If you’re buying from a breeder you may have to wait for the budgies to be old enough to live away from their parents. They are weaned and sufficiently independent between 8 and 10 weeks after hatching. A young bird will have horizontal bar-markings across its entire head, including the crown (the forehead area). The frontal stripes disappear when the budgie moults for the first time, after three to four months. So, any bird without these bars will be older than 12 weeks.
There are a number of things to look out for if you want to take home a budgie that will be both happy and healthy:
- Check out the bird’s previous home. Most breeders keep their birds in good environments, but not all. If a breeder’s cages seem dirty, overcrowded, and lacking in sufficient food, water and toys, you would do well to shop elsewhere. The same rule applies to pet shops or any bird you source online – a budgie that has a bad start in life may not thrive as well as a healthy, happy one.
- Ask the seller questions. Whether they’re a breeder or a member of staff in a shop, the person selling you the budgie should know a lot about the bird. If they don’t, how can you trust that their budgies have been well looked after? You could argue that there is a duty to ‘rescue’ birds that have not been given the best start in life; but ill health in a bird will commonly lead to its death. Furthermore, your purchase will help keep the dealer in business, and in the long term that’s not a good thing.
- Ask for a written guarantee of health for your new bird. Many places will offer this as a matter of course. It should enable you to return the budgie and get a refund should the vet discover any existing health problem in the young bird.
Take a good look at your pet budgie before buying
- Choose a bird that looks healthy. Things to look out for include:
- Sociable behaviour. Healthy young budgies will be noisy, playful and alert. A quiet bird perched alone in a cage containing other birds will be ailing. It might be harder to make a judgement if the bird happens to be alone in a cage, (although this is seldom the case in shops and breeders’ aviaries), but you’ll still be able to tell a lethargic, ailing bird from an alert, healthy one.
- Beautiful plumage. There should be no missing or messy feathers, and the bird should look sleek and shiny. Some breeders may clip primary feathers on the young budgies’ wings, so check if this is the case. It won’t do the bird any harm, and the feathers will grow back, but to the untrained eye it may look ‘wrong’.
- Quiet breathing. Budgies are musical chatterboxes, but the noise shouldn’t extend to their breathing. Listen to the budgie when it’s not vocalising – if there is a ‘wheeze’ or a ‘clicking’ sound, it might indicate respiratory problems, possibly air sac mite.
- Clean nostrils and beak. The nostrils should be clear, with no mucous or dried matter clogging them or stuck to the beak. If any nasty stuff is present, it means the bird has a respiratory problem, which is a common cause of death in budgies. It’s contagious too, so any bird sharing the same space may be infected. (This condition is not to be confused with the swollen, scaly cere of a hen budgie with eggs - she’s supposed to look like that!)
- A well-proportioned beak. If it’s crooked, rough looking or oversized, there are hidden health problems.
- The right number of toes. There should be four on each foot, two pointing forwards and two pointing backwards (a formation known as zygodactyl, a feature common to all parrots, and the secret of their great dexterity). Watch the bird perching and climbing – it should excel at these things, and any sign of clumsiness or awkwardness could indicate a deformity or problem. Also, if the legs in general look swollen or more scaly than other budgies you have seen, it might indicate disease.
- A clean vent (the vent, or cloaca, is the area from which the bird deposits its droppings). If it looks messy down below, it might be an indication of a health problem, or a poor diet which has weakened the bird.