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Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; – Budgerigars as Pets – Part II

Click: Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; – Budgerigars as Pets – Part I, to read the first part of this article.

BudgerigarBudgerigars should be offered a mix of seed based (i.e. Pretty Bird Premium Budgie Diet) and pelleted (i.e. Zu Preem Parakeet Fruit Blend) foods.  Sprouting grass (sprout pot), budgerigar treat foods and a small amount of fruit should be offered 2-3 times weekly.  Cuttlebone and grit should always be available.

Captive Longevity
Budgerigars live an average of 5-8 years, but sometimes reach age 12 or so.   The longevity record is in the neighborhood of 15 years.

Handling and Training
Birds with clipped wings are easiest to train, and hand-raised budgerigars make the best talkers.

I’ll cover the details of training in future articles, but in general it is a good idea to position the bird’s cage in a room where you spend a good deal of time, and to talk to your pet quietly at frequent intervals.  Actual training sessions should be limited to 10-20 minutes.

Finger-training begins by allowing the bird to adjust to the presence of your hand within the cage.  Once it accepts your presence, you can gently push against the bird’s stomach, repeating the word “up” as you do so.  Eventually you should be able to remove the budgerigar from its cage.

Well-adjusted budgerigars genuinely enjoy human companionship and, in fact, may drive you to distraction with their constant play behavior (hanging from your eye-glasses while you are trying to read, for instance!).

Speaking is largely a matter of repetition – be sure to use words in context, so that your bird will appear to “know what it is talking about” once he or she does start to chatter away.  Budgerigars frequently pick up words or sounds on their own, including the calls of wild birds.  One kept by my grandparents frustrated my grandfather by continually calling his name in imitation of my grandmother.  My slightly deaf grandfather often responded the bird’s call and ignored his wife’s – both were convinced that the budgerigar’s “chuckling” afterwards was purposeful!

Parakeets are quick to learn simple tricks (more on that in the future) but bear in mind that their natural behaviors when confronted with new objects or situations are usually well-qualified as “tricks”.  Keep them in a stimulating environment and well supplied with toys and you will never want for amusement!

Budgerigars are adapted to one of earth’s harshest environments (please see Part I of this article) and are quick to come into breeding condition when times are favorable.  In captivity, well-fed and watered, they are nearly always ready to reproduce.  In fact, the mere presence of a nest box may induce breeding behavior in a pair or egg-laying in a lone female.

I’ll cover breeding details in a future article, please write in if you’d like further information in the meantime.

The word budgerigar is derived from the Aboriginal term for “good eating”.


A unique article concerning experiences with budgerigars in the wild and captivity is posted at:

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; Part II – Natural History

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.

budgie 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:

The Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird, Agapornis personata – Care in Captivity – Part 2

Masked LovebirdClick here to read the first part of this article.

Social Groups and Compatible Species
Wild lovebirds live colonially, and can be kept in groups if your cage or aviary is large enough.  Of course managing a group can be difficult, as squabbles will arise, and, perhaps due to some form of stress, certain individuals will pluck the young of others.  It is best to separate breeding lovebirds from the group.

These plucky birds can hold their own even when housed with much larger parrots, but care must always be taken in these circumstances.  But if you are set on mixing small and large parrots, Masked Lovebirds are a good choice.

Handling and Enrichment
Natural clowns, Masked Lovebirds have quite bold, inquisitive personalities, and are relatively fearless (please see The Masked Lovebird – Natural History).  They seem naturally pre-disposed to become trusting pets, but only if acquired at a young age.  Adults that have not been tamed are nearly impossible to handle.

Masked Lovebirds are capable of imitating words, but rarely do so.  Tame ones are so charming that this will not be noticed, and their constant antics will leave you wanting little more from a pet bird.  They are highly trainable and will readily use a variety of bird toys.

Pet Masked Lovebirds breed readily but the sexes are difficult to distinguish.  Paired birds preen each other incessantly, but same-sexed birds often form close bonds and may appear to be a mated pair.

Females are more sturdily built and a bit heavier (but only by a few grams) than males, and perch with their legs spread out a bit.  The female’s head is flatter and broader than that of the male (which is dome-shaped), but this varies among individuals and may only be apparent after you have observed a good number of birds.  The males’ pelvic bones (just above the vent) are close together, almost touching, while those of females in breeding condition are widely spaced.  Males often scratch their heads with their feet prior to mating.

Masked Lovebirds build bark and stick nests and will utilize nest boxes (20” x 10” x 10”) or hollow logs.  Females carry the nesting material, transporting it in their beaks (some related species carry bark wedged beneath their feathers).  Provide large amounts of willow and other fresh (from live, sap-bearing branches) bark to nesting birds, and continue to do so throughout the incubation and rearing periods.  Wild lovebirds use this to increase humidity in the nest (please see The Masked Lovebird – Natural History), and even if not necessary in captivity, doing so may be an important behavioral component in the nesting process.  It takes the pair (mainly the female) 4-7 days to complete the nest.

Females lay 3-6 eggs, the first 10 days after mating, and then 1 every other day thereafter.  Incubation lasts 21-23 days, and is carried out solely by the female (the male often sits near her – big help that is!) and the young fledge at day 41-45.  Breeding adults should be provided with extra greens, corn and bits of hard-boiled egg.


Information about Masked Lovebirds at the Honolulu Zoo is posted at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Masked_Lovebird_(Agapornis_personata)_pet_on_cage.png, uploaded by Epoulin

The Chinese Painted Quail (Button Quail, Blue-breasted Quail), Conturnix chinensis, and the Japanese Quail, C. japonica – Part II

Click The Chinese Painted Quail (Button Quail, Blue-breasted Quail), Conturnix chinensis, and the Japanese Quail, C. japonica, Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Although ideally suited to a grass-bottomed outdoor aviary, button quail also do quite well in large bird or small animal cages, such as the Pets International Premium Hutch or My First Home. Button quail are ground dwelling birds, so floor space is the most important consideration in cage selection.

Button Quail

When startled, these tiny birds explode straight up with great force, and can injure themselves in low-roofed cages. You may wish to trim their flight feathers if injuries are a possibility in the cage you provide. Despite their friendly demeanor, button quail are easily frightened by unexpected noises, and so should be housed in calm surroundings.

Newly hatched button quail are, quite literally, the size of bumblebees – check that they cannot squeeze through the cage’s mesh.

Button quail should be given as much room as possible – they are always in motion and youngsters in particular seem to explore endlessly. A raised, flat shelf in the cage will be used by the birds as an observation point – you may be surprised at how interested they seem to be in what goes on about them.

Like other quail and pheasants, button quail relish dust baths and do not bathe in water. A sand-filled bowl should be provided for this purpose.

Drinking bowls must be shallow and, for the tiny chicks, should be filled with pebbles or marbles to prevent drowning.

Light and Heat
Button quail do well at normal room temperatures. Their cage should be lit by a full spectrum bulb designed for use with birds.

A high quality finch seed mix, such as Vitabird Finch Seed, should form the basis of the diet. Button quail also relish greens, and should be given small amounts of kale, romaine and similar foods, as well as sprouting grass like the Vitakraft Sprout Pot. Tiny mealworms, crickets, waxworms and other insects are a valuable addition to the diet, especially when they are breeding. Button quail do not open the seeds upon which they feed, and so a constant supply of suitably-small grit is essential. Millet sprays  hung at head level will keep the birds busy and all who watch them amused.

Social Groups and Compatible Species
Button quail should be kept in pairs or small groups (“coveys”) of 1 cock and several hens. Males have the endearing habit of offering small insects to females, who are alerted to the treat by his high-pitched “peeps”. Males usually fight with each other and should not be housed together (this includes chicks of over 2 months in age).

They also get along admirably with nearly all finches, canaries and other softbills, and with those parrots that will not harass them. A pair will add greatly to your enjoyment of a well-planted aviary stocked with finches and similar birds.

Button quails breed well in captivity – year round if in good condition and provided with a daylight period of 10 hours or so. Females are, however, quick to abandon their eggs (the eggs can be easily hatched in a commercial incubator). Cocks often harass sitting hens – those that do not will settle near the nest, apparently to assist in detecting threats.

The simple nest is constructed on the ground, often in the lee of a grass clump or log if such is available. Females lay 6-10 eggs, which they incubate for 16 days without help from the male. The young can follow their mother shortly after hatching, and are sexually mature within 2 months. The sight of a hen leading her thimble-sized brood about really must be seen to be fully appreciated. The chicks are very curious and tend to get into all sorts of trouble by wedging themselves into tight places, so be sure to check their cage carefully.

Chicks hatched in an incubator can fend for themselves right away, and make delightful pets. They will likely imprint upon you (see you as their “mother”) and will follow you about incessantly. Such birds sometimes fail to breed as they mature, but more than compensate for this by the close bonds that they form with people.

I hope that you will give these entertaining fellows a try – although a bit of a change from what most bird fanciers are accustomed to, button quail are well worth considering.

Information about button quail in the wild can be found at:

Breeding Finches in Captivity – mate selection, cage location, diet, nest choice and other basic considerations

Every aviculturist remembers her or his first pair of successfully breeding birds – nothing quite matches the experience. However, attempting to breed many popular species is often a time consuming and frustrating experience, and usually demands a good deal of space. Parrots in particular are notoriously choosy about both mate and nest site selection. Finches offer a pleasant entry into the field, and I suggest that you consider getting your start with one of the many colorful, interesting species available. You are more likely to succeed in your early attempts (or, rather, the birds are more likely to succeed!) and a pair can be more easily accommodated in fairly small quarters.

In this article I’ll highlight the basics of finch breeding – future notes will cover fine points concerning individual species.

The Cage
Birds of all kinds are more likely to pair up and breed if provided with a roomy, secure cage and an environment that meets, and even exceeds, their needs. You should, therefore, choose the largest cage  possible for your finches – remember, a cage can be fine for maintaining fiches but fail badly as a breeding habitat. In sub-optimal captive conditions, reproduction is the first activity to be abandoned (this applies across the animal kingdom, from invertebrates to mammals). If an outdoor aviary is a possibility, by all means utilize it – your chances at success will be greatly improved.

Light Quality and Photoperiod
Full-spectrum lighting is essential to bird health and functions in encouraging natural behavior, including reproduction. Be sure to maintain your finches under a bulb designed for use with birds (please see my article “Lighting for Your Pet Bird”, May 12, 2008 for further details).

A natural light cycle is also important – this will vary by species but most commonly will fall within the range of 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Some finches are stimulated to breed by a change in day length, so research your species carefully and install light timers if necessary.

Sex Determination
An obvious prerequisite to reproduction is 1 bird of each sex. Some finches, i.e. gouldians, zebras and green singers, are quite easy to sex (except for certain color phases) while the secondary sex characteristics of others, i.e. the various whydahs, become evident only during the breeding season. Visual sex-determination is nearly impossible for tri-color nuns, parrot finches and a number of other species. In these cases one must rely upon the birds’ behaviors, such as singing (or what passes for “singing” among some finches!), for clues.

Mate Choice and Pair-Bonding
Always attempt to secure unrelated individuals when pairing birds, and allow them to bond and adjust to their home for 4-6 weeks before adding a nest site. Finches can be choosy when selecting mates – you can improve a male’s “desirability” by providing him with a nutritious diet, and by giving the pair a large, well-provisioned cage located in a quiet location (the female, in theory, will view the male as being in possession of a good territory).

Mutual preening and species-specific courtship displays (research the species that you keep before-hand) are signs that you should introduce the nesting site Mounting can be a dominance display as opposed to a mating attempt, so be sure to watch your birds’ other behaviors as well.

The Nest
Depending upon the species, finches may utilize covered nests  (waxbills, zebras, nuns), nest boxes  (gouldians), or open nests  (canaries, green singing finches). Position the nest in a location that is hidden from view, i.e. behind an artificial plant, for particularly shy species or individuals. Dried grass is an ideal nesting material for most finches – avoid string, cotton and other materials that may bind the legs.

Using Food to Induce Breeding
Many birds, including some finches, are stimulated to breed by seasonal changes that bring an abundance of certain foods. Provision your birds with small mealworms and crickets, as well as extra greens (sprout pot) and fruit. An old zoo trick that I have used with great success is the feeding of wild-caught insects. The sudden appearance of such novel foods really seems to have a strong influence on breeding condition. I highly suggest that you use Zoo Med’s Bug Napper to secure small moths, beetles and other insects (learn to identify toxic species, and avoid brightly-colored insects in general). An adequate supply of calcium (Kay Tee Hi Cal Grit and other products) is particularly important for reproductively active females.

Finches raising chicks should also be supplied with live insects, egg food  and, as always, a high quality seed mix.

The Eggs and Chicks
Finches may lay between 2 and 10 eggs, with 4-6 being an average clutch. Incubation time varies by species, but is generally between 9 and 16 days.

Do not be discouraged if your birds fail to incubate their first clutch, or lose the chicks. This is common among young breeders – their performance usually improves over time. Chicks that fall or are tossed from the nest should be returned. Hand rearing of small nestlings is difficult but not impossible.

Information concerning the Australia Zoo’s finch breeding efforts, along with natural history notes on several species, is posted at:

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