Budgie Behaviour Made Simple
Budgies have evolved as prey animals, and share many common behaviours and personality traits with other prey animals. Some of these behaviours, like their sociability help to make them such great pets, but others can be harmful to them in captivity, or just confusing to us, their owners.
Budgies form flocks, just like buffalo or wildebeest form herds on the ground. The maxim “safety in numbers” certainly rings true for these animals. A budgie has a wild field of vision, but it can’t look everywhere at once, and has to rest some times. So, having others around who can keep look out, and warn you of dangers, is a big advantage.
But why would any particular budgie issue a warning call, when that would surely attract the attention of a predator and make them an easy target? Imagine you’re a budgie and you’ve just spotted a predator. If you freeze, all the rest of your flock will continue moving around, attracting the predator to your area anyway. And if you fly away on your own, you lose all the advantages of being in a large group. Besides, budgies’ warning calls are hard to locate.
Because budgies have evolved to live in these large social groups, they’ve adapted by having sociable personalities, and peaceful natures. If they were always fighting with other members of the group, they’d quickly nullify any advantage that being in a group gave them. The only time budgies will really fight is to defend their young, although they often bluff about it when competing over a mate.
This sociable, and accepting, nature makes budgies great companions for us, once we’ve broken through their initial fear, and got them to trust us. What’s more, because many pet budgies are deprived of mating opportunities, they often turn to their owners for the companionship they need to stay happy and healthy.
Fear of Sudden Movements
In the wild, budgies always have to be on the lookout for an attack, especially when they put themselves in a vulnerable position – sticking your face down into a puddle, so you can get a drink of water, is pretty risky, because it limits your vision of your surroundings.
Because many predators will happily jump out and grab a budgie snack, they’ve adapted to instinctively be scared of sudden movements, and to get away from them. This is why sudden movements stress budgies out in captivity.
To a budgie, being well groomed is more than a point of personal pride, their lives depend on it in the wild. You see, if a budgie’s feathers are ruffled, dirty, or damaged they can have trouble flying. Not being able to fly wouldn’t only mean not escaping from predators, but difficulty in finding food and water, and not being able to keep up with their flock.
So, your pet budgie will spend several hours grooming itself each day. This isn’t done in marathon sessions, but a few minutes here and there, in between other activities. Because it’s so vital to their survival is probably why budgies seem to find grooming so comforting.
Aside from keeping their flying gear in top condition, budgies preen themselves to stay clean, and to get rid of parasites. In our sterile lives we take it for granted that we won’t have parasites, and the occasional outbreak of head lice among school children is nothing more than a minor nuisance. With most wild animals though, the battle against parasites is a daily chore.
Your budgie does a great job of keeping itself clean any tidy, but there’s one area it can’t reach: the top of its head. Luckily, in your home your budgie is unlikely to catch any parasites, such as ticks or mites, so not having their head groomed won’t have any major consequences.
If your budgie has a companion though, you’ll often see them taking it in turns to groom each other’s heads. And it shows a lot of trust to let someone else’s beak that close to your head. If your budgie’s hand tame, and hopefully it is, they’ll really enjoy having your gently scratch their head against the direction of the feathers.
Courtship and Mating Behaviours
We’re all driven to reproduce, from dogs to people to budgies. In the wild, since food and water supplies can be so erratic, many budgies have to start breeding whenever conditions are good, and so are able to breed all year round. Budgies that live in a more hospitable environment have adapted to have mating seasons, just like many other animals.
During courtship, the males tend to do most of the work pursuing a partner, although females will happily show off the nest excavating skills in hopes of attracting someone good. As the male pursues the female, she’ll either choose to encourage the advances, or to tell the male to get lost – those who don’t realize that no means no often find themselves getting attacked.
It’s common for budgies to try and intimidate each other when they’re competing over a potential mate. They’ll stand up tall, even extending their toe joints, and make threatening motions towards their rival. Usually one of the birds will back off quickly, but occasional a real fight will break out. When they do fight, it usually ends before anyone is seriously hurt.
In captivity, many pet budgies are kept on their own, and are unable to fulfil their need to mate. This can sometimes lead to problems. Aside from being bad for their mental health, females can start chronic egg laying, which can easily be fatal if mishandled by their owners. Males, on the other hand, tend to relieve their frustration by rubbing themselves against a perch or toy.
But, the lack of mate can also lead your budgie to start courting inanimate objects, such as toys or mirrors, or even humans. This can lead to the budgie becoming possessive and territorial around the toys, or frustrated by you or them for not behaving like a mate should.
Common Behaviour Problems
We love our budgies, but sometimes their behaviour can drive us crazy, be confusing, or be bad for their own well being. Let’s take a look at some of the most common budgie behaviour problems, and how we can solve them, to keep our birds, and us, happy.
Their budgie biting them is at the top of many people’s list of concerns. It can be frustrating, if you don’t know how to deal with it, and it means your budgie isn’t happy with the situation either, otherwise they wouldn’t be sticking the beak in.
There are three main reasons for biting:
If your budgie doesn’t trust you, it’s no wonder they bite you when you come near. You’re a giant predator, who has them trapped, and is coming close enough to grab them. If you were in their situation, hopefully you’d throw everything you had at your attacker, and hope they back off.
Your budgie can become annoyed by you for any number of reasons. Perhaps they’re just tired and grouchy, they could be a hormonal mess, like they are during moulting, or they could be telling you off for not behaving like their companion (mate,) should etc.
Also, your budgie could be defending a potential nesting site, or a toy which they think of as their mate, from intruders (you.) Remember, budgies are happy to co-exist with flock mates, but that doesn’t mean they’ll give up their personal space, or their family.
The biggest problem with biting isn’t that it happens in the first place, it’s that many people handle it badly, because they don’t know any better. Getting a knick from that sharp, little beak, the natural reaction is to jerk your hand away, and say “ouch” (polite version).
The problem with reacting like that is that it rewards your budgie for biting you, because you’re giving them the exact reaction they were aiming for. So, in the future, they’re more likely to do it again, when they want you to go away. This is positive reinforcement working against you.
The correct way to handle a budgie bite is to keep your hand steady, and not make a fuss. It’s easy enough to do, if you’re not caught unaware, because the pain isn’t really so bad. Once your budgie realizes that biting doesn’t work, they’ll give it up. Of course, they may take awhile to give up the behaviour if they’ve been rewarded for biting in the past.
The last thing to take into account is your budgie’s needs. Sometimes they will be hormonal, sometimes they will be stressed. The more you learn to recognize your budgie’s behaviour, and state of mind, the more you’ll realize when they need their personal space. Remember, a relationship goes both ways.
Now this is an interesting one, since it’s very unnatural for any animal to begin mutilating itself. When budgies begin pulling their own feathers out, you know something is wrong, and it can be very distressing to owners who don’t understand why their feathered friend is doing it.
The truth is that budgies can begin feather plucking for any number of reasons. It could be a vitamin deficiency, stress or boredom, an allergic reaction, chemicals or parasites irritating the skin, or even a disease affecting the internal organs.
Finding out why your budgie is feather plucking will take some detective work on your part, because you have to rule out causes one by one, and then see what’s left.
The first question to consider is diet. Is your budgie getting a healthy, balanced diet? If they’re getting a good mix of fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, or a vitamin supplement in their water, you can be almost certain it’s not a vitamin deficiency, so it’s time to move on.
Next, look to your budgie’s environment. Do you clean the cage and toys etc with harmful chemical solutions that could irritate your budgie’s skin? Do you use any air fresheners or other aerosols near their cage, or other areas they spend time? If you’re unsure if one of these might be the cause, remove them one by one, and wait for a few days to see if the feather plucking stops.
In the evening, check your budgie for parasites. The most common parasite to feed off budgies is the red mite – the budgie equivalent of fleas. These mites leave the budgie’s body in the daytime, becoming almost invisible due to their small size and gray colour. But, at night, when they feed off your bird, they turn a red colour and can easily be seen.
Obviously, if your bird has parasites, treat them with an available medication.
If your budgie’s a seed eater, you can also try changing their brand of seed. It’s not super likely that it will help, but the pesticides (poisons,) which are sprayed on modern seed crops are harmful to your budgie’s health. There’s an outside chance they could be responsible.
Stress and depression can lead people, and other animals, to do all sorts of self-destructive things. If your budgie’s lonely, bored, or often exposed to loud noises, sudden movements, and other perceived threats, there’s a good chance their feather plucking is psychological.
Take a look at your budgie’s daily routine, and ask yourself if they’re getting everything they need: companionship, peace and quite, exercise, good diet, undisturbed sleep etc. If their life is lacking in a certain area, fix it, and you may see the problem vanish.
Once you’ve ruled out everything you can think of, it’s time to go to the veterinarian, if the problem isn’t solved. The fact that you’ve already done the leg work of ruling out environmental and psychological factors has significantly narrowed down the possible causes for them, and they can begin working with you to figure out exactly what’s wrong.
Early Morning Loud Singing
If your bedroom is too near your budgie’s cage, you might have been annoyed to discover that your budgie likes to wake at dawn, and greet it with a loud, long song. If moving the cage further away isn’t an option, about the only thing you can do is to cover your budgie’s cage at night.
A good, thick cover will block out the light, and usually works to delay your budgie’s wake up time – or at least delay when they start singing. Aside from that, a cover will block any draughts, and make sure your bird doesn’t get disturbed by artificial lights in the night.