THE WILD BUDGERIGAR (Ornithological Notes)

Genus: MELOPSITTACUS : Melopsittacus undulatus
This beautiful little parakeet, possibly the best known and most popular bird bred in the world today, is a native of Australia. It has had a variety of names; Undulated Parakeet. Shell Parrot, Grass Parakeet, Zebra Parrot, Warbling Grass Parrot, Scallop Parrot and Canary Parrot, all of which, fortunately, have been discarded in favour of the original native name pronounced “budgerigar”. Like so many of these aboriginal names there are many different ways of spelling and pronouncing this word. Thus we have Budgerigar, Boodgereegar and Budgerygah.

Referring to the meaning of the aboriginal name “budgerigar” the usual definition is “good bird”, however, it can be stated on reliable authority that the name means “good food”. Two extracts support this. In Budgerigars in the Bush and Aviary by Neville Cayley, Percy Peir is quoted as saying that the first part of the word, pronounced “boodgeree” meant “good”, and the later part, “gar”, denoted “food” or “to eat”. He further went on to say that the aboriginal youth were taught to locate the whereabouts of food supplies, including the breeding ground of the Budgerigar. When the young birds were about in the fledgling stage, every log and sprout was raked and probed with sticks and the young were dragged out. These were quickly roasted and the juicy morsels eagerly devoured. More recently the “Daily Telegraph” of March 10th, 1958, published an account by Dr. Donald Thompson, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Melbourne University, of his time with the little known Bindibu tribe of desert aborigines. He wrote “Many of the flocks of pigeons and parrots, especially of the Kilkindjarri, the Budgerigar, come to drink as the waters dry up at the remaining rock holes and wells, or to feed on the seeding spinifex towards evening. And when good kills have been made with throwing sticks, these birds are brought in armfuls by the hunters, helped eagerly by the children, especially little boys who watch a flock keenly as it circles low within range and rush to pick up the dead or wounded birds brought down by the throwing sticks. The birds were thrown onto the ashes of the small cooking fires and the feathers singed off. The whole of the bodies were eaten, including the bones, even to the skull and brains. I cannot say that the people always ate almost the entire skeleton of these small parrots, but at this time they were hungry for Kuk’a – for animal protein”.


Budgerigars are widespread in mainland Australia – through the interior of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, North Western Australia, Central Australia and West Australia, but absent in Tasmania. Usually flocks inhabit the open inland country, chiefly in areas interspersed with belts of timber and isolated patches of scrub. Being a nomadic species, it usually appears in a district after an abundant rainfall, and, although its usual breeding season in Eastern Australia is in the spring and early summer months, it will lay after heavy rains, irrespective of season. It may appear in a district for one or more seasons and then be absent again for many years.


The following description of the wild bird was set out in Cayley, Budgerigars in Bush and Aviary.

“Adult male:-General colour above greenish-yellow, with, except on the upper wing-coverts, black transverse bars becoming broader on the scapulars – those on the upper wing coverts are dark brown and more crescent shaped in form; outer webs of quills greenish blue, dark brown on the inner, with a whitish band through the middle of the inner webs of the primaries, the outer webs of the secondaries crossed near their base by a pale green band, the inner webs with a broader yellow band; lower back, rump and upper tail-coverts grass-green, the latter tinged with blue; central pair of tail-feathers dark blue, with a greenish-blue tinge on the outer margins the remainder greenish- blue crossed with an oblique yellow band; forehead and crown of the head straw yellow; sides of face and ear coverts yellow, with narrow transverse black bars; lores, fore-part of cheeks, chin, and throat, rich yellow; on the lower cheeks a band of rich deep blue confluent spots (these spots appear violet in some lights), encircling the throat six rounded black spots, three on each side, the uppermost being partly obscured by the violet cheek-patches; remainder of the under surface, the under wing-coverts, and under tail-coverts, rich grass-green, bill greyish yellow with a bluish shade at the base; cere of the bill blue, becoming duller in colour during the non-breeding season; legs and feet fleshy grey; iris pale yellow, ring around the eye blue.

Total length in the flesh 7 1⁄2 inches, wing 4, tail 41/2, bill 0.5, tarsus 0.5.

Adult female.-similar in plumage to the adult male, but the violet cheek-patches and black throat spots are generally smaller, and the cere of the bill is brown or greyish brown according to the season of the year.”


The noted naturalist Gould made an early study of the Budgerigar. In Birds of Australia he says, “On arriving at Brezi, to the north of the Liverpool plains, in the beginning of December, I found myself surrounded by numbers [of budgerigars], breeding in all the hollow spouts of the large Eucalypti bordering the Mokai. The breeding season is at its height in December, and by the end of the month the young are generally capable of providing for themselves. They then assemble in vast flights, preparatory to their great migratory movement. The eggs are three or four in number, pure white, nine lines long by seven lines in diameter and are deposited in the holes and spouts of the gum trees. In a state of nature they feed exclusively upon grass seeds, with which their crops are always found crammed”.

Dr. Karl Russ in his book The Budgerigar writes – “The remarkable shape of the mallee is particularly favourable for the purpose of nesting. About eight stems grow out of the same roots to a height of about 12m with white barks and scanty tops. Every hollow trunk, every knot hole, in case of necessity even every suitable cavern in the roots is used for nesting, often by two or three couples together. The ripe seeds of grass are perfectly suited to feeding the young”.

Dr. W. Macgillivray, referring to a trip made into western New South Wales, wrote – “When we arrived at Wyalla Lake they were choosing their nesting sites in the dead timber in the Lake. Here they showed a decided preference for nesting in dead stumps and trees standing around the box flats rather than green timber. The hollows chosen were usually six inches to one foot in depth, with an entrance about one and a half to two inches in diameter, the eggs, four or five in number, resting on the earthy material on the bottom.”.

Although multitudes of birds are destroyed each year by bushfires, heat waves, droughts and storms, the wild budgerigar is in no danger of becoming rare, and it should always continue to be known throughout the world, just as the Emu and Kangaroo, as a true Australian.




The first recorded description of the natural green Budgerigar from which all other colours have evolved was by Shaw in the Naturalists Miscellany, 1789-1813, and the Zoology of New Holland, 1794. The specimen used by Shaw for the description and figure of this beautiful little parrot was collected by an early colonist somewhere in the vicinity of Parramatta, New South Wales. Shaw used the name Psittacus Undulatus, but it was Gould who adopted the generic name Melopsittacus.

Gould introduced the first living pair into England in 1840, and at the same time published the first description of their habits in The Birds of Australia, 1840-8. He mentions that they were first called by the colonists “Canary Birds”.

The Budgerigar was first bred in captivity by Countess Von Schwerin in Berlin in 1855, and some years afterwards “farming” birds by hundreds of thousands was established in many parts of Europe. In addition, enormous numbers were trapped in Australia and exported to all parts of the world until the Australian Government banned this trade.


This colour is a mutation, probably the first, of the natural green. It has been observed in very small numbers in wild flocks. Such specimens all had a strong suffusion of green.

When examples appeared in captivity about 1870 or soon after, German and Belgian breeders concentrated on the improvement of colour by careful selection.

It is recorded that they were bred in England in 1884 by a Mr. Joseph Abrahams from yellows imported from Belgium, but it was not until about 1900 that the first yellows appeared in Australia. These were brought out from England for Mr. C. H. A. Lienau, of Adelaide, South Australia.


Blue birds first appeared in Belgium in 1878, but disappeared soon after. The mutation reappeared again at Le Mans, and was first exhibited at the Horticultural Hall London, in 1910, and at the Crystal Palace in 1911, causing a great sensation at the time. These birds were believed to have been bred from stock owned by a Dutch breeder somewhere about 1885.

The first blue budgerigars were brought to Australia by Joseph Ellis for the Taronga Park Zoo about 1918. They were very washy in appearance and turned out failures. In 1920 another fancier brought out five pairs. These were bred from and the progeny were distributed to other States and established. Mr Frank Buckle also imported some about 1923.


There is no record of its first appearance but it was claimed by several English importers to have been included in fractional numbers among batches of wild green imported birds – variously estimated to have been one in 10,000 or 20,000. A French breeder, M. Blanchard first observed the Dark Green in the summer of 1915.


The boom which the blue budgerigar created also created a corresponding interest in other colours, and when the Dark Green appeared the Olive quickly followed. These appeared in Europe in 1916 just a few months after the Dark Green. The Olive was introduced into England from France by J.D. Hamlyn in 1918. Mr. C.H.A. Lienau of South Australia imported some from England in 1918, and appears to have been the first to breed them in Australia.


The Cobalt appears to have been produced during the development of the Dark Green and Olive. It is recorded that they were bred in France by Mr G. Hedges, when in charge of the collection of Mme. Lecallier during 1923. Mr Frank Buckle imported them into Australia also about this time.


The Mauves appeared in 1924, and were presumably bred by mating two Cobalts together.


The First Whites occurred simultaneously both in England and France during 1920 and in both cases were bred from blues that had yellow ancestry.

INO Lutino

This mutation was reported several times during the latter half of the nineteenth century, but perhaps due to lack of necessary knowledge of propagation, was lost. However, it appeared again, simultaneously in England, Europe and Australia during 1932/36 and was firmly established.


The Albino mutation appeared at about the same time as the Cinnamonwing. They were established in Europe and Australia at almost the same time. The factor suppresses all colour (except yellow) so that the birds in the blue series are pure white and have the characteristic pink



Mrs. S. Harrison of Murrumbeena, Victoria, was the first person to recognise the Grey variety in a bird (pedigree unknown) obtained from a dealer in 1935. The variety was established, and in a short time Mrs. Harrison had Greys in several shades, light, medium and dark. Apart from the grey body a particular feature is the denser black of the tail and wing markings.

Another Grey mutation evolved in England about the same time, but it proved to be genetically different although very similar visually. Whereas the Australian Grey is dominant, the English Grey was recessive. It is not known whether this mutation still survives.

The grey factor when added to the green series combines to produce the now very popular Grey Greens. These, like the Greys, appear in three shades, light, medium and dark.


Greywings first appeared in England during the early l920’s, although it is on record that Greywing Greens, then known as apple greens, existed in Germany and Belgium as far back as 1875. Greywing greens appeared under various names (Jades, May or Apple) from about 1920 to 1925. In 1928 the first Greywing Skyblue (known as a Pearl) was exhibited by a Mr Hedges. Cobalt Greywings appeared about the same time, and Mauves about 1931. In a few years they were firmly established in Australia.

In the 1930s, Greywings were produced with a much deeper body colour than was previously known. These were referred to as “full body coloured greywings”. They are now regarded by some Australian fanciers as the perfect Greywing. The older variety with its 50% body colour is not favoured.


During the 1930’s an outstanding mutation appeared in Australia. It was bred in both Green and Blue form and was called “Clearwing”. The first Clearwing appeared in the aviaries of Mr Harold Pier of Sydney.

Mr. J. Catts of Carlingford, New South Wales, was possibly the fancier that established this mutation in all the colour varieties, and this was carried on by Harley Yardley of Fivedock, New South Wales. Until his untimely death in 1957 he had developed his Clearwings to such an outstanding degree that they were almost unbeatable on the show bench.

Those fanciers, both in Australia and from overseas, who had the pleasure of viewing the Yardley stud at its peak will never forget the magnificent depth of colour and contrast in Clearwings, the like of which may never be seen again in the fancy.


The Fallow, as many other mutations had done, appeared about the same time in Australia and Europe, but it is recorded that the first Fallow mutation evolved and was established in the aviaries of Mr O’Brien, of Newtown, Sydney, during the early part of 1930. In Europe the first Fallow was reported in Germany about 1934, and from the description of the two mutations it would appear that they were not identical.

Another variation of the Fallow appeared in England, which at the time was thought to be the same as the Australian mutation, but later comparison showed that they were not quite identical, genetically and to a lesser extent visually so. The major difference visually is the colour of the eye. Whereas the English Fallow has a pink eye and no iris ring, the Australian mutation has an extremely deep plum coloured eye with an iris ring.

The word “fallow” was coined in Switzerland, and means untilled or undeveloped. It was never intended to mean the colour of the bird, but that the pigment was untilled and undeveloped.


Among the thousands of wild budgerigars delivered by trappers to the Adelaide markets in 1933, there was discovered the first Australian Opaline, a Light Green hen in baby plumage. She passed into the hands of Mr S. E. Terrill of Adelaide, South Australia, and this prominent breeder established the Opaline factor in most of the normal varieties of that time.

During 1934 the first British Opaline mutant appeared in the aviaries of Mr. A. Brown of Kilmarnock. This “Pied” hen, as she was then termed, was purchased by Mrs. Ashby, of Ayr, and paired to a Light Green cock. This mating produced only normals, but during the next season Opalines were bred by mating the original mutant back to her son. The variety, “marbled” as it had now come to be known, was fixed, and it proved to be sex-linked.

Mr. Terrill had named this new mutation “Opaline”, a name that was accepted by the budgerigar fancy throughout the world when it was found that the English mutation was identical in all respects to that established in Australia.


The Cinnamonwing variety appeared in Australia and England almost simultaneously. Germany also reported the production of them some little time after. Although the cinnamon factor was apparently in existence some years earlier, it was not identified until about 1934.

The first Cinnamonwings were bred in Australia by a lady fancier from Adelaide, South Australia, in about 1933. The lady, whose identity is unknown, was not impressed by the appearance of the birds and sold them to a dealer. Fortunately, they came to the notice of Mr. Terrill, the well known fancier who later developed the Opaline. He purchased as many as he could get from the dealer and firmly established them in this country.

The effect of the cinnamon is to suppress black melanin, allowing the brown to express itself and to alter the blue feather structure, while not affecting yellow pigment when present. This gives the body colour a somewhat paler appearance and brown wing markings instead of black.


One of the most surprising and interesting of all mutations to evolve, appeared in England in 1936. Mrs. G. Lait of Grimsby bred the first Yellow Faced Blues and they were exhibited at the Yorkshire Observer show at Bradford in 1938.

Several different forms of Yellow Faced Blue have been identified. Prior to 1990 the most common form of Yellow Faced Blue in Australia was a mutation with a buttercup yellow face (perhaps the Golden Faced Blue variation that was noted in England among the first examples of this variety), but in recent years these have been overshadowed by the English form which has a

lighter shade of yellow (cream) and somewhat different pattern of reproduction.


To whom the credit must go for the first breeding of the Violet is somewhat doubtful, as they seem to have appeared in several places at the same time. They evolved in Australia during the early 1930’s and took quite a time in becoming distributed among breeders, although today they have become quite well established and are a favourite among fanciers. As records are rather vague both in England and Australia as to when
they first appeared, it could be supposed that they were not recognised for a time as a variant of the Cobalt. Mr Burton of Sydney, bred Violets prior to 1934, when they were exhibited by Harold Pier. They were being bred in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1936, and were also seen in Victorian aviaries about that time.

The Violet factor, like the Grey, is dominant and a colour intensity modifier. When it is added to the Greens and the Blues it produces birds that are somewhat different in colour to the original. Thus we can have Violet Light Green, Violet Dark Green, Violet Olive, Violet Skyblue, and so on.


When the first Pied budgerigar (a blue “splashed” with white) appeared in England in 1930, it was very aptly named “snowflake”, and its advent into the budgerigar world created something akin to sensation among the geneticists and aviculturists. The German scientists Consul-General Cremer and Dr. Duncker had a photograph taken and published on a full page in “Voegel Ferner Laender” (Birds of Far Away Countries). There were reports of others having been bred in France and Germany in 1932, and, although in this period they seem to have been established in Germany, efforts to increase their numbers failed and eventually they disappeared.

About 1933 the mutation was noticed in the aviaries of some prominent fanciers in both Sydney and Melbourne. In 1935 one was exhibited at the Royal Zoological Society show in Sydney. It was described as green, with half wings yellow and a bar of yellow across the body. This bird was purchased by Mr Keith Ings, together with the parents. These were normal in appearance, a Sky Blue cock and Olive hen. Birds produced from this trio are believed the ancestors of the variety we now call the Australian

Dominant Pied.

Various types of Pieds have been developed in Holland, Belgium and Denmark over a number of years. The modifying pied gene was developed in differing ways resulting in the evolution of the Dutch Dominant and Continental Clearflight Pieds.

The Continental Clearflight is similar in appearance to some examples of the Australian Dominant Pied and is extremely rare in Australia. Dutch Pieds or Continental Clearflight Pieds carrying a Recessive Pied gene and then combined with the Danish Recessive Pied, produce pure yellow or white offspring known as Dark Eyed Clears.

The Dutch Pied is somewhat different in appearance from the Australian Dominant Pied usually having considerably more variegation in body colour and grizzled wing markings. It is relatively common in Australia.

The Danish Recessive Pied was first bred in 1933-34 by Herr C. Enehjelm. They were not

seen in Britain till 1948 when some of Herr Enehjelm’s birds were imported.

In Australia, Mr. Joe Wilmott of Merewether, New South Wales, was the first to recognise the Danish Recessive Pied mutation. A green Recessive Pied cock was purchased from a pet shop in 1965. As the variety is recessive it was not until 1967 that Mr Wilmott bred Danish Recessive Pieds. From this beginning he bred birds to a high standard in all colours and varieties and released the Danish Recessive Pied to the Australian public in 1972.


It appears that these birds were being bred in various country areas of Queensland during the Second World War. Mr Tom Smith, one of the more knowledgeable Queensland fanciers, identified the variety, when, in 1959, he was asked to visit the aviaries of Mr Hector Hall of Kingaroy.

Mr Hall had been breeding these birds for the previous ten years and called on Mr. Smith to determine what they were. Mr Smith recognised them as Lacewings, which had already been reported as a mutation occurring in Britain about 1948. A study of Mr. Hall’s breeding record for the previous five years confirmed they were a sex-linked variety.


Birds of the variety now known as Spangle first appeared in the aviary of bird dealer Mr Sergio Casagrande of Reservoir, Victoria in 1971. These birds were observed by the Budgerigar Council of Australasia (B.C.A) Secretary Mr Harry Eady in 1972.

Establishment of the mutation is credited to Mr. Merv Jones, of Traralgon, Victoria, who first bred them in 1974 from a single bird described as a ‘yellow face with funny wing marking’ that he had purchased from his neighbour, Albert Richie. Within two years he had bred sixty similar birds and a number of clear yellow or white birds had appeared as well. Believing he had something different he sought the advice of the leading Victorian breeder, Mr Frank Gardner. Six of the unusual looking birds were taken to the Gardner Shield Show in 1976 for Mr Gardner to see.
He confirmed that they were indeed a new mutation. The term ‘spangley’ had been used to describe the birds and Mr Gardner, seeing that they resembled the spangle markings in poultry, adopted the name Spangle for the new variety. Recognition that the clear yellow and white birds were the same mutation in double dose can be attributed to Mr Geoff Gardiner, a then young enthusiast who has gone on to become a leading fancier and Senior Judge in Victoria.
Spangle Double Factors have been bred in various forms, some almost pure self coloured, some with a collar of body colour and some like pale coloured Clearwings.

CLEARBODIES Texas Clearbodies

Among the birds imported into Australia in the early 1990’s were examples of the Texas Clearbody. According to Ferdinand Wagner, in an article he wrote in 1988 for Budgerigar World, the Texas Clearbody first appeared in a colony breeding establishment in Texas (USA) in the early 1950s. He attributes their establishment to Iola Bays of California who obtained examples in the early 1960’s and crossed them with imported English stock. The variety is sex linked in its mode of inheritance and is an allelomorph of the Ino mutation.


The Darkwing was described in The Standard of 1990 as Greywing Yellow and White and Cinnamonwing Yellow and White. For many years these birds were exhibited in the Greywing and Cinnamonwing Classes predominately in NSW. Standards for these birds are now included in the Any Other Variety Section contained
in The Standard. The variety was developed by careful selection by Mr. Shaw, of Sydney, about 1934.


Mr Mathews of Sydney, New South Wales (N.S.W.), Australia bred the first recorded Crest mutation in the early 1920’s. The European (Continental) Crest mutation occurred just prior to World War II and it is known that examples were imported into the United Kingdom in 1938. Mrs Brown of Moracambe, Lancashire, Great Britain had imported Crested birds from an Australian strain and was breeding them freely by 1938. A further Crest mutation was reported as having appeared in Canada around 1948. It would seem that British Crests have been developed by combining the Australian and European strains. The two strains differ only in the position of the centre of the crest ( or Locus ). The Continental strain has the centre of the Crest just above the cere and the other (Australian) has the centre of the Crest further back to the centre of the head. Over the years the two strains have intermingled such that either variant may be produced.


It should be noted that most of the mutations appeared within a relatively short time – 1915 to 1940. There was then a break of nearly 30 years to any outstanding new mutation being established. The advent of the Mottled in 1967, the Spangle in 1973, and the Saddleback in 1975 could have heralded the start of a new round of mutations, however, only the Texas Clearbody in 1991 (first bred in Australia from birds imported from the United Kingdom in 1990) has since come to notice.

The “Mottled” was bred in 1967 in the aviaries of A. & E. Dobie of Adelaide, South Australia. Similar in appearance to the Danish Recessive Pied, these birds leave the nest as Normals and the Mottling gradually appears as they go through their first moult.

The first Saddleback was bred by L. & B. Ryan of Blacktown, New South Wales, from a pair of normal Skyblues. The mutation has Opaline characteristics in that the saddle or V area is clearly defined, not due to any absence of markings but because they are decidedly grey on an otherwise normal bird. Head markings are minimal but where they do appear they are also grey rather than black. Wing markings in the shoulder region are grey merging to black in the area of the secondary and primary flight feathers on a white or yellow ground. Although displaying Opaline characteristics the original mutant was a cock and could not be an Opaline. In 1976 the mutant mated back to his mother produced two more mutants, both cocks, in a nest of four. Hens were not produced until 1977. Further breeding has proved this variety to be recessive.

As far as possible, through interviews and the study of records, papers and books, this information is reasonably accurate, but it may well be that many mutants have appeared and disappeared over the years without any records being kept. At various times bi-colours and tri- colours have been reported, but they have been found not to reproduce the characteristic.