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Parrot Bonding – Will my Budgie be a More Responsive Pet if Kept Alone?

I’m often questioned on the pros and cons of keeping Budgerigars (parakeets) and other parrots singly as opposed to in pairs or groups.  Most folks are aware that parrots housed alone tend to form strong bonds to their owners, more so than birds that have others of their own kind to interact with.  While this may be true to some extent, there are other considerations.  A recent question from a bird owner who planned to give away one of her budgies, in order to make a “better pet” of the other, has prompted me to post some thoughts here.

Social Life in the Wild

Parrots, including budgies, almost always fare best when kept in pairs or appropriate groups.  Those I have observed in the wild (and this is echoed by all careful parrot-watchers) are in almost constant contact with their mates and flock members.  Even in large flocks, and during flight, it is usually quite a simple matter to spot paired birds…they remain, literally, within touching distance of one another.

Solitary Pets

A great many of the problems experienced by pet parrots are related to their being kept alone.  The agitated “dances”, displays and attacks on toys exhibited by solitary birds, and which are found amusing by those unfamiliar with parrot biology, are actually born of frustrated urges to mate and defend a territory.  Several parrot interest groups have now published position statements to the effect that housing a parrot alone is, in most cases, considered by the group to be animal abuse.

Filling in for a Missing Mate

I advised the afore-mentioned budgie owner that while the bird may indeed form a strong bond with her if kept alone.  However there would be no way to predict such, as her pet had already been housed with another bird (this will affect its reaction to being kept alone).

But above all, the most important consideration to bear in mind is that spending a few hours each day with a budgie would not be adequate; parrots kept alone need the near constant companionship of a person if that person is to be considered a “substitute” for the missing mate.  This is difficult to arrange for most people.

Further Reading

Parrots that bond with people may make wonderful pets but sometimes raise a host of unexpected problems.  For more information, please see another article I have written, Parrot Bonding: Positive and Negative Aspects.


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 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 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


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