The budgie diet you choose should be based on what they would naturally eat. The closer to natural that you can get their diet, the better off they will be. They will have less trouble absorbing nutrients and will be able to deal with the wastes more efficiently than if they were trying to deal with something completely alien to their digestive system. The diet will also mentally stimulate them and work their beak and bodies as they were meant to be.
As you know budgies in the wild feast on various seeding grasses, leaves, buds, fruit and bark. This requires landing on the ground, on grass stems and branches. It means they need to climb and hunt for seeds, rummaging through leaves and seed heads to find the seeds. So how do we replicate that budgie diet without sending them back to the Australian grasslands?
The basis of your budgie diet should be pretty even proportions of good quality seed and veggies/fruit. Many people veer away from seed as it can, and often is, used to create an unhealthy bird, but if seed was not appropriate for your budgie then it would not be their natural diet. The alternative is an all processed pelleted diet which can also be unhealthy, its variety that counts! Wild budgies flourish and breed on a seed and greens based diet, so yours can too! You just have to take the time to make sure all the needed nutrients are provided. This means you really need to be providing some fresh foods, not just a dry seed mix. My birds get a basic seed mix and a daily bowl of a mix of sprouted seed, chopped veggies and anything seasonal extras I want to add (such as an extra protein source when breeding).
For the seed portion of the diet you can buy budgie seed mixes or get the seeds and make up your own. The mixture I used was as follows:
40% Canary - (Phalaris Canariensis) as pictured here, not to be confused with the seed mix sold to feed canaries.
50% Millet – (Setaria Italica) made up of a mixture of White, Panicum, Yellow and Japanese millets. Millets are high in important nutrients, including silica, important for healthy bones, ligaments and many other body systems. Millet is considered a healthy addition to human diets also and some cultures have it as the basis of their diet.
10% Oats – I prefer whole oats to groats or hulled oats, which have had the outer hull removed, I see no reason they shouldn't have to do a little bit of work to eat this high energy grain. Groats (hulled oats) are useful for chicks or unwell birds needing an easy energy boost though. A high fat grain such as oats or sunflower seeds is important for such active birds, but if yours is one that doesn't get much exercise or has weight issues then you should manage how much of this sort of feed they get.
There are many other seeds out there that you can research and include (such as amaranth), but the canary and various millets form a very good, cost effective base of your budgie diet. Millets in particular are considered a valuable health food even for humans so I always advise having a mixture of those as a significant percentage of the mix.
I prefer the seed to be offered mixed together so it is more likely
your budgie will try various ones and not just eat its favourite and ignore the rest. They are less likely to wander over to the canary seed dish if they have a dish of oats in front of them. It is also good for them to have to look and rummage about a bit if they want a particular seed, just like they would have to in the wild. Mental work is very important to their well being.
If your budgie is caged for a lot of the time or is inactive, then reduce or remove the oats so they do not become over weight! I also sometimes feed small sunflower seeds, but again these are fatty so they are a treat rather than the norm. Fatty seeds provide important oils and fat based nutrients that are vital for brain and nerve health, so should be carefully included but not over done. Millet sprays are frequently available and budgies love them, making them a great addition to your budgie diet and they often have to be a bit gymnastic to get to the seeds making them a source of physical and mental stimulation also.
They can be cleverly hung up from the cage ceiling to provide hours of entertainment and exercise, make it an acrobatic feat to get to them!
Take care that your seed has no dust, moulds or foreign matter in the mixture. I would advise buying from a pet store or seed merchant rather than the supermarket, or somewhere that the seed is likely to be fresher due to high turnover. Seed should not smell musty or rancid.
If possible place the mix in a flat, deepish dish that causes the budgie to have to dig about a bit to get through the shelled hulls to the seed. It makes finding the food more work both physically and mentally. This is easier to do in an aviary, where the scattered husks are less likely to mess up the lounge, but with a bit of creativity you may be able to achieve something similar in a cage setup. Be sure to check each day to make sure there are still seeds available, just don't feel the need to blow off the husks every day as you are reducing their foraging efforts.
In the wild your budgie would spend the majority of it's day traveling and searching for food and water. This involves 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 place their seed 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.
Their seed mix 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. They can always find them but need to make a bit of an
effort. 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 (chopped hay), 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. I replace this when I refill the seed dish, it stays fairly fresh as they turn it over and mix it up each day. If there is any water spillage, though, it needs to be cleaned up as mould growth is a danger to the birds.
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 well-being.
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 and eat these sorts of things helps them get used to new foods.
Dry seed is mature seed and has fewer nutrients than the growing seed
budgies would normally feed on. You can improve the nutritional value
of your budgie diet by sprouting them, as the seeds begin to grow they
produce more vitamins and minerals, proteins etc. A diet of dry seed will be low on nutrients and high in fats, leading to dangerous health issues. Wild budgies do not live on dry seeds alone and neither should our pets.
This is how I sprout seed:
Place some of your seed mix in a container and cover with water, leave over night in warm weather or for 24 hours if the weather is cold. Tip the seed into a sieve and rinse thoroughly under a running water. Leave the seed in the sieve and leave for another 24-48 hours. By then you should see the seeds have swelled and some will have a white tip just emerging. I found my budgies preferred the spouted seeds at this stage rather than when the seed had actually began to grow a shoot. I usually mixed this 50/50 with some dry seed to feed, or mix it into their soft food; I would recommend this at least twice a week, if not every day.
It is important that the sprouted seed doesn’t
ferment or become mouldy as this may make your budgie ill. To prevent
this make sure it is not in a very warm area, and feed as soon as it is
ready. You can feed it over 2 or 3 days to allow your budgies to have it at different levels of sprouting, but make sure to rinse it twice a day and keep it in a cool place. It may be necessary to keep it in the fridge in hot weather. I also usually spray
the seed with a little apple cider vinegar (ACV) after rinsing. ACV is a
wonderful natural antibiotic and immune enhancer. Another option is to add a bird safe disinfectant to the soaking water. There is one called Aviclens which is great to add to the sprouting water, and the drinking water. It controls microbial growth (bacteria, yeasts etc.) but is quickly broken down in the digestive tract so does not harm the birds necessary gut flora and fauna. The sprouted seed will have a 'live' smell, but if it begins to smell fermented, alcoholic or mouldy then please throw it out. Bacteria or mould can cause serious health issues, especially for baby birds.
If the seed does not begin to sprout at all then it is dead! Find a better source.
Budgies can survive for a while on a basic dry seed diet, however they won’t thrive
and will probably have a shortened life… I am sure this is not what you
want for your pet. So, just as we must eat our fruit and veggies for
good health so must our budgies. You really want your budgie eating as much of the greens, veggies and fruit as the seed.
The best way to add greens to your budgie diet is to provide fresh greens that you have collected for them. In spring you can gather small bunches of seeding grasses at various stages of development from still very green through to mature dry seeds still on the stalk. You can also feed various ‘weeds’ such as chickweed (Stellaria media) seen below, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) pictured on the right, and shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). Of course in Australia budgie also chew on eucalyptus trees so if you can find a branch or two of that they will appreciate it.
From your garden you can feed them silverbeet, broccoli, whole carrots including the green tops, apple, orange etc. The main thing is to make sure that the food is not sprayed with anything toxic, and not picked from a roadside where it can accumulate car fumes, and check what it is so you can be sure it is not poisonous! Also, feed the whole, unwashed plant if possible, budgies often love to pick at the soil on the roots.
Offer your bird something interesting each day and vary it so they learn to try out new foods. Sometimes they will ignore a new food, keep offering it until they give up and try some. You can also try sprinkling a few seeds onto it so they have a nibble. My budgies needed this to try out a piece of orange, but once they had they would clean up the orange every time. In fact, they liked it so much I could get them to try a new food by squeezing some orange juice onto it.
Remember that the seed, dry and sprouted, is the mainstay of your budgie diet and these are healthy extras. You do not want your budgie living solely on silverbeet or apple that would be as unhealthy as just dry seed.
If your budgie is totally opposed to any vegetables you can chop them finely in a food processor to the size of seeds and then mix a small amount into their seed. It will stick to them and be tricky to completely avoid! I would offer this in the morning when they are hungriest (take the feed dish out at the previous bedtime so they don't get up and have breakfast before you're ready). Take it out after 2 or 3 hours if it is warm so no mould starts to grow in the damp feed, and put the normal seed mix back. Budgies need to try something quite a few times until it becomes normal, just like children, so process a bit of vege mix and freeze it in ice cubes. Take one out each evening to mix with the seed in the morning and keep doing this for a few weeks. Eventually your budgie will get used to the different food and you can offer chunks of veges which they will enjoy chewing more than the little pieces.
If you have organised a well-rounded budgie diet, as described above,
then you do not need a million supplements! However I would recommend a
few to give your bird an extra boost.
Apple cider vinegar is a wonderful antibiotic and immune boost and I usually spray a little onto the soaked seed, or a piece of fruit.
Cuttlefish is usually available from a pet store. It provides calcium and helps keep the beak in order. Hang one in the cage and let your budgie help itself when needed. I would consider this a necessity so your budgie can always get the calcium it needs. Even if it does not touch it for months, you will find that one day it needs it. Birds are good at balancing their calcium needs if they are allowed. So, I would only offer calcium in water if you know what you are doing and are sure it is needed (such as during breeding). If you have it in the water they are unable to avoid it if there is more than they need. Too much calcium is not healthy, just like too little. For a pet budgie a cuttlefish is all they should need.
Mineral mixes specifically for birds are also an option. These should be offered in a separate dish and the budgie can help themselves as needed. I believe they will have a better idea of how much and how often they need it than we do!
Vitamin supplements these are usually made to be added to the water. I prefer not to do this as then your budgie has no choice but to drink them whether needed or not. If you are offering (and your bird is eating) a mixed diet with daily intake of fresh greens or veges and regular sprouted seed, then you shouldn’t need to use a vitamin supplement. However if you are worried you can use one very occasionally. Perhaps one day in a fortnight or a month you could put some in the water and then remove the next day.
Grit - this topic, it seems, is a real can of worms! So, I am going to do a separate page on this topic - click here for it.
These things will help provide a budgie diet that will help keep your pet healthy and happy. And if you are a bit adventurous, (and truly owned by your budgies) you can try giving them your own homemade treats...