Guideline On Feeding Budgie
The aim when feeding your pet budgerigar is to emulate the birds’ natural diet. This is readily done with a supply of good-quality seed, a mineral supplement block, a regular supply of fruit and greens, and the occasional treat. The seed element should always form the bulk of their diet, though. You must also provide water, as shop-bought seed and pellets will not contain any of the fresh, ‘wet’ seeds that the birds can find in the wild.
Budgie pellets are an alternative ‘all inclusive’ way of feeding your birds. They’re formulated to provide everything a budgie needs, but are less popular now than 20 years ago. Unless you’re taking home birds that have been raised on pellets, it’s best to stick to seeds and fresh food. (See the Feeding budgie pellets section below for more details.)
Fresh food – fruit and greens (see the section on Feeding budgies fresh food, below) – can be offered in dishes, or simply wedged through the bars of the cage.
Staple food (i.e. seed) should always be available for your budgie, and you should check the levels of the feeders and water containers daily. Limit any optional extras, such as sprays of fatty millet or shop-bought and homemade treats, to once a week, otherwise your budgie will be unable to resist gorging himself. Over time he will then become overweight, and his general health will suffer as a consequence.
Budgie Feeding Times
Budgerigars feed several times during the day, which is why the food should always be available. Replenish supplies as appropriate. Taking the food tray or hopper out of the cage in the morning when the lights are first switched on or the curtains opened is a good habit to get into. The newly-woken budgie will soon come to associate the return of the tray with breakfast, a little ritual that will assist your budgie-bonding efforts.
Budgie Feeding Behaviour
Budgies’ usual mode of eating is enthusiastic but cautious. They take a seed or a bite, and then raise their head, alert, while they quickly remove the husk, jiggle the mouthful around with their tongue and swallow. In the wild, this prevents them being surprised by a predator or a cheeky neighbour.
In pairs or groups the feeding is a cooperative affair, with a bit of bickering and arguing about favourite perches. In the wild they’re never alone, so they have an inbuilt evolutionary requirement to feed communally without getting into too much of a flap.
Budgerigars have beaks specially adapted for removing the husks from seeds, and a tongue for scooping out the good stuff. The husks are dropped, many falling back in the feeder or hopper, some on the floor of the cage. When the bird flaps its wings in exercise, it will send small clouds of these discarded seed husks into the air, so expect to be sweeping budgie bran from your floor on a regular basis!
Budgies Feeding Each Other
If your cock budgie is feeding a hen bird with regurgitated seed, it’s nothing to worry about. This is a natural part of the courtship behaviour of a male budgerigar, echoing his very endearing habit of vomit-feeding his mate. If there are no proper bird-to-bird courtship opportunities open to your cock budgie, he may regurgitate at a mirror or other object. There’s nothing harmful in this, but it may be a sign that his hormones have lurched into mating mode and he’s missing the company of his own kind.
Budgie Digestive System
Birds don’t have teeth – food is swallowed whole and is delivered to the bird’s crop, an organ at the top of its chest cavity. Budgies will often fill their crops to maximum – especially in the wild – using it as a quick-storage space. In captivity budgies usually realise that they don’t need a full crop, and that they can return and browse whenever the mood takes them.
A full crop is visible as a small lump at the base of the budgie’s throat. The crop releases the seed slowly into the digestive system over the course of the day.
Read Also>8 ways on how to comfort a dying budgie.
Once all the nutrients have been removed from the food via the bird’s two-part stomach, the waste passes through the budgie’s cloaca – the handy, all-purpose bodily exit through which everything passes. The white bits of the droppings are uric acid, the bird equivalent of urine, and the dark bits (lighter in pellet-fed birds) are the poo.
Do Budgies Need Grit?
Because budgies remove the husks from their seeds before swallowing, there is very little indigestible material in their diet. For this reason they do not need grit to help them grind and digest their food. Many birds need grit, but not budgerigars. This does not prevent some pet suppliers from trying to sell you the stuff, though!
Like all birds, budgies’ stomachs have two compartments, including a section called the gizzard. This is the bit that grinds up food. Many standard budgie seed mixes include small bits of insoluble grit, (usually oyster shell). This is not the extraneous grit mentioned above. The bits of shell are dissolved in the gizzard over time and act as a calcium source for the bird. Your bird’s calcium needs, however, should be covered via a mineral block, so even soluble grit isn’t essential.
There are extreme cases of budgies eating too much grit and dying of a blocked crop. The best policy is to never offer insoluble grit, as it serves no purpose and may even lead to problems. If you give them soluble stuff, such as the oyster shells mentioned above, make sure it’s in very small pieces. Check the makeup of your mineral block, though, and if this provides sufficient calcium, don’t bother with grit of any kind.
What Are Budgie Food
Give your budgies the nutritional equivalent of what they’d get in the wild, and you’ll maximise your chances of keeping them both happy and healthy. A high quality dry seed mix should be the basis of their diet, along with some sprouting seeds, some fresh fruit and veg, a cuttlefish bone and a mineral block.
Like kids in a fast food restaurant, budgies will usually opt for the less healthy options if you let them. If dry seed is offered to the exclusion of everything else in the early weeks of your budgie’s life, he may well turn up his beak at anything else you provide. You might think the most irresistible foods would be fresh fruit and veg; but to your budgie’s palate, nothing hits the spot quite like dry seed. If this is all the bird gets to eat, he may end up overweight, especially if the seed includes (as it usually does) a heavy dose of millet and other oily grains.
So keep it varied, and keep an eye on what he’s actually eating. Does the veg look untouched while the millet spray is stripped bare? If so, minimise the seed supply for a few days, effectively forcing your bird to try the other good stuff on offer.
Budgie food in the wild
In their natural Australia habitat, budgies eat seeds, mainly from grasses. They like their seeds in all forms – dry and ready to fall, freshly sprouted, or taking root and turning into mini plants. Budgies also eat some leaves, mainly from the eucalyptus trees they favour for roosting and nesting. They also like fruits when they can find them, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble by descending in huge feathered clouds on farmers’ fields of barley, wheat and whatever else, and helping themselves.
Giving your pet birds access to this wide range is the key. Fortified mixes and supplements fill the nutritional gaps, but nothing matches a rounded ‘wild’ diet for ensuring a bird stays healthy and lives a long life. Poor diet is responsible for many budgie deaths, something that can seem baffling if you’ve been religiously feeding a seed mix that claims to cover the budgie’s complete nutritional requirements. The balance might be there in theory, but older dry seed loses its nutrients. This means a bird that regularly fills its crop with food can still suffer from malnutrition. You’ll get the same problem if you offer too much nutritionally poor ‘treat’ food such as bread, pasta and rice.
Budgies’ water should be changed daily. Even if the bowl or drinking station is protected from falling food and poo, the hyperactivity of the birds will inevitably throw dust, husks and feathers into the water. They may sometimes use a drinking bowl as a bath, too. Make sure the water you use for the birds is clean – if the tap water where you live is fine for human consumption, it’s fit for budgies too.
Budgie Food List
Budgies have eclectic tastes, and can eat a wide variety of readily-available seeds, greens, vegetables and fruit. The key is balance, which is why many owners opt for a good mix of dry and sprouting seeds, and use the fresh foods as add-ons. If sourcing your own individual ingredients, or checking the contents of a seed mix, use the following lists as guidance. Always go for organic produce, as chemical residues can be harmful to budgies. Equally important, never mix your own budgie food without expert advice.
Most budgie owners buy a ready-made seed mix to feed their birds, which is fine as long as you can trust the supplier. Seeds need to be fresh, as they have a limited shelf life. Once this optimum time has passed, most of the nutrients will have disappeared. The same problem occurs if the seed has been exposed to direct light or too much heat. Herbicides and pesticides are an issue, too, so it’s important to know where the various ingredients of the seed mix came from in the first place, and under what conditions they were grown. To find a good seed source, ask around – search bird forums online, and speak with budgerigar breeders.
There is another handy way of judging the age of a batch of seed. Soak some grains in water for six hours, then pour away the liquid, place the grains on some wet cotton wool or kitchen paper, and leave them somewhere warm for another 24 hours. After this time, at least 50% of the grains should be starting to sprout. A really good batch will show 80-100% sprouting. If nothing happens after the 30 hours, and if you’re sure the seeds were kept moist throughout (essential for germination), you’ve got a dead batch of food that will leave your budgies malnourished.
Make sure your budgies are eating fresh seed
There are five categories of essential budgie seed, with the grains and grasses being the most important (i.e. the ones that provide the bulk of the budgie’s intake in the wild). Okay, so grains aren’t seeds, strictly speaking, but as we’re talking about the sort of things you’ll find in a sack of budgie seed, they’re included in this category.
Treat the following as checklists and interesting background detail rather than a set recipe for concocting your own seed mixes.
Grass-derived seeds and grains are the budgie’s staple food in the wild, and should make up 50% of your pet bird’s intake. Our common corn crops of wheat, barley, rye and oats are all derived originally from wild members of the grass family. These should be included in a seed mix as fresh, threshed (hulled) grains – no pearl barley or rolled oats, and certainly no grain-based breakfast cereals, or anything roasted, soaked, baked or boiled. They can also be offered as sprays, giving the budgie some hard but pleasurable work getting through the tough husk to the grain beneath.
A hand-picked selection of grains
Here’s a fuller list of budgie-friendly grains:
- Buckwheat (whole)
- Canary seed
- Sweetcorn kernels
Budgie Grass Seeds
Grass is in the same category as grains, so combine it with the foodstuffs mentioned above to make up 50% of the feed. Most native wild grass seeding heads are good, and a free source of food for your pets. Learn to spot and harvest the following:
Many native grasses are good for budgies to eat
- Annual meadow-grass (Poa annua)
- Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
- Orchard grass, aka cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata)
- Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
- Poverty brome, aka barren or sterile brome (Bromus sterilis)
- Rough bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
- Soft brome, or soft chess (Bromus hordeaceus)
- Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus)
- Timothy grass (Phleum pratense)
- Yorkshire Grass, aka Meadow soft grass, velvet grass or tufted grass (Holcus lanatus)
One to avoid is Cockspur grass, aka barnyard grass, barnyard millet, Japanese millet or water grass (Echinochloa crus-galli). It accumulates high levels of nitrates, and has been known to poison livestock. There are no general warnings about this grass in relation to birds, but anything that can make a cow feel off-colour is probably not going to do your budgie much good either.
Budgie Herb Seeds
Herb-derived seeds should form a quarter of a good seed mix. You don’t necessarily need many of these varieties in any given mix.
A gourmet budgie eyes up the seeds on offer
- Mustard (yellow, red, and black)
- Red Clover
Budgie Oily Seeds
Budgies love oilseeds, but they will eat them to the exclusion of other seeds if there are too many in the mix. As their oiliness makes them the budgie equivalent of burger and chips, it’s best to keep them to a minimum – no more than 10% of the overall seed offering. The seeds should never be roasted.
Oilseeds do not store very well, so make sure you only buy them in small quantities. Anything more than three months old will usually be rancid.
Millet, hemp, niger and rape are actually grains, strictly speaking, but they’re included here due to their high fat content.
- Flax (not suitable for sprouting – they acquire a slimy surface that budgies don’t approve of)
- Hemp (bashed about a bit, to crack the tough husks)
- Niger (or Nyjer)
- Pumpkin (soaked and allowed to germinate first)
This family includes lentils, peas and beans. They should be whole (not split) and sprouting, rather than hard and dry. One or two from this list in a mix is fine, and the total legume element should make up around 15% of the seed mix. Any more, and you will be overdoing the proteins in the birds’ diet. One side effect of excessive protein is that it gives budgies the urge to breed. A handy means of hormonal arousal if you want your birds to breed, but just asking for trouble otherwise.
Note: many beans are toxic for budgies, so never experiment with anything not listed below.
- Adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo)
- Green peas
- Lentils (all types)
- Mung beans
- Yellow peas
Budgie Food Pellets
Some websites will try to convince you that pellets are the key to keeping pet budgerigars healthy. They provide a rounded diet, but it’s one that most birds find unpalatable unless they’ve never been given a choice.
Budgie food pellets
As with many marketing campaigns seeking a solution, there wasn’t actually a problem to solve in the first place. A mixture of seed and fresh foods, with a mineral block to nibble, emulates the budgie’s wild diet better than anything else you, or a clever marketing team, could dream up. Furthermore, most budgies find the pellets unpalatable, unless they are fed on them from an early age.
They are certainly not harmful, and do indeed provide a good, rounded diet. But if you feed in the traditional seeds-and-extras way, you don’t need pellets. Claims that a pellet diet can lengthen a bird’s life should be treated with the cynicism they deserve.
Feeding Budgies Fresh Food
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals vital to a budgie’s good health. It’s true that most of these nutritional needs will be met with a good seed mix; however, you should always make fresh food available to your birds. Exploring and tasting different textures of food with his tongue is all part of a budgie’s sensory world and it will keep him alert, curious and happy. Unlike human children, it’s perfectly okay for budgies to play with their food!
Budgie Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and veg should always be offered raw, never cooked or processed in any way. Budgies have a natural fondness for fresh food, and you’ll only have a problem getting them to take it if you have left them for too long on a diet of nothing but seeds. This often makes them fussy eaters, and you may need to remove the seed trays for a few hours, until they have nibbled at the fresh stuff. In worst case scenarios – and this is only usually a problem in smaller cages – budgies will actually be scared of the food when it is first introduced. Birds of this temperament will also take a long time to adjust to new toys or other accessories added to their cages. However, even if their first sight of fresh fruit puts them in a flap, once they’ve tried it, they’ll love it (with the proviso that all budgies are different, and some may be fussier than others!)
New foods should be served in a familiar bowl to tempt your budgie
Whether or not a food item has been nibbled or left untouched, remove it from the cage at the end of the day. Many fresh foods, especially fruits, are full of sugar, which will soon be growing bacteria as readily as a petri dish. Bacterial blooms of this nature can kill budgies.
Vegetables should form part of your budgie’s daily diet. As long as there’s seed available too, they’ll generally sort out the correct balance for themselves. If the bird’s droppings turn watery, it’s probably a sign of overindulgence in fresh foods. Simply cut back for a day or two until the droppings are back to normal.
Here’s a list of safe, healthy budgie vegetables. Your bird will take to some more than others, and may never acquire a taste for the full list:
- Aubergine (fruiting bodies only, without the stalk ‘hat’)
- Brussels sprouts (chopped up)
- Carrots (and carrot greens)
Carrots are a favourite for many budgies
- Celery (stalks only)
- Chinese leaves
- Courgette (Zucchini)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Mustard greens
- Pak choi
- Peas (podded)
- Peppers of all kinds (even spicy ones)
- Savoy cabbage
- Spring greens
- Sweet Potatoes
- Tomato (ripe ones only)
- Turnip tops (the green sprouts)
Budgie Wild Food
You can supplement your budgie’s vegetable intake with some of these common weeds. Remember that picking wild flowers is illegal – this list is limited to weeds commonly found in gardens. The birds will eat both the leaves and the seeds.
Budgies are great fans of fresh herbs
A word of warning – if you have used any form of weed-killer or chemical pest-control near your source of these weeds, do not feed them to any of your pets.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) – the whole plant and the seeds
- Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) – plant, flower and seeds alike
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – the leaves
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) – seeds and fresh plant tops (douse them in hot water first to remove the stings)
- Plaintain – Greater or Common (Plantago major) – leaves and seed heads
- Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) – leaves and seed heads
- Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – leaves, flowers and seeds
- Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) – seed heads. This is a favourite of finches, but budgies can acquire the taste too. Teasel is not a common garden plant, but you can find the dried seed heads alongside footpaths and fields in the Autumn. Trim down the prickly defensive shell, and cut the seed heads into sections to enable your birds to access the seeds easily.
- White clover (Trifolium repens) – flowers and seeds
- Worm-seed mustard (Erysimum cheiranthoides) – leaves and seeds
Don’t feed budgies any ornamental garden flowers (or houseplants) unless an expert has told you they are safe and edible. There are far too many decorative plants to list in their entirety; but Pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) are good budgie food, and if you don’t want to sacrifice the blooms you’ve planted in your garden, harvest the seeds in August and feed them to the budgies. The birds are also partial to Chamomile seeds (Matricaria chamomilla), which is something you might have in your herb garden.
Small amounts of herbs can be offered, and most budgies enjoy them as part of a varied diet. Bunches of herbs tied at the end and doused in water will be used by your birds as a shower-cum-towel: they love rolling themselves through wet foliage.
The list below includes some common herbs that you can feed to your pet budgerigar. They are all ones you can grow yourself or easily get hold of in a supermarket.
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Coriander (cilantro) (Coriandrum sativum)
- Cress (Lepidium sativum)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
- Rocket (Eruca sativa)
- Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
- Savory (Satureja hortensis)
- Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Budgies will usually have a nibble at any new herb offered
The following herbs should only be given in small quantities, as they can cause irritation in Budgies’ digestive systems if over-indulged in:
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Mint (Mentha – there are lots of different varieties)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) needs some circumspection too. Many budgies grow to love it, but if eaten in large quantities it can prevent them from absorbing calcium. Parsley is also mildly toxic; but your bird would need to feast on the stuff for several days before feeling the worse for wear.
The rule here is to go easy on the sweet stuff. Budgies don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but it is very easy to overfeed them with sugar-packed fruits. Offer two or three of these in small amounts about twice a week.
- Apple (segments, without pips)
Budgies enjoy fresh apples
- Blackberry (bramble)
- Cherries (de-stoned)
- Common whitebeam berries
- Currants (black, red and white – note, this refers to the fruiting shrub, not the small dried grape)
- Dogwood (bitter, but palatable to some budgies)
- Elderberry (ripe, and not the leaves or stems, which are toxic)
- Melon, all types
- Mulberry (fruit and leaves alike)
- Nectarine (de-stoned)
- Oranges and similar (clementines, mandarins, satsumas, tangerines)
- Passion fruit
- Peach (de-stoned)
- Pears (segments, without pips)
- Persimmon (ripe ones only)
- Rosehips (sliced in half)
- Sharon fruit
- Sloe (Blackthorn) (freeze the fruits first to remove some off the bitterness)