Parrots and Budgerigars

Birds have been domesticated for over 5,000 years, largely by the ancient Greeks as they marvelled at a parrots ability to learn different languages. Soldiers of Alexander the Great first took back to Greece a parakeet (commemorated as the Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)) to keep as a pet. Since then many overseas voyages introduced European sailors to many different and unknown species. One example is of Christopher Columbus returning from a successful sailing to the New World in 1493 with a pair of Cuban Amazon parrots (Amazona leucocephala). Soon afterwards finches were introduced from the Canary Islands and budgerigars were brought back from Australia around the 1840’s.

Lewis7Choosing your Bird
If you are choosing a parrot as a pet, make sure to choose a young bird which preferably has been hand reared so that it has no instinctive fear of people. The chicks should be independent by about 16 weeks of age. A young grey parrot will have darker eyes than the adult who have straw-yellow irises. The sexing of a parrot is visually impossible and if you really want to know you’ll need to take a feather sample to a laboratory for DNA testing.

Grey parrots have a life expectancy rather like our own so with proper care and attention it will make a fabulously entertaining lifetime companion and may even outlive you so be prepared to make alternative arrangements by putting your faithful feathered friend in your Last Will and Testament!

budgiesBudgerigar chicks will be ready from between six and nine weeks old and will have solid-coloured eyes with no white ring around them, and depending on the colour variety will include a dark tip on the upper bill, with barred markings on the head extending down to the cere at the top of the beak. The throat spots are also likely to be smaller at this stage. The cere of a young cock is a deeper purple shade than that of a hen, whose cere turns brown as she reaches maturity, however sexing is difficult in recently fledged chicks and may even take up to two years for some features to become apparent in young birds.

The budgerigars and the African grey parrot are champion chatterboxes with a vocabulary of more than 500 words. Cockatoos on the other hand barely master 30 words, can be very noisy with their harsh natural calls and are difficult to handle. They can also be very destructive and their indoor or outdoor housing can be rather costly.

CockatielsCockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus)
Cockatiels are a very gentle bird, making them superb companions and can be housed within a collection of finches. The cocks have bright yellow facial feathering with orange ear coverts and the hens are a greyer shade with yellow markings on the underside of the tail feathers.

Young cockatiels are similar to the hens but have shorter tail feathers and pinkish ceres. Grey is the most common colour of the cockatiel but they also come in various other colours including the lemon-yellow lutino who has the distinctive orange cheek of the grey, the cinnamon who has a brownish hue plumage and the white faced that in the case of the cocks are entirely white in colour while the hens have a greyish face. Pied variants are also quite common.

peach-faced lovebirdsPeach-Faced Lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis)
Lovebirds come in a variety of colours, are full of character and make adorable pets. Young fledglings have dark markings on their upper bill.

Pairs will breed in aviaries but sexing can be difficult and it’s not until they are in such breeding conditions that the hen’s gap between the pelvic bones above the vent enlarge, distinguishing them from the cock and when they reed, they will require nesting materials which they will carry in their beaks.

As parrots have a very destructive nature, they require a much stronger housing than finches and even budgerigars will whittle away at wood and it should be as large as possible as cramped quarters can trigger feather plucking.

ideal parrot housingReplace the plastic perches with fresh cut branches to avoid sore patches developing on the bird’s feet which can easily become infected. Keep an eye on these types of perches as being wood they will quickly be gnawed away and have to be replaced on a regular basis and for this reason, make sure your branch has come from an organic environment and not sprayed with any chemicals. Fruit trees are suitable but avoid poisonous ones such as yew, lilac and laburnum.

For outside aviaries, attach mesh firmly to the inside using proper netting staples in order to protect the timber frame. There should be a safety porch to stop the birds escaping when entering the aviary. Use a deep layer of gravel as flooring and paving slabs placed under perches to catch the majority of the droppings to ease cleaning. For budgerigars, use concrete flooring which can be hosed down and disinfected every so often. Make sure the floor is slightly sloped as it will ease the draining away of the water. Fix corrugated plastic sheets to the roof and sides to give protection against heavy rain and bad weather.

Traditionally, parrots are fed a seed mixture comprising mainly of sunflower seed and peanuts plus flaked maize, pumpkin and safflower seeds.

Parakeet eating MilletCockatiels and parakeets like a higher percentage of cereal seeds such as canary seed and millets (including millet sprays), as well as groats.

Budgerigars need smaller seeds, notably millet and canary seed using a seed hopper rather than an open food container.

To fulfil all their nutritional requirements, the birds will need vitamin A and calcium supplements added to their diet as well as daily portions of fresh diced fruit and greenstuff. Older birds will be difficult to convert to liquid supplements if they’ve never been fed them before, so try and get them used to them as early in their lives as possible. Complete diets are available but are more expensive on a weight for weight basis, however as there is very little wastage and no extra payout for vitamins and mineral supplements, the extra expense justifies itself. Ensure to keep the complete food dry and don’t buy too much at a time as it will need to be consumed by the expiry date. If changing to the complete food, try introducing it a little bit at a time into your birds normal diet, increasing the amount gradually until it completely takes over.

To keep drinking water clean, special drinking bottles are normally supplied to larger parrots, although budgerigars can be given tubular drinkers. Outdoor aviaries should be checked regularly throughout cold weather period to ensure that ice hasn’t formed in the spout, blocking off the flow of water.


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