The Budgie’s Diet
Seed – Your budgie’s diet staple should be a fortified seed mix. A seed mix for budgies, normally labeled for “parakeets”, should contain mostly millet, canary seed, and oat groats. The mix should be fortified with vitamins and minerals. Some seed mixes come with extra additives such as dried fruits or veggies, pellets, and other types of seed. These extra ingredients are acceptable, but budgies often don’t touch these extra ingredients. Any added seeds or nuts much larger than an oat groat will probably be too big for your budgie to try and eat. Furthermore, any dried fruits or veggies in the seed mix are no substitute for the fresh foods you must feed your budgie every day (see below). Some seed mixes add colors to the seeds. Avoid any mixes that use artificial colors (natural colorants, such as beat juice, are acceptable). Keep the seed fresh by keeping it sealed in an air-tight container. To avoid seed moth problems, you can freeze the seed mix overnight after bringing it home.
Fresh Foods – Many people don’t realize that seed is not the only thing a budgie should eat. In fact, budgies on a seed-only diet will suffer from malnutrition and related complications, such as obesity, and will live much shorter lives. While budgies on seed-only diets can be expected to live only 4-6 years, budgies can actually live to be 10 years or more given the proper diet. It is very important to provide your budgie with a healthy, varied diet which includes fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Every budgie has individual tastes, and you will learn what your budgies like and dislike. In general though, budgies like crispy things, such as crisp lettuces and greens. They often enjoy their fresh foods wet, so be sure to rinse first and put greens into the cage while they are still dripping wet. Some fresh foods that budgies typically enjoy include carrot tops, sprouts, strawberries, kale, apples, broccoli, and most dark, leafy greens. When you feed lettuces to your budgie(s) avoid those that are mostly water, such as iceberg and cabbage, as they are low in nutrition and the high water content can cause loose stools. Stick with the dark green/purple lettuces which are full of nutrients. It is highly recommended that you purchase organic vegetables and fruits in order to limit the about of pesticides and chemicals your budgies consume. Take any left-overs out of the cage after a few hours so that it does not go bad inside the cage.
Your budgie may not take to eating new foods right away. It may take a week or two for him or her to even try something, so don’t give up. When offering fresh foods to your budgie, offer variety in choices and presentation, and experiment to see what your budgie likes. Try many different kinds of fresh foods, and offer them in different ways. You can clip chunks (ie melon, corn-on-the-cob, apple, etc) in the cage, or pierce them with a skewer made for pet birds. You can clip wet greens to the side of the cage, hang them from or twist them through a favorite toy, or just hang them from the top of the cage. You can offer sprouts in a treat cup or on top of the seeds. You can chop up/shred different foods (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, bell peppers, etc.) to make a birdy salad and put it in a treat cup or bowl in the cage. You can even offer foods from your hand if your budgie trusts you. Variety will entice your budgie to try new foods and ensure he or she receives complete and balanced nutrition. If you are having a hard time getting your budgie to try fresh foods (in other words, if you have a “seed-junkie”) see my FAQ article, “How Do I Get My Budgie to Eat Veggies?”
Supplements – Budgies need to be supplied with a cuttlebone and a mineral block at all times. These items provide calcium and important minerals. Some budgies prefer one over the other, some like to tear them apart, and some like to use them as perches. No matter what, they should always be available, even if your budgie doesn’t even touch them. Your budgie’s body will tell him or her if when it needs the extra minerals.
There other kinds of supplements available in pet and bird stores, including vitamins, pro-biotics, and algaes. None of these are typically necessary if your budgie is in good health and has a good diet which includes fresh foods daily. You may consider using such supplements, however it is recommended you consult with your avian veterinarian first.
Dangers & Hazards
There are several sources of dangers and hazards to your pet budgie that you should be aware of:
Foods Poisonous to Birds – There are several foods which should never be fed to your budgie because they are toxic to birds. This includes avocado, fruit seeds and pits, uncooked beans, chocolate, mushrooms, tomato leaves and stems, and rhubarb. Many fruit seeds and pits are toxic to birds, so you should always remove fruit seeds or cut away parts of fruit that touched the pit before giving any fruit to your budgie (strawberry seeds are okay). You should also avoid giving your budgie any dairy (milk based) products, as birds cannot digest the lactose in dairy. Only limited amounts of spinach, chard, or beet greens should be fed to your bird (no more than leaf per week). These greens contain oxalic acid, which bind to calcium in the digestive system and can cause deficiencies. Don’t feed your budgie onion or garlic. If you’re sharing with your budgie, small amounts of garlic or onion in your food is okay. You shouldn’t feed your budgie any more than very limited amounts of any kind of salty food, sweets, or any foods known as “junk food”. Never let your budgie consume coffee, soda, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol.
Toxic Items – Never let your budgie play with or touch an item unless you know it is safe and non-toxic. Any metallic objects containing heavy metals, such as lead, zinc, copper, or brass, are poisonous to birds and can poison them simply through contact with the beak or skin. Safe metals include stainless steel, iron, and ungalvanized tin. For more information, see “Heavy Metal Poisoning in Birds” by Gillian Willis. You also need to be very careful with items which have paint or glue. You need to be sure that any paint or glue in or on an item is non-toxic. If you don’t know what an item is made of, it is better to be safe than sorry by not letting your budgie play with it.
Toxic Plants – Some plants and parts of plants are poisonous to birds, so you need to research any plant that you have in the house or that you use to make perches to be sure it is safe. If you can’t identify it or can’t determine whether if it is safe, then it is better to be safe than sorry by not letting your budgie come into contact with it. For resources on safe or toxic plants and other items, see our FAQ article. Furthermore, when procuring branches to use as perches, you must disinfect them properly. Wipe the branches with a diluted bleach solution (3/4 cup bleach per 1 gallon of water) and then bake in the oven at 200° F (90° C) until they are dry (this disinfection routine should be done by an adult).
Aerosol Sprays Are Dangerous to Birds
Aerosols should not be used around birds.
Household Cleaners and Chemicals – You should never let your budgie come into contact with household cleaners or chemicals. Additionally, birds have very sensitive respiratory systems, and you must avoid using aerosol or sprayed products (including cleaners, fragrances, deodorizers, and beauty products) around your budgies, as well as cleaners with strong chemical smells or fragrances. You should also not use any kind of fragrance products, such as candles, plug-ins, sprays, and potpourri, if you have a budgie in the house. When it comes time for you to use a cleaner or chemical in your home, put your budgie’s cage into a room where the fumes will not get into, or, if it’s a nice day place the cage outside out of direct sunlight. Your budgie will need to stay out for at least a few hours and until all the fumes or smells are gone.
Another source of toxic fumes in the home is non-stick coating (PTFE), which comes under many names, including Teflon©. When non-stick coating is over-heated, it releases toxic fumes which kill birds very quickly. Even under normal heating conditions, non-stick coating can release some toxic fumes. It is recommended that you never use cookware or appliances with non-stick coating when you have birds in the home.
Physical Hazards Around the Home – Don’t let your budgie fly free in an area or room of the house until you’ve established that it is bird safe. Be sure that there are no fans running, and that the blinds or curtains are at least partly-drawn on the windows. Also, if there are large mirrors in the room, you should place stickers or ribbons on them. Budgies can accidentally fly into windows and mirrors and injure themselves badly. Once your budgie learns the layout of your home, you may be able to remove the mirror decorations and have the blinds or curtains open. You’ll also need to Make sure that there is nothing your budgie could land on that might fall, such as trophies or decorations up on shelves. Reduce the amount of exposed electrical and computer cords to the bare minimum, and always keep your budgie away from these. Remove any plants unless you know they are safe for birds. For resources on safe or toxic plants and other items, see our FAQ article. Examine the area or room from a bird’s point of view and try to identify and remove anything that might be a hazard. Even if you’re sure a room is bird safe, you should never leave your budgie out of its cage unattended. You never know what kind of trouble he or she might get into, such as nibbling a stray cord, chewing your favorite book, falling behind furniture, or getting hurt accidentally.
Escape Hazards – Open doors and windows are obvious escape hazards. Never let your budgie out of its cage while there are open doors or windows, even if its wings are clipped. If a door or window does have a screen, check and make sure it is securely in place and that there are no holes. When your budgie is out and about, make sure everyone in the family/household is aware so that they don’t accidentally leave a door or window open. If you live with other people, be sure to warn everyone that your budgie is out of its cage so that they may be extra cautious about opening doors or windows. Furthermore, never take your budgie outside without a proper bird harness, even if their wings are clipped. Clipped birds can gain lift and fly away if startled.
For more extensive information on making your home safe for your budgie(s), see “Bird Proofing Your Home: Household Hazards for Birds” at PetEducation.com.
Establishing Your Budgie’s Health – In general you can tell a budgie is healthy by looking at him (or her) and watching his behavior. A healthy budgie will be well-feathered (unless he is molting at the time) and clean and free of any stains above the nostrils or around the vent. His eyes, nostrils, and face should be clear of build-up or mucus and he should have a smooth, well-shaped, clean beak. A healthy budgie will be active when the flock is active, and will be interactive with the flock (the flock can either be the other budgies he’s with or his human companions).
You should look up your local avian vet before or as soon as you bring your budgie home. You can use the local yellow pages, an online search, or http://aav.org/search/index.php to help you look up an avian vet in your area. Write down their phone number and address and keep it on the fridge, in your wallet, or some other handy place. You should do the same with your local 24-hour emergency animal hospital, in case an emergency happens when the local avian vet clinic is closed. Download the My Avian Vet Card to organize your local vet and hospital information.
It is highly recommended that you schedule a check-up with your avian veterinarian as soon as you bring home your new budgie. A vet check-up will allow you to get to know your local avian vet, to establish a health history for your bird with the vet, and to get any questions answered and helpful advice from a real expert. At your first check up, your avian vet will be able to establish that your budgie is in overall good health, and will keep a record so that you can monitor his/her health and progress over the years. You should take your budgie for a check-up about once a year.
Once you’ve established that your budgie is healthy, you should spend time every day watching your budgie and learning what behavior, activity level, and eating habits are normal for him or her. This way you will be able to identify any changes, even subtle ones, that could indicate an illness or problem.
Maintaining Your Budgie’s Health – The most important thing to your budgie’s health is a healthy diet (for more information read “The Budgie’s Diet” section above. Budgies also need exercise and activity to stay healthy. Your budgie’s cage should be big enough to allow your budgie freedom of movement and room to flap around. The best cage size for your budgie will allow him or her to fly from one perch to another. To ensure that your budgie is getting enough exercise, take your budgie(s) out of the cage once a day to allow them some time to fly and run about. Just be sure that you’ve established that the area/room is bird-safe (see the “Dangers and Hazards” section above). Before you’ll be able to take them out, though, you’ll have to follow the taming process so that they learn to trust you.
To avoid illness, be sure to maintain your budgie’s cage by cleaning out the liner often and keeping the perches and accessories clean. Also be sure to provide fresh, clean water every day, and remove any fresh foods from the cage after a few hours.
A budgie’s mental health is just as important as physical health to his or her happiness and well-being. There are many aspects to a budgie’s mental health, but as long as you are a dedicated and educated budgie care-giver, you and your budgie(s) should have no worries.
Flock Mentality – Budgies are flock creatures. This is one of their most defining aspects. Budgies need to be part of a flock, and it is cruel to keep a budgie lonely and isolated. It is perfectly fine to keep only one budgie as long as you plan on taming him (or her) and you and your family can interact with him every day. In this case, you and your family will become your budgie’s flock, and he will form a very close bond with you. Your budgie will become a beloved household pet. However, if you and your family do not plan on taming your budgie and do not plan on interaction with the bird, you must keep at least two together. You can keep any combination of males and females together, but I recommend at least half the birds be males. The budgies will become a flock and will interact, chirp, and sing together. They will be enjoyable to watch and to have around, and with patience can be tamed to come out of the cage daily. No matter what, a budgie should never be kept alone and isolated without interaction from it’s flock (whether it be it’s human flock or budgie flock) on a permanent basis.
The Cage – The budgie’s cage is its home, shelter, and safe place. The cage should be an appropriate size for the number of budgies kept in it. Unfortunately, pet stores often sell cages that are too small for any bird to be kept in on a permanent basis. An appropriately sized cage should allow the budgie freedom of movement and room to flap its wings. Perches should be positioned so that the budgie has to hop of fly from perch to perch. Try not to impede on this by over-cluttering the cage with toys or other items. The cage, perches, and accessories should always be kept clean. Don’t position the cage directly in front of a window, or near any drafts (i.e. drafty doors and windows, heating and A/C vents, etc). Also don’t place the cage where bright lamp or light fixtures would be pointing directly at the cage. If at any time your budgie appears to become nervous because of something going on in the house (i.e. people moving furniture, a moving ceiling fan, etc), cover part or all of the cage until the commotion is over. At night, cover the cage for security and keep a night-light on.
Toys – Budgies are curious, inquisitive, playful creatures. They need to be provided with toys to keep them mentally stimulated. Budgies love bells, rings, beads, swings, and chew toys. I recommend buying several basic toys, and then buying one or two fancy, expensive ones. You don’t need to have all the toys in the cage at once. In fact, I recommend only keeping two or three in the cage at a time, and switching them out every week or two. See my FAQ article, “What Are Some Favorite Budgie Toys?” for more detailed information on budgie toys.
The one type of toy I recommend avoiding is any toy with a mirror. Budgies can sometimes develop an unhealthy obsession with the “other” bird in the mirror, which can cause problems with tame budgies as well as fighting and possessiveness among budgies kept together.
Illness and Injury
Every budgie owner should be prepared in case of an injury or illness.
The Puffed Up Budgie Parakeet in the Middle May Be Sick
A budgie who stays puffed up like the budgie in the middle for a long period of time may be sick.
Illness – If you’ve established what behavior, activity level, and eating habits are normal for your budgie, and you pay close attention to him every day, you need to be on the look out for any changes, even subtle ones. This is because any change can be a sign that there is something wrong. Budgies are actually wild creatures (not domesticated like dogs or cats), and all of their wild instincts are still intact. In the wild, budgies have to mask their illness, because if the flock identifies a bird as ill or weak, the flock may reject or abandon that budgie. This is simply and purely a survival instinct. Therefore, pet birds are extremely good a hiding their illness and pain, which is why it is very important to be on the look out for subtle changes. By the time there is something obviously wrong with the bird, he/she has been sick or in pain for a long time and is just now too weak to hide it. The minute you suspect something may be wrong, you should schedule an appointment with your avian vet. You can use the local yellow pages, an online search, or http://aav.org/search/index.php to help you look up an avian vet in your area. Keep track of everything you observe about the budgie until the appointment, including eating and sleeping habits and changes in appearance and behavior. Reporting this to the vet at the appointment will help him/her determine what may be wrong. If your budgie has become obviously sick or weak (can’t perch or stays at the bottom of the cage) you should seriously consider taking him in for an emergency visit. You can call the vet’s office to let them know you would like to take your budgie in to be seen as an emergency. They will be able to tell you if they are able to help you at the time or refer you to a facility that can. If no local avian vets offices are open, you can take your bird to the closest emergency animal hospital. They will be able to help your bird until he can be seen by an avian vet.
Remember, the earlier you catch an illness or problem with your budgie, the better chances you’ll have of treating it and of avoiding very costly treatments. Check on your budgie every day and be aware of the signs of illness:
Change in droppings – watery or loose or change in color when there’s been no change in diet, undigested seeds in droppings
Change in behavior – lethargy, sleepiness, sudden anti-social behavior, puffiness for long periods of time
Change in eating habits – eating too much or too little
Discoloration or matting of feathers above nostrils, excessive sneezing
Wheezing, clicking sound when breathing, pronounced tail bobbing with each breath
Vomiting – shaking head and spraying seeds and/or slimy stuff about and on face feathers
Accumulation of poop around vent
Weakness, inability to perch, staying on bottom of cage (at this point he should be taken to the vet as an emergency)
If you notice any of the signs listed above or if something just doesn’t seem quite right about your budgie, make an appointment with your avian vet immediately.
Injury – It can be scary and stressing to deal with a pet budgie’s injury. But it is very critical to remain calm. The first thing you should do is call an avian vet for advice and to let them know if you’ll be taking your budgie in to be seen as an emergency. You can use the local yellow pages, an online search, or http://aav.org/search/index.php to help you look up an avian vet in your area. Some injuries can be remedied at home, such as a broken blood feather or a bleeding toenail. More critical injuries, such as a broken leg or wing, heavy bleeding, concussion, etc, should be seen by a vet immediately. If a critical injury occurs and no local avian vets offices are open, take your bird to the closest emergency animal hospital. They will be able to help your bird until he/she can be seen by an avian vet.
You should have a basic knowledge of bird first-aid as well as first-aid supplies on hand in the case that an inury does happen. If a non-critical injury occurs, you will need to know what to do quickly, before it ends up becoming a critical case. If a critical injury does occur, it may be necessary for you to apply first aid before you can get your budgie to the vet. And in the case that you are unable to get your budgie to the vet at all, knowledge of first-aid may save your bird’s life. For detailed information on applying first-aid to your pet bird you can read First Aid For Birds by Julie Rach Mancini and Gary A. Gallerstein. You can also refer online to “Common Injuries & First Aid” at PetEducation.com. For information on assembling a bird first-aid kit, see “First Aid Kits for Your Bird” by Holly Nash, DVM, MS.