melopsittacus undulatus

Budgerigar

[buhj-uh-ree-gahr, -er-i-]
The budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), commonly called parakeet, shell parakeet, budgie, or common pet parakeet in US English, 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 budgerigar is sometimes isolated in a tribe of its own, the Melopsittacini, although it is probably quite closely related to Pezoporus and Neophema. Though budgerigars are often called Parakeets, especially in American English, this term refers to any of a number of small parrots with long flat tails. The budgerigar is found throughout the drier parts of Australia and has survived for the last five million years in the harsh inland conditions of that continent.

Etymology

Several possible origins for the English name budgerigar have been proposed:

The genus name Melopsittacus comes from Greek and means "melodious parrot". The species name undulatus is Latin for "undulated" or "wave-patterned".

Taxonomy

The budgerigar was held by Forshaw to be a link between the genera Neophema and Peoporus based on the barred plumage.

Description

Budgerigars in their natural-habitats of Australia average long, weigh 30-40 grams, and display a light green body colour (abdomen and rumps), while their mantle (back and wing coverts) display pitch-black mantle markings (blackish in fledgelings and immatures) edged in clear yellow undulations. The forehead and face is yellow in adults but with blackish stripes down to the cere in young individuals until they change into their adult plumage around 3-4 months of age. They display small purple patches (called cheek patches) and a series of 3 black spots across each sides of their throats (called throat-spots) of which the 2 outermost throat-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. Bills are olive grey and legs blueish-grey, with zygodactyl toes..

Budgerigars in their natural-habitats of Australia are noticeably smaller than those in captivity. This particular parrot species has been bred in many other colours and shades in captivity (i.e. blue, grey, greygreen, pieds, violet, white, yellow...) although they are mostly found in pet stores in blue, green and yellow. Budgerigar plumage is known to fluoresce under ultraviolet light (as most other parrot species do as well), 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). Some female budgerigars develop brown cere only during breeding time and later disappears. Young females can often be identified by a subtle chalky whiteness that starts around the cere nostril holes. Males that are either Albino, Dark-Eyed-Clear, Lutino and/or recessive pied (aka Danishpied aka Harlequin) always retain the immature purplish-pink cere colour their entire life.

It is usually easy to tell the sex of a Budgie over 6 months old, mainly by the cere colours but behaviours and head shape also help indicate Budgie's genders.

Mature males' ceres are usually light to dark blue but can be purplish to pink in some particular colour mutations (DarkEyedClears, Danishpieds aka Recessivepieds and Inos) and usually display much rounder heads. Males are typically cheerful, extroverted, highly flirtatious, most peacefully social and very vocal.

Females' ceres are pinkish as immatures and switch from being beigish or whitish outside breeding condition into brown (often with a 'crusty' texture) in breeding condition and usually display flattened back of heads (right above the nape region). Females are typically highly dominant and more socially intolerant.

Colour Mutations

Every captive budgerigar are divided into 2 basic series of colours namely, white-based (i.e. blue and grey budgerigars) and/or yellow-based (i.e. green and greygreen budgerigars) There are presently at least 32 primary mutations in the budgerigar, enabling hundreds of possible secondary mutations (stable combined primary mutations) and colour varieties (unstable combined mutations).

Vision

Like many birds, budgerigars have tetrachromatic colour vision, but all four classes of cone cells operating simultaneously requires the full spectrum provided by sunlight. Additionally, budgerigars have been known to see in the ultra-violet spectrum, which brightens up their feathers to attract mates. The throat-spots in budgerigars have been most notable for reflecting UVs and for identifying one bird from the other.

Distribution and habitat

Budgerigars 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.

Naturalised feral budgerigars have been recorded 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. Increased competition from European Starlings and House Sparrows is thought to be primary cause of the population decline (Pranty 2001).

Behaviour

Diet

Although budgerigars in their natural-habitats of Australia eat mainly grass seeds, captive budgerigars feed on either dry, sprouted and/or soaked seeds. A diet of only dry seeds is inadequate for budgerigars and/or any parrot species' optimum health. Avian veterinarians recommend pet birds' diets be supplemented with foods such as:

  • Whole cereals and whole Grains : Amaranth, Barley, Couscous, Flax, whole-grain Pastas, Oat, Quinoa (truly a Fruit but used as a Cereal), whole-Wheat, Wild-Rice, whole Rices.
  • Edible flowers: Carnations, Chamomille, Chives, Dandelion, Day Lilies, Eucalyptus, Fruit tree's blossoms, Herbs' blossoms, Hibiscus, Honeysuckle, Impatiens, Lilac, Nasturiums, Pansies, Passion Flower (Passifloræ), Roses, Sunflowers, Tulips, Violets.
  • Greens and/or weeds: Beet leaves, Bok-Choi, Broccoli and/or Cauliflower leaves, Cabbage leaves, Collard greens, Chards, Dandelion leaves, Kelp, Mustard leaves, Seaweeds, Spirulina, Turnip leaves, Water cress.
  • Fruit (except Avocados which are toxic): all Apple varieties, Banana, all Berries varieties, all Citrus varieties, Grapes, Kiwi, Mango, Melons, Nectarine, Papaya, Peach, all Pear varieties, Plum, Star-fruit. Pits and seeds from every Citrus and Drupe species must always be discarded as they are intoxicating. However, achenes and tiny seeds from pseudo and true Berries (Bananas, Blueberries, Elderberries, Eggplants, Persimmons, Pomegranates, Raspberries, Strawberries, Tomatoes) are all ok.
  • Legumes: Almonds, Beans, Lentils, Peas, Nuts and Tofu.
  • Grains' and/or Legumes' sprouts: Aduki beans, Alfalfa beans, Buckwheat, Lentils, Mungo beans, Pinto beans, Red Kidney beans, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds. Caution with only Lima and Navy beans' sprouts which are toxic.
  • Vegetables (except Uncooked Potatoes, Uncooked Onions and all Mushrooms): Beet, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Cucumber, all Cabbage varieties, fresh Beans, fresh Peas, Parsnip, all Pepper varieties, all Squash varieties, Sweet potatoes, Tomato, Turnip, Yams, Zuchini.
  • Pellets specifically formulated for budgerigars, for Australian grass budgerigars and/or for small parrots are all healthy additions.
  • Other fat-free, healthy and nutritious human foods.

Adding these foods provides additional nutrients and can prevent obesity and lipomas, as can substituting millet, which is relatively low in fat, for higher-fat seed mixes. Adult budgerigars often do not always adapt readily to dietary additions, so care must be taken to introduce healthy diets as young as possible (ideally weaned onto fresh foods before introducing chicks onto seeds). Parrots and budgerigars learn mainly by mimicry and thus most adult budgerigars will be easily encouraged to try new foods by observing another bird eating the food, or by placing the new food on a mirror.

Chocolate, alcohol, rhubarb leaves and avocado are recognized as highly toxic.

The wild budgerigar has evolved alongside the Eucalyptus tree and over a million years has developed an intimate bond with the tree and its leaves. Wet eucalyptus leaves excite and invigorate both the wild and aviary budgerigar. They love to bathe in the wet leaves and breeding hens destructively chew the bark. The eucalyptus oil from the leaves has medicinal properties that stimulate the immune system and promote a strong natural resistance to disease.

Breeding

Breeding in the wild generally takes place between June and September in northern Australia and between August and January in the south. But budgerigars are opportunistic breeders responding to rains when grass seeds become most abundant. budgerigars show signs of affection to their flockmates by preening or feeding one another. Budgerigars feed one another by eating the seeds themselves, and then regurgitating it into their flockmates' mouth. Populations in some areas have increased as a result of increased water availability at farms. The nest is in a hole in a tree, fence post or even a log laying on the ground; the 4-6 eggs are incubated for 18-21 days, with the young fledging about 30 days after hatching.

In the wild, virtually all parrot species require a hollow tree or a hollow log as a nest site. Because of this natural behavior, budgerigars most easily breed in captivity when provided with a nest box. The eggs are typically 1 to 2 centimetres long and are plain white without any coloration. Female budgerigars can lay eggs without a male partner but these eggs are unfertilized and will not hatch. This is just like the eggs that chickens lay, which are later sold at supermarkets. A female budgerigar 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 eight eggs, which she will incubate (usually starting after laying her 2nd or 3rd) for about 21 days each. Budgerigar 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, the age difference between the first and last hatchling can be anywhere from 9 to 16 days.

Breeding difficulties

Breeding difficulties arise for various reasons. Some chicks may die from diseases and attacks from adults. Other budgerigars (virtually always hens) may fight over the nest box, attacking the hen and her brood. Sometimes budgerigars (mainly males) are not interested in the opposite gender, and will not reproduce with them. Sometimes a flock setting - several pairs housed where they can see and hear each other - is necessary to stimulate breeding. Another problem may be the birds' beak being under lapped. This is where the lower mandible is above the upper mandible.

It is very important to realize that most health issues and physical abnormalities in budgerigars are genetic. Care should be taken that birds used for breeding are active, healthy, and unrelated. Budgerigars that are related or who have fatty tumours or other potentially genetic health problems should not be allowed to breed. Parasites (lice, mites, worms...) and pathogens (bacteria, fungi and viruses), are contagious and thus transmitted between individuals through either direct or indirect contact. Nestboxes should be cleaned between uses. Splay legs, a relatively common problem in baby budgerigars, results from a young budgerigars slipping repeatedly on the floor of a nestbox. It is easily avoided by placing a small quantity of a safe bedding or wood shavings in the bottom of the nestbox. Alternatively, several pieces of paper may be placed in the box for the hen to shred into bedding. Budgerigars eggs are 1 to 2 centimetres long.

Development

The eggs will take about 18-20 days before they start hatching. The hatchlings are blind, naked, 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. The appearance of down occurs precisely at the ages (around 9 or 10 days of age) for closed banding of the chicks. Budgerigar's closed band rings must be neither larger or smaller than 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 cock usually has begun to enter the nest to help his hen in caring and feeding the chicks. Some budgerigar hens, however, totally forbid their cocks from entering the nest and thus take the full responsibility of rearing the chicks until they fledge.

Depending on the size of the clutch and most particularly in the case of single mothers, 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.

As the chicks develop and grow feathers, they are able to be left on their own for longer and longer periods of time. 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 budgerigars 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.) Lone surviving chicks are often weaned at the youngest possible age as a result of having their parent's full attention and care.

Hand-reared Budgies may take slightly longer to wean than parent-raised chicks. Hand feeding is not routinely done with budgerigars, due to their small size, and the fact that young parent raised birds can be readily tamed.

Aviculture

The budgerigar is one of only two parrot species to be genuinely domesticated along with the rose-collared aka peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis). It is widely acknowledged as the most common pet parrot in the world and possibly the most common cage bird. The budgerigar 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 albino, blue, cinnamon-ino (aka lacedwings), clearwinged, crested, dark, greywinged, opaline, pieds, spangled, suffused, and violet.

Standard-type (aka English or "show") budgerigars are about twice larger than their wild-type (natural form and sized) counterparts. Their overall larger sizes and puffy head feathers give them boldly exaggerated looks. The eyes and beak can be almost totally obscured by their fluffed head's and forehead's feathers. Most captive budgerigars in the pet trade are similar in size and body conformation to wild occurring budgerigars and thus aptly called wild-type budgerigars.

Budgerigars are intelligent and social animals and enjoy the stimulation of toys and interaction with humans as well as with other budgerigars. A common behavior is the chewing of material such as wood, especially for female budgerigars.

Tame budgerigars can be taught to speak, whistle tunes, and play with humans. Both males and females sing and can learn to mimic sounds and words and do simple tricks. 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 are mostly pet budgerigars (and even more so lone pets) and thus, receiving the most attention which talk the best and the most.

In captivity, budgerigars live an average of five to eight years, but are reported to occasionally live to 15-20 if well cared for. The life span depends on each particular budgerigar's breed (show budgerigars typically do not live as long as wild-type budgerigars), lineage and overall health, which is highly influenced by exercise and diet.

Budgerigars (as do most other parrot species) and most particularly females love to chew on anything they can find in their cages and environments. This comes from the females' instinct in adapting by gnawing the all around interior of existing wild bird's nests. Mineral-blocks (ideally enriched with iodine) and cuttlebone and soft wooden pieces must be provided to help them satisfy their desire to chew and keep their beaks trimmed.

Bird lovers often comment on the differences in personality in each individual bird. Budgerigars each have their own unique ideas about how much they like to be handled, which toys are their favorites, and even what music they like or are indifferent to.

Budgerigars have been shown to cause "bird fancier's lung" in sensitive people, a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This is primarily an issue with people keeping large numbers of budgerigars within a bird room.

Cage requirements

Budgerigars are small but are very active, energetic, and lively birds. The absolute minimum size cage for one or two tame pet budgerigars who are allowed out for several hours a day is 18 inches long by 18 inches wide. However, larger cages and flights will be appreciated by these energetic little birds. An ideal cage is longer than higher (since birds fly horizontally like planes and not vertically like helicopters) and would be at least 30 inches long. The cage should not have bar spacing greater than 1/2 inch between bars. Budgerigars are not particularly destructive birds, and spacious cages, while not always easy to find, are usually not overly expensive.

Care should be taken when placing several female budgerigars together, as they can do serious harm to one another if they do not get along. It is easier and often more convenient to 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. They are relatively easily tamed and bred.

Human speech

Male specimens of budgerigars are considered one of the top five talking champions amongst parrot species, alongside Psittacus erithacus ssp. (Congo/Cameroon/Ghana/Princep's and/or Timneh African Grey Parrots), Amazona spp. (Amazon Parrot species), Eclectus ssp. (Eclectus sub-species) and Psittacula spp. (Afro-Asian Ringnecked Parakeet species).

A budgerigar named Puck holds the world record for the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words. Puck, a male budgerigar owned by American Camille Jordan, died in 1994, with the record first appearing in the 1995 edition of Guinness World Records.

See also

References

Inline

General

  • Pranty, B. 2001. The Budgerigar in Florida: Rise and fall of an exotic psittacid. North American Birds 55: 389-397.
  • Forshaw, Joseph M. & Cooper, William T. (1978): Parrots of the World (2nd ed). Landsdowne Editions, Melbourne Australia ISBN 0-7018-0690-7
  • Collar, N. J. (1997). Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). Pg. 384 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. (1997).
    Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-22-9

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