I decided to write this up for people after babysitting 2 budgies who couldn't get along in their cage. The owners were really pleased with things I've helped them with in the past and they thought it might be impossible for these two to get along. I was afraid of that too but they have completely changed in response to some things I did after watching them. I wrote an article about it because it is a common problem. This is different than training because I didn't teach them to not fight; I only set them up in a different environment and gave them a few days apart. They respond because of things they innately do and feel, so it is more of a behavior post than a training post.
In this article I will discuss the reasons they fight and how to address the environment, along with how to tell when fighting is serious vs normal. I discuss these things in length because in order to address the problem you must understand why it is happening. I have a video to show how I set up the cages but it is easy to make a little mistake if you don't have an in depth appreciation of why I do things that way. So I hope that understanding their natural instincts and how it relates to this topic will have you speaking budgie in no time!
So why are they fighting?? There are several common reasons. This is good news because it means you can fix the problem! It centers around primary needs for survival.
Budgies are granivorous, meaning they eat grain and seeds as a primary food source. Something interesting about some avian granivores is that they don't digest seeds once they've reached capacity. This helps them to not gain too much weight when they eat all day long, and in turn it helps to fertilize the ground with the plants they eat. The seeds can be expelled within their droppings so that they can grow into plants.
What does this mean? It means they pick at food throughout the day and they have a propensity to eat various seeds. If the food source seems limited to them, they will fight over it. They may not understand that you will make sure they have more food, so you must set up their food delivery in a way that assures them there is enough for everybody. You can do this by:
Put in several food dishes for them located on at least 3 walls of the cage.
A shallow yet wide dish allows dispersing of the food so they can pick what they need.
Put the dishes at about the same height and not directly in the droppings' line of fire.
Have a variety of seed available.
A large enough cage should give the budgies opportunity to exercise. I have taken in fat budgies who go down to a healthy weight without me modifying their diet, even though they have lots of food available. If you are concerned that your budgie is too pudgy, try giving them more opportunity to fly and see an avian vet with good reviews if you have concerns. Since they naturally feed on seed throughout the day, I don't limit their food. I provide lots of variety as well, and they eat what they need. When only a few types of seed are available they can tend to overfill themselves on that one seed and get protective of their food. This is all survival instinct within them. When you develop a clear understanding of these things, you will learn to see what they're fighting about right away!
Safety and space are in the same reign of territory (ha!) when talking about fighting budgies. You can have a huge cage with more than enough space for several budgies and still have fighting. Assuming that food placement and delivery is adequate, the reason this would happen has to do with the way perches are set up.
Think of how a tree has a lot of branches, and some spots are leafy. Areas that provide more coverage are sought after, especially when they are higher. Swings can give the feeling of safety and coverage because of the sides of the swing. I try to imagine how the space would feel to them and set things up so that they all have equal opportunities to have these coveted spaces. If there is a swing for each budgie and they still fight over them, you might need to take them all out or move them down lower.
Components to a cage that feels safe while preventing fights:
Closer to the ceiling than the floor
There needs to be enough to share for everybody, including toys. The highest perches need to be in abundance on the same level. Create perch areas that make it easy for them to hop up and down. This helps them to maneuver without climbing the bars of the cage, and thus gives them more exercise. Put toys in places that are accessible on the multiple platforms so that 2 budgies can play with the same toy without being next to each other.
Birds feel safer in a cage that is higher from the ground. You may have heard that a cage above shoulder height will cause the birds to feel "better than you" or "dominant to you". This is a complete fallacy, it is not at all true. It is an anthropomorphic interpretation of animal behavior and no avian scientist will perpetuate this myth. This is important for me to talk about because budgies feel happier when they feel safe and they also fight less over the top space when they feel at ease towards the bottom. I believe it is unethical to place a bird low to the ground under the assumption that they will have more respect for you. Fear is not respect. If you want to read more about this topic by renowned avian educator Steve Martin (not the actor), read this article: Height Dominancehttps://www.naturalencounters.com/ima...eve_Martin.pdf I would also encourage you to look up Steve Martin and read about his qualifications in the avian field, as he is a good example of someone to trust for information.
A male/female flock dynamic is interesting to observe because you get to see unique and intimate behaviors. It is so much more than the act of mating, as I have discussed in other blog posts. They form strong companionships that last well beyond egg fertilization. These bonds help the budgies to raise their babies together, helps them find each other in vast areas within flocks of thousands of other budgies chattering. The bonds are so strong and imperative for survival that it can be very difficult to manage within a cage once the pairing and fighting starts.
Perhaps you have males and female budgies housed together already with no intention of breeding. They may have coexisted for quite some time without any problems coming about. But then you notice that suddenly they chatter aggressively at each other often, and it may have already progressed to serious fighting. Why did that happen? The reasons are environmental and there are some things you can do to make it worse but some things are out of your control. These factors include:
Longer Daylight Hours
Huts/Spaces that Encourage Nesting
Females in Breeding Condition
These are all factors that inspire budgies to pair and breed. Keeping the house cooler and making the daylight hours shorter with artificial lighting are not conducive to a happy and healthy life year round. This is part of the natural cycle they are used to. Water dishes that don't allow some bathing and never giving them misty showers makes it hard for them to feel clean and fresh, and it makes them uncomfortable during molting cycles. One thing you can do is remove anything that they would feel inclined to nest in, but the best thing you can do is separate the males and females. I know cages can be expensive and if you're struggling to afford something like that, check your local classifieds online for a used cage. Look up your local bird rescue and ask if they have spare budgie cages available for sale. Explain to them that you need to separate your male and female budgies who are trying to breed and I can almost guarantee you that they will be happy to help!!!
Separating a pair who has already bonded can be tricky. If they are across the room or in different rooms, they will call to each other constantly. It is loud and persistent. When the cages are next to each other you will notice that the pair will be as close to each other as possible in their separate cages. Multiple budgies will fight over an area that allows closer view to the others, so it is a good idea to place perches in this area that allow all of them to see each other without fighting. If there are several males, they may fight enough to seriously hurt each other. Keep an eye out for this. If they can't share the space, you need to create a visibility barrier. Drape a blanket over that side of the cage so they can hear but not see each other.
Eventually you will be able to remove the drape and they will have carried on with normal life. Putting them back together will illustrate their strong bonds and they generally will go back to the mate they had. But with time they will be able to have their cages side by side and not be preoccupied with each other.
Fighting: Serious vs. Normal
Whether or not it is enough to cause harm, fighting between budgies should be treated as serious and requires some intervention on varying degrees. Listening and watching the budgies will give you a clearer picture of their behavior and the meaning behind the sounds they make. At different times throughout the day, a normal pattern is for budgies to have quiet periods and noisy periods. There are heightened points in their song pattern and calls where they will screech a lot among one another. It might sound like fighting but if you look at them they are all relaxed. Its best to stay in the room to watch and listen because walking in on it will cause them to abruptly stop everything. You will learn to tell the difference by just listening with time. Some of the screeching within song is an innate part of their vocabulary and communicates important survival factors to other budgies. Things like "there is lots of food", "there is water" (since they live in desert climate naturally), "there is a snake/hawk/threat close by" or alternatively "there is no food", "there is no water" are some different reasons they screech in song. It is neat to observe this but also being in tune with the budgie's song and behavior can alert you to their needs, which in turn helps them trust you. During quiet times my budgies will tweet delightful little tunes when I enter the room. Even though many of them aren't hand tame, they do value my presence as a caregiver who provides a safe place for them.
There are different ways to intervene when they are fighting and I will explain how you can determine which method is appropriate for which situation. These methods include:
Covering the Cage at Night
Changing the Environment (food, space, etc.)
Directing a laser pointer at the wall for distraction
Walking up to the cage and verbally interfering
Putting your hand in the cage to herd them apart
Allowing them to come out and exercise
Separating the budgies and changing the environment
Separating the budgies permanently
Normal fighting is all bark and no bite. It is resolved quickly and most commonly happens at night when they settle in to roost (sleep for the night in one spot). Their roosting place is very important because they are vulnerable when sleeping. In this way budgies are like computers. It is very predictable that when the lights are out a bird will go to sleep. You can turn on all the lights in the house in the middle of the night and the budgies will begin to stir as if it were morning. Placing a lightweight fleece blanket over them for the night will help ease fighting and also help them get a full nights rest. Birds are just as susceptible to tired grouchyness as we are except they don't get to drink coffee! The cover makes the entire cage feel safer (again think 'leaves in a tree') so more safe roosting spots become available.
Normal fighting is resolved quickly. Male budgies will perform this ritual of beak pecking before a confrontation elevates. Some females do this too but I see it more in the males. Females instead tend to open their beak at each other and make a weird slow growl noise, like "ehhhhhhhhh ehhhhhhhhh ehhhhhh". In either ritual, if the budgies don't compromise it is elevated to a high pitched fast chattering, like "EH EH EH EH EH EH EH EH" and it will be louder with more ferocity as the dispute escalates. This is the point where the fighting crosses over into serious.
Resolution and normal fighting looks like this: Beak pecking or open beak/growling between the two, where one budgie(a) is standing their ground and the other(b) is initiating conflict. Budgie (a) will stand firm and may tilt their head back a little, showing that they don't want to fight and they don't want to move either. Budgie (b) may continue pecking or moving forward, and budgie (a) will peck back, with the physical contact being only between their beaks. There may be some mild growling or aggressive chattering between them, but no physical contact other than beak pecking. The conflict has reached resolution when budgie (a) closes their eyes and fluffs up and budgie (b) mirrors that behavior OR when one of the budgies decides to move on.
Moderate fighting is what happens before things get too serious. It will reach this level when one budgie tries to initiate resolution but the other refuses to accept a truce. Budgie (a) may close their eyes and fluff up to dissolve the conflict, and budgie (b) pecks them while their eyes are closed. This is a dirty move, a hit below the belt. Budgie (a) may move to other perches, some being lower to the ground, and budgie (b) will follow that budgie and antagonize them. This could happen because of poor social skills, it could be hormonal, or there are a combination of subtle factors. Regardless of the reason, there will be a physical confrontation.
With moderate fighting there is aggressive physical contact but not enough to cause harm. They make aggressive chattering sounds and it looks like they are fencing or sword fighting with their beaks. Erect posture, standing tall and quick maneuvering with their heads with their beak ready to strike are signs of escalating aggression. When it doesn't resolve quickly and it is happening often you have a real reason to be concerned. This is a cue to look for environmental factors that could be causing dispute. It is very important to bring things down to a peaceful level before it escalates because once they have serious fights, they will have an association with each other that is more tricky to resolve. You can do this by being present and telling them to stop, entering the cage with your hand to herd them apart, or directing a laser pointer at the wall to distract them. You must keep a watchful eye to determine why they are fighting and then promptly address it. If there doesn't seem to be an environmental reason, it could be physical. Allowing them to come out and exercise is ideal. Budgies who aren't tame can be given this opportunity in a space such as a camping tent or similar space.
Serious fighting is characterized by aggressive physical contact with intent to harm. One budgie may be trying to peck another one off a perch, where the attacker has the other in a compromising vulnerable position. This requires moderate human intervention immediately, such as telling them to stop and finding something to distract them, and seeing what might need to be changed inside the cage. One way is to simply put your hand in and herd them away from each other, though this can create a negative association with hands when done in haste. Another acceptable way to intervene is using a laser pointer against the wall or ceiling. This usually distracts them enough to stop. If it soon continues again you can take the budgies out to get some exercise and activity with people. If it is safe to do so (you have a room for this, they know how to fly without crashing, no other pets, no open doors or windows outside) you can let them fly around the room. Exercise helps them calm down. Birds are observed doing this in the wild to resolve conflict as well.
When it is extremely serious you will see them wrestling on the floor. Budgies doing this need to be removed from the cage and separated immediately. They can seriously hurt each other. I personally allow them to fly around the room a few times and burn off the energy, and if possible put them in separate holding cages until they calm down while the environment of the cage is re-assessed.
I have only seen my budgies fight this way one time and it was two males in battle over a spot in the cage that allowed optimal viewing of the females. If you have budgies fighting this way and they are not fighting over mates/all the same gender, there is definitely an environmental reason that needs to be addressed. Either the cage is too small or the perches, toys, and food aren't spaced accordingly.
Separating budgies permanently is applied when there are males and females housed together or too many budgies housed in one cage.
So thats it! Its worth it to take the time and read the whole thing, you might learn something new about your budgies and form a closer bond because of it! I hope this is helpful to people who are experiencing anxiety over their fighting budgies. It used to make me really upset and I was determined to figure out what was going on. I watched some documentaries of wild budgies being filmed and read about them in the wild from scientific journals. Its really interesting to me and if you watch my video you can see what I've done to help them get along. You can see how they look happy and they don't have raggy feathers from fighting