Active and intelligent, budgerigars — sometimes called budgies, for short — are one of the easiest and most popular birds to keep as pets. While some people refer to budgies by their full name, budgerigars, some call them parakeets. An easy way to remember the difference is that all budgies are parakeets, but not all parakeets are budgies.
Budgies, which live in flocks in the woodlands and open grasslands of their native Australia, are wired for social interaction. In the wild, they spend their lives as part of a community, and this preference extends to domesticated budgies. Most budgies will live healthier and happier lives when paired with a budgerigar friend.
"They make great pets for people of all ages," says Diana Ludwiczak, CEO and creative director of Birdy Birdy Birdy, an informational site designed to provide insight on all things bird-related. She's a New York City-based bird enthusiast and animal trainer with experience caring for and training multiple budgies. "In order for a budgie to remain happy and healthy, it will need attention, foraging opportunities (such as food puzzles) and training."
What else do you need to know about budgerigars before bringing one (or two) home? From a budgie's most popular munchies to its tendency to talk, here is the essential information you need.
What's in a Name?
Budgies are often called parakeets, a blanket term that typically refers to any long-tailed small bird that resembles a parrot. Parakeets and budgerigars are, in fact, the same species, Melopsittacus undulatus. The budgerigar is one of the smallest of all parakeets — unlike other parakeets that can range up to 16 inches (41 centimeters) in length, budgies will grow to a maximum length of 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 centimeters). This size variance largely depends on whether its ancestors hailed from Australia or England.
There are two types of budgies. Budgies that originated from wild populations living in Australia are usually smaller, growing only up to 7 inches (18 centimeters). Budgies that come from domesticated breeding programs in England are sometimes larger, growing up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) and sporting fluffier feathers around their heads.
Are Budgies Entertaining?
In a word, yes. Budgerigars are happy birds that love company and return gentle human attention with affection.
"I've never owned a bad-tempered budgie, and they've always been great company and incredibly sociable birds who enjoy being stroked and being made to feel like they're royalty. Which they kind of are. It's incredibly easy to spoil a budgie," says Michael Rose, a longtime budgie owner.
Can Budgies Learn to Talk?
Although male budgies are likely to be more vocal than female budgies, all budgerigars will communicate with each other and their people through body language such as a bobbing head, flapping wings or a twitching tail. Some budgies make clicking and chirping sounds, while others can learn to talk.
Budgies are very social creatures and seem to enjoy interacting with their human companions. If you're looking for a pet that loves to chat, a budgie may be a great choice.
"Some budgies are capable of learning up to 1,700 words and can even repeat whole phrases," Ludwiczak says. "They use a wide range of sounds to communicate with their owners, including chatter, whistles, words and more."
One of the best ways to see if your budgie has a penchant for conversation is to simply speak to your bird — a lot. The same concept of chattering to a baby who is learning to understand and form words and phrases applies to budgerigars. Pairing a word with an action can help imbue meaning. For example, saying "hello" when you enter or saying "goodbye" when you leave can help the budgie understand context.
"Some talk, some don't, it all depends on the bird. Every budgie I've ever had has been 'chatty' and chirped a lot, but not all of them 'talk,'" Rose says. "They're incredible company, and when you talk to them, they always listen. That's a lot more than most people tend to do. [The budgies I've had are] all unique and have their own distinct personalities. If you're looking for a quiet life, they may not be the right pet for you."
What Do Budgies Eat?
"Despite their small size, budgies have a hearty appetite and enjoy a variety of foods," says Ludwiczak. "Budgies enjoy a mix of different seeds, such as millet, canary grass seed, oat groats and sunflower seeds. In addition to seeds, budgies also like to eat vegetables, plants, herbs and pellets. Some of their favorite fruits and veggies include raspberries, strawberries, kale, carrots, broccoli and pumpkin."
A diet with variety mimics the way most budgies eat in the wild, where they survive on seasonal fruits, seeds and berries growing near the ground. Some experts recommend that fresh fruits make up about 40 percent of a pet budgerigar's diet. Be sure to steer clear of commercial foods for which a budgie may beg because they may be harmful or even fatal. This "do not eat" list includes salt, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, peanut butter and cookies, cakes or breads.
What Is a Budgie's Ideal Habitat?
For a single budgie, the minimum size requirement for a cage is 12 x 18 x 18 inches (30 x 46 x 46 centimeters). A cage that will house more than one budgie will need to be at least double in size. Once you've determined the cage size for your budgie or budgies, consider its interior layout. The perches, toys and feeding areas inside the cage are necessary to prevent boredom and may require even more room than you'd initially considered.
"Budgies need a larger cage than most people think because they love to explore and fly around," says Ludwiczak. "I always say that whatever cage you are thinking about getting, go even bigger. There is no cage that is too big."
Take your other commitments into consideration. If you'll be at work or school for more than eight hours a day, it's likely you'll need a cage big enough for your budgie to fly around in. If you'll be home for long stretches of time and are willing to let your budgie roam in the house, then you may be able to use the recommended minimum-size cage.