Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)

Also known as: Australian shell parakeet, betcherrygah, budgerygah, budgie, canary parrot, lovebird, parakeet, shell parakeet, warbling grass parakeet, warbling grass parrot
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusMelopsittacus (1)
SizeLength: 18 - 20 cm (2)
Wingspan: c. 20 cm (3)
Weightc. 30 g (4)
Top facts

The budgerigar is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of the world’s most familiar parrot species, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) is best known to many as a hugely popular cage bird (2) (5) (6). However, this small, slender, long-tailed parakeet is also notable for being one of the most abundant members of the parrot family in its native range in Australia (3) (6).

Although captive budgerigars come in a variety of colours, the wild budgerigar is predominantly green and yellow (2) (3) (6). Its forehead, face and throat are bright yellow, while the rear of the crown and the sides of the head are yellow with fine black barring that extends down over the eyes. Further down the back, the fine barring gives way to heavier bars that produce a scalloped appearance (2) (5). The lower back and uppertail-coverts of the budgerigar are bright green (2).

The budgerigar has long, pointed wings (2) (3) (5), with black and green wing feathers that are edged with yellow. A prominent yellowish to white wing bar is visible in flight. The budgerigar has light green underparts and underwing-coverts, and its long, tapering tail is bright bluish-green with a conspicuous yellow band across each side, near the base (2) (5).

The side of the budgerigar’s face is marked with a prominent violet patch and a row of three round, black dots (2) (5) (6). This species has a rounded head and a small, compact beak (3) (5), which is brownish with a yellow tip (2). The adult budgerigar’s eyes are white and its legs are grey (2). The male and female budgerigar are similar in appearance, but can be told apart by the colour of the cere, which is blue in adult males and brownish in adult females (2) (3) (5) (6). Juvenile budgerigars are distinguished by their dark eyes and the barring on their forehead (2) (3) (5), and develop their adult plumage at about three to four months old (2) (3).

The budgerigar is the only species in its genus (3) (5), and is difficult to confuse with any other parrot due to its small size, its distinctive patterning, and its long, pointed wings and tail (2) (7).

The calls of the budgerigar include a continuous, warbling ‘chirrup’ or ‘chedelee… chedelee’ (2) (7), interspersed with whistles and screams (6). This small parakeet also gives a sharp chattering in alarm (2) (6) and a subdued screech (2). In captivity, the budgerigar is famous for being able to mimic other sounds, including human speech (6).

The budgerigar is native to Australia, where it is widely distributed across the interior of the continent (2) (3) (5) (7) (8). However, it is generally absent from coastal areas, including the Cape York Peninsula (2) (5), and is not found on Tasmania (2) (3). The budgerigar has been introduced to Florida in the United States, where a small population has become established (2) (3) (4) (7), and escapes from captivity regularly take place around the world (2).

A nomadic species (2) (7), the budgerigar often moves around in response to changing environmental conditions, particularly rainfall (2) (5). In certain areas, it may also undertake some seasonal movements, with a general move northwards in winter (2).

The budgerigar inhabits a variety of open habitats in arid and semi-arid regions (2) (5) (7). This species is commonly found in grassland, savanna, scrub, open woodland and farmland, typically in areas with scattered eucalyptus and acacia trees (2) (3) (5). The introduced population of budgerigars in Florida usually occurs in urban environments (4).

Although it copes well with dry conditions, the budgerigar is rarely found far from water (2) (3) (5).

A highly social species, the budgerigar is typically seen in large, noisy flocks which twist and turn in unison in the air, flying with rapid wing beats (2) (3) (5) (7). The largest budgerigar flocks occur in the centre of Australia, particularly after heavy rains (3), and may sometimes number into the hundreds of thousands (5). Budgerigar flocks may travel large distances in search of food (3).

The budgerigar’s diet consists primarily of small seeds, including a range of grass seeds and crops (2) (5) (6). This species’ small, compact beak, hinged upper mandible and thick, flexible tongue allow it to dextrously manipulate seeds and remove the outer husks (5). Most feeding takes place on the ground, but the budgerigar also climbs up plants to strip seed heads (3) (5).

Budgerigar flocks usually feed in the early morning, spending the hottest part of the day resting, preening and socialising in the trees (2) (3) (5). The budgerigar needs to drink every day, often gathering in large numbers at waterholes to drink and to bathe (3) (5). However, if a water source is not available this species may lap up dew and bathe by rolling in damp grass (5).

The budgerigar can breed at any time of year, but typically nests after rainfall, which ensures a ready supply of food (2) (3) (5). In the south of its range, breeding tends to take place during the spring and summer, from around August to January, but in the north the budgerigar tends to breed in the winter, from June to September. This species usually breeds in colonies, sometimes even sharing nesting hollows, and pairs may mate for life (2) (3).

The male budgerigar courts the female by nudging her bill, bobbing his head towards her and offering food (6). Interestingly, as in many parrots, parts of the budgerigar’s plumage reflect ultraviolet light. Unlike humans, many birds are able to see this wavelength of light, and this reflectance may therefore play a role in enhancing the budgerigar’s bright patterning and help individuals to attract a mate (9).

The budgerigar’s nest is usually located in a small hollow in a tree, or in a hole in a stump or log (2) (3) (6). No nesting material is added, but there may be some wood dust or wood chips at the base of the hole (3) (6). The female budgerigar typically lays between 4 and 8 white, rounded eggs (2) (3) (5) (6), which she incubates for around 18 days, during which time she is fed by the male (2) (6). The young budgerigars are cared for by both adults, and leave the nest at about 30 to 35 days old (2) (3) (5).

The budgerigar is capable of raising more than one brood a year (2) (3) (5) (6). Juvenile budgerigars are able to breed from just 3 to 4 months old (3) (6), and this species may live for up to 8 years in the wild, or up to 20 or more in captivity (3).

The budgerigar is an abundant and widespread parakeet, and has benefitted from the expansion of farmland and the provision of artificial water sources in arid areas (3) (5) (8). Although the budgerigar’s numbers may fluctuate due to periods of drought (2) (3), its overall population is believed to be increasing (8), and it is not thought to be facing any other major threats (3).

The introduced population of budgerigars in Florida may potentially compete with native species for nest holes (4).

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the budgerigar, as it is common, widespread and not considered to be at risk of extinction.

Find out more about the budgerigar and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Australia:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Juniper, T. and Parr, M. (1998) Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. International Masters Publishing (2007) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Facts on File, Inc., New York.
  4. Maehr, D.S. and Kale II, H.W. (2005) Florida’s Birds: A Field Guide and Reference. Second Edition. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida.
  5. Natural History Museum - Melopsittacus undulatus (October, 2012)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/species-of-the-day/collections/our-collections/melopsittacus-undulatus/index.html
  6. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  7. Forshaw, J.M. (2010) Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  8. BirdLife International - Budgerigar (October, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=1489
  9. Pearn, S.M., Bennett, A.T.D. and Cuthill, I.C. (2001) Ultraviolet vision, fluorescence and mate choice in a parrot, the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus. Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences, 268: 2273-2279.