Parakeet Care Basics: Guide to Owning These Colorful Birds

Updated May 19, 2022
Cute Parakeet Budgie Standing On The Finger

Parakeets, often known as budgerigars or "budgies" for short, are a popular bird species found in homes around the globe. With proper parakeet care, including appropriate feeding, socialization, environment, and routine veterinary treatment, they can be entertaining pets for many years to come.

How to Take Care of a Parakeet

Parakeets are frequently seen in pet stores and are regarded as easy-to-care-for birds. While this is somewhat correct, it doesn't mean they don't have their own individual requirements to maintain their health and happiness. Understanding how to best care for your parakeet prior to bringing them home is the best approach.

Diet

Multicolored wavy parrot pecks grain

Parakeets cannot survive solely on seed and should have a varied diet. Pellets are recommended over seeds and are formed by grinding proteins, seeds, grains, vegetables, and fruits and baking them into uniform shapes. Unlike seed mixtures, which allow a parakeet to select only the seeds they prefer and discard the others, pellets deliver balanced nourishment with each meal. Birds consume food throughout the day, so have roughly two tablespoons of pellets on hand and refill their dish as needed.

Whenever possible, choose natural color pellets instead of pellets that contain artificial coloring, and be sure to choose the right size pellets for your pet, Brands like Roudybush offer pellets sized for parakeets and a variety of other species.

Although the bulk of your parakeet's diet should be pellets, they should be offered other foods for a well-rounded diet. Your parakeet's diet should include a mixture of pellets, vegetables, fruits, and treats. Fruits have high sugar content, so they should be limited and only provided two to three times per week. Safe fruits include bananas, peaches, and fresh berries. Vegetables should be fed on a daily basis. Recommended vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini.

Adding Minerals

Parakeets require minerals for bone and feather health and female parakeets that hatch eggs require calcium replacement. Although pellet mixes contain minerals, you can also put a mineral block and a cuttlebone on the cage's side for your parakeet to chew on. Parakeets do not require grit in their diet because they consume seeds without the hulls.

Habitat

The right cage, placed in a draft-free area out of direct sunlight, will provide an adequate home for your pet. Parakeets benefit from living in a roomy cage. You should provide your pet with a cage that is no less than 16 inches long by 18 inches wide by 18 inches tall. Even better, give them a cage that is 30 inches long by 19 inches wide by 18 inches tall so they have more room to fly.

You can even provide them with a larger flight cage if you have room for one, as long as the bar spacing isn't too large. If you have two parakeets, the size of the cage should be doubled.

If they won't be out of their cage frequently, purchasing a larger cage is recommended so they have room to fly. If purchasing a larger cage, take a look at the bar spacing to ensure it's not excessively wide. Parakeets should be housed in cages with no more than a half-inch between the bars. If the opening is larger than this, your pet may be able to shove their head through and become stuck or hurt.

Parakeet cages should also have a grate floor to prevent your parakeet from walking over their droppings. This also prevents the cage lining from being damaged, resulting in easier clean-up.

Cage Accessories

Budgies in the Cage

Cages typically come with food and water dishes, but there are some accessories you should consider including to improve your pet's quality of life. For example, perches will provide your pet with a place to sit and observe the world around them. Parakeets need perches that are roughly ½ to 1 inch in diameter, but having perches of slightly varying diameters provides exercise for their feet. Consider manzanita perches for longer use, and perhaps one cement perch to help wear down your bird's nail tips.

Many cages include a swing, but you should add one if your pet's cage doesn't have one. Swings can be very basic, but many swings come with attached toys or chew items.

Toys are also highly recommended to keep your pet happy. Parakeets are highly intelligent, and boredom causes stress. You can enrich your parakeet's environment by adding bird-safe toys to their cage. They can be found at almost any pet store and dramatically improve your pet's mental and physical health. Maintaining a healthy supply of toys is also recommended so they can be swapped out for new experiences. The following are types of toys that can be found at your local pet store:

  • Shredding toys: Parakeets love toys they can shred, such as toys made from yucca or wood.
  • Foraging toys: These are toys that you can fill with appropriate food treats that your parakeet must find and dig out of the toy.
  • Bell toys: These are another favorite, but be sure to only purchase toys with bird-safe bells. These bells are tubular, and the clacker is concealed well within so it doesn't pose a choking hazard.

Cleaning

A clean cage will help your pet remain healthy, and the following schedule will help keep you on track. Clean the food and water containers daily and change the water whenever you notice it has been soiled. Replace the soiled cage lining every two to three days, or more often, if needed. Plan to wash the cage tray once a week with a mix of water and vinegar, and dry it with paper towels before putting the cage back together. Wipe down the cage bars and perches, as well.

Handling

You should give your parakeet some time to adjust to their new home before attempting to handle them. When they first arrive home, cover half of their cage with a cage cover, towel, or blanket. This will allow them to look around if they want to, but also provide some privacy as they are getting accustomed to their new home.

Give your new pet 48 hours to destress and relax. You, and others, should avoid being around their cage during their destress time. However, do not keep them completely isolated as you want him to get used to activity in the home. An area where people are often such as a living room is a good choice.

If Your Parakeet Is Accustomed to Handling

Once 48 hours have passed, you can begin socializing them. Some have already been socialized at their prior location whereas others may need to be socialized slowly at their own pace. If they are already comfortable moving onto your hand, gently place your hand in the cage underneath your bird. Place your fingers by the parakeet's feet and he should move onto them if they have been trained to do. You can also ask them to "step up" which may have been used during training by their previous owner.

If Your Parakeet Is Not Used to Being Handled

If your parakeet has never been handled or has been handled on rare occasions, it may take some time for them to become accustomed to not only being handled but also coming out of their cage. If they appear started when you approach, don't jump right into handling. Instead, walk toward their cage slowly until you notice them becoming uneasy. Once you notice them becoming distressed, stop and don't progress any further. Continue this process until they allow you to get close enough to their cage to touch it.

Once they are comfortable with you touching their cage, you can begin offering a treat like a strand of millet. Fruit or other treats can be utilized, but millet is relatively long and provides some distance between you and your new pet resulting in less stress. If they don't want to eat the millet, simply place it on the cage with a clip. Don't be discouraged if this takes some time. Some parakeets become used to handling quickly whereas others may take several weeks of consistent training.

Health

Overall, parakeets are healthy birds, but can be susceptible to the following ailments and conditions:

  • Low blood calcium: A potentially fatal condition often caused as a result of excessive egg-laying.
  • Giardia: Often the cause of feather plucking in parakeets.
  • Avian Gastric Yeast: A highly contagious condition resulting in vomiting blood and mucus.

Quarantine

If you have other birds, you should quarantine your new parakeet for a minimum of 30 days unless your vet says it's safe to integrate your new pet into your flock. Quarantining prevents the spread of viruses and harmful bacteria. Always wash your hands after caring for a quarantined parakeet before you attend to the rest of your flock.

Finding a Veterinarian

When you bring your parakeet home, schedule a veterinary appointment right away for a check-up, and try to use a board-certified avian vet if you can. The vet will assess your pet's current health and likely perform gram stains to check for diseases. It's especially important to have your pet checked for a disease called psittacosis because people can contract this illness from their birds. After the initial exam, your pet should have a well-visit checkup each fall and spring.

Grooming

Regular grooming is necessary to maintain your pet's emotional and physical health. While you may accomplish some of these tasks on your own, you should seek assistance from your veterinarian for any type of trimming. Mist your bird several times a week with warm water to help maintain the health of their feathers and skin.

Trim their nails about once a month or if they appear to be overgrown. Consult your veterinarian to clip their beak if it becomes too long. Wing trimming is optional and somewhat controversial. However, in certain circumstances, it can assist in preventing injury or escape. Discuss it with your veterinarian to obtain their perspective on the matter.

Lifespan

The life expectancy of pet parakeets varies between 5 and 15 years. There are many factors that affect life expectancy, including their overall care, genetics, and potential health conditions.

Is a Parakeet Right for You?

Parakeets may be little birds, but they are just as big of a responsibility as any other pet. Caring for parakeets requires attention and dedication. Make sure you are ready to provide for all of your pet's needs before you bring them home. Remember, this is a large commitment as with any other pet, and you will be responsible for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being throughout their lifetime.

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Parakeet Care Basics: Guide to Owning These Colorful Birds