A common mistake in caring for budgerigar is to feed too much dry seed. Dry seed alone is very high in fat while being low in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals. A budgerigar kept entirely on dry seed can end up with multiple problems such as poor feathering, respiratory disease, fatty liver and diabetes. The best diet for a budgerigar includes pellets, fruit and vegetables and small amounts of seed as a treat.
The diet we recommend be fed:
High quality budgerigar pellets
These are low in fat, and high in vitamins and minerals that your bird needs. Pellets should form 50% of the diet.
A range of fresh fruit and vegetables
These should always be available for your bird and provided fresh daily.
Some ideas – peas, corn, broccoli, celery leaves, capsicum, carrot, spinach. Darker coloured vegies are generally more nutritious.
Any fruit or vegetable that we eat EXCEPT FOR avocado, onion and rhubarb.
Budgerigars usually appreciate fresh grasses and native plants, especially the seed heads. Milk thistle is also good for birds.
Flowers, branches and leaves from the common natives are safe to give your budgerigar. They provide a good supplementation of food and entertainment for your bird.
Fresh water always available and changed daily
Budgerigar seed – 1 teaspoon per day
Treats – good for training
These should be provided in small quantities only
Millet, Whole grain plain bread or toast, cockatiel seed mix, nuts, dried fruit, plain whole-grain crackers.
Converting to Pellets – tips and tricks
Mix 50/50 with seed in the normal food bowl. Only provide enough food for 1 day – 1-1½ teaspoons of each. If seed is provided in excess of daily intake, your bird won’t get hungry enough to try the pellets. Gradually reduce the amount of seed once your bird is eating the pellets.
Try moistening the pellets and rolling into balls with seed – as your bird picks at his favourite seeds some pellets will be eaten and he will get the taste of them.
If your bird likes human food, pretend to eat the pellets yourself – it may make them more appealing.
Patience, patience, patience – it may take several weeks before your budgerigar willingly eats pellets.
Changing the diet of a budgerigar
A good diet is the basis of health in these birds but budgies are not easy to feed correctly. Fed dry seed only, they tend to survive for only 5-7 years and develop a variety of health problems as they age. Fed a complete diet they can live for 12-15 years. Being desert adapted, budgies have evolved to do well on a very low energy, low calorie diet often feeding on bits of bark, leaves, and flowers etc. At the same time they have evolved to quickly put on weight and come into breeding condition after rain when grasses seed. In captivity it is always a good time with seed being freely available. Dry seed is very high in fat, low in protein and also many essential nutrients such as vitamin A and calcium. A good diet for a budgerigar is 50% seed/pellets and 50% fruits and veggies. Budgerigars however do not have ‘nutritional wisdom’ and often if given the choice will choose the fatty option (a bit like teenagers) which is seeds.
Tricks to get budgies to eat a balanced diet
1. Start with the fruit and vegetables that are favoured by most budgerigars – green leafy vegetables (spinach, silverbeet), broccoli, cauliflower, capsicum, peas etc
2. To increase palatability, vegetables like sweet potato and peas can be steamed, squashed and have seed pushed into them.
3. Things that have seed or pips naturally will often be taken eg alfalfa sprouts, bean shoots, ‘crunchy combo’ legumes, also dried figs, tomatoes and pomegranates.
4. Seed can be sprouted. This activates the endosperm and makes many nutrients much more accessible. Soak seed for 4 hours, rinse twice daily. On the third day, feed as the seed is sprouting.
5. Panic or veldt grass particularly when seeding, dandelion and milk thistle are all free ‘vegetables’ from the garden.
6. The ‘rissole’ technique can be used to start budgerigars on pellets. Add equal amounts of seed and pellets, drip water on until the pellets are sticky/mushy, push together to form a ‘rissole’. The budgerigar sees the seed but cannot eat it without getting some of the pellet. Each day, when preparing the ‘rissole’, add less seed and water until the bird is eating pellets.
Budgies can go for three weeks without drinking but must eat 1-2 times, at least, per day. It is possible to starve a budgerigar to death in a few days. When making a dietary conversion it is important not to put the bird at risk through a reduced food intake. This can be achieved by monitoring the droppings. Bowel transit time in a small bird is only 2-4 hours. If a budgerigar has not eaten for this length of time the dropping will principally contain only urine (this looks like clear liquid with some white urates floating in it). Droppings should be monitored while a new diet is being tried and if this happens the bird should be fed its favoured food immediately.