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Health Topics

Budgies

(By P. Alderson DVM)

Budgies, also know as budgerigars or parakeets, are native to Australia. There are many variation of budgies. The most common budgies are the green and blue varieties. However, they come in many varieties, including violet, yellow, white, grey and fancy colors. They live approximately 6years, but have been known to live as long as 15 years when well cared for.

Housing

Housing depends on your budgies activity level. If you plan to let your budgie exercise by flying around the house, then a smaller cage may do. However, if you plan to house your budgie for the majority of time in a cage, then buy the biggest cage your pocket book will allow. Remember that budgies fly horizontally, so purchase a wide cage rather than a tall narrow cage.

If you plan to have your budgie fly outside of the cage, you may want to have its wings clipped. When the wings are clipped, your budgie can still fly, but it may not gain the height or speed that will cause injury. Be sure to "budgie proof" your home to prevent injury. Avoid allowing it to fly near windows as they will fly into glass. Keep the curtains closed. Don't allow your bird to fly in the kitchen, as hot elements and grease can seriously harm a bird. Teflon fumes are toxic to birds, so avoid cooking with teflon pans around your budgie. They may also drown if they land in the sink or toilet.

Provide lots of entertainment and toys for your bird. Happy birds are healthy birds. A bored budgie will feather pick or pace causing injury to itself. Provide perches of different heights and thickness to allow exercise and prevention of bumblefoot. Do not use sandpaper liners on perches. They are not necessary and they scratch up the feet causing foot infections.

Budgies can be housed individually or in groups. If you house your bird alone, provide a mirror or pay a lot of attention to it. They are social birds, and like lots of company. However, housing a budgie alone is the best condition for training, and you can teach your budgie some tricks, such as sitting on your finger or "talking". If you cannot spend regular and frequent time with your bird, then house it with another budgie or group of birds. Remember, the more birds you have, the bigger the cage should be.

House your budgie in a warm sunny room away from drafts. Housing your budgie in the kitchen should be avoided. Finding a place with lots of human activity will help your bird bond to you and your family. Keep your bird out of direct sunlight.

Clean the cage on a frequent and regular basis. Take care in using disinfectants, as many are toxic to birds. Rinse the cage well if you choose to use detergent. Bacterial build up in your bird's cage can harm their health, as well as your own.

Feeding

Pelleted diets are best. They are more balanced and lower in fat than the seed diets. However, most birds are raised on seed diets. Inquire with the sales person about which diet your bird was on. If you want to switch to a pelleted diet, do so gradually and ensure that your bird is eating. To do this, remove all seeds from the cage. Count pellets prior to placing them in the cage, and place in the cage for several hours. Count pellets afterwards to see how much your bird has eaten. Weighing the food is another method instead of counting. If it has not eaten a sufficient amount, place seeds in cage for a few hours. Birds must eat daily to survive. Provide food and water at all times. It is extremely difficult to switch budgies from seeds to pellets. All seed diets are fattening, cause obesity , and can cause vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial. These can be either sprinkled on the food or mixed in the water. If you are adding these supplements to either food or water, do so in a separate dish. When being introduced to new supplements, a bird may avoid them and may not eat or drink from these dishes containing the supplement. So, provide food and water with and without supplements to avoid dehydration or starvation. Change food and water daily, especially if they contain vitamin and mineral supplements. Old food and water dishes can grow deadly molds and yeasts.

You can provide treats for your bird. Seed diets can also be supplemented with treats on a regular basis to ensure a balanced diet. Treats can consist of hard boiled egg (chopped), brown bread, granola, unsweetened cereals, raw nuts (chopped), corn, alfalfa sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and dandelions. Remember, small portions of a variety of treats is best. Crushing cooked egg shell is ideal for calcium supplementation, especially for egg laying budgies. Budgies love spray millet and it is good for them, but can be fattening if given every day. Offer spray millet as a special treat maybe once a week.

Budgie gravel is not necessary if using a pelleted diet. Gravel can cause gut impaction if over used. If you would like to provide gravel, supply only a small pinch in the bottom of the cage once every 2 - 3 weeks.

Molting

This is a normal loss of feathers. Budgies molt continuously, but can have episodes of seasonal molting as well. They should never have noticeable bald patches, and the feathers should grow back within 5 - 10 weeks. Seasonal molting is demanding on the bird. Provide extra warmth and nutrition during this period.

Breeding

Females will lay eggs with or without a male present. Females can be distinguished based on the color of the cere (area of beak around the nostrils). Females have a pink-brown cere and males have a blue cere. However, on the fancy varieties this is NOT a reliable indicator of sex, as both males and females tend to have a pink-brown cere. Females can lay eggs after one year of age, and lay them in groups of 3 - 6. If housed with a male, the eggs may be fertile and hatch 16 - 31 days later. If you think you have a female ready to lay eggs, provide a nesting box and lots of privacy. Watch for any signs of egg binding (a noticeable bulge in the abdomen, especially if other eggs are found in the cage). NEVER ATTEMPT TO PULL AN EGG FROM A BIRD! Seek veterinary assistance if you think your bird is egg bound. Give extra calcium to an egg laying budgie.

Veterinary Care

Budgies do not need vaccines. They should, however, have nails, beaks and wings trimmed on a regular basis. There are many types of wings clips, be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian prior to having the wings clipped. The type of wing clip should suit your environment and activity with your budgie. Regular checks with a veterinarian also may help detect early signs of illness.

Common ailments include beak and feather disease, abnormal molting, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, obesity, bumblefoot, goiter, tumors, egg binding (females) and gout.