"Budgies can be great fun to keep and breed," says Fred Wright who has been breeding budgerigars for more than 45 years. "They can give so much pleasure – ideal for all, adults and kids alike. Generally they are easy to breed, they don’t have to be expensive to buy and the cages and equipment can all be purchased for sensible money."
Here's Fred's advice to bird-keepers looking to make a start with budgies:
Buy Haith's Budgie Bravo! - it's the budgie seed mix bird-keepers are talking about.
The bright and attractive colours is what brings most people into keeping budgies but they can be great characters, and once you see babies start to show their colours in the nest boxes – you are hooked.
The advice should always be to read and find out exactly what budgies are all about – keeping them and breeding them before you buy anything but in the real world – we know that most people will buy on impulse and then think about how you are going to keep them – and probably breed with them a bit further down the line. Most people seem to start with a single bird in a cage as a pet and then they decide to buy a partner – and think about breeding. Just the one pair don’t usually want to breed and we are told they are colony birds and they need to be a group of pairs before they start to breed well. It’s at this point we start to think about a small set-up with a few pairs.
If you get the chance to select varieties and colours, pick the bright ones – Lutinos, Albinos, Clearwings, Spangles and Pieds. There is a bit of genetics to be understood at some point but don’t be put off by the complications of genetics and the rules of how the various colours and varieties are reproduced. For now – start with the colours you like and find attractive. Just enjoy keeping them!
We either breed budgies with a pair to a cage and one nest box, or we breed them in a small aviary or flight. The first rule to learn is that all the nest boxes need to be placed at the same height or the hens will fight to get the top box – all the boxes at the same level overcomes that problem.
Cage breeding is somewhat more conventional with breeders but many fanciers, as we call them, start in an aviary with several pairs. The aviary system with several pairs with the boxes all at the same height is called the “colony system” or colony breeding.
There is a problem with colony breeding that can be quite upsetting at times and may be stressful for the owner. It’s that the cocks and the hens start to get competitive and they can become aggressive towards each other. Once the colony is up and running, it’s wonderful to watch the hens getting the attention of their partners and jumping in and out of the boxes. The way to overcome some of this competitiveness is to pair-bond the pairs in separate cages for a week and then release 4 or even 6 pairs into the aviary at one time and usually, the pairs will stay together and the aggression seems to subside.
Once a pair go together it’s about 10/14 days before the first egg will appear. The hen lays about 6 or 7 eggs in total and she lays on alternate days. The incubation period is 18 days – and if all goes to plan, they hatch on alternate days.
The chicks develop and at around two weeks, it is possible to see the colour in the feathers of the bird starting to appear. The chicks jump out of the box at about 30/32 days old, fully feathered. As the chicks leave, the hen starts to lay again – and it all starts to happen yet again.
It’s never quite as easy as it sounds, because there are frequently problems getting the hen to start feeding her chicks, but all of these challenges are part of breeding budgies, so it’s all part of the game.
Many people seem to make the feeding of our birds complicated – it’s not. Haiths offer a range of excellent seed mixes for budgerigars and it’s about selecting the right mix. The more expensive mixes contain more canary seed and this seed contains more protein than the other seeds, usually millets. The larger exhibition birds carry much more feather than the smaller active birds but feather is all about protein. The more feathery birds need more protein – so they need more canary seed.
It should never be underestimated that good quality, clean seed is vital for healthy birds that are going to breed well for you. Cheap seed tends to be dusty and can be old seed that might well be lacking in nutritional content.
Fresh water every day is a basic requirement. If the birds are to be brought into a good breeding condition they will need a “conditioner” such as Haiths PTX as it will bring the birds into the very best of breeding condition.
The only other vital food will be a rearing food when the hens are rearing chicks. It is basically an egg and biscuit mix, that is high in protein to make the chicks and the feathers grow well. However, it’s the extras that make all the difference when it comes to getting the birds into a top breeding fitness, and rearing chicks well. For a good rearing food, check out the Haith's list.
Throughout the world there is an active exhibition fancy where birds can be exhibited in classes for each of the colours. It’s unfortunate that lots of people are keen to breed budgies, keep them and enjoy them and the exhibition side of the hobby seems to be in decline. However, for those who are competitive, and want to breed birds to a standard as set by the national societies, it’s a great addition to the hobby of keeping and breeding.
The aspect of the hobby that should never be underestimated is the social side of the hobby. There are lots of clubs and societies. There are local clubs and regional clubs. All will hold meetings from time to time where individuals and families can take part. There is a huge social side to our hobby where wives, husbands, partners and children can get involved.
Something that seems to have overtaken the shows are the sales. These have become massively popular both as social events and places where breeders can attend to sell their surplus birds. It actually gives breeders the purpose to breed birds – so they can sell their surplus at sales and recover some of the costs involved with keeping, feeding and breeding.
So far we have avoided talking money! Breeding and keeping budgies does not have to be expensive. Lots of entertainment can be had from a small aviary, breeding with a few pairs and caring for them properly. Top quality exhibition birds can be expensive but showing birds is not for everyone. My advice would always be to make a start – enjoy breeding and become confident you understand them before you even think about entering the exhibition fancy.
Keep reading everything you can get your hands on, talk to breeders, listen to what they have to say, join a club and go to its meetings. Our hobby is not just about keeping the birds themselves – it’s about people too. Some new fanciers will make that start and realise after a couple of years, it’s not for them, but for others it’s a hobby for life.
Written by Fred Wright