If you are considering getting a budgie and are wondering about budgie care, this is the page for you! I believe that the place to start when considering caring for your budgie (or horse or dog or pig…) is to learn a bit about their origins. This will tell you what sort of food they are designed for, what type of habitat they suit and also explain a lot about their behaviour.
Budgies thrive in their wild environment without many of the issues we encounter with them in captivity. There are obvious advantages to captivity, like not dying of thirst or starvation during a drought, but also many disadvantages caused by a lack of understanding of their needs. So, where do these active little parrots come from and what does that tell us about budgie care?
Budgies are parakeets that originated in Australia. Whilst this
country has the full range of habitats, from deserts to rain forest to
alpine, budgies primarily live in the grassland areas. They are
nomadic, moving to new areas in search food and water and able to travel up to hundreds of kilometres a day. This means they
can be found in many parts of Australia, from the inland desert areas to
some coastal regions as they travel for food.
Wild budgies live in flocks that can vary from a few birds to huge, deafening masses of hundreds of thousands. When specific factors trigger breeding they will breed prolifically, producing three clutches of up to seven or eight chicks, although four chicks is the average. However the outback of Australia can go years without rain and reach temperatures of 49°C (120°F), burning up any food or water. In these times the budgies do not breed, and many die.
Below you will find information on diet, accommodation, toys, companionship, safety and health. If you wish to learn a little more about budgie terminology, like why some are called parakeets, american, or english budgies, then simply click here.
So, how does knowing about their origin help us plan our budgie care?
As you now know, budgies live in mostly grassland areas. This means that their diet mostly comprises of seeds, shoots and other plant matter. They have access to a variety of grasses, including Mitchell grass, spinifex grasses, wild oats, canary grass and many others. These supply the budgie with greens and seeds of varying development from newly formed and unripe, through to fully ripe dry seeds like those we see in pet shops.
They have access to a range of trees that provide them with leaves, buds, fruit and bark to chew on. They will also take the occasional insect and budgies are known to eat the charcoal from burned trees, which is believed to help in times of illness.
As far as drinking goes, budgies access water wherever they can find it
from natural sources such as ponds and puddles, to man made sources such
as cattle troughs. In times of extreme heat large flocks of budgies
descend on water sources, sometimes piling upon each other to get to the
water. This results in many drowning and the water supply being
There is much to consider when planning a healthy diet for your budgie, so I have a separate page here to go into specifics based on what we already know.
Once you are happy with the main part of the diet you can start to experiment with a few home made treats.
In the wild your budgie would spend the majority of it's day traveling and searching for food and water. This requires exercise, curiosity and intelligence. They would fly long distances, investigate potential plants and learn through experience what to look for and how to get it. This foraging behaviour keeps both their body and mind active and healthy and we can replicate some of those benefits for our pets.
With my birds I try to place perches as far apart as
possible so they can get a bit of flight in between them. I also place
their main food in a low flat dish on the base of the cage. It needs to
be placed away from their usual pooping spots to reduce the risk of
spoiling. This way my birds need to fly down the the ground (the natural
place for feeding) to get their main meal. It means that instead of
just fluttering from perch to perch they need to exert effort to fly
down and back up again a few times a day. The shape of the cage you choose will influence whether you can offer this benefit to your birds (see the section on cage info next).
Their main food is a seed mix (read more about why on the diet page)
so doesn't easily spoil or need changing daily. This means I can fill
the dish with several days worth, usually a weeks worth at a time. At
first they can easily eat, but after a day or two the husks build up on
top and they start to rummage about, digging with their beaks to find
the seeds below. As the dish is a wide low one they can always find them but need to make a bit of an
effort. It would be unsafe to try this with a tall deep dish as they may not be able to dig down to the bottom to find the seed. By the end of the week they are down to the last few seeds,
usually the ones they are less fond of, but they finish them up as that
is what they can find. If I refilled the bowl before this point they
would leave the seeds they liked the least, but I want them to eat the
full range I offer.
I also use horse chaff, usually timothy
grass chaff, on the floor of the cage. This may be a bit messy but if
you have a system for containing seed husks then it should catch the
chaff also. My budgies love to scurry about in the chaff searching for
seed heads, chewing up stems and finding any seeds they kicked out of
the feed bowl. They expend quite a lot of energy in these activities,
keeping them fit.
These foraging behaviours keep them active
and mentally stimulated for much longer than they would otherwise be.
They require physical and mental gymnastics and encourage social
interactions. I think that using our imagination to encourage foraging
like this is one of the best things we can do for our budgies
I also provide a daily mix of fresh sprouts, vegetables etc. but it is fed in a separate dish away up and away from the seed and chaff so they easily eat the more nutritious food first thing in the morning when they are ready for breakfast. Despite having seed available at all times they are keen to immediately tuck in to their breakfast. Making it easy for them to try out these sorts of things helps them get used to new foods.
Visit the Diet section to read more about what I feed and why I feed it.
As we have discussed budgies are nomadic by nature, they need to be able to fly a long way in search of food and water. This means they are very active little parrots with energy to burn and curiosity to match!
You should try to
supply your budgies with as large a living area as possible. This means
the largest suitable cage you can afford, or a flight or aviary. The
cage or aviary should be furnished with safe perches, feed and water
bowls and a few carefully selected toys.
If you are able to provide them with safe foraging opportunities they will need fewer toys to keep them entertained as they can engage in their natural behaviours to their hearts content!
Due to being designed for long distance travel, budgies in captivity will have lots of spare energy. If you can devise a feed system that encouraging foraging you will have provided for hours of physical and mental stimulation. From there they will need fewer toys to keep them entertained, but a few well-chosen ones can be a lot of fun. These must be safe for your bird so when selecting them take care. Anything that the budgie can catch a foot, toenail or beak in should be avoided or only used under supervision.
You should also be aware that your budgie will at
least taste, and at most try to chew to pieces, anything you give it! So
avoid anything coated with potentially poisonous substances. Many budgies have also died from chewing and ingesting fibres from rope toys, which cause blockages in their digestive tract. If you
don’t think it would be good for a child to chew on, then do not give it
to your budgie!
As budgies naturally live in flocks, they have a strong need for social activities. This means that unless you are home most of the time and are able to give your budgie regular time out of its cage with you, you would be better to get another budgie for companionship (or two or three…it can be hard to stop with just one).
Tame budgies are absolutely delightful to have out of their cage with you. They will climb all over you, chew the page you are writing on, attack the tip of your pen or pencil and generally make it difficult to ignore them! So if you can only have one budgie, make it a tame one so it can avoid a life locked up in a cage without friends. Better still have two or more tame budgies that can come out of their cage and have races around the room, but still keep each other company when they have to go ‘home’.
There are issues to be considered when choosing a friend for your budgie, so it is best to do some research before heading out to buy a new friend.
It pays to be aware of potential hazards to your curious, agile and intelligent little pets. They will find a toilet to fall into, pot of hot mashed potato to land in (yes, I have had budgie foot prints in my dinner), a previously unnoticed window to fly into and the solitary stray piece of thread in the house to get tangled in!
There are simple ways to avoid some of these events, however at one time or another something is bound to go wrong. So please supervise your budgie whenever it is out of it cage, and double-check anything you put in their cage.
As far as your budgie care goes, safety should come first.
The life of a wild budgie is not an easy one. As mentioned above, the inland areas of Australia can become incredibly hot and dry, with many birds dying as a result. What this means for us, when considering budgie care, is that pet budgies are very hardy. They can kept in many different environments, from the very hot to areas where it snows.
However, this is not an excuse for poor budgie care! Making sure your budgie has a good varied diet, access to clean water and plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, is the best way to ensure it stays healthy.
Get used to observing your budgie so that you can tell if it is looking different than usual. This could be a sign that all is not well. In the wild predators would single out the sick budgies, so they will try to look normal for as long as possible. This means that if you budgie looks sick, it is likely quite unwell and you should act immediately. It pays to find out before hand if there is a vet nearby who is used to dealing with birds in case of an emergency.
Signs of a sick budgie can be found on the Budgie Health page.
The basic first aid for a sick budgie is put it somewhere warm and dark so it can rest quietly until you can get it to a vet.
I have been given a guide to a basic first aid kit for budgerigars, written by a very knowledgeable budgie breeder. It was written with budgie breeders in mind so some of it may not be applicable for the pet budgie owner (or should that be pet budgie owned person!). A large part of good budgie care is being ready for any eventuality, so have a read and be prepared.