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Trust Building with a Budgie

Expert Question

Hi Jim,
I have three budgies. One is a female, six years or older. I adopted her a year ago. She will step up, and take treats from my hand. The second is a male, from the pet store, he is under one year of age. He steps up, will eat from my hand. The third was adopted, he was caught by a cat and had spent an undetermined time in the wild, I have had him for a few weeks. He is very timid and scared. They are in separate cages at the moment…is that the correct thing to do until I have formed a bond with them? I need advice on how to proceed with handling/taming them. (I have not clipped their wings) I would like to be able to let them have time outside the cages. My house unfortunately is very ‘open plan’ with few doors, so it is difficult to find a safe, smaller area to work with them. I have been going very slowly with trying to tame them, and would like advice on how to deal with three birds at once.

Expert Answer

Thanks for getting in touch with WPT with your question. Perhaps the first mindset to establish in achieving your long-term goal of building a trusting relationship with your third Budgie is that you can successfully build that relationship in the short-term whilst he is still inside his cage. As you are already aware, once he is out and about with the other two, arranging your environment so that you have opportunities to shape a positively reinforced association with you would be a real challenge. With a bunch of impeding variables that would be difficult, if not impossible, to control in an out of cage environment, let's focus on what can be achieved while he is still in his cage.

Re-shape your goal set and focus on opportunities for you to put in place the following strategy...
First steps in developing a trusting relationship for you and this Budgie will be achieved by dedicating multiple times during the day when you can sit near his cage and allow him the time to observe you, become comfortable in your presence, and establish a reduced sense of threat from your presence in his environment.

This process is essentially allowing him to `gradually desensitize' to you.  To achieve this, gradually decrease the distance you are sitting from him when you observe that he is becoming more comfortable with you. This distance criterion is gradually shortened through observation of `calm' indicators from his body language. Comfortable perching position, sitting on one foot, relaxed feathering, preening, feeding, drinking, vocalizing, playing with enrichment items, perching closer to you than moving away. These are all indicators that you can move closer and allow another period of time for him to establish comfort at that new distance.

As an already experienced and savvy Budgie owner, you will no doubt be well equipped to observe him and know when to raise your criteria for closer interaction. Combined with this, set his cage up so that there is a food bowl in a location that enables you to drop in a highly valued food treat as you walk past without having to put a hand in the enclosure itself. Each time you walk past his cage, drop a treat in there for him to hopefully start pairing the presence of you and your hand with the delivery of something of value to him.

Once your Budgie is observably comfortable with you sitting near his cage, start looking for opportunities to deliver those bowl treats for any slight movements towards you. From there the criteria can be raised to offering the food treat between the cage bars. A millet spray is a great reward for this and enables you to position your hand further away initially bolding the millet at the base and the seed head through the bars. If that criteria is achieved you can consider taking the next step and opening the door to deliver access to the millet spray by hand.

To improve your chances of success and to increase his potential motivation to move towards accessing a millet spray or seeds dropped in a bowl, make sure that you present these reinforcement opportunities at times prior to his normal feeding routine. If he has a full belly from his daily free feed then he will be less likely to be motivated to interact with you to receive the same thing that is on offer without the mental hoops to jump through.

Always assess his comfort and level of trust in you before raising your criteria. Sometimes people will suggest that this process is a case of two steps forward and one step back. I disagree. If you work sensitively with your Budgie you won't be taking backward steps -- just moving forward and building behavioural momentum towards your goal of having a trusting relationship with him.

Keep him separate or integrate him into your flock? For now I would definitely work with him on his own, in his own cage. It is much easier to control the variables and distractions that would make achieving your relationship building goals difficult if he were in with the other two. Budgies do thrive in flocks though and being a part of a flock enables a wealth of observational learning. Once you have established an improved level of trust and confiding responses in your presence you can consider co-housing all three of them. That would definitely be the long term goal. If your existing two Budgies are already savvy operators within your home and have regular fly arounds, I’m confident that you will find your guy is watching them and learning where suitable perching positions are. When he finally gets the chance to join them he will likely follow their lead - and then the fun begins!

I would also highly recommend accessing the following articles available here at WPT for additional insights and for the 'next steps' once you have your Budgie literally 'eating out of your hand'!

Best of luck from Down Under,
Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations ( He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at