Edit (May 13 2012): See new info at the end of step 5*.
My grandfather bred budgies for many years and he never had the internet. It was all learned through trial and error and experience. We tried other methods but this one seems faster and more natural. The process will be quick with a hand-reared budgie. Sometimes as quick as a day. Any other budgie is basically a wild bird. It can take several weeks and patience. But it's worth it. (I welcome any comments as this is my first guide and I'm going on memory from about 13 years ago.)
I'll edit this as I get input from others or if I think of anything that can be changed or added. I'm no expert. This is purely based on memory and what seems logical to me.
The basic rules
-This is really just a guide. Every taming and every budgie is different. It's always good to follow a guide but adjust for the situation.
-If the budgie panics or flies away when you start a new step go back to the previous step.
-At no point must you grab a budgie from above or at all. They will lose trust in you. You're a big hulking creature and he doesn't trust you yet. Budgies remember these things. The only exception is if he flies off into the room and he's in danger. But then a net is better.
-Let the budgie come to you. If he doesn't, leave him alone. It's on his terms.
-None of this will happen the first day you try a step. Small steps. And the key word here is SLOW. Do everything slowly.
-The budgie needs to see your hand and you as a good thing.
-If you are bringing the budgie home for the first time give him 2 or 3 days where you just leave him alone. Change his food and water but mostly just let him get used to the new cage, environment, people and noises.
-A good tip during this process is to make sure no one will come barging into the room or create a disturbance and have some soft, soothing music playing.
-Talk quietly to the budgie and if it panics and flies around, you stay calm.
-Give him lots of praise so he knows he's doing something good.
-If you move to the next step and he still flies away, repeat previous step.
-If you mess up and scare him it's not the end of the world. It just takes you back a little in the process.
-This is something I'm learning as I tame mine. A few times a day I get on his level in front of the cage and just whistle, click or speak to him. This seems to go a long way to making him more comfortable with me. I think it helps them recognise you as a nice friendly creature.
When you change the food and water daily do it slowly. You want the budgie to associate your hand with something good. The bringer of fresh food and water. In the beginning he'll fly around but day by day he'll calm down. Even if he's sitting in a corner and scared that's fine. He needs to be watching your hand and not flying around. You really just want to get him comfortable with your hand intruding in his safe place for now.
You can only move onto this step when the budgie is comfortable with your hand being in the cage. If he still flies away then go back to step 1. Just do the normal slow food and water change. When you're done pause your hand for a while and let it just be in the cage. After a while slowly move to a perch and remove it (preferably on the other side of the cage). You need a short perch here so it can move around the cage. Your hand is now in the cage holding a perch. A perch which your budgie knows very well is a place to perch. (Smart right). Hold it at the level of the perch where he's sitting and slowly move it towards him. At this point the perch and hand are both things he's used to having in his cage.
When you can manage to get it right in front of him slowly raise the perch to the leg level. He will probably fly away but just stay there and repeat the process again. If he flies away 4-5 times in a row then give him some praise and slowly replace the perch and slowly move your hand out until tomorrow.
It'll only take a couple of days for the budgie to get used to the moving perch so be patient.
Now when he's comfortable with this, slowly move the perch up from his legs to his lower chest. Make sure you're very gently pressing against the chest. Basically you're giving him a light nudge backwards and in an effort to balance he'll climb onto the new perch in front. It'll take a couple of days until he'll climb on with both feet but just try each day.
When he's happy on the perch hold it very steady and keep up with the praise. The little guy is trusting you with his life. Sudden movements are not good. Don't try to keep him on there for ages. Just a short while for now is enough. When you're done slowly move him to another perch to get off. He'll most likely just hop right off.
When he hops onto the perch on his own it's time to move to the next step. It might also help to say something like 'up' when you want him to get on the perch. Just make sure it's firm without being loud. They learn to associate the word with the action.
You're actually past the hardest part now. You just need to start getting him used to your finger as a perch and being happy with a moving perch and then of course being out of the safety of his cage.
If your budgie isn't used to sitting on a perch while you're holding it then this will not work. Go back to step 2.
All you're doing now is while holding a perch, you're putting your extended finger on the perch. So you're slowly replacing his perch with your finger. Do exactly what you did with the perch but with your finger on top. Using a shorter perch so he has no choice but to sit on your finger works best.
Again, if he flies go back to step 2 until he's more comfortable.
If he only puts one foot on then just stay still and let him get used to that. As before, if he fully hops on keep still. We're not moving around here and keep up the praise so he knows he did a good job.
So when he's happy to sit on your finger you can move on.
Now we want to get him used to your finger alone. You're still doing everything inside the cage now. It's still his safe place so don't try to take him out yet. We're almost there.
This step is the most important and you should spend as much time as is needed on this step. Here you're totally moving him to your finger so it's the biggest trust point for him.
(Remember: quiet room, soft music).
Here you're going to change the food and water as usual, pause your hand as usual. But now you're not getting a perch. Extend your finger like a perch, bring it to perch level and the same as you trained him to hop onto the perch use the finger in the same stroking up from leg to lower chest as you did with the perch in step 2 & 3. That's it for step 4 really. Just keep doing that until he's happy to just sit on your finger inside the cage. And when you're done move him slowly back to the perch.
Again, don't move around, just keep still. But as I said, you want to keep at this step until you're 100% sure that he's happy on your finger. In fact, keep it up for a couple of days just to make sure he's happy. It isn't going to take too long.
When your budgie is happy to sit on your finger then this is the next step. (As usual quiet room, soft music). Make sure that at no point will any doors or windows be opened. In fact lock it. You're now going to start taking him out of the cage so it's entirely possible that he'll fly. You don't need him flying out of a window.
If he does fly away, and he probably will, just stay calm and let him settle and move around. Then just get him to perch on your finger and put him back until tomorrow. Don't panic, don't grab him.
You need to understand one thing. Everything outside of the cage has always been a strange place. Think about it from his point of view. He's tiny and never been in an open space like a whole room. The cage is safety, it's home. You're taking him out so it's a scary new thing. Yes he's seen the room from inside the cage but it's different now.
You're going to get him onto your finger and very slowly move him to the area near the cage door. Making sure he's actually still in the cage. I've found that holding some food or a treat in that area helps. Let him sit there and eat and when he's done, put him back on his perch until tomorrow.
The next day go a little further until he's actually in the doorway. From there you just slowly move him out of the cage.
Hopefully at this point he's totally happy with being on your finger and outside.
Now he's pretty much tamed. You can slowly introduce him to more movement of your hand, sitting on your shoulder and even sitting happily as you walk around. Just remember that to keep the bond strong he needs some time with you every day if possible.
Just remember that even when he's tame and all that good stuff that if he can fly, he will. But not because he's scared. Because he's really inquisitive and wants to see what's going on. Perhaps sit on a curtain rail and get a 'bird's eye view' of his world (sorry, couldn't resist
*I've recently discovered what seems like a pretty useful little tip for step 5. My budgie's cage is the type with the little door inside the bigger door. She has no problem when the little door is open because I've always used that for access. I noticed that with the larger door she seemed more intimidated. On bringing her near it she'd get flustered. So I sometimes just opened the big door and let her get used to it. But she still wouldn't go past it. This was the sticking point.
Basically her favourite perch is half way between the back of the cage and the door. She has a swing with a bell under, between the perch and door. She likes to sit on the perch and pull the swing to make it, well, swing.
I found this out purely by accident. If I get her onto my fingers she's happy to move all over my hand. So if I just keep my hand resting on the perch while she's on it she'd move towards the swing to play with it (closer to the door). Sometimes she moved further up my arm without realising it.
So by doing this I'm creating a much less threatening way for her to move out the door on her own. Because I'm not trying to move her out of the door it's on her terms. By having my hand on the perch it sort of becomes a natural extension of the perch (and it's less tiring than holding your arm up). And by having a toy half way provides incentive to move closer. If you then keep moving that toy closer to the door (and eventually out) it gradually gets her out without even knowing it.
And so ends today's lecture