Here on the Cobber
Budgies website, I'm concentrating on writing about those aspects
of budgie keeping in which I take a personal interest and have
gained knowledge or skill. One of those areas is life expectancy,
which is a rather neglected subject. The reason for its neglect
will be well known to some readers, and on this page I grasp the
nettle! The pages which follow, too, give the status quo a good
shaking! How can any bird lover accept the status quo while,
according to a writer in 'Budgerigar World' magazine, avian vets
are telling us that 75% of premature bird deaths are preventable?
Through breeding from unrelated birds and being determined to
manage the aviary to the highest standard, I have been able to
achieve a life span average for my own budgies of 9 years and 2
months. Anyone can do this if they are able to start out with
reasonably healthy birds and really apply themselves to the long
but satisfying process of becoming a skilled budgie keeper. The
birds themselves are the teachers, but you must really 'listen'
to them, determined to gain from every experience. The most
difficult individuals are the ones who can advance your skills
the most, so hang on to them instead of chickening out and
passing them on to someone else!
The budgies behind my statistic are the nineteen I bred and
retained between 1985 and 1988. Their inclusion starts at
fledging, but the earliest death occurred at 648 days, from
rectal prolapse with a genetic cause. The other two early deaths
were caused by the same deleterious, (harmful), inherited factor.
Excluding these losses, the birds tended to live for around 10
years. At the time of writing, two of the 1988 birds are still
alive, so the statistic above is not yet set in concrete. The nineteen were not exhibition
birds, but very mixed, smaller budgies, from three completely
unrelated families. They were not all super-tough specimens, but
rather included real tough-as-an-old-boot types, along with the
defective birds and 'inbetweeners'. The record holder is a cock of 15 years who is still alive today, closely followed by a slightly younger brother - also still alive - and then by a same age brother who sadly died in December 2002. A breeding hen named Violet also scored a particularly good age.
My Oldest Bought In Budgie
A hen named Ivy, bought from a very small breeding set-up in
Accrington, Lancashire, reached her 13th birthday. She is pictured here aged 11. When
I bought her, there was, interestingly enough, a healthy,
thirteen year old hen in the little flight. This breeder
obviously had the right management, together with a selective and
responsible approach to breeding, and I will return to her method
again in the final article. I will also discuss the management
practices that commonly cut birds' lives short, and suggest
Was it longevity that made me a
The inspiration behind my very first, childhood budgie,
was a charming, fun-loving individual who also reached the impressive
age of 15 years. This was the much loved Joey, pet of my father's
family half a century ago. His life was longer than average, no
doubt, but I have personally met other people whose pet
budgerigars of long ago lived to be 15. At one time, it was not
uncommon for pets to reach this age. This brings me to the
interesting question as to whether, if Joey had died aged 3,
after a year of sickness, my parents would ever have encouraged
me to keep budgies?
My own first two birds - house pets hatched in 1964/5 - lived
to be 9 years 5½ months, and 10 years 9 months respectively,
strengthening the positive impression of budgie life imparted by
the almost legendary Joey. After that, the negative experiences
of early deaths began, following the purchase of a few B.S. rung
birds and the building of an aviary. With hindsight, I can see
that inadequate aviary management may have claimed some lives, as,
like many people, I regarded the aviary as an ideal environment
for birds and was blissfully unaware that my budgerigars might be
having problems there.
The Importance Of Satisfactory Life
Today, many budgerigars are born without the capacity to live
long lives and to remain in robust health, so is it surprising
that they are a much less popular choice of pet than they used to
be? And how many people become budgie breeders without the
inspiration of a thoroughly satisfactory pet experience?
Budgerigar breeders need to wake up to the importance of
satisfactory life span to the pet owner, if the hobby is to be
rescued from decline.
Budgerigar Life Span Figures
|THE WORLD LONGEVITY RECORD
29 YEARS 2 MONTHS 
A Previous World Longevity Record,
published circa 1980, from memory
YEARS 4 MONTHS [1b]
average for birds kept at Waltham Research Centre, England 
average and maximum for pets, 'Which?'
magazine survey, 1976 or '77
average for pets, Budgerigar Society
average and maximum for my own bred birds (details above)
and maximum for thirteen birds I bought in the 1980's
- average for 3000 breeders' birds
sent for autopsy 
Gaby Schulemann's bird, named Kiki 
17 YEARS 2 MONTHS
New Guinness Book of Records 1995, Guinness Publishing
The record bird is identified as
Charlie, who lived from April 1948 to June 20th 1977. He was
owned by J. Dinsey of Stonebridge, London, UK.
Guinness Book of Records round about 1980. I
believe this record bird was a hen from London, UK.
2 Waltham (Connected
with Pedigree Masterfoods and Trill) This site used to explain that Waltham's own life span figure was derived from their own birds, but after the site was updated, specific reference to this fact was lost.
Budgerigar Society Research Digest, 1979 - 1981 published by
The Budgerigar Society.
4 Kiki has his own webpage on his owner's site.
Figuring It Out
The contrasts in the above table are surely quite startling, and
if you have been half asleep up to this point, I hope they have
woken you up!
If the longevity records can be believed, the
budgerigar has an amazing capacity for long life which is seldom
At the other extreme, we have the sad figure of
just 2.09 years average for breeders' birds. This figure was a
spin off from research undertaken for The Budgerigar Society,
with the admirable aim of finding solutions to the bird's health
problems. Most of the work consisted of autopsies on dead birds
posted to the lab by members. Here is the Nettle That
Needs Grasping which I forewarned
you about, for while it was clear from the research that a
great many exhibition budgerigars in breeders' establishments
were dying within the first few years of life (a very serious
matter in itself), this would not have been the whole story.
Like breeders of pet budgerigars, most of these
people believe in unloading any older birds on to other people or
on to the trade, in order to "keep the stud young" and
therefore productive. 'Retired' birds take up space. In all
probability, an unacknowledged conflict of interests exists
between, on the one hand, the pet owner, who wants his or her
bird to live to a grand old age, and, on the other hand, the
typical breeder, who wants birds to conveniently disappear from
the age of 3 or 4 years! The public, out of habit and ignorance
of the situation, expect to buy pet budgies at prices that are
unlikely to cover the cost of even moderately good housing and
While society takes a grim view of those who
ditch elderly dogs or cats without pressing personal reasons, the
advice to "get rid of all your old birds" has appeared
in various publications from time to time, and the same advice
has been given to me personally by an aviary owner. Ageing birds
from breeders of every description probably end up in the
aviaries of beginners (if they survive sale and resale) where
they must often be the cause of disappointment and grief. It is
not an admirable way to carry on.
This is a farming attitude, appropriate only for those whose
livelihood depends upon the efficient production of vital
commodities. Budgerigars are pets. Even exhibition budgerigars
are no more, and no less than pets. I here put forward the
argument that they are entitled to the same respect and loyalty
as larger, more expensive pets. For those readers who are not
inclined to sentiment, I will list the practical benefits of
older birds below.
The Value Of Old Budgies In The
- Calming influence: - Old budgies are
wise. They have seen it all before, and are disinclined
to get stressed up about things. A proportion of older
birds may help keep the younger ones from panicking or
getting sick from stress.
- Gentle companionship: - Depending on
individual temperament, older birds can be the ideal
companions for convalescing budgies or birds in
quarantine. They will show the other bird the feeders and
help it to settle, so preventing stress induced disease.
The most laid back of them are also invaluable as
companions for birds on a trip to the vet.
- Living alarm system: - Being a little
more vulnerable than youthful birds to the effects of
draughts and other adverse factors, they can provide an
early warning system that will help keep your whole flock
/ stud safe. - Should the window be shut? - Just look at
- Worry Stoppers: - The oldies can be
excellent worry stoppers too e.g. I never got stressed up
about the possibility of worms when I had numerous, plump
nine year olds in the flight. Their health told me all
- Window on Genetics: - Unless you keep an
adequate number of your own birds into old age, you will
never know what diseases your strains are prone to
develop later on. You may be breeding budgies most of
whom become arthritic or develop cancers in middle age,
but you will be ignorant of this. The retention of old
birds reveals what your stock is really made of.
Personally, I am inclined to
sentiment concerning older birds! A ten year old has shared a
much more significant slice of my life than a mere two year old,
and he or she has become part of my personal history. Thinking of
each old budgie in turn, it is hard to imagine what life would
have been like without that individual. Each oldie has taught me
something unique about the species and about how better to care
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© Copyright Helen Day, first published in October 2000;
figures updated May 2003.