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Budgie Behaviour

Although all budgerigars have different personalities, they share certain behaviours. This is just as well, as a knowledge of normal behaviour versus abnormal behaviour is important when deciding whether all is well in your cage or aviary.

Budgie Behaviour, Male and Female

Generally, there are no big behavioural differences between cock and hen birds. They both feed, chatter and socialise in the same way, and both can be either passive or aggressive depending on their mood, personality and circumstance. Hens have a louder and more shrill voice than cocks, and often squawk more too. They are also less inclined to learn human words – although it is not unheard of for female budgies to talk.

In the mating season – a vague and sprawling concept, as in captivity the ‘season’ can be pretty much any time of year – both sexes can become more territorial and aggressive than usual. Females can be particularly sensitive in these times of surging hormones, and a normally placid bird might suddenly attack your hand. Fortunately, its beak is no sharper than usual in these hormonal periods, so there’s little danger of bloodshed. These spells will last three to six weeks.

A pair of budgies in peak mating condition

Hormonal birds will also want to mate, and if there’s no willing or available mate, the bird’s toys, food, or indeed you, might become the centre of its sexual attentions. This instinct can be gently discouraged by putting the budgie back in its cage if it’s taking out its frustrations on you. Removing mirrors and potential nesting spaces can also help get things back to normal.

Budgie Behaviour When Hot

An over-heated budgie will raise his wings slightly as he perches. The feathers around the cere (the nose area) might be raised too. If he’s very hot he will open his beak and pant. Always make sure there’s a shady area in the cage in which he can cool himself down.

Budgie Behaviour When Cold

A chilly bird will sit huddled on his perch, with his feathers fluffed up. Move him somewhere warm or, if the bird is outside, provide some warm shelter, or switch the aviary heater on.

Normal Budgie Behaviour
If it’s neither too hot nor too cold, if there’s nothing ailing him, and if he’s generally healthy and happy, your budgie will display the following ‘typical’ behaviours.

Budgie Wing Stretching

Like any animal, budgies need a good stretch after a long period of inactivity. It’s a good time to admire the bird’s beautiful wing feathers, as he will stretch his leg and wing on one side, then the other. Both wings are then raised, to finish off the exercise and get the blood flowing to the muscles. This will be done in silence, and should not be confused with the aggressive (and noisy) wing-raising behaviour often seen at a crowded food bowl.

Budgie Head Bobbing

Male budgies enjoy ‘head bobbing’, and watching them in action is very entertaining. The fast and fluid up-and-down motion of the bird’s neck is often accompanied by chattering. If your male bird has a female friend, he will usually demonstrate his ‘rubber’ neck for her benefit – the action is part of his mating display. If allowed to follow its natural progression, a bout of bobbing will escalate into mutual feeding and mating.

Pet budgies, however, are happy to bob their heads at other times too. An outgoing bird (and all budgies have slightly different personalities) will tend to bob more often than a quieter bird. Females occasionally catch the bobbing-bug, but it’s usually males who indulge the habit. They will bob to another male, to you, to a mirror, to a favourite toy, or even to an item of food or a particular section of their cage. Head-bobbing sometimes becomes part of a ritual song and dance. It usually indicates that the budgie is happy and excited.

Head-bobbing is part of a budgie’s body language

If you show your appreciation of head-bobbing to a tame bird, he will get into the habit of bobbing to gain your attention. You can never tell exactly what’s passing through a budgie’s mind, but when he’s head-bobbing you can be sure that he’s feeling good.

Baby budgies often head-bob too, to show that they’re hungry. Once weaned and perching with the adult birds, young budgies often cling to their parents in this way for as long as they can, head-bobbing for food. Backed up by the chirrup that means ‘feed me!’, the action usually gets results; but eventually even the most attentive parent will lose interest, and the chicks then have to fight their way to the food trays like everyone else.

Budgie Exercise

First thing in the morning, budgies often flap their wings violently as they perch. Sometimes their feet leave the perch and they perform a noisy hover, warming up their wing muscles and scattering clouds of seed husks and loose feathers. This is nothing to do with display or aggression – they simply need to shake their wings after a long period of rest. They will often accompany the mad flapping with calls and chirrups.

Note: Budgies need to exercise their wings a lot more than this, and if you’re not keeping them in an aviary with space for free flight, you will need to let them fly around in the room outside their cage.

Budgies enjoy gymnastics too, climbing the sides and roof of their cage, and hanging from suspended toys like feathered squirrels.

Budgie Playing With Toys
Your budgie will investigate any item you place in his cage, getting his beak into all its corners and nibbling its edges. Some are more timid than others, and an unadventurous bird might leave a new toy for several hours, or even days, before venturing near. Once the item has been explored thoroughly and played with for a day or two, the bird will lose interest. It’s therefore important to replace old toys with new ones, on a rotational basis

Budgies need a selection of toys

Anything that hangs from the cage roof and moves around or makes a sound will bring hours of exercise and amusement, as will something that rolls. Many budgies form strong attachments to ping-pong balls, nudging them along the floor with their beaks. A toy with a reflective surface may sometimes trigger a mating response from a bird, especially if he lives alone in his cage. If he begins regurgitating seed to a toy, it’s best to remove the object and let his attention focus elsewhere.

Budgie Obsessed With Bell

Budgies, especially lone birds, become very attached to their toys. A bell, being an item that moves and makes a noise, is often a favourite. Tapping and ringing the bell may become part of your bird’s regular routine, and it can sometimes start to verge on obsessive behaviour. This is a sign that the budgie needs companions. Removing the bell may make him pine; but budgies are adaptable and clever birds, and he will soon recover his poise, and will shift his attention to other areas of his cage. Keeping toys on a rotation basis will prevent any obsessive attachment. But, again, it is best to introduce another bird into your bell-ringing fanatic’s life so that he can channel his feelings in a more natural direction.

Budgies love their bells

Another sign of an engaged and curious budgie is when he tilts his head to one side to get a good view of whatever he’s looking at.

Budgie Scratching

Although the budgie’s beak manages to reach most places in a preening session, or when scratching an itchy patch of skin, he can’t reach his own face, head and neck. Mutual preening helps out here, where a companion bird deals with the parts his companion’s beak can’t manage. Failing that, the budgie will scratch himself with his foot, or on a toy, perch, or the bars of his cage. For some birds this becomes a pleasurable activity, and they will happily massage their heads and faces in this way on a regular basis.

Budgie Chewing

Budgies love chewing things – it is a natural behaviour that they will seek to satisfy one way or another, so it’s best to provide them with something to chew on. Balsa wood is ideal, as is a stick or wooden perch (made from a suitable wood – see the Budgie Perches section above). Cuttlefish bone doesn’t count as ‘chewable’, as it crumbles to powder as the bird pecks.

Budgie Yawning

Budgies, like us, yawn when they’re tired. The beak opens wide, the eyes close, and the neck stretches out. Sometimes the bird will do this several times. It’s nothing to worry about, just a precursor to sleeping. You should only be concerned if the budgie’s beak remains open for long periods, or if he shakes his head or makes coughing sounds. This indicates a problem, possibly a blockage of some type, and you should take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Budgie yawns can be just as contagious as human yawns – you might well find yourself joining in, and pondering on this strange cross-species phenomenon.

Budgie Behaviour in Pairs

Budgies usually enjoy each other’s company, and a pair (whatever the gender of the birds involved) will generally be a self-contained miniature flock, enjoying all the grooming, chattering and socialising natural to their species in the wild.

It’s very unusual, but sometimes a pair of birds will not settle down together happily. They might fight, or they might stay on opposite sides of the cage. There will be no mutual grooming, and they will not sit and chatter together. In these situations the birds should be separated. Sometimes a mirror can help break the ice – the birds will interact with the ‘newcomers’, and that might shift the social balance of the ‘flock’ sufficiently for them to become more friendly.

A bonded pair of birds will display to each other. The cock will sing his best songs and bob his head, and will offer an irresistible lunch of regurgitated seed. The pair will touch their beaks together too, and preen each other on the face and head. The two will tend to stay close, often side by side on a perch.

Budgie Bonding Behaviour
From the moment a budgie moves from its nest to a perch, it is part of the flock, and its behaviour is all about bonding. It will merge its life with the birds around it by doing what they do – eating, grooming, chattering, flying and washing together. A budgie bonds with its neighbours by joining in and enjoying the process. When birds become good friends, they will tap their beaks together in a kind of ‘budgie kiss’, and will preen each other’s face and head.

If you are the budgie’s flock – if you have opted for a single bird and are providing it with all its social stimulation – you will need to reflect these needs. Talk to the bird, bring it out the cage and allow it to sit with/on you as you walk, talk, eat, watch TV, etc. When this is done with the time and dedication it demands, you will have a very happy bird, and will have formed a deep bond with it. Friendship with a tame and socialised bird is every bit as satisfying as time spent with a well-trained pet dog.

Budgie Preening or Grooming
Preening is the budgie’s way of keeping clean and well-groomed. The birds will often do a little grooming of each other, usually in the head and chin areas; but most preening is a solo job. Budgies have a feather-oil gland at the base of their tail, and a preening session consists of taking this oil with the beak and running it down each feather, starting at the point where the feather attaches to the skin. Every feather needs the full treatment, so a preen takes a long time. Budgies often do this together – like most things, they seem to work best when carried out as a flock activity.

The preening will usually finish with the bird puffing up like a feather-duster and shaking everything into place with a violent shudder. The tail is then swiftly waggled, to add the finishing touches to the preening session.

Budgie Mutual Preening

A budgie is unable to preen its own face and head. He can scratch them with his foot, but nothing beats having a preening companion. Pairs, or any gender combination, will oblige by grooming these out-of-reach places. You can give a finger-trained bird the next best thing by scratching his head with your finger. If he fluffs up his head feathers and closes his eyes, you’re doing well. If he keeps his feathers tight and pecks at your finger, you haven’t got the magic touch he’s looking for.

Budgie Mirror Behaviour
A mirror will move around and tap your budgie on the beak as he pecks at it, and will give the impression of being an animated friendly companion (albeit a very quiet one). If you only keep a single bird, a mirror can be a useful social backup when there’s pressure on your budgie quality-time.

However – and it’s a big ‘however’ – it is always best to keep more than one bird, whether a mirror is involved or not. Nothing can entirely replace a flesh-and-blood companion bird. Once there are two or more budgies in the cage, the mirror is not usually an issue: it adds to the illusion of more birds, and that’s a good thing.

In a cage of two or more birds, the one in the mirror won’t receive much attention (unless you have a very timid budgie who finds this quiet mirror-friend to his liking). With just a single bird in a cage, the bird-in-the-mirror becomes the chief companion. Your pet budgie will talk to it, click beaks with it, attack it when he’s angry, and sometimes attempt to feed it with regurgitated seed. If his head feathers are raised when he taps the mirror with his beak, he is flirting.

Budgie Attacking Mirror
A budgie tends to go through several moods over the course of a day. Sometimes he will want to bicker and shove his companions around a bit. A lone bird has no other outlet for this than his toys, and mirrors tend to get most of the aggressive attention. This is normal – brief disagreements are part of the budgie’s everyday life. But if you feel he is spending an inordinate amount of time attacking his own reflection, you should take it as an enormous hint to get a second bird. His unusually high levels of aggression are probably fuelled by frustration and the need for more socialising.

If the male bird of a mating pair is constantly agitated by the handsome, silent rival in the mirror – i.e. if he’s spending more time fighting the reflection of himself than courting his partner – remove it. Three’s a crowd.

Budgie Feeding Mirror

A budgie who begins regurgitating seed to his reflection in the mirror is well advanced in the budgerigar mating ritual. He thinks the reflection is his mate, and he’s trying to feed her. If this happens once or twice but doesn’t recur, it’s nothing to worry about. Serial feeding, though, indicates that the bird is in need of some proper budgie company.

If your budgie gets into the habit of throwing up his seed for the benefit of the ‘friend’ in the mirror, it’s best to remove the mirror from the cage. This might seem mean, but there is a danger of throat irritation. The budgie will regurgitate the seed and, when the bird in the mirror fails to accept it, will swallow it again and repeat the process. The seed has digestive fluid in it, and if this is swallowed several times, it will irritate the budgie’s throat, tongue and crop.

Budgie Aggressive Behaviour
Budgies are rarely aggressive by nature: their burst of temper will come and go quickly. They will fight over food, and will often clash briefly over friends, toys or territory; but this is all a normal part of budgie society. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this surface level of social aggression is to do with food, personal space or mating. A cock bird will jealously guard his hen during the nest-building and mating period. A hen bird will become territorial and relatively aggressive during this period, too. As long as things don’t get out of hand, it’s nothing to worry about.

If the birds’ aggression is focused on one increasingly intimidated individual, it may become necessary to separate them. On rare occasions this can happen when two birds are simply not compatible, for reasons we can’t fathom. This is unfortunate if they are your only two birds, but the only constructive thing to do is to cage them separately, and try to reintroduce them at a later date, first by putting the cages side by side and then, if that goes well, allowing them to cohabit once more.

With mating season testosterone bubbling in his brain, a dominant cock bird might try to make life miserable for his neighbours. Similarly, a hen with nesting on her mind may become short-tempered too. It’s important not to over-react in these circumstances – the birds’ madness will disappear once the mating urge has passed, and as long as it’s not one timid bird taking all the grief, the flock will sort its problems out without you having to intervene. If a single bird is being bullied all the time, you may have to remove it while the aggressive one is attempting to be king or queen of the roost.

Budgie Dominant Behaviour

A dominant bird, whether cock or hen, will show aggression by squawking and biting. It will often raise its wings as it squawks – the kind of behaviour you encounter daily if you keep lots of budgies in an aviary and watch them taking their very uncivilised, bickering breakfast!

Spotting aggression in a budgie may be tricky for beginners, as the birds are often hyperactive, vocal and socialising physically without being aggressive. Here are some tell-tale signs to look out for:

Raised wings – the budgie equivalent of raising your fists.
Hissing – the throaty hiss of the budgie says “keep away!”
Biting another bird’s feet – this is never done as part of a mutual grooming session, and is always meant aggressively.
Picking at another bird’s feathers or head – if done gently, with a happy recipient, this is simply mutual grooming, which is what contented birds do. If the action is violent, you’re witnessing a fight. It will usually fizzle out once the less dominant bird has had enough and retreats.

Chasing birds around the cage – if an aggressive bird pursues another individual for any length of time, you might have a problem on your hands. If this happens regularly, one of the two birds will need isolating for a week. Keep a close eye on the birds once they have been reintegrated.

Not letting another bird eat or drink – small outbreaks of bad temper around food and water are normal. Providing more than one feeding station – or a sufficiently big one – usually sorts this problem out. If a budgie is going out of his way to keep another bird from feeding for any length of time, you have a similar problem to the chasing issue mentioned above.
Targeting a new bird – a restocked flock will need to find its own balance. Keep an eye on behaviour, and only intervene if there is persistent, detrimental bullying. Jealousy may be an issue in a smaller cage set up – your established bird may resent the attention you are giving the newcomer. Keep the older bird happy with finger treats and attention, and his tantrum should subside.
Defending a perch or food bowl – this is usually a symptom of overcrowding. Make sure you’ve given your birds enough space and provided plenty of different perches and bowls.

Biting your finger – your hand may become a target if inserted into an angry budgie’s cage, but a budgie’s beak (unlike larger members of the parrot family) cannot inflict much damage on an adult hand. Children might find it off-putting, however, if their beloved pet launches an attack on their inserted finger. Discourage them from interfering with a grumpy or dominant bird. If he’s been finger-trained, some gentle belly-stroking will often calm the budgie down, or he will hop onto your finger and nibble the spray of millet you’ve very thoughtfully wedged between your forefinger and thumb.

Budgie Behaviour Problems
The only problematical behaviour you are likely to encounter from your budgie have been mentioned in the sections above – aggression due to hormones or jealousy, and sexual behaviour triggered by the mating season madness. Wherever one bird is causing grief to another on a regular basis, it is good policy to separate them. Don’t leap to conclusions and isolate birds as soon as they quibble, though – low level nagging is the budgie norm.

Unwanted sexual behaviour, including the budgie rubbing its rear end on your hand or shoulder, can be discouraged by distracting him with a toy or tasty treat. Diverting his enthusiasm in this direction can help to prevent a recurrence of unwanted physical affection.

Budgie Behaviour: Biting

A budgie gently nibbling a finger is one thing; an aggressive attack is something else. The birds bite for a number of reasons. In the early days it’s most likely to be due to fear. You’re probably moving too fast with the relationship, and the budgie still sees your hand as a potential threat.

Some birds become territorial and will defend their cage space. Ironically, this often happens after you have finger-trained them. The problem usually stems from allowing the bird to go to and from the cage without your assistance. When you bring him out for free-flight sessions, always remove him by letting him perch on your finger first, and always return him in similar style if possible.

A bird that has bonded with you may react out of jealousy. If you have a strong one-to-one relationship, he may come to view you as his mate. Should you give anyone else your attention, your budgie may express his displeasure by biting. The only way round this is to break the monogamy, and have other people socialise more with the bird too.

Tired birds occasionally resort to biting. A budgie who is being played with when he’d rather be in bed is liable to become irritable. The answer here is to establish a regular bedtime (no later than nine o’clock), and not to play with him after that hour.

There is also the possibility that a bird is biting because he thinks you like it. Odd as this may sound, a budgie craves action and attention, and if you respond to his bite with some stern but affectionate words, they may reinforce the behaviour. You are unlikely to yell at the bird, so he is unlikely to be afraid, and the vicious circle will continue. If your pet bird has been finger-trained you can respond to his aggression by ignoring it or, ideally, removing yourself from his vicinity. With no positive feedback, the bird will eventually get the message that biting brings no reward.

Some birds bite because they know you’re about to put them back in their cage, and they don’t want to go. The best thing in this situation is to break the routine – take him out at different times, return him before the play session has finished, and give him a treat once he’s back behind bars. If the biting is a nuisance, hold the budgie gently but firmly in your hands when you return him to the cage. (See Holding a budgie, below).

Budgie Regurgitating

If your bird regurgitates seed, don’t assume he’s sick. It’s a natural response in a male budgie, usually directed at his female mate. Hens will throw up their seed too if their breeding urge is strong but unfulfilled. Sometimes the instinct misfires, and the budgie happily offers the contents of his stomach to a mirror, a toy, or even you. Before the seed reappears, the bird will bob his head and stretch his neck – further clues that he is feeling amorous rather than ill.

A bird who is sick will vomit without head-bobbing. He will also display other giveaway symptoms, such as loose or discoloured droppings (compared to the colour of the budgie’s normal droppings), a humped posture with feathers fluffed up, a messy tail and vent, or general lethargy. If the regurgitating is ever accompanied by these signs or other out-of-character behaviour, consult a vet.

Budgie Regurgitating on Toys or People
If your budgie is parking his undigested seed on people, on furniture, or on any object that would be better off without his messy attentions, you might want to discourage the behaviour. He’s only being affectionate, but most owners are unappreciative.

If the budgie is outside the cage when the incident happens, put him back inside. If the problem is centred on a toy in the cage, remove it. The budgie should, with time, come to realise that regurgitating on things results in those things being taken away from him, and will mend his behaviour. Don’t raise your voice or speak angrily as you return him to the cage, or the bird will become anxious and confused.

Budgie Regurgitating a Lot
As noted above, a budgie who regurgitates regularly needs the stimulation removing. However, a bird who throws up anything more liquid than a seed-puree, or who allows the vomited food to make a mess on his feathers, is not being affectionate – he is ill, and needs treatment. There are a number of possible causes – see the Budgie health section below.

Budgie Sleeping in the Day

A couple of brief rest periods during the day – anything from ten minutes to an hour – is normal budgie behaviour. Birds in a flock will tend to nap at the same time. Some just fluff themselves up and drop to sleep; others perch on one leg; some rest their heads on their backs and tuck their heads under their wings.

If your bird seems unusually sleepy, however, it may mean that his night’s sleep was disturbed. This could be down to a number of factors, but artificial light, a prowling pet (such as a cat) or nocturnal noises are the usual culprits. A tired budgie could also be showing symptoms of an illness, so watch him closely for other tell-tale signs (see the Budgie Health section, below).

Budgie Bored
If your budgie is perched quietly (sometimes on one leg), but showing no inclination to sleep, he is probably bored. This is something you will only encounter if you keep a single bird. You should help him out at once, by socialising with him, and/or changing his toys around or maybe rearranging the cage furniture. Budgies require mental stimulation, and a dull cage with no companions is as bad as it gets.

Check for other symptoms if your bird is unusually quiet, as there is always the chance that he is ill.

Budgie Behaviour Change
Any change in your budgie’s normal behaviour is likely to be the result of hormones in the mating season (as described above). It could, however, indicate a health problem, so study your bird carefully. Changes to watch out for include:

Poor appetite. Cause: illness, moulting or stress.
Reduced vocalising. Cause: illness, a disturbed night, or moulting.
Fluffed-up feathers for a large part of the day. Cause: illness, a disturbed night or low cage temperature.
Excessively aggressive. Cause: hormones (mating), moulting, or jealousy (if a new bird has been introduced into the cage).
Loose droppings. Cause: illness, poor diet (possibly too much fruit), or hormones (hens often have loose droppings in the mating season).

Regurgitated seed. Cause: hormones – the budgie is feeding his mate/mirror/you to show his affection.
Squatting on perch with wings out. Hens do this as a mating invitation to cocks.
Rubbing rear end on perches or other surfaces. This is a simulated sexual act.

Budgie Moulting
Moulting is part of the budgie’s yearly cycle, and involves the gradual replacement of all the feathers. The process is gradual, to ensure that the bird is still able to fly and keep warm as it moults. A budgie should never have bald patches during this time – if it does, it may be a sign of disease or stress. The new feathers first appear as white, sharp stubs known as pin-feathers. These give the budgie’s head an odd, spiky appearance.

No feather is safe from the moult – the large ones will collect at the bottom of the cage, and many of the smaller, downy feathers will drift across your furniture and floor, so light and insubstantial that they are almost impossible to sweep up. A wet cloth helps, but a vacuum cleaner is the best way of removing them, as long as your birds don’t fly into a panic whenever they see and hear it. If you’ve been cleaning the house regularly, they should be used to the vacuum cleaner by the time you unleash it on the escaped feathers. If you don’t clean the house regularly, you’re allowed a moment’s embarrassment before resorting to the wet cloth.

The moult should take two to three weeks to complete. With primary and tail feathers dropping out, a budgie might not feel confident flying, so don’t worry if he seems a bit perch-bound. A bird that’s used to flying around your living room might opt for a quiet night in; and, again, this is normal. He may also take on a ‘spiky’ look, as the new pin feathers thrust through the depleted head and neck feathers.

You can assist the process by making sure the food is always topped up, with a mineral block available at all times. Sprouted grains and fresh veg are good moulting foods, providing the good stuff a budgie needs for strong feather growth.

Budgie Moult Problems

Sometimes the moulting process stalls, usually due to malnutrition or stress. The head and neck region will look threadbare, and some new pin feathers will have black or brown tips. Any abnormal feather growth or feather loss should be referred to a vet, who will diagnose the problem and recommend an action to get your budgie moulting healthily again.

There is also a condition known as French moult, in which feathers drop out and don’t grow back – see the Budgie Feathers French Moult section, below.

Budgie Behaviour When Moulting
Inexperienced budgie keepers often worry when their birds’ first moult, as their personalities seem to change and their energy is at low ebb. Moulting causes them no physical discomfort, but tends to make them more passive than usual. Moulting birds will often sit for long periods without saying or doing much. Older birds take the opportunity to grab some extra hours’ sleep. Sometimes a bird may by jumpier than usual, and will panic at a sudden noise or movement. Angry squawks and attempts to bite your hand will greet your attempts to pacify him, so it’s best to let the fit pass.

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