Follow the tips set out in the Budgie cages section, above. Start by setting up the cage in a place where the budgies will be able to settle in quickly. Make sure it’s near a wall, so that the birds don’t feel ‘surrounded’ by potential danger and have a safe corner to retreat to. Put it at eye-level, to prevent arms, heads, etc, passing over the top of the cage all the time – budgies soon freak out if things are moving over their heads.
Getting your budgies used to your presence is the first step in taming them
To begin with, sit or stand with your face close to the cage, talking gently to the birds. After the first day, raise your hand so that it is clearly visible to the occupants of the cage. In a short time – anything from two to seven days – the hand will become associated with the soft, safe voice.
When changing food and water, always speak to your birds. If you want a budgie to talk, incorporate a few chosen words or phrases into this chatter.
Finger-Training a Budgie
To make the bird believe that your finger is the best perch in the world, bribe him with millet. Budgies go mad for the stuff. It should only be used for treats, as it’s rather fatty, but in small amounts it’s the budgerigar equivalent of chocolate.
Lodge a sprig of millet between your thumb and the base of your index finger. Put your hand in the cage, making sure that your finger is close to where the bird is perched, but that the millet is only accessible via your finger – any sneaky nibbling from a perch or the bars of the cage is only going to slow down the training process. When you first stick your hand in, the bird will probably retreat to a corner and watch. Budgies need time to get used to any new addition to their environment, and your millet-stuffed hand represents a major intrusion. But, with a bit of patience, you’ll get there.
Keep your hand in the cage for five minutes at a time, with your finger a short hop away from where the bird is perched. Repeat this several times during a single day, with at least half an hour between attempts. Eventually your budgie will be unable to resist the lure of the millet, and will edge closer. Again, make sure he can’t reach the food without using your finger. If you chase the budgie around the cage in an effort to get him on your finger, you will only succeed in spooking him and setting your quest back a few days.
Train your budgie to perch on your finger
Once he’s used to having your hand in the cage, you can speed up the whole process by gently rubbing your perch-finger at the top of the budgie’s legs, and he’ll step aboard without thinking. After a week of this, use the same leg-stroking technique to get him onto your finger, but this time without the millet. At some point – and the timing of this depends on the individual bird – he’ll be unable to resist any longer, and will hop onto your finger.
This is what you’ve been aiming for. The budgie now thinks of your finger as his favourite perch, and will happily return to it – even when he’s outside the cage.
Letting a Budgie Out
After following the steps above, you’ll be able to let your budgie out on a regular basis. There are few things to do when preparing a room for budgie exploration:
- Close the curtains, to prevent him crashing into the window and possibly injuring himself
- Cover all fires and chimneys
- Close all doors and windows
- Put fragile ornaments out of reach – these are likely to be on ledges: just the sort of place your bird will want to perch on
- Make sure there are no dogs, cats or unruly children in the room – an early trauma could set your taming efforts back by days
- Make sure there are some out-of-reach places for the budgie to perch – curtain tops and book shelves for example: your bird will be nervous on the first few flights, and will favour somewhere high and secure
- In time he will start to perch on chairs, furniture, the floor, and you: make sure you’re happy for him to land pretty much anywhere, as flapping your arms around to wave him away will scare him
- Put some toys in the room – anything from a ping pong ball on the floor to a budgie-sized climbing frame on the sideboard
- Remove any houseplants you don’t want nibbled
- Switch off any fans
- Cover or remove mirrors – it doesn’t always happen, but some birds have been known to fly headlong into them
There's always room on the sofa for a budgie
Getting a Budgie Out the Cage
On his first adventures in the outside world, your budgie is likely to hop off your hand just as you try to withdraw it from the cage. If, on the first few attempts, he seems flustered when you put your hand back in for a second attempt, leave him be. Pick up where you left off in the next session.
Many budgies head straight to the top of the cage when they’ve been taken out for the first time. Let him perch there while he takes in his surroundings, and put some treats there to make him feel safe and rewarded. Talk to him gently, and eventually offer your finger again. Try to take him away from the cage, and let him flutter wherever he will.
The top of the cage will probably be your budgie's first port of call
If, after his first journey beyond the bars, he flies straight back inside the cage, try to get him back on your finger, or close the cage door. It’s best, at this stage, not to let him climb to and from the cage unaided. If he does this, he may come to view your hand as an unnecessary intruder in his territory rather than the means of getting from his cage to the world beyond.
Getting a Budgie Back into the Cage
Once finger-trained, your budgie will be manageable outside the cage. When it’s time to go back inside, present your finger. In the early days you may have to stroke his belly or use the millet lure. Again, it’s best not to allow him to go in or out without using you as a perch.
An untamed budgie who manages to escape the cage is a trickier proposition. Your best bet here is to put his favourite food inside the cage and leave the doors open. Eventually he’ll return. If there is more than one bird, it becomes trickier still, as leaving the doors open will allow the others to escape too. If nothing can tempt the escapee to your finger, you may have to resort to netting him (see the section on Escaped Budgies, below).
Taming a New Budgie
A new budgie will take a few days to settle into his surroundings, and some are more adaptable than others. During the first few days, keep cage interference to a minimum. Eventually you’ll be changing the budgie’s toys around regularly; but don’t do so in the first week.
His response to your presence will depend on where he’s come from. A young bird purchased from a breeder may not have had much human contact other than his unceremonious shove into a small box to transport him to your home. A bird who has spent a few weeks in a pet shop will be more used to general human noise and bustle. It still pays to go easy in the first few days, though. Always assume you’re starting from scratch.
Taming a Young Budgie
A budgie cannot be tamed before he’s weaned, at about six weeks. Prior to this time, he will depend entirely on his parents’ attentions, and will not be impressed with your interference. Once a bird is feeding himself, he can be tamed.
The younger you catch them, the easier they are to tame
For all his initial nervousness, a young budgie is the ideal bird to tame. He is not set in ways, and has little expectation of what is and isn’t normal. Unlike an older bird, he will have no memory of a time before the big friendly face and the intruding hand in the cage.
Taming an Older Budgie
Older birds can be a bit trickier. A budgie who has been sitting at the back of a crowded cage in a pet shop for six months has a worldview that you’ll have trouble changing. To be transported suddenly to a quieter cage with a very different world outside, and a large creature who insists on chattering at close range several times a day, can be traumatic.
There is no way you can rush the taming process. Simply persist with your soft words and unthreatening hand-in-the-cage routine, and let the budgie accept you at his own pace.
Taming a Female Budgie
If you start taming a hen bird from a young age, you shouldn’t have any more difficulty than with a cock bird. It is certainly true that older budgies tend to get set in their ways – but, again, that would apply to males too. Hens often bite more than cocks, so this can be a problem if you’re a little nervous. They tend to bite harder, too, and whereas a male nip is not usually a problem, a female bite can sometimes be painful. (See Taming Budgies Not to Bite, below).
A hen budgie in the mating season may be hard to handle, and even a tamed bird can lapse into an apparently untamed state. She can become territorial and broody, and your hand, in these situations, is nothing other than an unwanted invader. Persevere, and eventually the hormonal fit will pass. If your bird is particularly nervous or belligerent, you can try training with a millet-loaded stick rather than an easy-to-peck finger. Check her diet, too - too much protein can stimulate the mating urge.
Males get hormonal surges in the mating season too, but there are fewer incidences of them becoming ‘untamed’ in the process.
Taming a Wild Budgie
In Australia, budgies are sometimes taken from the wild. These so-called ‘shell parakeets’ are no different, genetically, to captive bred birds, but they will be hard to tame using the processes mentioned above. Beyond Australia, you are very unlikely to meet a wild-derived budgie.
Any bird beyond the age of six months who has not had much human contract will behave in a similar manner to a wild bird. Gaining their trust will take time and patience; but if you’re willing to give it a few months, even a year, you will make friends in the end.
Taming a Pair of Budgies
Taming two birds at the same time is no trickier than taming one. In fact, the moral support they give each other can often speed things up. Once the braver of the two has hopped onto your finger for the first time, the second is likely to follow. If you’re unlucky and have a really panicky bird in your pair, progress may be slow. But, again, you have no way of speeding things up, so just persist, remain calm and gentle, and you’ll get there in the end.
Taming a pair of budgies is trickier than taming just one
Teaching Budgies Not to Bite
A biting budgie can become a problem – you will not be too keen to handle him, making your chances of taming him very slim. Budgies are generally very good-natured, but you do occasionally find one who seems to lash out at every opportunity.
All is not lost, though. Addressing the following questions will help you over the tricky period.
- Is your budgie finger-trained yet? If not, he will still be feeling anxious when your hand comes too close, and will therefore bite.
- Has your bird been moved to a new cage, new room or new house? This will make him anxious for a short time, so let him settle in for two or three days before resuming normal hand contact.
- Does he bite at certain times? Make a note of when your budgie tends to attack, and look for a pattern. It might be because he’s scared of something (another pet, noisy children, sounds from outside); he may be tired or hungry; or you may spot some other regular ‘trigger’.
- Do you make a fuss when he bites? Try to ignore the biting – remove your hand, or put him back in the cage. Too much noise and fuss will make him think the biting is winning attention, and he will begin to enjoy that attention, creating an unintentional positive-feedback loop. Shouting may also stress him, causing anxiety and leading back into biting.
- Have you been told, or read somewhere, that you should punish a budgie when he bites? This is terrible advice – ignore it! All it will do is make him look upon you as a threat, and you will never regain his trust. Punishments recommended in the ‘bad old days’ included squirting with water, putting into solitary confinement, or even hitting his beak with your finger. Don’t go there – simple as that.
- Have you been distracting the budgie with toys or treats when he bites? This will backfire, as he will think the treat is a reward for biting. So guess what he’s going to do next time you try to get him on your finger?
Don't encourage the biting habit
- Is the budgie’s diet varied, and is he fed regularly? A bird who is bored with his diet may become grouchy.
- Does he get a good night’s sleep, without midnight lights, barking dogs or other disturbances? Like any other animal, a sleep-deprived budgie will not be in a good mood. A cage cover can help here.
- Are you handling him properly? A budgie should always choose to hop onto your finger – never grab at him or lift him from the cage by gripping him in any way.
- Do you give the budgie room to fly free? A cramped space full of people ducking their heads, waving their arms or following the flying bird around will make him anxious and prone to panic. In a budgie’s mind, pursuit = predator.
- Does the budgie have plenty of toys, and are they changed regularly? He needs stimulation and can soon become bored. This may make him irritable and liable to bite.
- Does he have a companion, or get all the attention he needs? A bored and lonely budgie may resort to biting as a means of gaining attention.