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Keeping Budgies: Six Years of Trial and Terror!
They brighten your lifeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Your love is eroded by the mess and noise
If I knew then what I know now!
Curiously, at least to me, the first article I published on HP was about my newly acquired pet budgies. Now, more than 6 years up the road of parrot prison warden, and seasoned Hubpage contributor, I feel better qualified to pontificate about the joys and woes of keeping these tiny parrots; certainly more so than 6 years ago when I think most of the information came from books and websites.
There are still two budgies twittering and squawking at me from the corner of my room. Not from the original cage and not the original birds, several times removed. Which is a good way to start I suppose. Budgies don't live a long time like the large parrots - of course, at about $50 apiece they are considerably cheaper. A large parrot in the UK costs around $1500, but they well might outlive you; they certainly would me! (6 to 10 years is an average lifespan for budgies).
Friends advised against keeping cage birds, specifically budgies. They said it was cruel, they were noisy, made a mess, moulted feathers everywhere, got saddening diseases, wanted to breed and would be unhappy. Diogenes, in all his wisdom, mulled this diatribe over and, always knowing best, went out that day and came home with two budgies, one green and one white. I put them in a tiny carry-cage; went online and ordered the largest cage I could find for $200 plus all the bells and whistles (literally... their toys!). (Those 'buds were oh so right!)
So far, I have buried three pathetic little bundles at various points in the garden over the intervening years. I couldn't bring myself to just throw them in the trash. This meant there were three sad mates left, not eating and missing the dearly departed. So off to the pet store and acquire three new toy-boys, or trophy wives! You would be surprised how budgies pine for a mate for several weeks, (about as long as I do these days!). Then the billing and cooing starts, along with the shrieking and tail-feather pulling as domestic harmony and its counterpoint with the new arrival becomes the norm.
Budgies ain't too smart, if I am qualified to judge. It would appear the size of the brain of parrots definitely depends on the size of the bird. I had a green Amazon parrot once and he was schmmmart! Learned to say "fuck off" in no time at all! (Google, I am quoting the parrot!).
Budgies do learn their names and a few words like "NO" and "Shut the Fuck UP" (I learned it from them, Google, I swear). But they only understand, don't repeat. They say if you keep one alone it will bond with you, talk a bit and so on, but I can't see keeping any creature alone except perhaps a cat and dog and even they are better off with a companion of the same species. I once had 16 cats and it was a wonderful, unforgettable experience, but another story.
I am a bit in love with the blue female budgie, Sky, I have now, but paying her too much attention has Andy, her new green toy-boy sullenly jealous. She herself was deeply in love with Sparky, who died 3 months ago; she still doesn't love Andy as she did Sparky. But she does love me after a fashion and has no fear where I am concerned and I can pick her up and tickle her all day...she reciprocates a bit, bless her, with one eye on furious Andy. He doesn't dare squawk anything; as is general in nature, the female rules the roost. One severe look from her and he beats feet, or wings as it were. And of course at about 10,000 budgie-weights, I am the fear inducing Alpha Bird. (My name to them is Daddybird incidently). "Be good, daddybird has to go shopping for seed...he won't be long! (This from a gnarly journalist once capable of stubbing out a stogie on a corpse!)
(Note: Sky was a hand-reared bird, handled from the egg, so to speak; they cost more are hard to find but like to be handled. Aviary born budgies will rarely accept handling and can bite quite hard!).
Goodness Sky can be mean to Andy! Aren't bloody females the limit? When they love you, they'll die for you, let that love end and they want you dead if possible; psychologically maimed and bankrupt at the very least! (spiders all of 'em!).
Her nastiest habit is one I only notice when a special silence steals over the cage. After a while, I notice this and see poor Andy hanging upside down over the seed container while Sky sits on or near it gazing innocently into space..."Cummon and eat, chico, I dare you!" She holds out until I approach the cage when she realizes the game is up and reluctantly makes space for poor Andy who is bigger, younger by about two years and eats more when he gets a chance. (so point here, you need two seed bowls with space between them). Of course, he wants to eat out of hers!
They drink copious amounts of water. A wrinkle here for anyone lost in the Ozzie desert where budgies come from, to find water, follow birds who will drink several times a day. So I keep two topped-up drink dispensers.
They ARE messy. They poop everywhere letting gravity do the work. So you have to be smart how you position the food, toys, other perches, cuttle fish and mineral blocks, etc., etc. Otherwise they will poo indiscrimately into and onto eveything. It so sticky and hard to remove once hardened! You will soon stop buying sandpaper, etc., to put on the bottom of the cage (cost) and resort to yesterday's newspaper, although these smart birds manage to crap underneath it! So cage cleaning is a chore and need doing AT LEAST every 5 days or so. It does do the heart good to see them in a nice, sweet smelling environment, how would you like to look down on a midden from your perch? (bed). (Always use pet-safe disinfectant, Budgies are very sensitive to all chemicals).
Budgies will let you know when they are happy or not. When contented, they chirp and talk to one another with a range of sounds you just know is language. And a displeased bird has a way of looking at you over its beak just like that high school English teacher you had! (You won't believe this, but I swear it's true, I had an English teacher with a large beak who was called Doctor Parrot). I say, "What the fuck do you want NOW" (I guess that's where they learned it, Google).
For many of the reasons found herein, budgie keeping has waned in popularity in the UK. People in a hurry spend their money on a tropical fish tank. Less work, no intimacy, gotta go, gotta earn, life's too short.
Two weeks ago, with a heavy heart, I cleaned their huge, four-foot long and 50 pound cage out for the last time. Wait! Hold the misty eyes, they ain't dead yet!
I replaced it with the latest in cage technology, a Hagen double tall budgie cage. It came in a flat pack and assembling it was not a piece of cake, I had to call a handyman in the end who charged me 5 quid MORE than the cage cost, to assemble it! These plans, must be written by the Chinese Altzheimer's Society members. In this case, I think it was Danish!
I sold the old cage on Ebay for £33...business is my forte, but buy dear and sell cheap is Robin Hood's - and my - motto!
They didn't like the high tech slammer at all! But I artfully arranged their toys with some new, and the comfort-claw green plastic perches they hated, OK, replaced with the wooden ones which they like. (Hagen, you are trying but enough with those weird green plastic perches already!) So peace reigns again in birdland and lullabyes are being composed.
You have to keep a weather eye on their feet; like Chinese mandarins, they find their claw nails growing so long they can catch on toys; their cage cover, (yes, cover them at night), or even their own eye sockets. Yes!! I have to tell you this grisly story. When I was more ignorant of their needs, Sparky caught an overgrown nail in his eye socket, no doubt while scratching his poll. He was doubled up on the cage floor, couldn't move or make a sound. I thought he was dying, so left him for half a day, hoping he would recover. I then, with a heavy heart and his anxious mate crying, reached in the cage and found the poor little thing trapped with his own talons! He was OK when freed and I now take them regularly to the vet to have their nails clipped. IMPORTANT. (you can fit sandpaper perches, etc., but it has limited results)
Female budgies will not lay eggs and breed without a nest box in the cage. And although they can and will lay eggs in a nest box without a male budgie present, they will not be fertilized, of course. So if you intend to let your budgies breed you need to add a nest box; they will soon be scratching about and adding bits and pieces preparatory to laying from about five to a dozen pale blue eggs. Congratulations Daddy or Mamabird, you will soon be a granpaw! Yes, and how you will regret it!! Don't let budgies, or any cage birds, breed if you are a complete amateur. I tried once; in the first year; in popped the female and 8 eggs was soon the result. Why are they fighting so, I pondered? It became clear, whan the other bird also popped into the nest box and SHE laid 6 more. Yes, in my ignorance, (and the pet-shop twits) I had bought 2 female budgies! They both laid unfertilized eggs and then fought and fought over the nest box until I had enough, stepped in and confiscated the lot, box and all! One died shortly and I successfully found a male. They never bonded...I think she was a lesbi-hen by then! Before you breed, take qualified advice; lots online. And note, the CERE (the fat part of the beak near the head) is blue in an adult male bird (over a year) and brown in a mature hen. Juvenile birds are hard to sex and it should be done by a professional (not my pet shop chap!).
Budgies, especially single birds, get very bored, like you would in a prison cell. So add lots of toys and snacks, as well as mineral blocks, etc. And spend time with your single budgie, male of female - not so vital if you have a pair or more. They like you talking to them and will often talk back to you, even if what they are saying is really unprintable..." let me out of here, you fat gorilla!" But, seriously, they flock in their thousands in the wild and are very sociable. Your cage birds have never known this, of course, but they are genetically, physically and mentally created to fly, chatter, breed and fight for their food and water. So we try to create the nearest things to encompass these experiences in our cages and aviaries. Yes, an aviary is the very best way to keep budgies as they can have a close-to-normal life like this. But most don't have the space, so get a big cage. A word on this. Don't get a gi-normous cage you can't move around and easily clean. I did this with a huge Monterrey 4 by 4 by 4 feet (about) and keeping the budgies became a miserable chore not the pleasure I had anticipated. The Hagen is half the size and the bottom tray (with the poo, feathers and seed husks) able to fit in my kitchen sink, making cleaning a doddle. I had to wheel the whole large cage and stand downstairs and use the communial laundry sinks which pissed off the other fossils living here. My Hagen has a nice stylish stand and fits much better in my small living room. Achieve balance for happy birds and master.
A word about the aformentioned feathers. Budgies moult (or molt) and moult and moult some more. The soft downy underfeathers like to take off on a journey around your house, at the whim of every breeze, mainly to avoid the Hoover I think (yes, get a "Pet enabled" vacuum cleaner). In a major moult, these feathers get everywhere, although the Hagen is a help as it has a high sided cage tray which traps many of the less adventurous feathers. a moult only lasts a few days; during this time, the bird may be a bit off color (about like you'd be if someone skinned you!) and it helps to add special moulting medicine to their water.
This article is developing into a book, so will close now and maybe write another piece later. Happy birding! Chirp chirp!!