The Budgerigar (Keet) FAQ
by
Anthony Olszewski

Please send all suggestions, material for
the FAQ, criticisms, etc. to aolsz@petcraft.com.

NOTE: I've already planned a section on genetics. I really
need a qualified party (Champion breeder and/or judge) to
author a section on exhibiting and judging.


Version: 06/01/1996
© 1996 Anthony Olszewski

  1. Are Keets the same as Budgies? What's an English Parakeet? Somebody at the bird club said that my birds are Budgerigars, not Parakeets. Are they correct?
  2. How many different colors of Keets are there? Are Albinos and Lutinos blind?
  3. What is a Show Parakeet?
  4. Can Keets be crossed with other birds? Are their other species of Budgies?
  5. What is a basic Budgie diet?
  6. Some expensive brands of bird seed claim to be vitamin enriched. Are they worth the extra money?
  7. Grubs and moths are growing in the bird seed. How can this be prevented?
  8. Are pellets necessary?
  9. The pet shop has a whole aisle full of seed bells, biscuit, fruit sticks, etc? Are these any good?
  10. Should Keets get people food?
  11. What does grit do?
  12. What is cuttlebone? My bird just shreds the cuttlebone. Is there anything else that I can use?
  13. Do Keets need special water?
  14. What kind of cage is required?
  15. Should I let the bird out of the cage for exercise?
  16. What is used to cover the bottom of the cage?
  17. What sort of cage is used to breed Keets? What is a nest box?
  18. Do Keets breed better as a flock in a large walk-in cage (a flight)?
  19. How do I tell the difference between male and female Keets?
  20. What is the natural Keet breeding season?
  21. How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?
  22. What is banding?
  23. Are any special foods required for nesting and rearing the young?
  24. What should I do if the father abuses his young?
  25. How can I tell the age of a Keet?
  26. How long do Keets live?
  27. What is the best temperature for these birds?
  28. How do I give a Keet a bath?
  29. Does the quality and quantity of light make a difference?
  30. Can Keets be tamed and trained to talk like the large parrots?
  31. Does my bird need a toy?
  32. My bird's beak is starting to grow crooked. Somebody tells me that it is mites. What do I do about it?
  33. Can my family or my other pets catch any diseases from Keets?
  34. What is French Molt?
  35. What is egg binding?

REFERENCES

BOOKS

INTERNET

CLUBS


1. Are Keets the same as Budgies? What's an English Parakeet? Somebody at the bird club said that my birds are Budgerigars, not Parakeets. Are they correct?
Let's start with terminology. The Keet, American Parakeet, Shell Parakeet, English Parakeet, Budgie, and Budgerigar, are all the same species The scientific name is Melopsittacus undulatus. Bird experts prefer that these birds not be called parakeets, for there are a large number of other parakeets found in Australia, South America, and the Indian Sub-Continent. "Parakeet" is simply a common term for a small parrot-type bird with a long tail. In the United States, the term "Budgie" is thought to refer only to the English exhibition or show Keet. In Great Britain, "Budgie" is used to refer to any Keet. "Budgerigar" is an attempt at a transliteration of an Australian Aborigine phrase. When asked by a European explorer the name of the little birds that lived in huge flocks, the reply sounded like "Budgerigar" to Western ears. It really means something like, "tasty snack"! It was easy to hunt the birds by throwing a boomerang into the flock.

2. How many different colors of Keets are there? Are Albinos and Lutinos blind?
Budgerigars come in a wide range of colors. The Light Green is the natural, wild color. In captivity, where predators are not a concern, color has no bearing on health or disposition. It's a myth that the Albinos and Lutinos (all white and all yellow, both with red eyes) are blind or suffer from extremely diminished vision. I've kept both in walk in walk-in cages with lots of other Keets. Some of the other popular colors are Blue, and the several forms of Pied (splashed-colored). There is also a Crested mutation of the feathers of the head. These birds seem to possess the same Beatle hair-do as the Gloster Canary, though the genetics are completely different.

3. What is a Show Parakeet?
The Show Parakeet is nearly twice the size of the more common, wild type bird. Quite a bit of this apparent bulk is really due to just bigger feathers. The head, even in proportion, is much larger in the exhibition birds. The difference is completely due to selection by Fanciers, just as in dogs, pigeons, or any other domestic animal. Raising Budgerigars for show is especially popular in the United States, Germany, and, of course, England. The British so dominate this sport that the show birds are very often all called "English Budgerigars", no matter where they are!

4. Can Keets be crossed with other birds? Are their other species of Budgies?
There are no known hybrids of the Budgie. It is the only (monotypic) member of its genus.

5. What is a basic Budgie diet?
Keets all require the same care, whether pets, breeders, or show stock. Budgerigars are basically seed eaters. The basic diet consists of Millet Seed and Canary Seed. Spray Millet is a greatly loved treat. You can give the birds as much as you care to buy; spray millet is expensive. Hulled oats (groats) are another favorite, though, because of the high fat content, should be fed sparingly.

6. Some expensive brands of bird seed claim to be vitamin enriched. Are they worth the extra money?
Various "treat" and protein supplement foods are commercially available. These items are important when the birds are breeding. To truly enrich seed in vitamins, it must be soaked in an oil. Vitamin powder coatings are a waste, for the vitamins all fall off when the bird hulls the seed kernel. Be particularly skeptical of "colored seeds." Many of these simply contain food dye! You can vitamin-fortify the seed yourself by mixing one teaspoon of wheat germ oil and one teaspoon of cod liver oil with ten pounds of seed. Let it soak over night. . For fewer birds, adjust the amount accordingly. Since an average parakeet eats roughly one-third of an ounce of food a day, eight pounds will last one bird a year. (A healthy Keet normally consumes an amount of food equal to one-quarter of its own body weight In a cold environment, very likely more will be required.) A batch of oil enriched seed should be completely used in less than a week or refrigerated.

The fat soluble Vitamins, those found in Cod liver oil and wheat germ oil, can be toxic in high levels. Don't be tempted to increase the dosage. Too much of these supplements will give you very dead birds, not very healthy ones.

7. Grubs and moths are growing in the bird seed. How can this be prevented?
Refrigerating bird seed will also prevent or control seed moths. The moths and their caterpillars cause the birds no harm. The insects are definitely unsightly. In large numbers, the bugs ruin the seed.

8. Are pellets necessary?
Pellets, though an interesting item in the diet of the larger parrots, are really of very limited use in Budgie nutrition. You can try them out, if you wish. If your Keets don't like the processed food, it's not as if they are dropping out of High School, or using drugs! There's lots of things to be concerned about in life; Keets disliking pellets ain't one of them.

9. The pet shop has a whole aisle full of seed bells, biscuit, fruit sticks, etc? Are these any good?
Seed bells, seed sticks, fruit sticks, egg biscuits, et cetera are all fine as treats. All this stuff is a little pricey and is not required for good health. Keets do appreciate these treats.

10. Should Keets get people food?
Small amounts of cooked chicken egg, apple, pear, cantaloupe, leafy greens, whole wheat bread, and corn bread are very good for Budgies. Really, anything that you eat yourself, with the exceptions of chocolate and avocado, can be offered to Keets. A different fresh food should be fed every day.

11. What does grit do?
After raising thousands of Parakeets, talking to hundreds of breeders, and reading hundreds of books and magazines my opinion is that Mineral grit must always be available. Grit provides calcium, salt, iodine, trace minerals and, in the bird's crop, grinds the seed to ensure proper digestion. Some say that only Poultry need grit. Others think that grit is the cause of impacted crops. I think that this is like calling bridges the cause of suicides, because some poor soul jumps off one! Every seed eating bird that I ever cared for was allowed access to grit.

12. What is cuttlebone? My bird just shreds the cuttlebone. Is there anything else that I can use?
A cuttlebone should be placed in every cage. Cuttlebone is the internal skeletal structure of the cuttlefish, a relative of the squid. If the birds just waste the cuttlebone, use one of the harder mineral blocks instead.

13. Do Keets need special water?
Change the water every day. Whatever water you drink, tap or spring, will be fine for a Keet. Vitamins can be placed in the water. Exactly follow the printed directions. All dishes should be washed as often as necessary.

14. What kind of cage is required?
If your getting one or two birds as pets, most any cage that you like will be OK. A minimum is 12" by 10" by 10" for one or two Budgies. The bigger the cage, the happier your guys will be and the more fun that you will have watching them play. DO NOT get a wicker or bamboo cage. The Keets will quickly chew their way out.

15. Should I let the bird out of the cage for exercise?
The cage is your bird's home. Unless the Keet is tame, don't let it out of its cage. Mirrors, windows, fans, open flames, cats, dogs, and open doors are all death traps to a free flying Budgie.

16. What is used to cover the bottom of the cage?
Special paper sold in pet shops can be used on the cage bottom. Corn cob bedding must be changed frequently, for it can quickly become moldy. Newspaper really works very well. A large scale operation can just scrape the droppings from the uncovered metal pans.

17. What sort of cage is used to breed Keets? What is a nest box?
If you wish to breed Keets, get a special breeding cage and nest box. The breeding cage has a little trap door so that the nest box can be attached to the cage.

In the wild, Budgies nest in holes in trees. In captivity, these birds use nest boxes, generally constructed of wood. Unless you own a lumber yard, you are better off buying the nest box.

Keets don't build a nest like Canaries, Finches, Robins, or Pigeons.

Breeding cages can be constructed out of one inch by one half inch welded wire mesh, bent and fastened with "J" clips.

I liked to use a cage 24" by 18" square, with the nest box on the front. One pair of birds was kept per cage. The birds lived their whole lives in the cage. No flights were used. Breeding was started/stopped by installing/removing the nest box. I found it very stressful to the Keets to move them in and out of the flights. The security of a "home" cage resulted in much better breeding results.

Half-inch by half-inch "baluster" board makes the best perch material. If you've got to use dowel wood, run a hacks saw down it, as the smooth wood is very uncomfortable to the bird's feet. Perches can be cleaned with a solution of pine oil and bleach in very hot water. This is good for the nest boxes, too. Dry in the sun.

Pine shavings are very good inside the nest box. It's said that cedar shavings are poisonous, but I've never observed any bad effects on either the breeding pair or chicks.

18. Do Keets breed better as a flock in a large walk-in cage (a flight)?
Budgerigars can be bred as flocks in flights. The only good reason to do this is to save labor. Feed will be wasted. Less young per pair will be produced. In a flight make sure that the number of males and females is exactly equal. Extra males are a waste. Un-paired hens will raid the nests of the breeding birds. Use twenty-five percent extra nest boxes, for the Keet hens always squabble over nests.

These are social birds. A single pair will very rarely breed. Four pairs, in the same room, are the minimum for successful breeding. There are many exceptions to this rule, but if you really want to raise Keets, start off with a number of pairs.

19. How do I tell the difference between male and female Keets?
With Budgerigars, the males are playful, foolish and care-free while the hens tend to be serious, grumpy and moody - just like in people! (This is meant to be amusing, but there IS a definite difference in the disposition of the male and female budgerigars.) You can distinguish the males, for the cere, that fleshy area over the beak, around the nostrils is bright blue in the boys. If it's ANY other color, the bird is a hen. In the light colored Keets, particularly Albinos and Lutinos, the Ceres in both cocks and hens are pink. When you have a breeding pair, you may never witness any interaction between the two birds. The male will do acrobatics about the cage. The hen will sit in one spot and grumble and nag to herself. This is normal for Ma and Pa Keet!

20. What is the natural Keet breeding season?
Budgerigars do not have a regular breeding or molting season. In their Australian outback native haunts, they commence breeding whenever the rains bring about a growth of vegetation. In captivity, Keets will breed best in the Spring and early Summer. If the nests boxes are then removed, they will go into a heavy molt. Keeping the birds on a seasonal schedule is a good idea. This allows the Fancier the ability to plan ahead. Being in a regular cycle gives the bird's system a good pace at which to work.

21. How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?
The eggs hatch in eighteen days from the time the hen starts sitting. She may not sit until several, or all the eggs are produced. Five eggs is average. The hen incubates the eggs and handles most of the feeding chores.

22. What is banding?
The babies should be "closed-banded" so that records can be kept. If you wish to show your birds, you will have to use bands issued by the American Budgerigar Society, or some other official organization. The young are banded before they develop pin feathers. Then, the toes are still pliable and can be manipulated and pulled through the ring. In a few days, the toes grow and the bones harden. After this time, the ring will neither go on or off.

23. Are any special foods required for nesting and rearing the young?
Protein supplement foods MUST be provided during nesting and the molt for optimum health. Many different nesting foods are on the market. Cooked chicken egg serves the purpose. If you've a number of birds, place a whole hard boiled chicken egg, shell and all, in the food processor or blender. The bits of egg shell are a great source of calcium.

24. What should I do if the father abuses his young?
Sometimes the cock will kill or abuse the chicks as soon as they come out of the nest. If ANY HINT of trouble is observed, remove the young, if they are eating on their own, or remove the father.

25. How can I tell the age of a Keet?
A young Budgerigar has a smooth cere, black stripes (except for the light colored types) on the forehead (giving the term "bar-head" for a immature Keet), and a completely black eye. Within six months, the forehead is white or yellow and the eye has a white iris. The male's cere remains smooth. The hen's darkens in color and becomes crusty and flakey in appearance, not to be confused with a mite infestation. This is a normal sign of sexual maturity and can be used to differentiate the genders in Albinos and Lutinos, where cere color is no help.

Keets are ready to breed by nine months. I've seen hens as young as five months old produce healthy nests.

26. How long do Keets live?
Budgerigars have short life spans. Seven years is very old for the average bird. The show birds rarely reach five. This is for the males. Breeding hens don't live this long.

27. What is the best temperature for these birds?
Sixty-five to eighty degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature for Keets. They can adjust to anything from freezing to one hundred degrees. Don't subject them to extremes, unless that's how you live yourself. As the thermometer goes over eighty, mist the birds with a fine spray of cool tap water, as often as possible.

28. How do I give a Keet a bath?
Keets like to bathe. You DO NOT restrain and scrub a Budgie, like you do a dog. A small pan of water is placed in the cage. The bird will perform its ablutions by splashing about. Be ready to clean the cage afterwards.

29. Does the quality and quantity of light make a difference?
Budgies, like all pet birds, must have a regular schedule. The birds should wake up and go to sleep with the sun. Covering the cage at night is a good way to ensure proper rest. If the Keets are in a dark area, set up full spectrum lights. These florescent bulbs, sold in pet shops, mimic the sun's rays in a healthful manner.

30. Can Keets be tamed and trained to talk like the large parrots?
Budgerigars can be tame pets and can be taught to talk. You must get a male baby right out of the nest. Be prepared to watch that he is eating on his own. PARAKEETS ARE SOCIAL BIRDS! If you plan to train a baby parakeet, realize that somebody should almost always be home, or the bird will sorely feel the lack of companionship. The young Keet, desiring a friend, will naturally accept your advances. You can teach him to talk by repeating a single word over and over. "Hello" is a good start. Most birds in pet shops will be too old to train. If the bird has a white or yellow forehead, not black stripes, it is WAY past taming age.

If you do not wish to put the time into training a Keet, if somebody is not always home, or if you can not obtain a very young bird, you can still enjoy the pleasure of Budgies. In this case, get at least two birds. Try to get either two males, or a male and a female. Two hens will just sit at either end of the cage glaring at each other. With a friendly, little group, the antics of the birds and the cheerful chirping will never cease to amuse and entertain.

If you at first acquired a single Keet and now want to get a buddy for the bird, don't immediately put the new bird in the same cage. Imagine coming home to find a stranger plopped down in front of the TV! Put the new guy in a separate cage, right next to the original bird. When you see them playing through the bars , then they can be placed together.

31. Does my bird need a toy?
Budgerigars enjoy toys. Bells, wheels, and chew toys are best. Avoid mirrors and plastic birds, for these items distract the birds. Mirrors will turn male Keets into (literally) the spitting image of Narcissus.

32. My bird's beak is starting to grow crooked. Somebody tells me that it is mites. What do I do about it?
Mites are a terrible affliction of Budgies. Infestations can be prevented and controlled by spraying the bird, the cage, and the area surrounding it with a .05% pyrethrin solution. If the beak itself starts to look flakey, the cere starts to get a "spongy" look, or a male Keet's cere begins to turn brown, stronger measures are required. Mites can be eliminated by the application of IVERMECTIN, under the directions of a veterinarian. Left untreated, the beak will begin to grow in a horrible, twisted shape. Death from starvation is possible.

33. Can my family or my other pets catch any diseases from Keets?
Budgerigars, like many other species of birds, can carry Psittacosis, which can be fatal to people, and Coccidiosis, a protozoan parasite that can also attack people, cats, and dogs. Psittacosis, "Parrot Fever", has many symptoms. Coccidiosis shows up mostly as foul, wet droppings.

34. What is French Molt?
Keets that never seem to grow in flight or tail feathers, might have "French Molt", which can infect many other species of birds, particularly Cockatoos, with dire results. If disease is suspected, DO consult a veterinarian.

35. What is egg binding?
If you expect the hen to lay an egg and you see her on the bottom of the cage in obvious distress or exhaustion, she probably has egg binding. The bird will die within a few hours without help. The best course of action is to seek a veterinarian's help. I've gently felt the outside of the afflicted hens abdomen and been able to propel the lodged egg through the vent. But I have no medical training, so can not tell you to do the same thing. DO NOT HOLD THE HEN OVER A POT OF BOILING WATER! DO NOT ATTEMPT AN OLIVE OIL ENEMA! I've seen both of these idiocies offered as serious advice in published works.

Egg binding can be caused by a lack of calcium, so be sure that a mineral grit and cuttlebone is available at all times. Vitamins are needed for calcium to be utilized by the bird's system, so be sure that all aspects of nutrition are correct.


references

BOOKS
BUDGERIGAR HANDBOOK
by Ernest H. Hart

INTERNET
USENET's rec.pets.birds

WORLD WIDE WEB

CLUBS
The American Budgerigar Society
Linda Denny
American Budgerigar Society Secretary
1600 W. Meadow Lane
Visalia CA 93277
(209) 734-5992
USA


Comments or Suggestions should go to the current maintainers of the FAQ files:

Kathryn A. Smith
Damian Bates

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This FAQ is by no means meant to replace the many wonderful and informative books, breeders, magazines, and veterinarians that are out there.

Last Revised: Saturday, 19-Jul-2008 04:48:41 MDT ( Damian )