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The budgerigar is a parakeet, a small long-tailed parrot native to Australia. It is by nature a very sociable bird living in large flocks in the wild and this is one reason why, when a single budgie is kept as a pet, it will build a strong bond with a caring and attentive owner.
Although both sexes make excellent companions male budgies are generally the best talkers. If you hope to train your budgie to talk it is advisable to choose a young bird, ideally six to eight weeks old so that it is fully fledged, but not yet had its first moult. Budgies of this age usually have a pattern of dark horizontal bars across the top of their heads and their eyes are completely black with no outer ring of white. Do not despair if your budgie is older and has passed its first moult, it will still imitate sounds but training it to talk may take a while longer.
Adults in peak condition are easy to tell apart by looking at the cere, which is the skin around their nostrils. Males have a rich blue or violet cere, whereas the female's is brown to mushroom in colour.
Distinguishing young males from females at six to eight weeks old is not so easy. But, there are some things to watch out for which may help. First look at the cere, in young males this tends to be a uniform colour varying from pale pink flesh tones to a pale purple, whereas in the females the colour varies from pale pink flesh tones to pale blue, also if you look closely at the nostrils and see white around the inside of each nostril then it is a fair chance that this is a female bird.
Males tend to have a slightly more domed shape to the front of their skull with a fuller top knot of feathers over forehead and eyes as a result. Finally, if you are brave enough to offer a finger for testing females generally bite the hardest!
Understanding Budgie Body Language
There are a few aspects of budgie behaviour which can indicate how the bird is feeling.
A contented budgie will sit well on its perch either in a proud displaying stance or with feathers puffed out, in a more comfortable, relaxed and chattering mood, with a variety of sounds which can vary in volume from the barely audible to those which can be heard over the radio or vacuum cleaner. A contented budgie will also audibly grind its beak as if it is cracking seeds.
A frightened budgie will screech loudly, its feathers flattened, eyes alert in readiness to take off at a moments notice.
A distressed budgie will hold its wings away from its body and often appear to be panting or breathing hard with its beak open, sometimes even closing its eyes for brief periods. A budgie displaying this behaviour is under stress, it is not happy, it is either scared of something or is just too hot and may even regurgitate seed under these conditions, rubbing its head and expelling the seed some distance from its body.
The alarm call is a sharp hissed 'tssst tssst' sound. This can be used sparingly to make a budgie stop what it is doing and fly off. A useful means of communication if the bird is out of reach and chewing at something it should not!
Budgies will bite in self defence. This is a hard bite as opposed to a playful nibble and a sign that the bird does not want to be bothered. As already noted, females bite the hardest and it is not unknown for them to draw blood. It is a good idea to back off when a budgie starts biting hard as nothing will be gained by pursuing an activity other than annoying the bird and that will get you nowhere regards taming or training.
Even a single budgie will display courtship behaviour, generally directed at its reflection in a mirror, but it has been known for this behaviour to occur between a budgie and its owner if there is a particularly strong bond between them! The eyes go into 'pinholes' with the pupils contracting so that you see a large ring of white with a tiny black dot in the centre, the little bird chatters and bobs it's head up and down against its perceived partner, raising and lowering the feathers on its head. This is when the budgie will 'feed' its reflection in the mirror. When males do this you will find de-husked seed stuck to the mirror and on the cage floor beneath it, females produce more of a soup which can make quite a mess dripping off the mirror. The reason for this difference is because males show off their ability to feed their mate, whereas females regurgitate food which would be suitable for their young chicks. A female who is ready to mate while she is in the 'pinhole' display mood will make a buzzing sound and go into a 'U' shape with tail and head held high and allow her neck and chest to be stroked, pushing herself against your finger.
As with any creature a budgie will take a few days to settle down in its new surroundings. It is important at this stage that the bird is not frightened by sudden movements or loud noises, so move slowly, speak gently and take things gradually. To tame a budgie, as with any animal, you must first gain its confidence so spend time with it through the day and talk quietly to put the bird at ease.
When working with a budgie it is best to limit the time spent actively taming or training to periods of 15-20 minutes and be sensitive to its disposition, for example do not attempt to start taming or training if it is busy feeding, preening or asleep. Ideally a budgie should be paying attention to you before you start trying to do things with it and do not continue with any activity which is causes it to become alarmed or distressed. You may find it calming for the budgie to imitate its own chirrup sound, also talk quietly, repeating its name and a few simple sentences, even though you are not actively training it to talk at this stage you can never tell what its little pea brain will remember.
The first step in taming is to get the budgie used to your hand. Put your fingers just inside the cage as you check the seed and water each day, the bird may well take off and flutter about its cage to begin with, but if you proceed slowly, gradually placing more of your hand inside each time it will come to accept you being that close and sit quietly watching what is going on. If you keep still it may even sidle over to investigate! Whether or not the budgie comes towards you, this is the time that you can proceed to the next stage. Position your hand so that your index finger is in front of the bird like a perch. It may take several attempts before this move is accepted. Alternatively use a short stick like piece of dowelling or even a pencil instead of your finger. You can now place your finger, or the stick so that it gently touches the budgie's chest and with any luck it will step up onto it. If at any time during this process the budgie takes fright and flies about its cage just keep perfectly still, it will settle down eventually and depending upon how agitated it is you can either continue slowly, or quietly remove your hand from the cage and try again later.
Once a budgie is happy to sit on your finger or the stick you can then start to bring the bird out of its cage. By first moving your hand closer to the door and, if it is big enough, bring it outside with the budgie still sitting on your finger or the stick. If the door is too small to do this put a special treat, like a small sprig of millet for example, between finger and thumb and hold your hand just outside the cage. Some birds hop out quite readily, others take a while longer to pluck up courage to venture out from the security of their cage. Needless to say make sure all windows and outside doors are closed, as once free from the constraints of their cage budgies will fly round to explore their surroundings. This is where the earlier activity of gaining the birds confidence to perch on your finger, or a stick that you are holding, comes into its own as you can collect it from where it has landed or it may just choose to land on you.
Generally budgies do not like having their backs or tails touched, but will respond to being gently stroked in the area around their beak and on their chest, as this corresponds to the preening action between two budgies.
Within about a month your budgie should be very tame, happy to sit on your finger and be close to you as you speak. Now training it to talk can begin in earnest. Remember budgies are inquisitive little birds, so do not be surprised if your pupil tries to put its head inside your mouth to seek out where the sound is coming from! Not every budgie will learn to talk, some will only whistle, whereas others will repeat many words, even short sentences. Males are able to make a wider range of sounds so are more likely to imitate human speech than females. Even then some females will talk, while there are males that will not, no matter how you persevere with training and that unfortunately is the luck of the draw.
As budgies have tiny, high voices and they seem to be particularly fond of making the 'd', 'b', 'e', 's' and 't' sounds. It is believed that a trainer using a higher voice will have a better result than somebody talking in a very deep voice as the budgie is far more likely to imitate a sound that is within its own range. Then it is down to pure repetition, over and over again. Start with a single word, maybe the budgies name. Some birds will pick this up within a few weeks others will take months before they finally talk. But once they start they will be away. You can then build on the single word to make short sentences.
When a budgie is talking it will go through its repertoire at various times of the day, even while looking at itself in the mirror and bobbing up and down excitedly. One amusing thing, is that when budgie is able to repeat a number of sentences it may often get all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order. So 'Wilfred' the budgie, who lived in a household with 'Digby' the dog, learned to say, 'Wilfred is good budgie' and 'Where's Digby?' but then came out with 'Wilfred is Digby', 'Digby is good budgie' and even 'Wilfred is gudgie' all by himself, he then built on his achievements adding other words and phrases saying 'Hello, where's Digby? Come and see me'. Another bird was able to repeat, 'Georgy Porgy pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry' while sidling up to a rather large dog who was totally spellbound! Once a budgie is talking the possibilities are endless.