If your budgie manages to escape from his cage before he’s properly finger-trained, you may have problems getting him back inside. There are even greater headaches if the bird manages to abscond from an outdoor aviary, or finds a window you forgot to close and high-tails it that way. Indoors, you will recapture the budgie eventually, and the main problem lies in minimising his stress. Outdoors, there are far greater difficulties, and no guarantee of recapturing the bird.
A budgie-catching net is not something you want to use unless absolutely necessary. It’s handy if an aviary bird needs isolating for some reason (for transporting to the vet, for example), and also if a bird has escaped and won’t return to the cage without drastic intervention.
You can buy bird-catching nets in online stores, and you can also use a soft towel or pillowcase for capturing him. The advantage of the net is that it comes on the end of a long stick, so you can catch the bird while you’re some distance away from it.
No matter how tame your bird, and no matter how many times he’s been netted, the process will be stressful for him, so never use a net routinely – only in emergency situations such as an escape.
Holding a Budgie
If your budgie has been netted or caught in a towel, you will need to extract him with your hand. This requires a little expertise, but is quite straightforward.
Remove the bird from the net by gripping him in your hand. Put your middle and index fingers on either side of his head and tuck your thumb, third finger and little finger around his sides and underneath him. Don’t squeeze, but hold him firmly enough to prevent fluttering or head-shaking (which will only heighten his sense of panic). Make soothing sounds, and return him gently to the cage.
Catching an Escaped Budgie
A finger-tamed budgie who is outside the cage at an unscheduled time will be easy to recapture – simply use the finger-and-millet lure, and quietly return him to the cage. Never scold him for escaping – he will merely link your finger with the frightening sound and the stress it causes him, which is not what you want.
The problem becomes greater if the bird is untamed. Here, you will need to lure him back without your finger-perch to help you. Removing all food and handy perches from beyond the cage will speed things up. If you have time, just wait for him to become hungry, and he will find his way back indoors. If more haste is required, you may have to resort to catching him in a net or towel.
Budgie Capturing Kit
If the recapture of an escaped bird moves beyond a closed room, your campaign of recapture needs to be well planned. You’ll need a budgie-capturing kit consisting of a net and towel, a cage or carrying box, a cage cover, a millet spray, and a recording of budgies chattering (an MP3 on your mobile phone will do the trick). Your own voice is a useful weapon, too, as that will be a very familiar sound to your pet bird.
Catching a Budgie Outside
Your chances of recapturing an AWOL budgie outdoors depend on how soon you realise he’s escaped. It will be easier to lure him back if he’s still in the vicinity of his cage and cage-mates; but if he’s flown further afield, you’ll struggle.
The first place an al fresco escapee is likely to go is to the top of the outdoor cage, or to a nearby tree. If he’s simply nipped through an open window and there is no outdoor cage, he’ll head for your roof/gutter or a high tree/fence.
Budgies’ tendency to seek out high places doesn’t assist in their recapture, but the trick is to lure the bird down to your millet-loaded hand or portable, food-stuffed cage.
Try calling his name while holding out the millet; or play the recording of the talking budgies.
If he comes to your finger, gently bring your other hand close and take hold of him (as described in Holding a budgie, above), to prevent further problems.
Place the budgie cage somewhere high, and in clear view of the escaped bird or his last known whereabouts, with the cage doors open. Attach some tempting food to the inside bars.
If the budgie is used to perching on you, stand with his favourite food in your hand and call him. If you have more than one bird (and more than one cage), place his friends next to the open cage, and their calls will hopefully lure him back home.
If he lands on top of the cage (which he is likely to do, rather than going straight inside), use the millet as a lure and try to get him onto your finger. If you succeed, close your other hand round him to prevent him flying away again.
If the budgie has absconded from an aviary, you can’t just leave the doors open and tempt him in with food. Place millet (or some other favourite treat) in a small cage on top of the aviary, or as close to it as possible. The sound of the other budgies will hopefully tempt him back soon enough, at which point you will need to net him.
Do Escaped Budgies Come Back?
A bird that has flown further afield is a lot harder to recapture. He will not necessarily return to the cage or aviary, driven on by a mixture of anxiety, disorientation and curiosity. There are no guarantees of his return and you must rely on luck and cunning to get him back.
If the bird is on the move, follow on foot, carrying with you the budgie-capturing equipment mentioned above. He will not travel far on his first flight away from the cage, so even if you didn’t see him leave, as long as you notice his absence within the first hour of his escape, you’re in with a decent chance of locating him in the vicinity. Listen for his voice – he will probably be calling to his absent friends, or trying to make contact with other birds he encounters (a house sparrow’s chirrup is not dissimilar to a budgie’s, and will often provoke a reply). If you can’t see him, play the recording of the budgie voices, and listen for his response.
When you catch up with him, try to lure him down with a combination of millet, cage and budgie song. He will be tired, and if he’s been away for a long time he will probably be hungry too. But he will also be stressed, and not inclined to fly down from the safety of the tree or rooftop he’s resting on. This, sadly, is where a lot of budgie chases end. The bird remains high and dry, and eventually flies away and out of sight. Your only chance of capturing him is to tempt him down. If he’s on a rooftop, there is the possibility of getting yourself into the closest upstairs room and trying to lure him from there.
A net on a long stick occasionally works. Load the net with millet and move it ever-so-slowly towards the budgie. Scoop him up and bring him down quickly, removing him from the net with your hand and returning him to the cage. He will be stressed and unhappy, but a cage cover will assist in calming him down during the journey home.
If you haven’t been able to locate the escapee, leave an open, visibly food-filled cage outside your house or next to your aviary. Put his favourite toys on or near the cage to lure him. If there are no cage-mates to draw him back, play the recording of budgie voices and turn up the volume (and if you don’t have such a recording, a quick search on YouTube will deliver many hours of free budgie chatter). Make sure your net and towel are at hand to assist a quick capture if he returns.
If you have bonded with your budgie, don’t underestimate the power of your presence. Sit near the cage outside the house and call the bird. Make a recording of your voice, to leave playing if you can’t be there all the time yourself.
If your budgie lives with companion birds, and if it’s warm outside, put their cage near the back door to lure him back. If it’s too cold, you’ll have to skip this trick.
Alert your neighbours to the budgie’s absence, and if he’s gone for more than a couple of hours, put “Lost Budgie” posters up in the local vicinity with a mobile phone number for people to contact you. If you know of any outside aviaries or cages in the neighbourhood, speak to their owners and ask them to keep an eye out for your escapee.
Other than that, all you can do is wait and hope. If there’s been no sight or sound of the bird after 24 hours, don’t give up. He may have flown far afield, but might just find his way back within earshot, where the sounds of your voice and other budgies may yet lure him home.
Rescuing an Escaped Budgie
If you find yourself in possession of someone else’s escaped budgie, don’t spend too long congratulating yourself on your luck/skill. There’s a lot to do!
You are unlikely to tempt a visiting budgie down from a roof or tree (although this has been known to happen where the bird is both very tame and very tired and/or hungry). Stray birds are likelier to linger long enough to be captured if you keep budgies in an outdoor aviary. The sight, sound and food of your birds will attract the wayfaring budgie.
The only realistic capture method is a net, unless the budgie is calm and tame enough to come to your hand. Once captured, the first thing he will need is solitude in a quiet cage, equipped with perch, food and water. If the bird is panicky, don’t cover the cage – leave the budgie alone somewhere warm for a few hours to let him recover and get used to his surroundings. If he has been out and about for any length of time he’s likely to be hungry, tired and cold.
Never put a stray budgie straight in with your other birds – the quarantine is for the good of your pets, on the offchance that the newcomer is harbouring disease.
Once the bird is secure and fed, put up some “Lost budgie found” notices in the vicinity, and spread the word that you have an escaped budgie in your keeping. Given that an escapee can fly a surprisingly long way, it’s also a good idea to put an ad in the local newspaper, or phone the local radio station with the news. If there is an escaped bird, there will always be an anxious owner on the lookout, and someone is probably putting “Budgie lost” notices in all the places mentioned above – so make sure you’re on the lookout for those, too.
When the caged budgie has recovered, you will need to make some judgment calls:
Does he look injured in any way?
Are his nostrils (nares) clear? Any crusty material around the cere could indicate illness.
Is his vent clean? If the feathers in this region are dirty or wet, the budgie is ill.
Can you see any parasites on the feathers, or bald patches on the body?
Are the droppings normal looking? (Note: there is no single ‘normal’ colour for the dark part of budgie droppings – it depends on their standard diet)
Is he eating and drinking normally?
Is the budgie alert and behaving as you would expect a budgie to behave?
Even if the bird has an all-clear after being put through this checklist, it’s still advisable to take him to a vet’s. Some diseases bloom inside birds with no external clues until it’s too late. There’s no point putting your other budgies at risk.
Ideally, the owner will have turned up before you go to the expense of taking the bird for a check-up!