The Budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus, nicknamed budgie), the only species in the Australian genus Melopsittacus, is a small parrot belonging to the tribe of the broad-tailed parrots (Platycercini); these are sometimes considered a subfamily (Platycercinae). In the latter case, the Budgie is sometimes isolated in a tribe of its own, the Melopsittacini, although it is probably quite closely related to Pezoporus and Neophema. Though Budgies are often called Budgies, especially in American English, this term refers to any of a number of small Parrots with long flat tails. The Budgie is found throughout the drier parts of Australia and has survived in the inlands of that continent for over 5 million years.
Several possible origins for the English name Budgie have been proposed:
- A compound of budgery, "good" and gar "Cockatoo". Budgie means "good eating" or "good food" in some Australian Aboriginal languages. This is supported by the Oxford English Dictionary. The word budgery itself, also spelt boojery, was formerly in use in Australian English slang meaning "good".
- An alteration of Gamilaraay gidjirrigaa, possibly influenced by the slang word budgery mentioned above. This is supported by the American Heritage Dictionary.
- The genus name Melopsittacus comes from Greek and means "melodious parrot". The species name undulatus is Latin for "undulated" or "wave-patterned".
Adult females display beige to brown ceres while adult males typically have blue ceres or purplish-pink in Albinistic and recessive-pied varieties.
Budgies are about 18 cm long and weigh 30-40 grams. Wild Budgies display a green body colour (abdomen and rumps), while their mantle (back and wing coverts) is black edged in yellow. The forehead and face is yellow in adults, and barred black with yellow in young till they change into their adult plumage at 3-4 months of age. Each cheek has a small dark purple patch (cheek patches) and a series of 3 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); 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. Bill olive grey and legs blueish-grey, with zygodactyl toes. Wild Budgies are noticeably smaller than those in captivity. These parrots have been bred in many other colours in captivity, such as white, blue, and even purple, although they are mostly found in pet stores in blue, green, yellow and occasionally white. Budgie plumage is known to fluoresce under ultraviolet light, a phenomenon possibly related to courtship and mate selection.
The colour 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 colour their entire life.
Budgie Color Mutations
There are presently at least 32 primary mutations in the Budgie, enabling hundreds of possible secondary mutations (stable combined primary mutations) & color varieties (unstable combined mutations). Each of these primary mutations falls into one of four basic groups:
- Albinism : where eumelanin is either partially or completely reduced in all body tissues & 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-dominant
- 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.
Care should be taken when placing several female budgies together, as they can do serious harm to one another if they do not get along. It is easier and often more convenient to either keep either an even number of both males and females or to only keep male birds altogether as these generally get along with each other without any problem. Contrary to historical beliefs, modern literature agrees that Budgies should never be kept single as this can cause serious harm to the bird both physically and psychologically. 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 favourites, and even what music they like or are indifferent to.
Like many birds, Budgies have tetrachromatic color vision, but all four classes of cone cells operating simultaneously requires the full spectrum provided by sunlight.
Budgie Habitat and behaviour
Budgies are nomadic birds found in open habitats, primarily in Australian scrubland, open woodland and grassland. The birds are normally found in small flocks, but can form very large flocks under favourable conditions. The species is extremely nomadic and the movement of the flocks is tied to the availability of food and water. Drought can drive flocks into more wooded habitat or coastal areas. They feed on the seeds of spinifex, grass weeds, and sometimes ripening wheat.
Feral birds have been found since the 1940s in the St. 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.
Budgies keep themselves clean by preening. They do it very often to remove dirt and dust from their feathers which are important for flight. Budgies show signs of affection to their friends by preening or feeding one another. They help clean each others hard-to-reach spots. Budgies feed one another by eating the seeds themselves, and then regurgitating it into their friend's mouth.
When budgies sleep, they often fluff up their feathers, trapping in warm air, and making themselves cozy.
Budgies in Captivity
The Budgie is one of the two Parrots to be genuinely domesticated as a species along with the Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis). Believed to be the most common pet Parrot in the world, the Budgie has been bred in captivity since the 1850s. Breeders have worked over the decades to produce a wide range of colour, pattern and feather mutations, such as blue, white, violet, olive, albino and lutino (yellow), pied, clearwing, spangled, and crested.
Modern show Budgies, also called English Budgies and/or Standard-Type Budgies 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. Most Budgies in the pet trade are not of the show variety (Standard-Type aka English Budgies) and are similar in size and body conformation to wild Budgies and thus aptly called wild-type Budgies.
Budgies are not expensive, which is another reason to why they are very common pets. They are usually found between 10 to 30 dollars, but some breeds can go up to 50.
Budgies are intelligent and social animals and enjoy the stimulation of toys and interaction with humans as well as with other Budgies. A common behaviour is the chewing of material such as wood, especially for female Budgies.
Budgies can be taught to speak, whistle tunes, and play with humans. Both males and females sing and can learn to mimic sounds & 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 which talk the best and the most.
In captivity, Budgies live an average of five to eight years, but are reported to occasionally live to 15 if well cared for. The life span depends on the Budgie's breed (show Budgies typically do not live as long as wild-type Budgies) and on the individual bird's health, which is highly influenced by exercise and diet.
Female budgies love to chew on anything they can find in their cage, which comes from their instinct to build nests for their eggs. Since in captivity budgies don't have as many things to gnaw on as they do in the wild, cuttlebone is often placed in their cages to help them keep their beaks clean and trimmed.
Although wild Budgies eat grass seeds almost exclusively, avian veterinarians recommend captive birds' diets be supplemented 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. Budgies do not always adapt readily to dietary additions, however. Chocolate and avocado are recognized as potential toxins.
The male will stand on 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 (most male birds have no penis) against hers and rub it back and forth to stimulate ejaculation. The male may move away for a moment before returning for another session.
Budgies are easily bred. In the wild, virtually all parrot species require a hollow tree or a hollow log and because of that, they naturally require nest boxes for breeding. Female Budgies will still lay eggs without a partner ; but they'll be unfertilized, this is just like the eggs that hens lay, which are later sold at supermarkets. 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 (usually starting after laying her 2nd or 3rd) for about 19 days each. Budgie Budgie hens only leave their nests for very quick defecations and stretches once they've begun incubating and are by then almost exclusively fed by their cocks (usually at the nest's entrance) Depending on the clutch size and the beginning of incubation, there can be anywhere from 5 to 15 day age difference between the first and last hatchlings.
The eggs will take about 18-20 days before they start hatching. When they start to hatch, the hatchlings are totally helpless and their mother feeds them around the clock day and night. Around 10 days of age, the chicks' eyes will open, and they will start to develop feather down, which typically indicates the best time for adding closed bands to the chicks (These rings should be about 4.0 to 4.2 mm.)
They develop feathers around 3 weeks of age. (One can often easily note the colour mutation of the individual birds at this point.) At this stage of the chicks' development, the cocks usually has begun to enter the nest to help his hen in caring and feeding the chicks. Some Budgie hens though totally forbids their cocks from entering the nest and thus take the full responsibility of rearing the chick. Depending on the size of the clutch, it may then be wise to transfer a portion of the hatchlings (or best of the fertile eggs) to another pair. The foster pair must already be in breeding mode and thus either at the laying or incubating stages and/or rearing hatchlings. In about 4 weeks the birds are ready to survive on their own.
By the fifth week, the chicks are strong enough that both parents will be comfortable in staying more and more out of the nest. The youngsters will stretch their wings to gain strength before they attempt to fly. They will also help defend the box from enemies mostly with their loud screeching. Young budgies typically fledge (leave the nest) around their fifth week of age and are usually completely weaned a week later. However, the age for fledging as well as weaning can vary slightly depending on whether it is the oldest, the youngest and/or the only surviving chick. Generally speaking, the oldest chick is the first to be weaned. But even though it is logically the last one to be weaned, the youngest chick is often weaned at a younger age than its older sibling(s). (This can be a result of mimicking the actions of older siblings.) Lonely surviving chicks are often weaned at the youngest possible age as a result of having their parent's full attention and care.
Budgie Breeding difficulties
Often males will show courtship with males, and females will court females. It is easy to mistake them for opposite sexes, so you can't differentiate them by this behavior. Breeding difficulties arise for various reasons. Some chicks may die from diseases or attacks by their parents (virtually always hens). Other Budgies (virtually always hens) may fight over the nest box, attacking the hen while she is laying her eggs. Sometimes budgies are not interested in the opposite sex, and will not reproduce with them. Another problem may be the birds' beak being underlapped. This is where the lower mandible is above the upper mandible.
It is very important to realize that most health issues and physical abnormalities are genetically inherited and are thus consequence of high inbreeding frequencies. Parasites (i.e. fleas, mites, worms...) and pathogenes (bacteria, fungi and viruses), however, are contagious and thus transmitted between individuals through either direct or indirect contact.
Male Budgies are considered one of the top five talking champions amongst Parrot species. That is alongside:
- Every Psittacus erithacus ssp. (Congo/Cameroon/Ghana/Princep's &/or Timneh African Grey Parrots)
- Every Amazona spp. (Amazon Parrot species)
- Every Eclectus ssp. (Eclectus sub-species)
- Every Psittacula spp. (Afro-Asian Ringnecked Budgie species)
- MALE Melopsittacus undulatus (Budgie Budgie)
A Budgie 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.
The Budgie 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 Budgies prefer non-verbal communication, such as stomping on their food dish and shrieking when they want fresh seed, rather than asking for it.
Modified from the Budgerigar article on Wikipedia