Parakeets are familiar house pets, but there is more to these cute birds than meets the eye. I have had parakeets for years, but now I can apply the concepts we’ve learned in biology to my fluffy friends.
Parakeets (or, more specifically, budgerigars) are the only species in the Australian genus Melopsittacus. Budgerigar (budgie for short) is the more technically correct name for parakeets and is derived from the name that the Australian aborigines gave the bird. They called them “betcherrygah,” which basically means “good meal.” They are native to Australia and are thought to be the transition species between the Neophema and the Pezoporus (both are types of birds). However, DNA phylogenetic studies have found that the closest relatives of the budgies are lories and fig parrots. Birds are actually part of the subphylum reptilia, because they share many characteristics of reptiles and are descended from dinosaurs. Wild budgies in Australia have had to adapt to extreme climates. Their population size fluctuates from very small to huge flocks, based on the climate of the area. Budgies are very well adapted, and have a relatively well-established ecological niche. Their way of life is centered around surviving in their extreme environment. They are able to reproduce quickly to replace the many birds that are lost during long dry periods. Males are sexually mature at three to four months old. After choosing a mate, they remain faithful to that mate for a long time. It also helps that females are able to lay four to eight eggs at once.
Budgerigars, like other birds, are deuterostomes. They are coelomates, since they have a body cavity, which contains their organs. A unique feature of budgies and other birds is the hollow bones. The mostly hollow bones of birds enable them to fly (although my birds can’t fly because we keep their wings clipped). They also have air sacs to aid in breathing. Budgies are green in the wild, but mutations have given rise to a whole spectrum of colors including blue, yellow, and white. Contrary to popular belief, budgies do not have gizzards and do not need to eat rocks to digest their food. This is because they shell their seeds before they eat them. They also can eat a variety of fruits and vegetables (but my birds are picky). Strangely enough, budgies also like to gnaw on the bones of cuttlefish to keep their beaks trim.
Budgies reproduce sexually with amniotic eggs. When parakeets flirt they will run back and forth on the perch and kind of bob their head around. They will also feed each other. It is easy to tell the sex of a budgie by the color of their nose. Males have blue noses and females have tan ones. The “nose” is actually called the cere, and it is located above the beak. The color of the nose does not become clear until the budgie is about six months old, though, which is why we had a male named Lily and a female named Eddy. The females also tend to be bossier than the males, and they will fight with each other sometimes. Still, parakeets are usually happier with another bird than with just a human for company. However, if you want your parakeet to learn to talk, it will pay more attention to you if it doesn’t have a companion. Parakeets can become quite talkative (especially males), but only with a lot of time and patience from the owner.