Practical Management

The initial part of the discussion will cover questions that are asked on the handling of budgerigars during sickness and from there it will be basically an open forum with back up questions and answers enclosed if required.

I have a bird that is off-colour and needs medication or food administered directly into the crop, how do I do this?

To respond to this question I showed a video on crop needling. I then demonstrated the process first and then observed whilst others partook.

Into the crop

Remember that the budgerigar is held in your left hand, facing you. Slowly insert the crop needle and rotate downward aiming for your left thumb. You should feel the ball of the crop needle against your thumb.

I, in the main, use an 8 gauge crop needle and with great success with budgerigars from 3-4 weeks of age onwards, particularly if I am feeding a hand-rearing food. An 18 gauge crop needle for medicating large chicks to adults and 22 gauge for medicating 3-4 day old through to 2-3 week old chicks.

8, 16 and 18 gauge crop needlesThe three gauges of crop needles that I use: 8, 16 and 28 gauge crop needles

If I am asked to inject my budgerigar by the vetinerary surgeon, how do I go about it?

I will firstly demonstrate the method that I use. Always feel for the keel bone and then inject into the muscle. Each time the bird is injected, alternate from left to right of the keel bone, to help the reduction of bruising.

On removal of the needle, I usually massage the injected area. It is important that prior to injecting the bird, that you ‘bleed, the needle of air by flicking your finger onto the syringe (needle facing up) and pushing the “plunger” until air bubbles are no longer present, and only liquid is emerging from the needle.

InjectingDo you have any suggestions for identification of specific diseases of the budgerigar/

In a word, “No.” It is imperative that a proper diagnosis is made of any perceived problem by your Veterinarian, prior to treatment with any drug. Some fanciers will “treat” their sick bird with a cocktail of drugs in a hit and miss treatment that may well kill the bird, or camouflage the actual problem, thus making diagnosis for the Veterinarian difficult. Some of these “cocktails” have proven useless, as they destroy the benefit of each other. The best policy, as stated before, is to seek the Vets advice.

What procedure should you follow when introducing new birds into your establishment?

All introduced budgerigars should be quarantined for approximately 6 weeks. By quarantined, I mean totally isolated from your aviaries, thus reducing the risk of spreading disease if, per chance, there was a problem present. During this quarantine period, faeces and crop samples should be taken by your Veterinary surgeon or, if you are able, collect the samples yourself and deliver to the Vet for testing for worms, coccidiosis, psittacosis etc. My preference, particularly with imported birds, is to have the Veterinarian bring his microscope and necessary equipment to my establishment, to enable on the spot testings for canker and megabacteria plus “set” the slides with faeces and crop samples for further examination and testings back at the clinic. A spread sheet is produced identifying all of the birds to be tested, with results added as they come to hand. The beauty of this system is that individual “problem” birds can be isolated into holding cages for specific treatments. It would be a good idea at this stage, if all is clear, to treat the birds with an appropriate probiotic to colonise the gut and exclude harmful bacteria.

Approximately 2 weeks after the arrival of the new birds, introduce to the quarantine facility (again only if all tests are clear), either a “control” bird, or droppings from your own aviary-kept birds (it would probably be a smart idea to have had some tests done on these budgerigars at the same time as the birds that are in quarantine, to ensure all is well). This helps to introduce “good” bacteria from the aviary-kept birds, to the quarantined birds, without a major risk. It is best to establish that the “good” bacteria is compatible prior to releasing the new birds into the established flock.

An appropriate time to introduce purchased birds is during the breeding season if possible, the birds can be paired instantly (if breeding fit), and the period during breeding acts as the quarantine period. The idea of isolation in wire breeding cabinets will be questioned. I prevent contact via clear perspex dividers The birds still require farces and crop tests.

The use of “control” birds in all aviaries can be of benefit. By “control” bird, I mean a fit bird of inferior quality, flying with your required birds (2-3 per flight), for the purpose of availability for blood sampling or autopsy if a problem arises within that flight.

Is it worth repairing damaged eggs?


Okay then, how do you go about repairing damaged eggs?Damaged egg patches

Many an egg has been saved and many more could have been saved, if time was taken to assess the severity of the damage. If the egg has just been laid through to early embryo stage, examination can be made with a “laser” torch to assess if the white is full of air bubbles, if this is the case, the damage is too severe. If the embryo is visible, and blood appears to have “collected” on the one side within the egg, this damage is possibly too severe but worth attempting to salvage. Almost any other damaged eggs should be repaired, within reason. I have Selleys Aquadhere PVA non-staining, non-toxic wood working glue on hand along with dry shells from hatched eggs or from clear eggs that have been opened and left to dry for the repairing process.

Do not use too much glue, just a thin film, as drying time is extended. Carefully select and shape the patch for the repair. Wait for the glue to totally dry prior to returning to the nest box. I usually keep the repaired egg between my lips whilst I go about the other aviary duties. I then place the patched area of the egg on some fine sawdust to see if the sawdust attaches to the egg, if so, I wait a little longer, retest in the sawdust and return to the appropriate nest box. The biggest mistake you can make is returning the egg with wet glue and later finding the egg attached to the hen as she leaves the nest box.

What do you feed your birds and does this continue unchanged throughout the year?


  • It is essential to feed a variety of good quality “dry” seed all year round.
  • A daily supply of soaked or sprouted seed, this must be drastically reduced during the warmer weather.
  • A daily supply of greens eg., silver beet.
  • A weekly, or fortnightly supply of gum leaves and branches.
  • A continual supply of grits both hard and soft.
  • A daily water supplement eg., Calcivet daily and Soluvet 3 times per week (note you can mix the Calcivet and Soluvet together) leading up to and including the breeding season – after the breeding season is completed, stop the Calcivet usage and reduce the Soluvet to 1 to 2 times per week.

I periodically review my feeding programme. I have stated in the past that when one sights a “positive” practice in someone else’s aviary, and that practice suits your purpose, initiate it. My seed in the main is grown for me in Queensland, and is fed in large, separate containers by variety. By using larger containers, the birds have maximum feeding space, thus reducing stress. The following are fed dry:


  • Plain Canary
  • Jap Millet
  • White French Millet
  • Red Panicum
  • Grey Striped Sunflower
  • Bandicoot Oats
  • Wild Seed Mix

My soaked seed mixture is made up of:

  • 10 parts Triticale
  • 10 parts Bandicoot Oats
  • 1 part of “small” mixed seed to which Aviclens is added. This mix is soaked for 12 hours in water, rinsed, drained and fed twice daily. The Aviclens slows down the fermentation process during soaking thus reducing the risk of bacterial contamination of the seed.

I feed the birds silver beet daily, unless of course they are being administered a “treatment” via the water. If this is the case, all soaked seeds and silver beet feeding ceases until the “treatment” is completed. On completion of the “treatment”, the silver beet and soaked seeds are reintroduced gradually (ie., in smaller amounts). Gum leaves and branches are also withdrawn during any “treatment” as the birds are likely to extract needed moisture from this source rather than the drinking container. Just on “treatment”, I withdraw the drinking containers from the aviaries and breeding cages (if no chicks are present), at about 2pm and reintroduce at about 10am the following day, thus encouraging all of the birds to get a share of the “treatment”. After any given “treatment” or a show, I give the birds a 1 to 3 day probiotic course. I prefer open drinking vessels in the aviaries that are made of pottery, glass or enamel. I detest the bottle with the “drip” system as I do not believe that the birds get a fair go at drinking in an aviary situation. The birds like to eat together and drink together as in the wild. I also believe that the risk of disease from this system is greater as any problem bird leaves a “concentrated form” of the problem at the small outlet.

Hard grit ex Broken Hill, shell grit, Mount Gambier limestone, dolomite and cuttle fish obtained locally, are made available at all times, and beach sand is spread under the aviary perches.

The moult and breeding season sees minor changes to this programme – if I get a feel that the birds need a little something extra, they get it supplied. Millet sprays being one of these little extras, in fact the nursery cage is swamped with these sprays, as it seems a preferred source of intake for the “weaned” birds.

The diet of the budgerigar will vary from aviary to aviary – it is the breeder of these birds that has the final say on what is presented to the birds, and not the birds themselves, so surely, we owe it to them to give the best that is available to encourage a long and fertile life. What do you think?

Would you breed with birds that have been affected by, and remain a visual French Moulter? If so, would the progeny or later descendents be afflicted? What do you believe causes French Moult?

To the first of the 3 questions my answer is “Yes”, if it is a quality bird. Jeff Attwood visited my establishment on his last visit to Australia, and saw a Grey Green Cock of exceptional quality. He suggested I lower the perches in the breeding cage to 12mm from the floor. I had good results with this. In the first year the first round chicks were perfect FM-wise as were the first round chicks of the following year, but in the second round of both years, I had 2 FM chicks in each nest. It should be noted that in the first year, another pair had a FM chick and the second year a number of pairings did, so I could not confirm anything from this.

I have thrown many theories around about French Moult prior to the evidence that French Moult is caused by a virus, without ever coming up with anything concrete. The feather problems always seemed to appear in the latter part of the breeding season, in my case Summer (December). Up until a few years ago, I always managed to produce 2 or 3 French Moulters. Last year there were 5 or 6 FM and around 7 tail-less wonders The year prior, there were 35 FM and 2 or 3 tail-less wonders. There have also been the odd few that have an appearance that the tail, and in some cases, some of the body feathers, have a quill within a quill, similar I guess to a “break” in wool, once a sheep has been under some kind of set back.

My initial theory was, that as it was the end of season, the birds may be losing some of their breeding fitness, plus I may not be giving them the full attention that they deserve, in that I should perhaps be increasing the protein content in that last month of breeding.

The next theory was, that a mite could be the cause, but because it was occurring in random nests and with random birds, this theory was again questioned.

Now that scientists have discovered a virus and also are, I believe, in the advanced stages of finalizing a vaccine for the virus, it has opened up the possibility of “controlling” one of the dilemmas of the fancier. Even after the knowledge of the latter, I question the random choosing of the birds that do become French Moulters. Thus, I believe all three suggestions might have some bearing on the problem. If the diet of the parent birds is not adequate, it could be fair to say that some of the youngsters might not be “totally” fed, thus becoming vulnerable to a virus, or even other forms of infection. Therefore, within any given nest there could be birds that are more vulnerable than others, thus perhaps, explaining why not all of the birds within the nest are affected.

This virus may be air-borne, but may also be carried by a mite. There always seems to be evidence of mite when French Moult is found – this might not be the case in all aviaries but certainly the aviaries that I have visited in this country that have had French Moult, have also in the main, had evidence of mite. The presence of the mite, and the mites activity of sucking blood from their hosts, may break down the birds resistance again making the bird vulnerable to the virus, or perhaps the mite may be the transfer agent?

Regards the “short tail syndrome”, there have been claims of success by feeding those affected birds with vitamin “K”, a blood clotting agent, via the crop? I am yet to trial this, but I will, and it will be via the crop and by injection, and on birds that have been this way for 10 -24 months. I have been given a word of warning by a chemist that, if too much Vitamin “K” is administered, it may cause a heart attack – tread carefully.

Do you number eggs as they are laid? Do you clean out the nest boxes between rounds? At what stage do you remove the youngsters from the nest box?

Yes, I number all of the eggs plus write the cage number upon them as well, ie., Egg 1 Cage 2 = 1:C2. I then write the date the egg was laid and the nest it was transferred to upon the nest box info sheet. I aim to spread the eggs throughout the breeding cages as an insurance against losing a complete nest of eggs, if per chance, the hen dies on the nest, or her eggs are damaged etc. I aim to clean the nest boxes out between rounds and insert a new lot of sawdust. This can be a bit risky if a hen has already started to lay as she, or even the cock may attempt to clean the sawdust out, thus risking the breaking of the eggs. I prefer to remove youngsters at about 3 1/2 weeks of age and place them in a “protective” area on the floor of the cage, (a cover with a concave base, openings in the front and one side). The concave is filled with seed at morning and night and millet sprays are added to encourage the chicks to eat, the cock still continues to top them up and the hen can get back to laying round 2. Chicks are then totally weaned at 4-5 weeks.

What advice would you give to someone just commencing in the fancy and aiming to purchase birds?

I usually advise first-year beginners to forget about expensive birds until they have learnt a bit about breeding practices. In fact, I have suggested to some new fanciers that aimed to purchase birds from me, to come back after 12 months and see if they still want spend their money. A few do, and have continued with the hobby. Others are thankful of that advice, as they did not continue on. Once the new fancier does start to get an eye for a bird, regardless from whom they purchase from, they should aim to buy 1 cock and 2 hens or 2 even pairs that are hopefully, related and from a good background.

Editor’s note.This article has been abstracted from Nigel Tonkin’s notes, formulated for a lecture given at the 22nd Annual Golden Cob Australian Championship Budgerigar Show in 1996, hosted by the Queensland North & Central Zone Budgerigar Council.

Original text Copyright 1996 Nigel Tonkin

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