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The English Budgerigar – Calmer and Quieter than its American Cousin?

Recently, a bird owner confided to me that, although pets were prohibited in her tiny Manhattan apartment, she was able to keep an English budgerigar because it was very quiet and also a good deal less active than the American budgies which she had kept.  Thinking back, I realized that English budgerigars, which are actually the same species –  Melopsittacus undulatus – as the “parakeet” typically sold in American pet stores, have also impressed me as being somewhat reserved in nature.  Perhaps they are ideal for those of you who need to keep birds surreptitiously?

Appearance and Exhibition Standards

Budgerigar Head DetailEnglish Budgerigars, or budgies, are sometimes referred to as “show or exhibition budgerigars”.  They are stouter than the “American Budgerigar”, which is also known by the common name of “parakeet”.  Both are larger than wild budgerigars – twice as large in the case of the English race.

English Budgerigars have long been bred as show birds, with strict standards governing their colors, plumage type, and body plan.  Their faces and breasts are more thickly feathered than the typical American Budgie…some individuals sport feathers that nearly obscure the eyes and beak.  The actual size of the head, in relation to the body, is also greater than in the American race.

Over thirty primary, and hundreds of secondary, color mutations are recognized, with individual colors often being brighter and somehow more clearly defined than those of their American counterparts.

Personality and Vocabulary

Behavior varies greatly from bird to bird, but overall English budgies are quite calm in nature, with even parent-raised individuals being relatively easy to tame.

Many, but not all, are also on the quiet side, but they retain wonderful mimicry abilities.  Like American Budgies, English birds can amass huge vocabularies, a skill that is sometimes not fully appreciated due to their low, subdued voices.  However, aviculturists rank budgerigars alongside African Grays, Amazons, Eclectus Parrots and other gifted mimics.  In fact, a budgerigar holds the record for the largest bird vocabulary known – over 1,700 words!

Keeping English Budgies

In common with all parrots, English Budgies do best in pairs or well-planned groups.  All-male groups, or several pairs, often work out well, but females can be quite vicious towards one another.  English Budgerigars have the reputation of being somewhat short lived – 7 to 10 years as opposed to the American Budgerigar’s lifespan of 12 to nearly 20 years – but there have been notable exceptions.

English Budgerigars are not all that common in the USA, and will more usually be available through private breeders as opposed to pet stores.  However, the search is well worthwhile – their plumage imparts a very comical look to the face (some find them to resemble minute old men!), and, if noise and space is a concern, they may well be the best parrot option available.

Further Reading

Please see my article The Captive Care and Natural History of Budgerigars  for further information.

The Great Lakes Budgie Society posts English Budgie show standards and results here.



Budgerigar Head Detail image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kirk

Lumps, Abscesses, Tumors and Swellings on Budgerigars and other Birds (Part I)


Swollen areas and assorted growths are regularly seen on the otherwise hearty budgerigars (parakeets) and, less commonly, on other parrots, finches and softbills. Ranging from harmless to quite serious, these typically arise from trauma, abscesses, tumors, ruptured air sacs, hernias, cysts or egg-binding, but other -less obvious maladies may also be at work.

A Caution

The following remarks, while written with budgerigars in mind, are applicable to all types of birds. Please note that they are provided as guidelines, to help you understand what might be happening… only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose your bird’s medical problems.

Even benign growths, if accompanied by shivering, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties or similar symptoms, are cause for concern and necessitate an immediate visit to your veterinarian.

Ruptured Air Sacs

Budgerigars and other birds may rupture air sacs by flying into windows or other obstacles during their time out of the cage. Bird-proofing flight rooms and gradually adjusting your pet to such will go a long way in alleviating this problem. Less commonly, air sacs may be damaged when startled birds crash into cage bars or walls.

A swollen area along the breast, which emits a characteristic “crackling” sound when gently touched, is a sure sign of a ruptured air sac. Unless involving a huge area, air sac damage usually resolves quickly on its own.


Trauma-related injuries that do not involve air sacs may result in hematomas…swollen, blood-filled injuries below the skin (in people, such are often called “black-and-blues”, but skin color change will not usually be evident in a bird).

Resulting from broken blood vessels, the pooled blood typical of hematomas is usually re-absorbed by the bird without incident.



Avian abscesses present as swollen, painful, reddish areas that are warm to the touch. The swollen area, or abscess, is filled with white blood cells and other blood borne compounds produced by the bird to battle infection. The abscess usually also contains dead tissue and living and dead bacteria or other pathogens. Budgerigars often exhibit abscesses below the eye, but they may also occur on the feet, in the mouth and at other locations.

As a defense measure, the abscess has been walled off from the rest of the bird’s body, but the toxins and bacteria contained therein can escape and spread via the blood to vital organs. This can happen very quickly, and usually has fatal results. Therefore, all abscesses should be treated promptly by a veterinarian.

Gout, a disease that takes hold when uric acid is stored in the joints and internal organs, sometimes produces abscess-like growths on the feet of budgerigars. Known as tophi, these growths will bleed extensively if impacted or cut, and should be addressed by a veterinarian.


Tumors are often difficult to identify specifically, and may arise from a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Fatty tumors are usually benign and require monitoring but no other treatment, while others may be malignant.

Any unusual growth or swelling that you notice should be examined by a veterinarian. A biopsy may be used to confirm the doctor’s diagnosis if there is any doubt as to the nature of the problem.

Next time we’ll complete our review of noxious bird bumps with a look at feather cysts and cloacal swellings. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.

Further Reading

You can access a detailed article concerning the types of tumors that afflict budgerigars here.


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

Note: Please see Natural History of the Budgerigar for information on budgerigars in the wild.

ParakeetFrom its introduction to European aviculture by eminent British ornithologist John Gould in 1840, the budgerigar has grown to be the world’s most commonly kept pet bird.  Perhaps due to their tiny size, budgerigars are often underestimated as pets.  However, they are as playful and intelligent as any of the larger parrots, and often develop impressive vocabularies. 

The budgerigar’s sociability and calm acceptance of crowded, noisy surroundings renders it an ideal pet for people who do not have the space that larger birds require – believe me, you will not be missing anything offered by parrot ownership if you choose to keep this delightful little fellow.

Enclosure and Physical Environment
As with all birds, you should give your budgerigar the largest cage possible – just be certain that the bars are no more than ½ inch apart, lest the bird escape, or get caught up in the attempt.  Assuming that your pet is given frequent exercise periods outside of its cage, the minimum cage size for a single bird would be 12”x18”x18”.

Budgerigars are extremely active, even by parrot standards.  Fortunately, they adjust well to people and most soon tame down enough to be let out of their cage for daily exercise.

The cage should be furnished with a variety of perches of different sizes and materials and a wide selection of toys.  Rotating toys in and out of the cage from time to time will increase your bird’s interest in them.  Even more than many of their relatives, budgerigars enjoy gnawing away at all sorts of materials, so be sure to keep them well supplied with suitable chew toys.

In the warmer months, budgerigars housed in an outdoor aviary will keep you amused for hours on end with their antics.

Light and Heat
Budgerigars are birds of open, sunlit environments, and will benefit greatly from exposure to unfiltered sunlight.  If possible to do so safely, occasionally place your pet’s cage (locked and out of reach of predators) outdoors in nice weather.  Be sure the bird can get into the shade when necessary.

When indoors, your budgerigar’s cage should be lit with a full spectrum bird bulb – UVA light in particular has been shown to be of great benefit in stimulating natural behaviors and maintaining good health.

Normal room temperatures suit these hardy birds just fine, but do not position the cage in a draft.

Check back Monday for the conclusion of Captive Care of the Budgerigar.

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

Budgerigar or ParakeetThe budgerigar (or “budgie”), more commonly referred to as “parakeet” in the USA, is undoubtedly the most commonly kept parrot, if not bird, in the world.  In fact, many think of the budgerigar as a purely domesticated species, and know little of its existence in the wild.  Yet it is Australia’s most numerous parrot, and arguably the most abundant bird on the continent.  Today we will take a look at how it lives in the wild, followed by notes on captive care next time.

Budgerigars are true parrots, and are classified along with all others in the order Psittaciformes.  They are the only members of their genus.

Physical Description
With so many captive bred color varieties available, it is easy to forget that the natural coloration of these 7 inch long parrots is quite beautiful.  The upper body is barred in yellow and black, and the rump and under-parts are bright green.  The forehead and face are a brilliant yellow.  Feathers tipped in blue-violet decorate the cheeks and black spots mark the yellow throat.

The cere (the area above the beak, where-in the nostrils are located) is blue in males, pink in non-breeding females and brownish in breeding females.

Wild budgerigars are usually significantly smaller than individuals from captive-bred strains.

The huge range encompasses nearly all of Australia with the exception of coastal regions and the Cape York Peninsula in the northeast (they sometimes appear in these areas during droughts).  Budgerigars are absent from nearby Tasmania and New Guinea.

Budgerigars have been reported as free-ranging in the USA, Japan, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and New Zealand.  Surprisingly, however, the only introduced breeding population seems to be in Florida.

Many years ago I observed an escaped pet budgerigar take up with a flock of house sparrows in NYC.  The budgerigar foraged and roosted with the sparrows and was never seen singly, but perished during the winter.

Budgerigars favor sparsely wooded habitats along watercourses, dry scrub and grasslands, and sometimes enter agricultural areas as well.  They occur in arid and semi-arid regions, but need to drink daily and so are to be found within flying distance of water.  Droughts drive huge flocks to the coasts, and cause massive die-offs.

Oddly at first glance, budgerigars often move into desert habitats during Australia’s frequent droughts.  However, desert-adapted plants such as the various tussocks, bandicoot grass, salt bush and blue bush may support seeds even during the driest of years, and hence help to see the birds through such periods.  However, the lack of water and low soil calcium levels (and hence low-calcium seeds) make the habitat far from ideal, and reproduction comes to a halt.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion of this article


Mate Choice in the Budgerigar (Parakeet), Melopsittacus undulatus – opposites do not attract


Research conducted recently at University of California (Irvine) has revealed that female budgerigars choose males whose contact calls closely resemble their own. Males, in turn, pay more attention to similarly-sounding mates than to females whose calls differ from theirs, grooming them often and defending them vigorously. When paired with such females, male budgerigars also devote substantially more time to the care of their young. This extra care translates into an increased rate of growth and survival for the nestlings.

It has long been known that male budgerigars imitate the calls of their mates, and that doing so seems to strengthen the bond between the pair. Budgerigars have highly variable contact calls, more so than many other parrots. This may help the pair to maintain contact and to thwart competition within the huge flocks that parakeets typically form. The current research is the first to show that female mate choice is influenced by the initial sound of the male’s contact call, before he has begun to imitate her sounds.

Although budgerigars breed readily for pet keepers, this information may have important implications for hobbyists and zoos working with rare parrots that do not reproduce reliably in captivity.


An interesting article on the natural and captive history of the budgerigar is posted at:

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