Click here to read Part I of The Natural History and Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus
Budgerigars feed on the ground, foraging in small to quite large flocks. Their diet is comprised almost exclusively of the seeds of various grasses, with Spinifex and Mitchell grass being particularly important. They sometimes take wheat and other grain crops as well.
Researchers at the University of Queensland recently discovered that budgerigars use naturally fluorescent feathers in the cheeks and crowns to attract mates. Birds whose feathers were coated in UVB-blocking sunscreen were unsuccessful in their matting attempts (perhaps the birds just looked “unattractive” covered in sunscreen!).
Breeding mainly takes place during August-January in the south and June-September in the north, and is tied to rainfall, temperature and grass seed supply. Birds in areas hard-hit by droughts may not breed at all for periods of several years.
Budgerigars are uniquely adapted to one of earth’s harshest environments, where rainfall and food supplies are unpredictable and may be depressed for years on end. Assuming favorable temperatures, they can breed in response to rains at any time of the year, even if such falls outside of the usual nesting season. Unlike many birds, hormonal changes bring budgerigars into breeding readiness with astonishing rapidity, thus enabling them to take advantage of the any and all reproductive opportunities. Such adaptations no doubt help to explain the budgerigar’s amazing reproductive output when kept under ideal captive conditions.
Note: The actual interplay of rain, temperature, grass growth and breeding is also governed by very long-term climatic patterns. Studies of the red kangaroo, an animal that shares the budgerigar’s habitat and basic breeding ecology, revealed that time periods approaching 100 years in length affected the over-all reproductive capacity of the species.
Pairs are monogamous (females sometimes mate with “non-partners”, possibly to insure help in raising the young) but nest in close proximity to one another. Nests are located within cavities in trees, stumps, fence posts or even logs on the ground.
The 4-8 eggs are laid upon a bed of decayed wood, and are incubated solely by the female for 18 days. The young fledge 30 days after hatching and reach sexual maturity at age 3-4 months.
In sharp contrast to their cage-bound cousins, wild budgerigars are extremely shy and difficult to approach. Flocks forage in the early morning and late afternoon, and chatter unceasing as they do so. The hottest part of the day is spent roosting quietly in the shade. Their flight is swift, erratic, and amazingly orchestrated, with huge flocks seeming to twist and turn as a single bird.
Budgerigar numbers fluctuate wildly in response to rainfall and grass seed supply, but bounce back with incredible rapidity during favorable years. They are quite nomadic when necessary, and shortages of food and water will drive huge flocks to coastal areas far from their normal haunts. They also somehow follow rainstorms, and will at such times appear in areas from which they have long been absent. In this manner the resourceful birds can take advantage of the equally adaptable desert grasses that come to seed almost immediately after the rains.
Onto captive care next time.
An interesting, in depth examination of the breeding biology of wild budgerigars is posted at: