Taxonomy

The wild budgerigar is a small, streamlined, parrot, with rounded head and small beak, pointed wings and long tail.

Head to tail length in wild budgerigars is approximately 180mm. Show standard, captive budgerigars are significantly larger, ideally at least 216mm head to tail.

Natural adult plumage has the following characteristics:

  • bright yellow forehead, face and throat
  • round black spots and a prominent violet patch on cheeks
  • a yellow crown and mantle with fine black barring which extends under eyes
  • the barring becomes heavier - scalloping - down the back and on the wing coverts
  • underparts of the lower back and rump are bright light green
  • dark blue tail with a striking yellow band across lateral feathers
  • a white wing bar is also visible in flight
  • immature birds have fine barring on the forehead and dark eyes
  • birds can be sexed by the colour of the fleshy cere at the base of the bill - blue in males and brown in females

Many colour varieties have been bred in captivity - see section on Aviculture.

Discovery

The budgerigar was well known to the native aboriginal peoples of Australia, and already had a number of names by the time colonists became familiar with it in the 1700s. 

The species was formally described by George Shaw in1805, but specimens were still very rare in museum collections until the late 1830s. John Gould (1804–1881), whilst collecting and exploring in Australia from 1838–1840, was clearly captivated by these small parrots, referring to them as ‘the most animated, cheerful little creatures you can possibly imagine’.

He collected a number of specimens, and in 1840 published the first detailed account of budgerigar behaviour in his great work Birds of Australia, where he also changed the scientific name in recognition of the species’ unique characteristics. 

However, Gould is best remembered by budgerigar enthusiasts for successfully importing the first live birds to Britain, also in 1840. Gould is also remembered as the ornithologist who described the famous finches of the Galapagos discovered by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle (1831–1836).

Other names

The common name budgerigar comes from one of the native aboriginal names, recorded by Gould as ‘Betcherrygah’, which is widely thought to mean ‘good eating’. 

A specimen from Gould’s own collection still carries a very early label with the name ‘Budjeregah’. However, early names included:

  • undulated parakeet
  • warbling grass parakeet
  • canary parrot
  • scallop parrot

Now the most familiar name is ‘budgie’.

Evolution

The budgerigar is the only species within its genus - it is monotypic. 

Molecular studies show that it is most closely related to 2 other unusual monotypic Australian parrots - the ground parrot, Pezoporus wallicus and the night parrot, Geopsittacus occidentalis.

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