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Dr Robert Marshall

Philosophy; On Breeding Exhibition Budgerigars

Dr. Rob Marshall (B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc. (Avian Health), Sydney)

Knowledge of the breeding patterns of the wild budgerigar is needed to improve the breeding results of exhibition budgerigars. This article outlines the important areas of wild budgerigar biology and their application to the modern day exhibition budgerigar.

The wild budgerigar is a remarkably successful species. For over five million years it has survived in the harsh, dry conditions of inland Australia. Its success can be attributed to a nomadic lifestyle and its ability to breed "on the run". Breeding activity is initiated in a similar fashion as for other bird species. It is dependent upon seasonal and climatic conditions but in many ways the behaviour of budgerigars is unique amongst birds. Its breeding activity is completely dominated by the availability of water and food. These are scarce resources across the vast dry regions of inland Australia. Survival, rather than breeding, dominates the life of wild budgerigars. Seasonal rains and temperatures dictate the breeding cycle of wild birds.

Budgerigars do not breed in the heat of summer, even after summer rains, because the high temperatures rapidly kill off most desert grasses and dry up water holes. In nature, budgerigars reserve this time for the annual moult. Similarly, exhibition budgerigars should not breed, but be allowed to moult during summer.

Winter temperatures often drop below freezing in Australian deserts causing budgerigars to abandon their nests. Exhibition budgerigars should also not be allowed to breed when it is too cold. Budgerigars in nature breed prolifically during favorable seasonal conditions and their cousins, exhibition budgerigars, have certainly retained this ancient and strong characteristic.

Sadly, many champion exhibition budgerigars have lost this fundamental trait through poor selection. The consensus of opinion is that the breeding requirements of the modern day exhibition budgerigar are more demanding than those of wild budgerigars because of the increased size of their young. In many Australian studs poor fertility has been reversed by those holding defiantly to the wise breeding principle of "selection of the fittest".

It is agreed that modern day exhibition budgerigars are more difficult to breed and need special attention. The fancier should see improvements in breeding results when the principles of the breeding habits of wild budgerigars are applied to the somewhat difficult exhibition budgerigar. The following facts should increase the chance of breeding success and reduce the likelihood of breeding failure. They are introduced here and will then be explored in detail in future journal issues.

"General timing" guidelines

Fertility problems (albeit not in every breeding pair) must be expected when budgerigars are paired at the wrong biological time of the year, irrespective of the presence of artificial lighting or        temperature control. Disappointing breeding results must also be expected in the depth of winter prior to the shortest day of the year and during summer. Breeding should not occur in summer at the time of the natural annual moult. It is imperative to give the exhibition budgerigar the same biological calendar as the wild bird when autumn and spring breeding predominate.

"Precise timing" guidelines

Breeding condition is a prerequisite for successful breeding. The best results are seen when the breeding condition of each sex is synchronous. Informed breeding management systems introduce the pairs to mimic the wild bird situation. Poor results should be expected when the hen in "breeding condition" is not introduced to the cock or nest on time.


"Day-length" guidelines

The availability of food and water is required for wild budgerigars to breed. Most often it is the autumn rain pattern of central Australia that creates the best conditions for wild budgerigars to breed. Wild budgerigars also breed in spring when good autumn rain saturates the water table. With the onset of warmer weather, the soil moisture produces a flush of summer grasses. It is the biological clock of ancient birds that stimulates breeding at this time. The increasing day length activates the biological clock and initiates breeding behavior in most bird species. With the increasing day length that follows the shortest day of the year (June 23rd in Southern Hemisphere; December 12th in Northern Hemisphere) the sex organs of cock birds are stimulated. As long as the weather is not too cold, they will come into "breeding condition" within 4 weeks. Hens do not respond as quickly to the increasing day length. They require a day length of at least 10 hours, and closer to 12 hours, to attain "breeding condition". This apparent asynchrony is beneficial to the breeding outcome by protecting the energy reserves of the hen. She must preserve her energy for egg production. When in breeding condition, her nesting and egg laying response will not be completed unless she receives appropriate courtship activities from a cock bird also in breeding condition. Warmer weather may also stimulate hen birds into breeding condition. Although budgerigars respond to increasing day length as a remnant of the ancient birds' biological clock, it is not an important stimulus to breeding in the wild and should not be expected to provide the same breeding stimulus as the completion of the natural summer moult.

Australian breeders provide their birds with direct sunlight; as it is such an integral part to breeding success. Direct sunlight should be utilised wherever possible. Enclosed bird rooms are used for convenience and when direct sunlight is impractical. They offer advantages and challenges for the budgerigar breeder. Day lengths between 10 and 14 hours are used to stimulate breeding activity. Enclosed bird rooms are also used in Australia, but are far more common in other parts of the world. Without the benefit of natural day light hours, breeding expectations must be lower for environmentally controlled indoor bird rooms. The temperature, humidity and day length controls found in indoor bird rooms do, however, provide breeding budgerigars with significant advantages compared to budgerigars in naturally lit aviaries.


"Natural selection" guidelines in nature, the strongest budgerigars select the best nest sites and are first to breed. Similarly, the most vital exhibition budgerigars are the first to come into "breeding condition" and are the best breeders. Fanciers must select wisely and follow nature's doctrine of "survival of the fittest". Freedom from disease also plays a major role in the breeding performance of the exhibition budgerigar and health programmes should be implemented prior to breeding for studs with poor breeding records It has never been easy to breed champions, because they are few and far between, even from studs with the very best European stock. Success at breeding champion livestock has always been and continues to be a "numbers and chance" game. The more offspring bred from proven pairs the better the chance of producing a champion. Consequently, the aim must be to improve the breeding success of each pair.  Budgerigar fanciers are wise to take note of this fundamental tenet and take advantage of the extraordinary breeding capabilities of the budgerigar.


Selecting for vitality, above all else, is the best and quickest way to succeed at breeding and exhibition. This is due to the fact that vitality is intimately related to fertility. The theory of selecting for vitality sounds straightforward. However, it is complicated in practice by the fact that the most successful exhibition budgerigars have in many cases been, and continue to be, infertile or poor breeders. The current lack of fertility in the best quality exhibition budgerigars has occurred, in part, to poor selection by budgerigar fanciers in the past (vitality and fertility are both strongly heritable characteristics). The genetic link between poor vitality/fertility and the desirable features of the standard, namely large body size and long feathers, add to the difficulties of breeding champions from champions.


"Fertility" guidelines - Many, but not all of the best quality exhibition budgerigars have fertility problems. In an effort to recover the lost vitality of the champion bird in future generations, the most practical solution would be to use the family gene pool of lesser quality, but more vital brothers or  sisters of the champions. There is a far greater chance of producing future champions from the lesser birds purely due to increased numbers of offspring produced. A champion produced from this "lesser" pairing is much more likely to be vital and fertile. They can then be used to start a sturdy and productive family more in line with the old Australian families.

My advice is to breed at the right time of year and then to reassess your breeding results. If infertility persists, "cleanse" the stud with a prescribed disease treatment programme. If fertility is good and the babies develop poorly, look more closely at the feeding system being used. By following these simple rules, breeding success is guaranteed in all pairs except those with a genetic weakness.

Moult guidelines - Understand the relationship between the moult and the breeding season. The wild budgerigar can breed at any time of the year but generally does not breed in the heat of summer, prior to the monsoon rains. It is during these hot months of December, January and February that it replaces its feathers in what is referred to as the annual moult. It is the completion of the moult and the beginning of the autumn rains that prime the wild budgerigar into breeding condition. The fancier must also follow this same natural process with the aviary budgerigar and wait for the completion or termination of the annual moult before starting to breed. This applies to both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and is outlined in the chart below.

The best time to start breeding 


Southern Hemisphere

Northern Hemisphere




Annual Moult

No breeding during the

annual moult.

Never start breeding in December.

Stop breeding when it is too cold.

May start to breed after January 1st   in warm climates




March 1st

The best time to start breeding

Continue until it gets too cold.

March 1st

A very good time to start


Continue until June.




Never start breeding in June

Start breeding after July 1st in warm climates.

Annual Moult

No breeding during the annual







September 1st

The second best time to start

breeding in most areas.

September 1st

The best time to start breeding.

Continue until June in heated and

light controlled aviaries. Stop in

December in cold winter areas.


This article by Dr. Rob Marshall is supplied by the World Budgerigar Organisation (www.world-budgerigar.org), as part of their encouraged exchange of research information, and supplied to the WBO with kind permission by the Budgerigar Council of Victoria, Australia.