Principles of Budgerigar Keeping
By Cyril Rogers, July 1971

It is most encouraging for the budgerigar fancy generally that a keen interest is being revised in the keeping and breeding of budgerigars and this coming after a somewhat slack period. A very large number of these beginners in budgerigars have had little experience with birds and consequently are seeking knowledge on all aspects of these delightful little domesticated parakeets. To the fanciers of some years standing many of the questions asked might seem somewhat unnecessary but to the beginner they are of utmost and vital importance. To have these little problems answered early in a fancier’s career can often make the difference between the fancy losing or gaining a staunch supporter for many years. This article has been designed especially for the purpose of giving elementary knowledge to new budgerigar keepers.

There are a number of principles, which can help a beginner to become successful in the hobby, and I would recommend that they are carefully observed:

  1. Over-anxiousness should be avoided and patience should be exercised at all times.
  2. The available aviary accommodation should not be over crowded.
  3. The beginner should always be prepared to take advice.
  4. It is essential that the birds are well cared for and correctly fed throughout the year, not just at special periods.
  5. The stock should consist of only fit, healthy, vigorous birds.
  6. It is important that the beginner is always prepared for the possible loss of either adult or young birds.
  7. To increase knowledge of budgerigars, all possible literature should be read and the beginner should keep up-to-date on budgerigars by reading Budgerigar World regularly.
  8. Should the necessity arise the fancier should be willing to help a fellow budgerigar enthusiast.

The above are, I think, the main points, which will help to make a good bird keeper and I will now enlarge further upon them.

The new breeder should not be over-anxious to get the birds breeding until a reasonable amount of knowledge has been gained as to their general behavior and treatment during this crucial period. With the breeding of any kind of livestock the owner must learn to wait for the stock to follow their own natural pattern of behavior. For instance, if two birds are put together they cannot reproduce their kind until they are physically ready for this, no matter how much the breeder desires them to do so. Of course there are numerous other ways in which this rule can apply all making for the breeder to enjoy his birds to the utmost.

Too Many Birds

When someone takes up keeping budgerigars they invariably have the tendency at first to gather together more birds than they can reasonably manage in the accommodation at their disposal. Many people start with budgerigars on the colony system because they are attracted by the wonderful range of colours and tend to install too many birds. It soon becomes painfully apparent that although an aviary will hold quite a lot of birds during the non-breeding times, as soon as the nest boxes are installed a drastic change takes place in the once peaceful community and desperate fighting begins. Generally speaking I would say that an aviary where the sleeping quarters are approximately 5ft x 4ft x 6ft high with flight attached will comfortably house five or six breeding pairs or some 30 non-breeding birds. As soon as the breeding season starts it will be found that if two nesting boxes per pair are hung, squabbling is reduced to a minimum and breeding proceeds quite smoothly. As soon as the pairs have made their choice of nests the unoccupied ones can be removed and used as spares when necessary.

At no time should an odd bird of either sex be allowed in a breeding colony as this inevitably leads to trouble and loss of eggs or chicks and perhaps the maiming of adults. If through some mishap a member of a pair becomes very ill or dies its partner should be removed from the aviary at once. If the pair have fertile eggs or youngsters these can be marked and distributed amongst the other pairs having eggs or chicks of about the same age. When the young have flown from their nest boxes and can be seen feeding well on their own they too should be taken from the breeding aviary. After the last youngster of a nest has been out for some seven or eight days it is safe to remove the whole clutch of young from the aviary. This procedure allows their parents and the other pairs in the aviary to carry on undisturbed with a second batch of eggs.

This brings me to a fact that is so often briefly mentioned, but rarely enlarged upon, the period and method of incubation. Fit, healthy hen budgerigars usually lay clutches of eggs ranging from four to seven or even more in number with an average clutch being five. These eggs are laid on alternate days so a clutch of seven may take nearly two weeks to produce. Individual hen birds vary a little in their mode of incubation, some will start from the very first egg whereas others may delay this for a day or two. The actual time of incubation for each egg is 17-18 days, so if a hen with five eggs starts from her first the total length of time for incubating all of the eggs may be 27-28 days. The first egg should hatch after the normal period with the remainder of the clutch, that is if they are fertile, hatching out at two day intervals. This delay in hatching has been arranged by nature so that the feeding of the small babies on the vital crop milk is distributed because as the chicks develop so they are gradually fed on partly digested seed leaving the crop milk for the youngest members of the family. This natural process does relieve the strain on the hen bird as because when the chicks start to grow, as they do very quickly, much of the feeding of the older birds becomes a duty of the cock. Not all clutches contain every egg fertile and consequently there may be gaps in the hatching process but it is unwise to discard any eggs of a clutch until the full incubation period has been achieved. It is so easy to throw out the last egg or two thinking they may not hatch.

Clear, Addled or Dead In Shell

The reasons for eggs being clear, addled, or dead in shell are many and can only be assessed correctly when each separate case is examined in detail. When some eggs in a clutch, or perhaps whole clutches do not give any chicks, it is something the breeder must learn to accept as part of the uncertainty of livestock breeding. Similarly the sudden death of tiny or even partly grown youngsters is a further hazard that can be with us at any time. Should such a case arise the beginner should seek advice from a more experienced breeder in the area if only to satisfy himself that his management is not at fault. I have always found that fanciers are very pleased to advise a fellow breeder should they be approached. However, should the beginner live in an area where other fanciers are now known, Budgerigar World is always ready to help in any bird matters.

To get satisfactory results it is of utmost importance that the initial stock consists only of fit healthy vigorous free flying closed ringed stock. The beginner should not be persuaded to take at a reduced price old, overweight, poor flying, or unfit birds, it is far better to pay a little extra and get really first rate stock. I think that it is best wherever possible to buy year dated closed ringed birds and birds of the year so that they have the longest possible useful life ahead of them. It is always preferable and best to get new stock well in advance of the breeding season so that the birds have ample time to settle down in their new homes. If birds are bought too close to the breeding season they may not settle themselves in quickly enough and a season’s breeding can be missed. This of course applies much more to hen birds than it does with cocks, which appear more adaptable and youngsters are much more amenable to a change than the majority of older birds. Beginners wishing to start an aviary of breeding budgerigars next year would do well to look round for their stock during the next few months.

Healthy birds can be recognised by their clear bright eyes, strong flight, active behavior and have the overall appearance of being vigorous birds. Whenever possible pedigrees should be obtained when the birds are bought as these histories can be of great value in future years and for assessing colour potentials. Although the vast number of budgerigars will in their own good time prove themselves in the breeding quarters there can be no guarantee that any particular bird will breed. I think this is a point, which must always be remembered and taken into consideration with the time of year the bird (or birds) were purchased.

If the beginner has a colony aviary it should be understood that colour breeding under such conditions is very difficult as this fascinating side of the fancy can only be satisfactorily followed when controlled breeding is practised. However this does not mean to imply that many of our beautiful colours and varieties cannot be bred in such an aviary. With some forethought the breeder can select the original stock so that they will give a good range of attractively coloured young birds. With colony breeding it is not possible to be 100% sure of the exact parentage of the chicks although in some instances a very shrewd guess can be made. Many cock budgerigars are rather precocious little fellows and not adverse to a temporary quick change of partners. In a later article I hope to be discussing the stocking of colony breeding aviaries and how a certain amount of control can be kept over the various colour crosses.

Easy Species To Feed

With regard to their food, budgerigars are probably one of the easiest species to cater for and this of course adds to their attraction as garden aviary birds. Their staple diet is various mixtures of canary and millet seeds to which a few groats or oats may be added from time to time. The birds will also appreciate millet sprays periodically and of course the very wide range of green foods from the garden and fields can be given. Of these, greens, chickweed, seeding grasses, spinach, sow thistle, shepherd’s purse, young dandelion leaves, heart of cabbage, carrot etc are all eaten with relish by the birds. In addition to these foods it is essential, and I emphasise this, that at all times they must have access to unlimited quantities of mixed grits, cuttlefish bone and mineral blocks. In addition to these, such things as old mortar rubble, raw chalk, coarse river and sea sand, and crushed dried domestic hens egg shells can be give for a change. I feel that some of the ills that do beset budgerigars are brought about by the omission on the part of their owners to supply them with enough grits and other minerals at all times for their complete well being. If natural wood perches, such as branches from fruit trees, wild plum, hawthorn, sloe or blackthorn are used the birds will receive benefit from eating the bark and wood. At the same time having perches to gnaw will help to prevent them from gnawing the woodwork of the aviary itself. It is surprising how much damage hen budgerigars can do to the walls of an aviary just prior to the breeding season when they are searching for nesting places. All tree branches and green food obtained from open country must be carefully inspected for spraying as many of the sprays can be detrimental to the health of the birds. Whether the seed mixture is given in open pans or in seed hoppers the breeder must make certain that the receptacles always contain plenty of good seed and not just husks. At a cursory glance a seed vessel may appear to be full but when blown it can be found to be mainly husks. I have known this to happen with tragic consequences quite a number of times and it is something I always regret not emphasising more frequently in my notes.

The breeding of budgerigars is something that can be made much more enjoyable if the various aspects are discussed with other like-minded fanciers. In most areas of the country there are cage bird societies which cater for all different kinds of cage birds including budgerigars and in some of the larger places there are clubs that specialise for the budgerigar breeders only. Further to this there are large area societies and specialist colour societies, all of which are affiliated to the parent body, The Budgerigar Society. Keepers of budgerigars, whether they have only a few birds, or are interested in colour breeding, or in exhibiting, should join a bird club of some kind. By doing so they will get in close contact with other breeders and be able to exchange views, birds, and compete with each other at local and open shows. I would advise beginners to first join their nearest local cage bird society and then as they progress they can join one of the other larger bodies. I have always found that bird clubs welcome new members and do their utmost to help them in every way to become keen and efficient bird keepers.

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