Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another fun fact

Budgerigars are the only birds known to scratch the sides of the crissum (= the area under the tail of the bird, or the feathers covering this) with their feet!

That's a bit funny ^^ but when it itches, you've got to scratch!

Image (c) Russ on Picassaweb

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Out together, home together

Being part of a flock is very important to wild budgerigars.
If for example one bird takes off to drink, the whole flock will follow.

This is not just because budgerigars love to be together, but it also works as a precaution against possible enemies.

Image (c) tr1307 on

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Budgies in Australia: discovery

Budgerigars have survived the harsh inland conditions of the Australian Outback for the last 5 million years. They were well known to the native aboriginal peoples of Australia, who used to catch the budgies for food and used their plumage for symbolic decorations. They already had a few names for the birds by the time colonists became familiar with them in the 1700s.

The English Zoologist Dr. George Kearsly Shaw (1751-1813) documented the existence of the species in 1794, but they were not yet able to make a good study on budgerigars, since they were still living in the wild. Shaw was the first to describe the small parrot, "the Australian Splendid Grass Parakeet", which he named "psitaccus undulatus" (undulated grass parakeet).
The English ornithologist John Gould (1804-1881) was clearly fascinated by these small birds, referring to them as the "most animated, cheerful little creatures you can possibly imagine".

Some extracts from Gould's masterpiece
Birds in Australia
So they still had dodo's back then? Wow... check out that nice picture of our sweet budgie buddies!

Gould was able to take a few budgerigars home with him. In 1840 he published the first detailed report on budgerigar behaviour in his work Birds of Australia. He was also the one who came up with the current scientific name, melopsitaccus undulatus ("melodious parrot", but also meaning "the best of all the grass parakeets"), in recognition of the birds' unique characteristics.

John Gould is mostly remembered because he was the one who imported the first live budgies to Britain during the same year, in 1840. Gould is also remembered as the enthusiastic ornithologist who described the famous finches of the Galapagos isles, in cooperation with Charles Darwin.

Five million years later, vast flocks of wild budgerigars still range across the deserts and dry grasslands of the Australion Outback. Fossiled bones found in Australia reveal that budgies have barely changed in the last four million years. This means they have been around far longer than the Aboriginal people, who arrived about 40,000 years ago, or any human beings at all!
If anyone knows the secrets and dangers of Australia, it's a budgerigar. These little birds are shaped by natural evolution, healthy, hardy, adaptable, tough and intelligent. They are capable of flying more than 400 km in a single day.

Fun facts:

Ever since Gould introduced the birds to Europe, they've become the world's most popular pet bird. Nowadays, it's illegal to export wild budgerigars from Australia. Don't confuse this with the so-called Budgie Smuggler meme, it has not much to do with real budgerigars - but more with a certain kind of swimwear:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Australia: Homeland of Budgies (6)

Budgerigars in the wild live together in large flocks, sometimes of over one thousand birds. The flock movements are based upon the availability of food and water. During times of drought, they fly over vast distances to find a source of water. Budgies seemingly sense when it's raining, miles and miles away from where they are. Because when times are harsch, they fly directly to that area, without taking detours. The journey is often long and full of danger, but when they get there, it's very rewarding. Arriving in a perfect green nesting area, they have fulfilled their mission of life and can start over again.

Wild budgies are mostly active during the early morning hours and the late evening hours. To avoid the heat of the day, they stay sheltered in trees and bushes. During times of drought, water may be very scarce. Being inactive is a good way to conserve moisture. Budgies can go up to one month without water. But they always need to eat. A budgie's metabolism is very speedy, and if they don't eat for more than 46 hours, it could mean their death.
When budgies are active, they use their time well. They spend most of their time drinking from waterholes, scanning the area for grass seeds and scurrying from tree to tree to find a good place to rest. When there aren't a lot of grass seeds, budgies try to find some nuts, insects and fruit or bark from Eucalyptus trees.

All budgies love bathing. The riverbanks are sometimes too deep to bathe in, though. Instead, the budgies love to roll around in morning dew, or soaking wet, long clean grass.

Natural enemies of wild budgies include snakes, the Butcher Bird, hawks and falcons. The most dangerous enemy of the budgies, however, is often nature itself. Droughts can kill thousands of them. 1932 is known as a black year for budgies and other small birds, when conditions were far more savage than usual. This year is also referred to as the Bird Holocaust. Entire flocks lost their lives in an attempt to find food and water. When they finally found some water, thousands budgies would swoop down for a drink and be drowned as a result of many birds landing on top of eachother. There were horrible reports of millions of budgies dying that year.

After the big disaster, the budgies did their best to repopulate the lost numbers. There are still a lot of wild budgies in Australia. However, industrialization has taken away much of their natural habitat. Wild budgies are not an endangered species yet, but if people keep on destroying the places where they live, they may soon be.

Information and pictures (c);;;

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Australia: Homeland of Budgies (5)

One thing that is interesting to know about, is the breeding behaviour of wild budgerigars.
How can they stay alive with a high Summer temperature and an unpredictable low rainfall as an annual constant?

Budgerigars are nomadic birds. They will always move on to a better spot when times are hard. Another technique for them to stay alive in the dry Outback of Australia is by following thunderstorms. The smallest bit of water after a dry period can attract explosive numbers of budgies. When they run out of water, they have to move on until they find new water. Sometimes, a drought like this lasts several years. Whenever there's an opportunity, they have no choice but to take it.

Rainfall doesn't just mean salvation for the brave little yellow-green birds - it also marks the beginning of the breeding season. Rain means a brand new food supply - one that can feed enough beaks. Budgerigars have adapted to this unpredictable climate by activating their breeding cycle very quickly after the rain. They respond sexually to the good times, but when food supplies are limited by drought, they have no desire to mate and are unable to breed. In short - they're too busy surviving.

But even though rain is necessary, it's not going to decide completely whether the budgies will bring their breeding activity to a succesful conclusion.
Nature has got many seasonal, climatic, geographical and geological challenges in store for them. Taking this into account, the budgies will also have to keep their eyes peeled for danger. They're not the only animals who want to settle down in a fertile area after months of drought.

The soil in the upland areas of the Outback is more fertile than the reddish brown soil in the lowland areas. But the lowlands soil is rich in iron, and contains a lot of calcium in some parts. This calcium supply is a determining factor in the budgerigar's selection of nesting grounds. Calcium is necessary for egg production, which is a crucial part of the breeding cycle.
Beyond the lowlands, there lies a no-go place for budgies: the inhospitable sand deserts and barren plains.

There are Acacia shrubs dispersed throughout all of the lowlands, together with a diverse range of grasses. The grasses start to flower when there's enough rain, providing the famous grass seeds that budgies love so much. However, when it's really too dry, the grasses are completely useless as a food supply. The budgies are then forced to the dangerous sand deserts beyond the lowlands, where they are unable to breed. Desert vegetation that provide enough nutrients for the budgerigar's survival consist mostly of tussock grasses, Spinifex, Bandicoot Grass, Blue Bush and Salt Bush. This might keep the budgies alive for a good while, but the lack of rain and the absense of calcium-enriched soils make it impossible to breed.

Although not everything, the wet season determines a major part of the budgerigar's breeding cycle.
The starting time and duration of the wet season vary from year to year, partially depending on the monsoon activity further North and West of Australia.
The so-called El Niño and La Niña phenomena also have a major effect on the starting time and duration of the wet season.
An intense El Niño results in drought and often means death for some budgerigars. A normal El Niño results in monsoon activity in November, extending throughout the whole Summer (until April). The success of the budgies' breeding cycle is heavily dependant on both El Niño and La Niña - phenomena that appear to follow a 1500-2000 years long cycle. La Niña (or "anti- El Niño) is often followed by a strong El Niño. For the budgies, this is translated into: "Now we've survived the worst, it can only get better". La Niña causes mostly the opposite of El Niño, and since El Niño often causes a dry period, La Niña often brings salvation for the budgies: a wet period. When La Nina dominates the weather pattern, the number of budgies will rise again.

It's a combination of rainfall with moderate temperatures that makes breeding conditions as perfect as they can be. This way, breeding in the North isn't possible in the Summer, because of exterme temperatures. Similarly, temperatures are too cold in the South, even when there's enough rain.
During Winter months, budgerigars may fly to the North-East of Queensland where warmer temperatures allow breeding after the rain. The remaining seasons, especially Spring, are the most suitable times for the budgerigars to start their breeding cycle because of the moderate temperature.

In the Australian Outback, water is scarce and budgerigars must seek to find this in order to survive. About 80% of the desert waters come from thunderstorms. The thunderstorms are heavy and cause a flood, flowing down the slopes, into the dry riverbeds. These shallow rivers, waterholes, make an ideal nesting area for the budgies.

Finally, they found the perfect place to take a break from their nomadic life and start a family. They've earned it!

Information and pictures are (c);;;

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Australia: Homeland of Budgies (4)

In the wild, budgies build their nests in cavities and hollow tree trunks. They do this because the closed-in space makes them feel safe.
Domesticated budgies will also feel safer if you help them make a nest instead of giving them nest boxes.

Wild budgies prefer the branches and trunks of Eucalyptus trees to build their nests in. In these Eucalyptus trees, there are cavities in various sizes. The budgies will pick out the small cavities and make it their home, while larger birds like cockatiels will occupy the larger cavities.

This budgie is already excited to become a dad!

To find the perfect nesting areas, they have to find water. They aren't always lucky - sometimes their feeding grounds are 50 km away from the nesting areas.
The ideal place is of course a river bank: there's bound to be food and water around!

A creek is also a dream-home for a budgie: creeks are small streams, often shallow so the budgerigars can easily drink from it. And they love bathing! On top of that, it's probably bursting with food supplies during and after the rain season.

After the rain has come, budgies finally get ready to start a family of their own. They have to take advantage of the sudden big food supply, while it still lasts. The Australian Outback is known to be very hot and very dry and it often gives the budgies a hard time.
Each pair of budgies looks for a nice-looking little cavity in a hollow tree or log. The mother budgie lays four to six eggs and has to keep them warm for nearly three weeks.

In case the breeding cavity is too small, the female budgie can make more room with aid of her beak. Female budgies indeed have a harder bite than male budgies, because evolution made their jaw muscles stronger. So beware!

Father budgie isn't allowed to take a good look at the nest yet; his only task consists of bringing food to his mate and guarding the territory.
Once the baby budgies hatch, they're completely helpless, and remain that way for the next three weeks. When they start growing feathers, the father is allowed into the nest and helps to take care of his babies, so mother budgie can have a break every now and again.
Just a few weeks later, and the baby budgies are ready to spread their wings and join the big flock in their adventure of life. If the conditions are right - if there's still enough food and water around - Mom and Dad might start a new family right away.

The fact that budgies are colonial birds is yet another survival technique. When times are good, you can often see budgie couples bring up their babies at the same time, in the same eucalyptus trees. Nesting in colonies, as it's called, is an effective way to guarantee a maximum safety for each flock member. Many birds have a lot of eyes, and they're constantly watching the nesting grounds and the area surrounding it.

Budgies have different dialects that differ from flock to flock, but they will always understand each other when it comes to surviving. It is a certainty that budgerigars have a unified language, wherever they may come from. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to warn each other in case of danger. It goes as far as that budgies can even communicate certain information to other conspecifics (birds belonging to the same species). When there is danger, everyone needs to know.

Information and images (c);;;;

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Australia: Homeland of Budgies (3)

The Australian Outback is usually very hot and very dry. And full of predators.
But budgies have lived there so long, that they've worked out their own ways to deal with this.

One example is that they can go a long time without water. In the meantime, their bodies get water from the food they eat, which consists mainly of grass seeds.

Budgies in the wild mainly feed on grass seeds, eucalypt leaves, buds, bark and other greens.

Wild Millet

"Spinifex, Mitchell's and Tussock grasses are also part of the natural diet of the wild budgerigars. Sometimes they also eat wheat from the farmer's fields and some wild millet, see photo on the right. In the early morning the birds are gathering in huge flocks (sometimes a few hundreds to thousands of individuals) and they are drinking dew or taking a bath in the dewdrops which got stuck on the leaves of the grasses. To get nourishing food the budgerigars have to travel long distances. Their feeding grounds are often situated more than 50 kilometres away from their breeding areas. As there is a very hot and dry climate, the budgerigars migrate across open plains (the so-called outback) and look for place where some fresh green tufts carry half-ripe seeds after a rainfall. There is only little precipitation in most parts of the Australian continent and therefore the feedings grounds are widespread over the country. The birds needed to adapt to these hard environmental conditions; that's why the budgerigars lead their lives as nomadic birds.


This nomadic way of life is also a survival trick. The budgies gather in small flocks, looking for nice food places. When they've gobbled up all they could find in one of these food places, they move on to the next, and so on.
Sometimes the weather conditions are extremely bad, causing the grass and greens to wither away. Then the budgies have to be strong together - they join other flocks and roam far and wide, scanning every area in search of food and water. Sometimes people spot flocks of over many thousand budgies crossing the Australian outback. It leaves them flabbergasted.
Even more breathtaking is the fact that they travel for hundreds of miles on their mission for food and water. Some of the budgies will die on this journey, because they don't find enough to eat - droughts like this give budgies an extra hard time - but the others survive and keep searching... until they find a place where the rains have come.
Rain means that nature comes back to life, it means that the grass starts growing again, providing new seeds for the budgies.
Once the budgies have found this, everything is perfect to start making new budgies!

Information (c),
Picture of two budgies (c)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Australia: Homeland of Budgies (2)

Wild budgies have no easy life. They live in Australia's "Outback", that's what they call the central part of the country, where there's little or no rain during the year.

Still, these birds have what it takes to survive in this barren place.
This is one of the reasons:

Appearance (I'm hereby referring to one of my earlier posts)

Potentially, there are about 20 million different possible colour combinations for aviary budgies. But the wild budgie is green. Any significant variation on this would make the bird stand out in the crowd, so it would become an easy target prey for hawks.

One more reason: they are absolute acrobats in the air. Although there can be over one thousand budgies in one flock, they will never collide. Wild budgies are quite small, slim and athletic. Their tiny form and athleticism make them difficult to catch.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Australia, Homeland of Budgies (1)

Budgies are small, colourful birds that are native to Australia. They can be seen gathering in large flocks in the Australian wilderness, where they have survived harsch inland conditions for the last five million years.

In the following week(s), I'll gather information about how the little birds cope with different dangers in their homeland, how they adapt themselves to the wilderness, what they do, where they live, what they eat, where they sleep, etc.

I'll start with one first fact: budgerigars in their natural habitat in Australia, are noticeably smaller than pet budgies. They are 18 cm long and weigh 30-40 grams. English budgies can be one budgie-head bigger than their wild ancestors, and weigh up to 50 grams!

information: Wikipedia;