A Hundred-Year History:

The first Budgerigars to reach Europe arrived in England about 1840 although the birds apparently were known earlier. They are supposed to have reached the continent about 10 years later---exact details are not available. The Dutch aviculturist Nuyens, whose book, The World of Birds appeared in 1886, states that his brother had brought a pair of Budgies from Australia more than 30 years earlier. That must have been about 1850. People quickly discovered that Budgies were easy to breed. The first yellow Budgies were bred in Belgium about 1875. Six years later, the first sky blue Budgies made their debut--a development credited to a Dutchman. The first line of albinos that could be maintained by breeders was the result of a chance mating of a pair of sky blue Budgies in 1920. In the succeeding years the number of color variations gradually expanded. resulting in cobalts, mauves, and dark and olive-green birds. The first color variants brought a handsome windfall for British breeders. About 1845, an ordinary green Budgie brought fifty pounds sterling, a sum that represented a year's wages for a working man. Yellow, blue, and white Budgies brought double that amount shortly after they were developed. Between 1925 and 1928, the Japanese suddenly showed a tremendous interest in Budgies. Prices reached a fabulous high, sky blue Budgies brought a thousand dollars or more. Cobalts, mauves, and albinos brought up to a thousand pounds sterling per couple. The Japanese market dried up as quickly as it came. Many breeders were left holding the bag, they had a large inventory that suddenly was worth much less.

Today, the market is quite stable. Prices rise in the early spring, at breeding time. Good, even excellent prices can be gotten for rarer color variants. Colony breeding apparently has resulted in a mediocre level of quality, and exceptional birds really stand out. At the same time, colony breeding has brought down the price of ordinary birds considerably, thereby creating a situation that only a reduced and highly selective type of breeding can hope to correct.


The wild Green Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), from which wild ancestor all our present domesticated birds in their grand array of colour varieties are descended, is a native of Australia. It has had a variety of names -- Undulate grass parakeet, Zebra parakeet, Zebra grass parakeet, Shell parrot, Scallop parrot, Warbling grass parakeet, Undulated parrot, Canary parrot, and Betcherrygah from which the now universal name Budgerigar is derived. The usual definition of Betcherrygah is "good bird" but it is stated on reliable authority that it is an old aboriginal dialect word meaning "good food." According to eminent naturalists who have written descriptions of the Budgerigars native habits, these birds are migratory, the movements of the flocks being governed by the food supply. They stay in one district so long as the plains are green and luxuriant, but as soon as scarcity of water dries up the herbage, away they go to the proximity of streams and to the northern parts of Australia where a rich supply of ripening and ripe grass seeds awaits them.

Favourite habitats are the Liverpool Plain in New South Wales, the Alexandrina and Wellington Lakes, and the country which is irrigated by the Murray River. One of the favoured breeding places is the mallee shrub. Undoubtedly their distribution in Australia is wide. Budgerigars in 'Bush and Aviary' in which is quoted, records of the observation of these birds in flocks of many thousands in a large number of places separated from each other by vast distances. Mr. Allen Silver describes their habitat as Australia generally, Gulf of Carpentaria and Port Denison on the East, through the interior to New South Wales, Victoria, and West and South-west Australia. Absent in Tasmania, seldom moving South of Melbourne and not normally a coastal bird. Type of country favoured -- grass land and timber and salt bush flats. It is said that during the course of their migration separate flocks become merged into one huge concourse, which accounts for the immense numbers which are to be seen flying together and which cover so large an area that at times they cause the light of the sun to be partially obscured. The winter is their breeding season in Southern Australia, at the end of which they migrate north. Eggs have, however, been observed in various months in different parts of the country, ranging from March to August, for instance.

The remarkable shape of the mallee shrub which they live around is particularly favourable for the purpose of nesting. About eight stems grow out of the same roots to a height of about 36 ft., with white bark and scanty tops. Every hollow trunk, every knot-hole, in case of necessity even every suitable cavern in the roots is used for nesting, often by two or three couples together. In a few weeks things get quite lively. The ripe seeds of grass are perfectly suited to feeding the young. Anyone who happened to pass such a spot at this time would be able to catch hundreds of them easily in his own hands. In huge swarms they fly up from the grass when they hear anyone approaching. They perch in long rows on the bare twigs, amusing themselves by chirping songs and unsuspectingly they watch bloodthirsty man raise his gun to let fly a charge sufficient to bring down dozens at once. At last the available seeds are consumed. Perhaps there is also lack of water. The passion for travelling seizes the birds and leads them further. Their next aim is to reach the Alexandrina and Wellington Lakes, through both of which flows the Murray before it discharges itself into the sea. It is uncertain whether the morasses there provide them more abundantly with grass seeds or whether the proximity of fresh water attracts them.

In some years, when the rainfall remains below the yearly average, Budgerigars seem to disappear completely. No doubt they then move to the far north where often, in the summer heat, violent thunder showers occur, which, as stated before, completely change a sandy desert in a short time into a grassy plain. All migrating parrots seem to know that by anticipation, for where nature has laid their table, they attend. The number of chicks in nests are four to six. Dead timber provides favourite sites. The holes in which the eggs are laid are from 6 inches to 1 foot in depth, with an entrance from 1 1/2 in. to 2 in. in diameter. No nesting material is provided.

The flocks are not seen in the same places at the same seasons every year. In some years comparatively few birds are to be observed in a district. In other years they are there in thousands. They suffer seriously in abnormally hot weather. For instance, during the heat wave experienced in Australia during the early months of 1932 many thousands of Budgies succumbed. The wild birds are Light Greens and occasions of Yellows have been seen. Mr. J.A. Keartland noted while crossing the Great Desert of Western Australia, yellow birds flying with a flock on their way to water. He also reported the appearance of Dark Greens. It is clear, however, that very few variations from the Light Green have been observed among wild Budgerigars, though they may have mutated more frequently then we realise, the mutants having died young, probably being weaker than the Light Green, as is often the case with new mutants.

Wild Light Greens:

Some years before the war several fanciers in this country imported wild Light Greens for experimental purposes. These included the late J.W. Marsden and Major J.S.S. Clarke. Some of these birds were exhibited, not for competition but as an object of interest, at shows in this country. They were bright and level in colour, but for size and type, judged by modern standards, they were not comparable with the specimens staged at our shows. I wish there could be at every show one wild Green or a bird bred from a pair of wild Greens so that people could see the shade of colour. The wild birds have perfect wing carriage but some cross their wings. It was not until 1840 that living Budgerigars were introduced into this country. In that year Gould, the famous explorer and investigator, brought to England a pair which had been bred by his brother-in-law, Charles Coxon. According to Wagler in 1831 a single specimen was exhibited as a rarity in the Museum of the Linnaean Society in London. A Dr. Russ states that in Berlin, Budgerigars bred for the first time in 1855. This occurred in the home of the Countess von Schwerin. Russ asserted that the first pair of Budgerigars sold in England was bought by the wholesale merchant, Charles Jamrach, in London for 26 pounds and sold by him to Dr. Butler of Woolwich for 27 pounds.

It is recorded that Mr. Joseph Abrahams was the first to breed the yellow variety in England. This was in 1884 and they were bred from yellows obtained from Belgium. The particular bird can now be seen at the Natural History Museum at Kensington, where it is described as "A Pale Variety". The late W. Swaysland is said to have exhibited Yellows as early as 1886. Mr. R.J. Watts, writing in The Budgerigar Bulletin of June 1933, said: The first record of the Yellow' s appearance at an exhibition is given by Dr. W.T. Green in one of his books published something like fifty years ago in which he states that a bird of this colour was exhibited at the Alexandra Palace Show. Dr. Russ gives the date of the first Yellow as about 1872. It is believed they were bred in Belgium in that year.

Skyblues and Greywings:

Skyblues made their first appearance in 1881. The Van der Snickt report of 1881 mentions that the first bird of this colour was a cock, that it was paired to a Yellow hen, and that later another Skyblue (a hen) was obtained from the pair which bred the first Skyblue. A Mr. O. Millsum exhibited Skyblues on behalf of a Mr. Pauvvels at the Horticultural Hall in November 1911, and which were the first Blues ever seen in England, and were descended from stock birds owned by a Dutchman somewhere about 1885. A Dr. H. Steiner of Zurich tells us that Blue Budgerigars appeared for the first time in 1878 in Belgium, but they disappeared a few years later without leaving any trace. A Mr. Allen Silver says that the first White Budgerigar he remembers occurring in this country was bred by the late H.D. Astley in September, 1920, from a pair of Skyblues. Yellows also appeared in Mr. Astley's collection of Blues and Greens. A Mr. Tom Goodwin exhibited a White for the first time at the Dulwich and Peckham Show held on 31st October, 1922. The late J.W. Marsden stilted that Olives were introduced into England from France by the late J.D. Hamlyn in 1918, that the first Apple Greens (Greywing Greens) were bred by Mrs. Ransome of Wimbledon in 1919, Cobalts by Mr. George Hedges in France in 1923, and Mauves a year later by the late Mrs. Dalton Burgess and Mme. Lecallier. A Mr. Pelham Sutton was the first to breed Skyblues in England. These were from a pair of Skyblues and they were hatched in 1912. The Greywing Green (named it a Jade) was bred from a blue bred Green hen and a bad coloured Yellow cock.

A Mr. C.H. Rogers exhibited a Greywing Dark Green hen in 1925 at Cambridge. This bird has appeared in the nest of one of his Normal Olive Green hens and a Light Green cock. The pedigree of the Olive Green was not known but the Light Green was pure. In a contribution which appeared in Ornithologic und Wissenschaft dated 15th August, 1933, by a Dr. Hans Steiner the statement was made that in 1879 at least nine pink-eyed birds were in existence and that in 1881, a fancier bred no fewer than 25. All were hens. A Mrs. George Lait of Grimsby, bred the first Yellowfaces. This was in 1937. They were exhibited by her for the first time at the "Yorkshire Observer" show in Bradford in 1938. Between 1925 and 1928, Budgerigars became the fashion in Japan and very high prices were paid for specimens. The value of Skyblue rose to over 100 pound per pair, and for Cobalts, Whites, and Mauves 150 pound.

A Budgerigar Boom:

Although Budgerigar breeding proceeded apace, demand exceeded supply, and the value of birds of this species rose out of all proportion to their intrinsic merits. Small fortunes were made during this boom, which ad no precedent in the avian world. The whole thing was abnormal and neither the demand from Japan nor the prices ruling could possibly be sustained, and with even greater rapidity than the movement had started so did it end. With reference to the Japanese boom the late Harry Humphries wrote, "The highest price ever obtained at any period was for a pair of Whites (we knew then only the one shade or suffusion -- the present-day White Skyblue). They were sent out to a member of the Royal House of Japan, who paid a fabulous sum for them, and both birds were dead upon arrival. For a long while these Whites were decidedly delicate. The early Whites often changed hands at 100 pound per bird in this country. The peak period for prices was undoubtedly round about February 1927. Then the ruling prices were as follows: Skyblues 125 pound a pair, Cobalts and Mauves 175 pound, Whites about the latter price, too -- all for adult birds. Apple Greens, round about 1926 and 1927, sold for about 20 pound a pair. The B.S. officially named these 'Jades' for a while -- indeed until the Greywing became established." Apropos the high prices paid by the Japanese, it must be appreciated that the large sums secured by breeders were not for high-class show specimens, but for quite ordinary birds in so far as type is concerned. Therefore, the figures cannot be properly compared with the very big prices paid during the war and since for Budgerigars of outstanding merit. The late Mrs. Brown, of Morecanbe, imported Whitewing Violets from Australia -- to which country she was a frequent visitor -- in the middle thirties. A Mr. Fred Garvey purchased some of these birds from her about 1939. But the Violet also appeared as a mutation in England about the same time.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca




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