What to Know About the Budgerigar

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on December 08, 2022

More than 11,000 species of birds have been identified to date. Several are kept as house pets, including cockatiels, cockatoos, and other parrot breeds, such as the budgerigar. 

While the name may seem unfamiliar, you'd probably recognize these iconic bright-colored birds when you see them. You may know them by another name: the parakeet.

These tiny parrots are native to Australia and feature a beautiful green and yellow coat. They fly in small flocks of around three to 100 birds but are sometimes found in larger numbers. Though they're Australian natives, they have found their way to other countries, including the United States. Florida has a good-sized population. They have also been introduced to Europe, where they have been bred and kept as pets. They're also known as the budgie or budgie parrot.

The budgerigar has been raised in captivity since the 50s and has risen in popularity as a house pet. They're one of the most popular pet birds and have physical and behavioral traits unique to their species. 

Budgerigar characteristics. The native Australian budgerigar's bright green and yellow feathers are marked with blue on the cheeks, beak, and tail, and black scallops on the wings. These birds are small and are around 7-9 inches from the top of their head to the end of their slender tails.

While their original color is green and yellow and common throughout Australia's mainland, many subpopulations of budgerigars in other parts of the world sport different colors, including blue and white.

Budgerigar behavior. The budgerigar personality is colorful. They are vocal learners, meaning they need to be exposed to vocals to learn and adopt different vocalizations. Budgerigars can also mimic vocals based on their auditory observation, synchronize with beats, and have good pitch perception. 

Budgerigars are highly sociable birds and, in the wild, will call out to each other with chirps. In addition to being sociable, these birds are also monogamous, meaning they mate for life. Mating occurs all year and usually after it has rained. Nests are built near other female budgerigar nests where 4-8 eggs are laid. The incubation period is 18 days.

Budgerigars make good pets for some households. Because of their social behavior, they love socializing with their human companions, birds, and other animals. They're also intelligent and can learn commands and vocabulary. However, the downside of owning these beautiful birds is that they tend to be messy. Their cages should be regularly cleaned. For individuals who travel frequently, the budgerigar might not be a suitable pet.

If you're planning on adding a budgerigar to your family, you'll need to understand how to care for these birds properly. Each animal is unique, and the budgerigar is no different. They have food and habitat preferences, and what works for one species may not work for the budgerigar.

Budgerigar habitat. Wild budgerigar parrots prefer a dry, desert climate. However, they have favored savannas, grasslands, woodlands, farmlands, and open forests as places to call home. 

These birds don't require too big of an enclosure — around 14-16 inches high and 17 inches wide should do. Since budgerigars are social birds, they do well in colonies, which will require a bigger enclosure. 

In captivity, it's essential to include a bird bath in your budgerigar's enclosure to keep their feathers clean and healthy. Budgerigars also need plenty of toys and objects to keep them stimulated. You can place rope ladders, swinging perches, and other objects in their enclosures to help prevent boredom. However, keep an eye on what you include: make sure they're free from toxins and safe for birds. 

Perches should be covered in bark from willow, poplar, birch, or fruit trees and have an uneven surface. Avoid perches that have been treated chemically, as this can be dangerous to your budgerigar. To ensure the perch is safe and free from parasites, bake it in your oven for an hour.

Budgerigar diet. A budgerigar diet consists mainly of grains, nuts, and seeds from herbs and grasses. They forage for food from the ground and sometimes from clumps of grass, where they strip plants of their seeds. They use their beaks to de-husk the seeds and swallow what's left. They also sometimes eat insects.

Budgerigars have quick metabolisms and need a proper diet, or they risk becoming seriously ill. You should never let a budgerigar go more than 24 hours without food. You can feed them seed and pellet mixes formulated for their species, dark green and yellow vegetables, fruits, cooked eggs, and grated cheeses (in small amounts). Any uneaten fresh food should be removed from their enclosure to keep it from spoiling. 

Budgerigars are known to drink most of their water intake in the morning and drink around 5.5% of their body weight. They're native to drier climates and are typically water-hardy birds that can live on early morning dew and wet grass, but they should always have access to fresh water in captivity. 

Other considerations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the budgerigar's conservation status as of least concern.

Budgerigars are susceptible to diseases but are good at hiding when they're sick. It's important to keep an eye on your pet for signs of illness and take them to a bird-specialist veterinarian immediately. Signs of illness can include: 

  • Fluffed-out feathers or loss of feathers
  • Watery stool 
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking more or less than usual 
  • Limping 
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Watery nostrils or eyes
  • Overgrown beak 

Budgerigars are also susceptible to overgrown nails, usually when their enclosures lack adequate support or perches to help file them down. If your budgerigar's nails are overgrown, your veterinarian can trim them and show you how to do it on your own.

Other health conditions to look out for include trichomoniasis (gut infection), enteritis (inflammation of the gut), pneumonia, avian chlamydia, and avian gastric yeast. 

The average budgerigar life span is 21 years in captivity.

Show Sources

AllThingsNature: "What Are the Pros and Cons of a Parakeet as a Pet?"
Animal Diversity Web: Melopsittacus undulatus."
Animal Humane Society: “Parakeet (budgerigar) care.”
Audubon: “Budgerigar.”
Bush Heritage Australia: "Budgerigars."
eBird: "Budgerigar."
Our World in Data: "Birds."
tri-statebudgie: "What's Killing Our Budgies?"
universitat wien: "The Budgie Lab."
Zoo New England: "BUDGERIGAR."

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