one is kept as a pet. The key is that each bird is tame before they are placed together and each is handled separately to keep them tame. "Nurturing Guidance" works just as well for these intelligent little dynamos as it does for the bigger birds. Using the verbal commands "UP" and "DOWN" cues when your budgie steps on and off of your hand will make a big difference in keeping him sweet and tame.




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