If you’ve decided that a pet bird is something you’d like to add to your life, parakeets (budgerigars or budgies for short) have always been a very popular option. As with the addition of any new family member it is important to think long and hard about whether you have the extra time, energy, and money to provide a good quality of life for a new parakeet.
Parakeets are a good option for a pet bird- they are small and usually very easy to tame. Their lifespan is long (12-14 years on average), but they will not outlive you like some larger birds. They are usually thought of as easy keepers- and are traditionally given bird seed and water and kept as multiples in relatively small cages. However, the more we learn about parakeets and their needs and behaviors the more we know that they require more than just this basic care to thrive in a captive environment.
Environment: Parakeets are social animals who require companionship. If your bird will spend the majority of its time alone in a cage he should be purchased with a companion. Minimum dimensions for a single bird are 20”long x 12”deep x 18”high, though bigger is better and the recommended cage size is 40”long x 20”deep x 32”high. Bar spacing should be 1/2″ to allow climbing but avoid problems with stuck body parts. The cage should be placed in an area that is not drafty and has a relatively stable temperature. Direct sunlight is not appropriate as it can cause the internal cage temperature to increase drastically. Covering your bird cage at night helps to prevent disturbances and keep your pet warm. Lining the bottom of the cage with newspaper makes it easy to clean daily. The cage should also be disinfected with warm soapy water and then thoroughly rinsed once weekly.
Nutrition: Although seed diets have been fed to parakeets as their sole source of nutrition for many years, adding other foods to your bird’s diet is essential to maintaining optimum health. Pelleted diets can be fed in place of a seed diet, or offered in conjunction with one. In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered daily. This can include dark, leafy greens, shredded carrots and broccoli, apples, pears, melons and kiwis. Never offer your bird avocado, onion, garlic, tomato leaves, mushrooms, seeds/pits or any food that is not a fresh fruit/vegetable such as chocolate. It is important to note that parakeets can be very fussy and may take several weeks before they decide to try a new food. They also require access to plenty of fresh water, as well as a cuttlebone to wear down their beak.
Mental Stimulation: Parakeets are very intelligent and require stimulation in order to be happy. Bored parakeets are prone to developing behavioral issues that can become very serious (such as feather plucking, obesity and aggression). They should have several perches placed at different heights in their cage. Cages with horizontal bars are also nice as it gives your pet extra opportunity to climb. They should be given ample chew toys, mirrors, bells, swings, and bird baths which can be purchased at pet stores for relatively cheap. Rearranging these toys or switching them out monthly will help keep your pet entertained. Allowing your parakeet to fly free is another way to provide them with mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Free flying should only occur in a bird safe room that is free of windows and other potential hazards.
Illness: Always watch your parakeet closely for signs of illness as they are very sensitive once they become sick. Ruffled feathers, lack of appetite, abnormal droppings, wheezing, nasal discharge or lethargy are all reasons for concern. If you notice any of these signs in your pet please contact a veterinarian with avian experience as soon as possible.