Visual Growth Guide: Budgie

The purpose of this guide is to give beginning breeders and general idea of where their chicks should be at a certain age. It is important to notice stunting early so that it can be rectified before the chick falls too far behind.

All images are © 2004 by Karen Trinkaus unless otherwise noted and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Bringing Home Baby

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Congratulations on your new baby bird!

Things to do before bringing a bird home:

  • research the species to ensure that it will be a good fit for your home
  • set up cage with food, water, and toys
  • research local avian veterinarians
  • have a talk with other family members about what to expect, and any changes that need to be made to accommodate a bird regarding smoking, other pets, etc.

Handling

One of the things I see touted a lot is that you should leave birds alone for a few days to let them adjust. If a bird is a handfed baby, this is terrible advice. Think of it this way. You adopt a young child. You show them to their room. Then you spend the next few days ignoring them so they can “adjust.” No! Birds, like humans, need to feel like part of the family. Your baby is already used to humans. That’s the whole point of handfeeding. Talk to it frequently.  Make it feel welcome!

You can start handling your bird on the second day, or the first day if it seems open to the idea. Keep in mind that while the baby is tame, it doesn’t know YOU. Cockatiels are usually accepting of petting immediately, but other species may want you to earn their trust first. If you go in right away for a head scratch you may be rebuffed or even nipped. It’s like meeting someone right away and asking to hug them, hold their hand, or kiss them. Listen to your bird’s body language and respect its body autonomy. Go slowly and work up to it. Your goal is to create a solid relationship built on trust, not to bully your bird into submission.

Set Boundaries

Set boundaries and use commands to help your bird know what to expect. If you don’t want a bird constantly sitting on your head and pooping in your hair, then don’t allow it to do that. If you want your bird to stay on a play stand while out, return it to the stand whenever it flies out of bounds. Say “step up” whenever you want the bird to step up. Be consistent.

Babies explore with their mouths. They use their beak like a hand and will apply pressure to get a feel for things. Some species, like green cheek conures, will play fight and nip during play. It is important that you do not allow them to mouth fingers, hands, earlobes, moles, etc. Move the target item out of their way, cover it, or distract them with something else (though be careful not to reward inappropriate nibbling). I like to have a bird-friendly snack available when I sit with my birds. It helps with flock bonding because we are sharing a food, and it gives the birds a more appropriate thing to nibble.

Routine, Routine, Routine!

Set up routines as quickly as possible. Birds, like children, love routine as it lets them know what to expect and when. Feed at the time you normally plan on feeding. Let them out when you normally plan on it. This is especially important to reduce the odds of screaming/contact calls. Birds who know when they are normally let out are less likely to scream to be let out at other times.

If your bird has a sleep cage or if you plan on covering the cage at night, you can start doing that from the first day. Birds need 10-12 hours of sleep. If their cage is in a high traffic area like the living room, a sleep cage in a quieter area is a good idea. They can’t sleep well if you’re up late watching television loudly, even if the cage is covered.

Noise

Parrots do not normally live alone. They are always with their flock, family, or mate. When isolated, it is very common for birds to do a contact call. This call basically means “Where are you? I can’t see you!” Some people rapidly get irritated with contact calls and do things that can easily slip into animal abuse, like screaming at the bird or covering it during the day. My pet pionus spent years covered and under a back porch, probably because its former owner was frustrated with the noise and kept escalating “solutions.” Contact calls are NORMAL and birds should not be punished for them.

There are a few things you can do to help mitigate contact calls:

The easiest is to have two or more birds. That way part of the flock is always there and they feel less alone. This is best done when the birds are young so that they grow up together and you don’t have to worry about introductions later.

You can make a noise back. Especially if your bird makes an annoying call (like my pionus), you can try to get them to make a different noise. When my pionus yells I either ignore it or answer back with a whistle, which starts him whistling instead.

Ignore it. This takes far more mental strength. If you have a set routine, your bird will eventually learn when you are around and when you are not, and when it can reasonably expect to have time out of the cage with you. When we first moved to this house my Goffin was calling ALL THE TIME. It took maybe two months for her to get used to the new routine, but eventually she stopped calling all the time. Now she only calls periodically when she knows I’m around and should be available.

Give them plenty to do while they’re in the cage. They do need to learn to play by themselves. It won’t solve the problem completely, because the point is that they want to be able to see/hear you. Having them out on a play stand in a common area is another solution.

If You Have Other Birds

Introductions should be slow. Time outside the cage should always be supervised, especially if either species is known for aggression. It is generally recommended that all new birds be quarantined for 30-45 days to ensure they do not bring any diseases into your flock. If you purchase a bird from a breeder with a closed aviary system then you’re probably okay, but quarantine is never a bad idea.

Health

If you can find a good avian veterinarian in your area, I recommend making an appointment. This allows the vet to see your bird when it is healthy and get a baseline for things like weight. It gives the vet something to compare to if/when the bird ever gets sick. The vet can also answer any further questions you have about avian health.

Here are some external links you may find helpful:

 

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Beginner Guide to Genes, Mutations and Hybrids: Part 1

Disclaimer: This guide is meant to be a very basic overview of these topics. Terms are kept as generic as possible, and some things are vastly oversimplified.

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Photo by Jeff Coffman

Part 1: Genetics

Physical characteristics are controlled by genes. We get two sets of genes from our parents. If our parents both have brown eyes, we will likely have brown eyes too. But what happens when one of our parents has blue eyes and the other has brown? What color will our eyes be? Both genes will not be displayed at the same time. Our body controls which genes show up through gene expression. There are several kinds of gene expression, but dominant, recessive, and sex-linked are the three we’ll worry about.

Dominant and Recessive Genes

A dominant gene is expressed no matter what. If your body contains a single copy it will show up visually. A recessive gene can only be displayed if BOTH the genes received from the parents are the same recessive gene. Think of it this way: a dominant gene is like the sun and recessive genes are like the stars. If the sun is in the sky, the stars cannot be seen even though they are there. Likewise, when a dominant gene is present the recessive genes are all hidden. But if there are no dominant genes around we can see recessive genes.

In humans, the gene for brown eyes is dominant and the gene for blue eyes is recessive. So if we received one brown gene from dad and one blue gene from mom only the brown gene would be expressed. Our eyes would be brown.

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The only way to get blue eyes is if you get TWO copies of the gene for blue eyes.

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So far all of our examples have carried two copies of the same gene. Not all parents are like this. When a brown-eyed person and a blue-eyed person have a child, even though that child has brown eyes they still carry the gene for blue. What if that child decides to have children? Which gene will they inherit? Luckily, there is an easy method to find out.

A Punnett square (below) is a quick way to find out the chances of a child inheriting a certain gene. The father’s genes are each entered at the top and the mother’s genes are entered on the side. The four boxes in the center are the possible combinations of those genes. Let’s try one together.

First, draw a square like the one below.

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Our father here will be a man with brown eyes who carries the gene for blue. Mom will have blue eyes.

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Enter the information on the parents. We use capital letters to symbolize dominant genes (in this case a capital “B” for brown), and lower case letters to symbolize recessive genes (in this case a little “b” for blue).

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Now we combine the parents’ genetic information in the boxes to find out how the children will look.

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The results out of four children:

  • two are Bb (brown eyes, carrying gene for blue)
  • two are bb (blue eyes)

Let’s try some more. What if both parents have brown eyes, but carry the gene for blue? You’d get the following:

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Results:

  • one BB (brown eyes)
  • two Bb (brown eyes, carry blue)
  • one bb (blue eyes)

Now let’s see if you can do some on your own:

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Click here for answer.

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Click here for answer.

Give yourself a big pat on the back if you got them right. Now we can move on to the third form of gene expression…

Sex-linked Genes

Sex-linked genes act just like recessive, except they also bow to the will of the sex of the child. To understand sex-linked genes, it helps to know what they look like. Genes are just sections of DNA code that tell the body to do something. DNA itself is coiled tightly and contained in a structure called a chromosome.

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Most people already know that in humans the man has an X and Y chromosome and the female has two X chromosomes. This is the reason that the only the man can determine the sex of the child. Women can only provide X chromosomes while a man can provide either. The X chromosome is physically bigger and can carry more genetic information on it than the Y chromosome. This is where sex-linked traits come in. Because the X is bigger it means that some genes carried on it are not carried on the Y chromosome. These genes can be expressed even without a corresponding partner on an X chromosome. They also cannot be blocked out unless there is another X chromosome carrying a dominant partner.

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One human sex-linked gene is hemophilia. Hemophilia is a disease that keeps a person’s blood from clotting when they are cut. Because hemophilia is a sex-linked disease, most of the people who have it are men. Women can carry the gene for hemophilia but will not be affected by it because their second X chromosome will block it out with a healthy gene. Women must have two copies of the defective gene to be affected by the disease. Inheriting two copies is highly unlikely. Since a man only has one X chromosome (from his mother), if he gets a copy of the gene he will have the disease. Mothers carrying one gene for hemophilia have a 50% chance of sons being born with the disease. Here’s how it works:

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As you can see, at least half of her children (boxes 1 and 2) will inherit the gene. One, a daughter, will only carry the gene. The other, a son, will have the disease hemophilia. The last two children (boxes 3 and 4) will carry healthy genes. Of course these are only the possibilities of what her children could end up with. She could very well end up giving it to all her children or none at all. It’s just a matter of chance. Now let’s take a look at what will happen if this woman’s hemophiliac son has children with a healthy woman:

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ALL the man’s daughters will be carriers and all of his sons will be safe. The daughters could end up passing it on to their children. It is in this way that sex-linked genes can disappear and reappear from generation to generation.

Not all sex-linked traits are bad. Many of the colors you see in birds like lutino, pearl, and cinnamon are controlled by sex-linked genes. But before we can get into bird sex-linked traits there’s something you need to know: BIRDS DO NOT HAVE X AND Y CHROMOSOMES. Birds carry different sex chromosomes than humans. Instead of X and Y, they have Z and W. That’s not really important and we’ll stick to X and Y for our examples here. What IS important is that in birds the male carries two of the same chromosome (like XX) and the female carries two different (XY). This means that it is hens who determine the sex of the chicks in birds and that they are more likely to show up with sex-linked traits. The punnett squares and such all work the same way, you just have to remember to reverse the X and Y’s from that of humans:

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Let’s try another punnet square, this time for birds. I have a lutino male and I want to see what I’ll get if I breed him to a normal hen. In order for a male to display lutino he has to be carrying it on both X chromosomes. We’ll color the lutino X’s with yellow to tell them apart.

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All of the babies will be carrying a gene for lutino. The cocks, however, will only be “split” (carry the gene) and will not show up lutino. The hens will all be visually lutino because they have no second X chromosomes to block out the gene.

The results:

  • 50% normal males split for lutino
  • 50% lutino hens

Let’s try one more. This time I want to mate a cinnamon hen to a cock split to cinnamon (carrying but not displaying). She will only need the one gene to show the color.

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Half of the babies will be cinnamon (both sexes), one will be split (a male) and one will be normal (female).

The results:

  • 25% normal males split to cinnamon
  • 25% cinnamon males
  • 25% cinnamon females
  • 25% normal females.

One of the great things about sex-linked traits is that they may allow you to sex birds very young without having to DNA test. A male that is carrying lutino, when mated with a hen that is not lutino, will always have lutino daughters. If he is lutino himself then ALL his daughters will be lutino. If he is not visibly lutino then any lutino you find in the nest will be a hen for certain.

Sex-linked genes allow you to get visual colors much faster, as you only need a male to be carrying a single copy. This is why Pineapple green cheek conures are more common than colors like turquoise. Pineapple is a combination of two sex-linked colors, while turquoise is recessive. However, it also drives up the price of males who show sex-linked traits. Hens are far easier to come by. To get a visual male you need two copies of the gene.

Well that’s it for now. Congratulations, you survived part one!

All articles and images contained on this site are ©2017 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Should I buy a Second Bird?

The last time I was at a bird club meeting the speaker was the editor of Bird Talk magazine. She brought up some of the frequently asked questions they receive. As bird club members, we all kind of chuckled at these because they were common knowledge to us. One of the questions they routinely get is “Should I buy a second bird?” She said the fact that the person was even asking the question indicated that the answer was “no.” Most people nodded in agreement at this statement. I beg to differ.

I receive this question a lot too, but most people don’t ask it out of some nagging doubt it won’t work or they shouldn’t do it. In many cases, they want another bird, but are unsure how their first will react. Will the two get along? Will their first bird lose its pet qualities? How soon can they be introduced? What species would be most compatible? To me their question shows that they know enough about birds not to jump into something blindly. They want to educate themselves first. Most people obtain their first bird without doing any research. They learn through trial and error, not really the best way for the pet or the owner, but if they’re trying to rectify the situation the second time around I can’t fault them. There’s nothing wrong with making an informed decision.

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Benefits of Keeping a Flock

I have a personal philosophy regarding this issue – I never keep birds singly. A bird that has its own cage is still kept near others and allowed play time with them. The only time I completely isolate a bird is if it must be kept in a hospital cage due to health problems. This does not mean that I think every owner should run out and buy more birds. Many people are happy with just a single pet. This article is for those of you who are contemplating buying another bird, but haven’t quite made up your mind yet.

I believe it is psychologically beneficial for birds to be kept in a flock. My adopted mitred conure responded extremely well when kept around my flock. He no longer tries to assault other birds. Many people don’t properly socialize their birds. One of my requirements of socialization is that bird know how to be a bird. A handfed reared in isolation with no avian contact may have identity problems later, particularly if its owner expects it to act like a little human. Birds are not humans and never will be. We both share many behaviors but have different motivations. Understanding your bird’s behavior is the key to getting along with it. I think new owners tend to attribute human motivations to their bird’s behavior or simply treat them as if they have no emotions at all. Both views will lead to problems.

When you allow birds to interact with one another you give them a chance to communicate in their own language and to be themselves. As an aside: One of my pet peeves is when people ask me about teaching their birds to talk or want to know if my birds talk. Yes they talk- they speak bird! You’ll get along much better with your animals if you learn to communicate with them. I’ll have you know I’m fluent in “duck” and “chicken.” I’ve made friends with wild ducks using this skill. Don’t ask me how to teach your birds to talk, ask me how you can learn to speak “bird.”

Not everyone can give their bird the attention it requires. Many people will buy their pet a mirror, thinking this will help keep it company. This is worse than keeping a bird isolated. If you can’t give your bird the attention it needs, give it up or buy a second.

I also believe that owners learn more about bird behavior when observing more than one interacting. Owners of one bird only see that single bird’s behavior. They have no point of reference and mistakenly judge their behavior as “odd.” When you see birds interact with one another it makes more sense.

I also cannot overstate how beneficial it is for birds to have another bird, even a different species, around during the day when you’re not home. Parrots are not meant to be kept in isolation.

Will my first bird lose its pet qualities?

No. If your bird is tame and lovable it should stay that way. I have never seen a bird become unfriendly just because it had a new friend. I think this myth has been propagated by owners whose birds hit puberty the same time as a new bird is purchased. Behavior changes associated with puberty have nothing to do with the introduction of a new bird.

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This guy was handfed and socialized by me. He’s an aviary bird and I haven’t handled him on a regular basis for ten years. Still tame.

Let’s say you buy a new cockatiel. You have it for a few months. It’s so sweet and wonderful you just have to get another one. Your first bird is probably around six months to a year old when you decide to introduce another. Guess what time puberty hits? That’s right, around 6-12 months. The new bird is unjustly blamed for problems that would have occurred anyway.

What species are the most compatible?

This is more of a concern if they are to be sharing a cage. Given a large enough cage, you can probably keep any birds of similar size together. I keep conures, budgies, kakarikis, tiels and ringnecks together, but then I have walk-in aviaries. Territorial issues are less of a problem when you are not breeding.

If the cage is smaller you’ll need the species to be more alike. Tiels and budgies have similar care requirements but they don’t get along well in confined spaces, especially if there are only one of each (or one tiel and numerous budgies). Tiels are mellow birds; budgies are pesky and very active. The constant movement alone can drive a tiel nuts in a small cage. Even if it doesn’t, the budgies are likely to harass the tiel endlessly.

When species are very different (in size or behavior) you need to give each their own cage. I would not keep any of the medium or large parrots together in a standard pet cage. You’d need a large flight to do that.

Supervised play is fine with most similar-sized birds, as long as you know how to read body language and prevent problems.

How soon can they be introduced?

Quarantine all new birds for at least 30 days. By quarantine I mean keep them in another room with NO contact with your current birds. You don’t want to risk bringing in any diseases. Feed the new bird last and change clothes/wash hands before handling your other birds again. I also recommend a vet check and bloodwork if you can afford it. You can see a veterinarian for disease testing or submit it yourself.

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How do I introduce them?

Some species can be thrown in together with few problems. Budgies and tiels usually fall into this category. Heck, budgies typically welcome new birds! However, birds that have established territory- especially perceived breeding territory- may have a problem with a new bird suddenly sharing it. In this case it is best to start out with separate cages, in view of each other, and supervised play time outside of the cages. How soon the two get along will vary. If you see any fighting take things back a step.

How do I keep them from breeding?

Don’t buy the same species or the opposite sex, and don’t give them a nestbox.

© 1997-2002 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Budgie Growth Guide

Please note that this guide is for standard budgies, not English.

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Banding is done on day 7.

Here is a nice video on budgie growth:

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Budgie (aka Parakeet)

Melopsittacus undultatus

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First a word on definitions: Budgie is the correct term to use when referring to (M. undultatus). Though they are parakeets, a parakeet is any small parrot with a long tail. This includes cockatiels, kakarikis, all the birds in the genus Psittcula, most of the parrots in Australia, and many more. But there is only one budgie.

Two more terms you’ll often hear in reference to budgies are “American” and “English.” These are not separate species, just different breeds (Like dogs are all one species but there are many different breeds. The same goes for cats, chickens, and canaries.). Budgies are have the distinction of being the only psittacine with different breeds. English budgies are bred for show. They are large- about three times the size of an American. Americans are your typical pet shop budgie. All mine are American. I breed for color.

In the Wild
Budgies are native to the deserts of Australia. This means two things:

  1. They are hardy.
  2. They breed like rabbits.

In the desert rain is scarce. Birds who live there have to be able to nest and raise young very quickly whenever food becomes available. This ability to breed constantly has made budgies the most common pet bird in America and led to the establishment of hundreds of designer colors.

 

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A male (left) trying to attract a female (right).

Noise
Male budgies chatter almost constantly and this is a good indication of a happy bird. Females don’t make much noise. Budgies are one of the top ten talking birds but none of mine have ever said a word.

Lifespan
They can live 10-15 years, sometimes more. Unfortunately, many don’t make it past age five due to tumors.

Sexing
Budgies are very easy to sex, both visually and by behavior. As I stated above, males chatter more than hens. Males will often show off and chatter endlessly when presented with a mirror, but so will some females kept singly. To sex visually you have to look at the cere- the fleshy area surrounding the nostrils. Adult males have a bright blue cere (unless they are a color that contains no black pigment, such as albino or lutino) and females have a crusty brown cere when in breeding condition (all colors). Hens may also have tan or white ceres.

 

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A male budgie has a blue cere.

 

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A female (bottom) has a brown cere.

 

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Female (left) watching a male feed chicks.

Weaknesses
Budgies are tumor factories. If you take good care of your budgie and suddenly something is wrong with it (paralysis, blindness, etc.) a tumor is a good assumption (of course that doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to the vet). Tumors are usually seen in birds over 3 years of age. I’ve had three cases myself: Moonbeam, age 4, tumor pinched optic nerve and caused blindness; Arnold, age 5, tumor the size of my thumb on his abdomen caused him to stop breeding; Sweatpea, age 4-5, tumor on kidney pressed against spinal cord causing sudden paralysis, looked similar to egg-binding. Psittacosis is also seen frequently in budgies, but this maybe just because they are the most common pet birds.

Husbandry
Budgies are very active and deserve as big a cage as possible. Also, if you plan on owning a single budgie make sure you pay a lot of attention to it. If you can’t please get a second bird to keep it company. Budgies are very social and need other budgies to talk to.

Breeding
Just add a nestbox. Actually you should be more worried about getting them to stop breeding. Usually removing the box after 2-3 clutches will get them to stop, though some hens will continue to lay in their feed dish. Budgies are also prone to all kinds of nitpicky problems when bred communally. Baby budgies usually have stripes all the way down to their cere and a bit of black on their beak.

Diet
Regular psittacine diet. Budgies particularly love leafy green foods like parsely, carrot tops and lettuce.

Personality/Behavior
Budgies aren’t very cuddly, but they make great pets. I started out with one budgie and she’s what got me hooked on birds in the first place. They’re very active and sociable which makes them fun to watch, especially if you have an aviary full of them.

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Pepper and Maggie hang out on my brother.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.