Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates), also known as budgies or parakeets, are a species that are frequently overlooked because they’re considered "starter birds.” While budgies are indeed a very good first bird, they can also be wonderful companions for anyone. Ruth Hannessian, who owns Animal Exchange in Rockville, Md., and has worked with parrots for more than 40 years, had a parakeet as her first bird. She still maintains that he was one of the best birds she’s ever had.
Budgies tend to be popular because they are small, low-cost, colorful and easy to care for. A budgie from a store or breeder will only cost you around $10 to $40, depending on store, breeder, colors, etc. The cage may be several times the cost of the bird, but even then, it doesn’t have to be nearly as big or as sturdy as a cage for a larger bird, which also means the cage will take up less room in your house. Budgies do well either singly, in a pair or group.
Budgies are one of the only parrots that are typically not hand-fed as babies, simply because it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in their personalities. A single bird, hand-fed or not, can usually be tamed quite easily and become a good companion. If you have multiple budgies, it is much harder to tame them, as they will probably bond with each other instead of with you if you don’t work to keep them socialized. However, some people like to have budgies simply for the joy of observing them. Either way is fine, so long as you have a nice cage with plenty of toys for them to play with.
One word of warning, however: budgies, though easy, are long-lived just like other birds. A lot of people buy them thinking they are an inexpensive, easy and fun pet, and don’t realize they’re taking home what could be a 10 to 15 year commitment. At our store, we had a customer with a budgie who lived to be 21!
Budgies are also extremely chatty; if you have multiple, they will twitter to each other a lot. If you are looking for a quiet bird, a budgie is probably not the way to go. They are not loud, compared to other parrots — even a cockatiel can best them in volume, and they do fine in an apartment. But their chattering can be incessant.
That said, since it is not loud or ear-grating, many people find the chatter of budgies to be pleasant. They can also be very good talkers. There is a YouTube video going around currently of Disco, a male English budgie who quotes Monty Python, saying, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Their voices are not as clear as the larger parrots (budgies sound somewhat robotic), but they can learn to mimic quite well for such a small bird.
They are also surprisingly smart and assertive for such a small bird. People who have both cockatiels and budgies tend to find that the budgie is the boss. It is also much more likely that a budgie is going to figure out how to open her cage door, so make sure you have clips available if you need to lock those doors shut. They also seem more likely to tackle big toys than some more timid, larger birds.
Budgies are also one of the few parrots that are sexually dimorphic. Adult male budgies have a bright blue cere (the part with the nostrils, just above the beak), while on adult females it is pinkish-tan or a very pale blue. This is not a reliable way of sexing a bird until the budgie is sexually mature however, as the cere on juvenile females is generally blue, and eventually fades to the adult color.
There are also a couple of different "breeds” of budgies. The American budgie, or American parakeet, is the small, wild-type that is most common. English budgies are bigger and stockier in stature, with striking, broad foreheads. They were originally bred as show birds, and were bred for size. In my personal experience, English budgies seem to be a bit calmer than the American ones. Because they are less common, they tend to be more expensive than American budgies, running at around $40 to $100.
Budgies are wonderful companions for anyone, from children to adults, families to empty-nesters. Hannessian has, in fact, regularly re-homed budgies and other small birds, and given them to a local senior center. "Mother had a parakeet at 98,” she recalled. "She loved having that bird around. She once said how wonderful it was that when she came home, she didn’t have to say hello to the chair."
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