Budgerigars are natives of Australia, and this is the only place where truly wild flocks can be found. The open scrubland and grassland of Australia are the budgerigar’s natural habitats. The budgerigars brighten up the skies throughout the mainland, apart from the wetter areas of the east, the far south-west, and the northern edges of the Northern Territory. It feels most at home in hot, dry areas, but never too far from water. Indeed, much of the budgerigars restless, nomadic lifestyle is about chasing down the best seasonal food and water sources.
This constant pursuit of the most abundant food and water takes wild budgerigars several thousand miles each year. In times of drought they are versatile – and intelligent – enough to seek out woodland or less arid coastal areas. Grass seeds might be their favourite food, but they’re not fussy when times are hard, and will happily nibble on all manner of fruit, leaves, plants, and even invertebrates. This liberal approach to diet has often landed them in trouble with humans, when their nomadic lifestyle has brought them to fields of wheat, barley and other agricultural prairies.
Budgerigars adopt a ‘safety in numbers’ approach in the wild. If you are one of several thousand, there is less chance of being picked off by a predator. Some budgerigars do fall prey, however, and their commonest enemies are kites and falcons.
The size of budgerigar flocks varies. A typical gathering can be anything from three to more than a hundred. However, if there has been a heavy rainfall and the landscape is suddenly sprouting budgerigar food as far as the eye can see, flocks can merge into tens of thousands. This gives a useful context for anyone considering keeping just a single budgerigar – they are wired up as highly sociable animals and crave company. If you keep one alone, you’ll need to be its surrogate flock!
Versatile and adaptable though they are, budgerigars are also creatures of habit. In the wild the flock drinks at daybreak, and then flies off in search of food. They seek out shady branches during the hottest part of the day to prevent dehydration.
In times of drought budgerigars gather in huge numbers at any puddle they can find, and if there's no surface water they have an invaluable trick up their feathered sleeves. They locate damp ground and wait for kangaroos to arrive, having noticed way back in their evolutionary history that a kangaroo is able to dig for water. With the arrival of humans, a second potential well-digger had arrived in the budgerigar’s life. This was probably the trigger for the bird’s expansion across much of Australia, following the diggers.
In the wild, budgerigars roost together in trees. They build their nests in hollow tree trunks or other cavities, their favourite choice of home being the eucalyptus. A mature tree can be an avian metropolis, with several budgerigars occupying the smaller holes, and other birds such as cockatiels taking up residence in the larger cavities.