Budgie (Budgerigar)

Budgie (Budgerigar)

Latin Name: Melopsittacus undulatus Order: Psittaciformes Family: Psittacidae

Overview 

Budgies are a charismatic ambassador species due to their outgoing nature. They can be kept as ambassadors either in large walk-through aviaries, where flock size may range in the hundreds, or in a smaller setting as a single bird/pair/small group. Budgies are highly gregarious, and so at least keeping a pair is recommended, though acquisition circumstances may support housing a single bird if that is the bird’s history. They are easily obtainable from public donations, animal rescues or reputable breeding facilities. Aviary budgies are generally approachable by guests and can provide a meaningful experience with feeding opportunities. Similar engaging behavior is possible with a single bird/pair, but will likely require more training time from staff. Budgies are the most numerous bird species held in US and Canadian Zoos according to a 2019 count done by the Avian Scientific Advisory Group. 

Natural History Information 

Range and Habitat:

Budgies are native to the interior of Australia and have been introduced to South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Switzerland, Southwest Florida and Puerto Rico.

They can flourish in many different habitats including, but not limited to, forests, savannahs, shrublands, grasslands, deserts and urban settings.

Longevity 

In their native habitat, budgie life expectancy is up to 8 years. In human care, their median life expectancy is 15 years.

Ecosystem Role

Budgies are seed dispersers of grass and fruit species. They are abundant in most of Australia and considered a pest species to the agricultural areas. 

Husbandry Information 

Housing Requirements 

Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information 

  • Budgies should be given ample space for flying indoors and outdoors, when temperatures permit, as they are naturally a nomadic species. They should be offered varied kinds of perching, static and dynamic, to imitate their natural surroundings. These birds should be kept in larger flocks as they are a very social species.

Habitat 

  • Enclosure should be predator proofed if budgie is to be housed outdoors
    • Birds of prey can be a problem from the top.
    • Racoons, feral cats, opossums and skunks are threats from ground level
  • Enclosure should provide shade through natural or manmade structures
  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium 
    • Indoor budgie holding consists of (2) 9.5’x9.5’x8’ spaces made from 1”x1” square vinyl coated mesh wire (CE Shepard) and anodized clear aluminum 1”x1” square tube framing (Outwater Plastics); the spaces are connected by a tunnel and have concrete floors with trough drains
    • Outdoor habitat is roughly 48’x25’x14’ metal wire mesh with seasonal shade cloth; substrates are concrete, pea gravel and turfgrass

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles

  • Temperature
    • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: outdoor access range of 45°- 105° Fahrenheit; a heat lamp is offered when nighttime lows are under 50 degrees; the indoor holding is set for 75 degrees 
  • Humidity: 
    • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: no specific humidity requirements
  • Light:  
    • Access to natural lighting is optimal
    • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: indoor holding has 2 skylights and multiple LED lights

Substrate

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: 
    • Indoor holding has concrete floor which can be easily disinfected
    • During breeding season, a mix of wood shavings (not mulch) and compressed pine litter  is provided to minimize service time in holding and give fledglings a soft surface to land on
      • Keep this mix dry to prevent aspergillosis
    • Living floor with dirt and grass 
    • Outdoor exhibit has a combination of natural grass, pea gravel, and a concrete path

Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium:
    • Outdoor exhibit hosed daily
    • Indoor holding hosed daily except when heavily bedded
    • Food is presented in hanging bowls or on a platform off floor to minimize rodent access
    • Live plants, such as hostas and browse safe flowers and shrubs, for the birds to forage from and spruce up the exhibit are hard to maintain, but worth trying

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild

  • Grass seeds, fruits, vegetables and some farmed crops

Diet under human care 

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium:
    • For training at the budgie encounter, white proso millet non-toxic hot-glued to a popsicle stick
    • Group of ~260 birds; feed 3,500 grams of seed mix, 300 grams of Allprem and 30 grams of sunflower seeds daily when the exhibit is closed.
      • The seed mix is custom made by a local feed store. This mix is comprised of 30% Canary Seed, 40% White Proso Millet, 10% Red Proso Millet, 10% Golden German Millet and 10% Oat Groats
      • Scenic Allprem parakeet food  
    • Produce daily consists of 2 heads of a dark leafy green (romaine is a favorite) and 100 grams of finely chopped produce (mostly sweet potato and carrot) and 2 hard boiled eggs
    • Browse is offered ~3 times a week when seasonally available; birds prefer mulberry, willow, forsythia browse varieties

Veterinary Concerns 

  •  Beak issues
    • Cracked or missing lower beaks
    • Malocclusions
    • Excessive overgrowth of top beak that cannot be maintained by the bird
  • Tumors
    • Masses that impair normal function and health
    • Carcinomas
    • Reproductive, splenic and renal cancers are common
  • Inbreeding
  • Banding birds helps track those with medical histories
    • Avoid using zip ties as they can tighten on the birds legs and cause injury
    • Proper bands from birdbands.com, 4mm Budgerigar leg bands plastic open split

Enrichment & Training 

Enrichment

Behavioral Relevant Information

Environmental Enrichment

  • Outdoor access when temperature appropriate
  • Indoor holding perched with browse branches and reperched every 2-3 months.
  • Polypropylene rope and small firehose are alternative perching options
  • Browse branches

Behavioral Enrichment

Schedule

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: they provide multiple forms of enrichment daily, some feeding based enrichment every day and a daily rotation between habitation, personal, social and learning goal based enrichment. 

Other Enrichment Resources 

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: they implement Life Strategy Enrichment Categories
    • An effective enrichment schedule must represent an equal balance of items from each category of Life Strategy enrichment. Enrichment options can often be assigned to one or more Life Strategy categories. Examples for each category include, but are not limited to, the following:
Life Strategy Enrichment CategoriesGeneral Description
LearningDaily environmental changes, novel enrichment devices/methods, new stimuli, progressive training goals
FeedingOpportunities to extend feeding times and promote natural feeding and foraging strategies
HabitationAnything to provide the animal with natural “living space” – perches, swings, visual barriers, varied substrates, substrate piles, ropes/vines, new exhibit furniture, etc.
Personal Well-beingMarking, grooming, thermoregulation, predator detection/avoidance, seasonal changes, etc.
SocialPro-social engagement: choice to engage in conspecific, contra-specific, group activities, and training sessions

Training

Behaviors Trained

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: they do not have a formal training program for their budgie group
    • Birds are rewarded for approaching guests with a high value reinforcement (millet stick)

Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: reinforcer is delivered on a continuous schedule during the encounter 

Other 

Social Housing/Colony Management

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: their budgies are housed in a large flock up to 300 birds
    • More than this creates conflict in the winter time when they only have their indoor holding
    • Smaller breeding groups of 40 or less birds have been created and moved to a different holding
    • Increased aggression between birds and offspring can result in serious injury if nest boxes are present in the large flock setting

Programmatic Information 

Messaging Themes 

  • Budgies can make good pets but do require a lot of socializing to be handleable; guests should be urged to do a considerable amount of research before getting any new pets. 
  • While budgies are least concern, there are several species of Australian parrots that are endangered.
    • Short-billed black cockatoo
    • Long-billed black cockatoo

Threats and Conservation Status

  • The budgie currently holds the conservation status of Least Concern as of 2018 and populations are increasing. Possible threats to their population include the spreading of invasive grass species that outcompete their preferred grass species. 
  • Feral cats will often predate budgies and feral herbivores (camels and goats) could eat their food sources if not controlled. 

Interesting Natural History Information 

  • This species is nomadic and goes wherever resources are available.

Did you know…

  • Budgerigar is derived from the aboriginal word that means “good food”. 

Handling & Presentation Tips

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: minimal handling is required, most often needed for medical attention

Use Guidelines

  • Interactive feeding exhibit, where birds can choose to interact with guests or remain at a comfort distance
  • If presenting budgie(s) on hand/perch, length of time on hand/perch and proximity of guests should be determined by tolerance of individual bird(s)

Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: their exhibit has two double barrier vestibule entrances and guests can enter/exit through each side; additional plastic chains hanging in the enclosure doorways keep birds contained. Exhibit guidelines for guests include:
    • Guests are encouraged to calmly approach the bird and slowly offer the feeding stick in front of the bird so it may eat.
    • Food and open drinks are not allowed.
    • Strollers and wagons are not allowed. Wheelchairs are allowed. 
    • Shoes must be worn in the Budgie Encounter.
    • No running, birds may be present on the ground.
    • No touching the birds. 
    • Guests sanitize their hands before and after the Budgie Encounter.

Transportation Tips

  • Be sure budgie cannot squeeze through the kennel door/window mesh
  • Kennel can be covered for bird’s comfort, if that is the bird’s preference
  • An appropriate perch can be offered in the kennel; if no perch is offered, a stable substrate such as astroturf or carpet should be provided
  • During vehicle transport, kennel should always be placed with the kennel perch perpendicular to the vehicle wheel axle so bird can brace itself during acceleration/braking

Temperature Guidelines

  • 45°- 105° Fahrenheit; accommodations such as shade/fan/misting should be provided at temperatures over 90 degrees

Acquisition Information 

  • Birds can be acquired from public donations, humane societies and purchased from reputable breeders such as MacDonald Bird Farm.
  • Discussion of transferring budgies between facilities to increase genetic diversity would serve holding institutions well.

Resources

Contributors and Citations 

Photo Credits: 

 Header photo

“Perching Budgies” by Paige Johnson at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium