PARAKEETS, AKA BUDGIES, BUDGERIGARS
- A parakeet is a small parrot with a long tail. There are many species of parakeet.
- The most popular pet parakeet is the budgerigar parakeet, the “budgie”.
- Two basic types of budgie are the English - a quiet bird with a relatively large head and chest and long tail - and the American - a smaller and more active bird.
- Bourke’s parakeet is another popular pet bird.
- As of 2012 there were 6 parakeets on the endangered species list: blue-chested, Forbes, golden, horned, Mauritius and red-fronted.
- Many mutant color varieties have been intentionally created for the pet trade.
NORMAL ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY
- Budgies are sexually dimorphic - the color of the cere - the fleshy tissue where the upper beak meets the top of the head - is different in most males and females. Both males and females have a pink cere at less than 4 months old. Females transition from a pink cere to a white cere at around 4 months old. The white cere may have patches of blue. The female cere becomes tan by about 6 months old and brown by about 7 months old. Most males transition from a pink to a purple cere around 4 months old. Males that are Lutino, Albino, or Recessive Pied color mutants will have a pink cere for their entire lives.
- Normal temperature 107.1 F (we do not take a bird’s temperature as part of an exam).
- Resting heart rate 274 beats per minute.
- Resting respiration 60-70 breaths per minute.
- Non-obese body weight 25 to 35 grams (about 1 ounce).
- Droppings are composed of urine and feces. The urine component is usually white, and the fecal component is formed and green. There are many variations of normal urine and fecal components; an unusual-looking dropping is worth noting, but does not always indicate illness.
- Average life span often reported as 7 to 15 years. In our experience a significant number of budgies have life-threatening health problems or pass away suddenly at 3 to 5 years.
- Budgies lay 4 to 6 eggs per clutch, usually 1 every 2 days. They are determinate layers - they will lay a set number of eggs and stop, regardless of whether or not the eggs are taken away.
ANATOMY OF VETERINARY IMPORTANCE
- The right and left nasal sinuses communicate.
- They have the only avian tongue with intrinsic muscles.
- Budgies have a simple syrinx.
- The craniofacial hinge is a synovial joint.
- They do not have ceca.
- They usually do not have a gall bladder.
- Their feet are zygodactyl - toes 1 and 2 point backward, 3 and 4 point forward.
- Parakeets are social and can be hand-tamed.
- They are great whistlers, good imitators of other sounds, and fair at saying words. This author had a budgie that lived in an aviary with several canaries. The budgie learned to sing like a male canary, and did this so well that only family members could tell if a canary or the parakeet was singing, and only by listening closely.
- Wild parakeets spend about 80% of their time foraging for food.
- Parakeets are granivores. Wild parakeets are ground feeders foraging for grass seeds and chenopod seeds. Chenopods are an extremely diverse tribe of plants.
- Parakeets, like other parrots, hull their seeds before swallowing them, so they do not require grit. (Some sick parakeets will over-eat grit and get a digestive tract impaction.
- The all-seed diets fed to pet parakeets include a very limited number of types of seeds, so they are very poor quality diets. The mixes - pet parakeet food that includes seed mixed with pellets and other ingredients - might be nutritionally balanced if all components are eaten, but budgies usually select one or two ingredients that they eat exclusively and leave the rest behind; the result is that the mixes are also very poor quality diets.
- Complete and balanced parakeet foods are made by combining several or more ingredients in specific proportions and then processing them into a form that provides excellent nutrition in every bite, overcoming the pick-and-choose behavior. If the ingredients are processed into a powder then the finished product is a pelleted diet that is the bird version of dry dog or cat food. There are several brands of pelleted bird foods; at YVC we believe Harrison’s Bird Foods are the best.
- Lafeber makes complete and balanced bird food by chopping the ingredients coarsely instead of grinding them into powder. The coarse ingredients are mixed and bound together as Nutri-Berries or Avi-Cakes. These foods also overcome the pick-and-choose behavior and thus provide the parakeet with complete nutrition.
- Parakeets should eat a diet that is 90% Harrison’s or similar pellets or 90% Nutri-Berries or Avi-Cakes. We believe that it is acceptable to feed some combination of these foods. The remaining 10% of the diet can be wholesome treats. The treats should be offered in small quantities separate from the other 90% of the diet, so that the budgie cannot choose the treats instead of the balanced food. It is also acceptable for 100% of the diet to be balanced food, with no treats.
- Converting a seed-eating bird to balanced diet can be challenging. Please see our articles on this topic in the bird section of our website, yarmouthvetcenter.com.
- Fresh water should always be available. A drinking water bowl should be provided in addition to a bath water bowl.
- Cage length is more important than height. A cage should be a minimum of 18 inches wide and long.
- Cage bar should be about ⅜ in.
- Perches should be ⅜ to ¾ inches. Regular wooden dowel perches are acceptable, but tree branches are best. Branches from any healthy tree are fine; they do not have to be purchased at a pet store. Parakeets enjoy chewing up the twigs on branches and ripping the bark off. We recommend against sandpaper perches: they do not keep the nails worn down and they sometimes cause foot abrasions .
- Parakeets are social and can be housed in pairs or groups.
- Regular baths or misting are essential for maintaining feather, skin and behavioral health. Some parakeets prefer misting, some prefer bathing. Bathers might prefer one size, shape and depth bath, and multiple trials might be needecd to determine what a particular bird likes.
- At YVC we are very experienced caring for pet birds.
- We can provide the same diagnostic and treatment options for parakeets that we provide for dogs and cats.
- We recommend an annual exam for parakeets. We do not recommend any routine diagnostic testing or routine vaccinations.
- When a parakeet is being added to a home with other birds, we recommend keeping the new bird isolated from the other birds for a month.
PARAKEET HEALTH PROBLEMS
- Obesity and lipomas (fatty tumors) are very common in budgies eating seed-only and other unbalanced diets.
- Goiter (benign thyroid tumor)
- Neoplasia of the kidneys, reproductive system or pituitary gland.
- Reproductive problems including chronic egg laying and yolk peritonitis.
- Scaly leg mites
Yarmouth Veterinary Center