Parakeets, also known as budgies or budgerigars, are small, long-tailed, seed-eating parrots. Originating from Australia, this nomadic flocking bird can be found moving between the scrublands, open woodlands and grasslands across the continent.
Parakeets are the most popular avian pets and the third most popular pet after cats and dogs. This is due to their small size, low coast and ability to learn to talk by imitating words.
Colors and Lifespan
Wild parakeets are primarily yellow and green with black speckling on the head, back and wings. Captive-bred parakeets can range in colors of blue, white, yellow, gray and white.
Adults are sexually dimorphic and can be identified by the color of their cere, or the area containing the nostrils, and their behavior. Blue cere means male, and pale brown to white means nonbreeding females, while brown means breeding females.
Juvenile and chicks are monomorphic, so the cere will appear pink in both sexes.
Parakeets can live up to 15 to 20 years, but they require excellent care to live that long. With the right diet, environment and routine veterinary care, parakeets can live a long, healthy life.
Parakeets benefit from large, roomy cages, but huge cages are not required. The minimum cage size for one parakeet should not be less than 18” in the length, width and height. A better cage choice is one that measures 30” L x 18” W x 18” H. If you do have room for one, provide a larger “flight cage” so the parakeet has room to fly and stretch its wings.
Never house your parakeet in a cage with a bar spacing wider than ½”. Larger bar spacing may allow your bird to get its head or wings stuck, which can lead to injury or death. Make sure the birdcage has a floor grate to prevent it from walking on its waste or eating soiled food.
Don’t use newspaper as a cage bedding or lining, as the newspaper ink can be toxic to birds. Corncob or other bird-safe litters should be used instead. Spot clean every few days, and fully replace it once a week.
Place the cage in a draft-free area that does not get direct sunlight, and keep it away from fans and air conditioners; it should stay room temperature.
Food and water dishes are usually already included with the cage, but there are some additional accessories your parakeet will need in its new home.
- Perches: Perches can be made from many materials. Wood is the most popular, but whatever material you use, the perches must have varying diameters to help stretch the foot’s muscles and tendons and prevent issues. Perches between ½” to 1” in diameter are standard but other sizes won’t hurt. A cement perch can also help keep the bird’s nails trim.
- Toys: Your bird will play with just about anything. Appropriate toys include ladders, swings, mirrors, birdbaths, nests, shreddable toys and bells. Make sure that all toys are animal-safe and size-appropriate for your bird so it doesn’t choke on the toy. Keep extra toys on hand so you can rotate them and keep your bird interested. Bird toys need to be cleaned whenever soiled.
- Water bottle: Instead of a water dish, which can be easily soiled with food and droppings, a water bottle hands on the side and can always provide clean water. Make sure the parakeet uses the bottle before removing any other water source.
Cage Cleaning and Maintenance
Keeping the cage clean is a huge factor in your parakeet’s longevity. Following a set schedule will keep you on track and help your bird remain healthy.
- Daily: Clean and refill the water containers with fresh water or whenever you notice it has been soiled. Refill the food dishes and clean whenever it has been soiled. Keep an eye on the seed dish and make sure it has seeds and not just the empty hulls of eaten seeds.
- Every two or three days: Spot-clean the cage bedding or replace it fully if housing multiple birds.
- Every one or two weeks: Remove and wash the floor grate with a mix of water and vinegar; soaking it may help loosen stuck waste. Dry it thoroughly before returning it to the cage. Cage bars and perches should be wiped down.
Parakeets primarily feed on grass seeds. However, pelleted food, protein and assorted fruits and vegetables should be included in the diet to achieve proper nutrition. Birds eat throughout the day, so make sure food is always available.
- Seed mixes: Parakeet seed mixes are a food starting point for most diets, but don’t use a blend of white millet, oats, canary seeds, red millet, hemp seeds, ground corn, brown rice, soybean meal, wheat and other seeds and grains at the sole food source. Millet seed is a nice treat that can attach to the cage’s side and double as a temporary toy.
- Pelleted foods: Pelleted food is a combination of different proteins, vegetables, fruits and grains that are ground up then baked into a uniform pellet shape. Unlike seed mixes where the parakeet can choose the seeds it prefers, this uniformity ensures nutrition with every bite. Select an uncolored natural food pellet over those with added colorings. Make sure the pellet is the right size for your bird’s beak.
- Protein: Additional protein sources include mealworms, cooked chicken and boiled eggs mashed up with the shell to give a little extra calcium. Remove any uneaten protein an hour after eating to avoid the bird getting sick.
- Fresh produce: Fresh fruits and vegetables of all kinds can be used as a supplement to your bird’s diet. Suitable fruits include apples, bananas, blueberries, melons, papayas, peaches, pears and pineapples. Suitable vegetables include broccoli, carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce), peas, peppers, radicchio, sprouts, squash and tomatoes.
All birds, including parakeets, need minerals for bone growth and feather production. Females that are laying need to replace the calcium used to produce eggshells. While pelleted foods do contain calcium and other minerals, you should also provide a mineral block and a cuttlebone. This will give them access to any additional calcium or minerals they need.
Parakeets don’t require grit to help them digest their food since they manually remove the hulls from seeds before consuming them. If you do offer grit, use an oyster shell form that is more easily digested.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods should never be fed to parakeets because they may be poisonous. These include avocados, chocolate, dried beans, garlic, fruit seeds or pits, mushrooms, onions, rhubarb and tomato leaves.
Never give your parakeet alcohol or coffee. Sugary or salty junk food should also be avoided.
Please keep in mind that leftover food should always be removed a few hours after your parakeet eats to avoid any bacterial growth.
Captive birds require regular grooming to keep them healthy. Some of these can be done yourself, but you might want to ask a bird groomer for any kind of trimming tips.
Mist your bid with warm water several times a week to help keep their feathers clean and in good condition.
Nail tips may need trimming about once a month or as needed. Don’t let the nails get too long.
The beak may need trimming if it becomes overgrown.
Wing trimming is a controversial subject and completely optional. It does help prevent injury or death in some situations. However, don’t trim the feathers too much, as your bird still needs some ability to fly, so have an experienced groomer help you.
If your bird’s wings are clipped, it will be hard for the bird to move about its cage. Don’t put birds with clipped wings in large aviaries. Make sure they can access their food, water dishes and toys. The perch spacing can’t be too far apart.
If your bird’s wings are not clipped, make sure they won’t come in contact with other household pets. All windows must be closed or have securely fitted screens. Don’t let your bird be out of its cage when you’re not home. Free-flying birds are at risk of crashing into a window because they don’t understand glass.
Ceiling fans must be turned off while your bird flies around to prevent injury. Free-flying birds can also get stuck and down in toilets, so keep the toilet lid closed. Also, don’t allow any access to electrical cords.
Most birds don’t show any symptoms of illness until they are severely sick or dying. Nonetheless, it’s important to keep a watchful eye for any signs that your bird is sick or injured so you can take immediate action. Some signs of illness include:
- Changes in droppings
- Discharge from the eyes, mouth or nose
- Drooping wings
- Frequent scratching or rubbing of the head
- Labored breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Puffing up feathers
- Remaining on the bottom of the cage
- Sleeping for long periods of the day
- Swelling on any part of the body
- Unusual foul odor
Consider quarantining your new bird for a minimum of 30 days before introducing it to an existing flock, unless your vet says it’s safe to integrate the new bird. This can prevent the spread of bacteria, mites and viruses. Always wash your hands after handling a quarantined animal to prevent spreading any possible pathogens.
Other Parakeet Safety Tips
Birds of any type can get stressed quickly and will have adverse reactions to many chemicals found at home. Don’t burn incense, smoke or vape around your bird. Don’t use aerosols around your bird, such as hair spray or spray paint.
Keep your bird away from kitchen areas. Airborne cooking oils can irritate the bird’s air passage, and some cooking equipment can produce toxic fumes when heated. Don’t use any harsh cleaning agents, such as bleach or pine sol, around your bird. Also, don’t lick or kiss your bird.