There’s no doubt about it — breeding and exhibiting budgies is a wonderful hobby. The birds are both beautiful and fascinating. A little friendly competition can be a lot of fun. And it is a great way to make friends with others around the world with the same interests. So what should your first step be if you want to get into showing budgies?
“Your best bet would be to join the ABS (The American Budgerigar Society) and also a local bird club, not so much in order to show your birds, but to get help and guidance,” said Don Langell, a member of the Massachusetts Budgerigar Society and one of the top exhibitors in the United States. “You need to learn from the people who have been around a long time, and most of those people are key players in the clubs.”
Bob Wilson of Cincinnati, Ohio, a judge with the Blue Chip Exhibition Budgerigar Society and one of the club’s founding members agrees. “You should align yourself with an experienced exhibitor in a bird club, someone who can act as your mentor,” he suggests. “A lot of the more experienced breeders are very gracious people and will be more than happy to help you out — as long as you’re prepared to sit and listen, and you are humble enough to take some of the advice they give you.”
You can also learn a lot by volunteering to assist the judges at the shows. “See if you can steward for the judges, which may mean moving the cages around at the show, helping pin the place ribbons on the cages and things like that,” Wilson says. “You can see within a short period what the judge typically looks for in the birds, and that’s an incredible way for people to learn. But if you’re sitting in the back of the hall or even in the front row, you may not see that a bird has some poor markings, you won’t be able to see its faults, and you’ll be less aware of what judges look for in the birds.”
Wilson recommends spending a year going to bird shows just as a spectator before you start investing a lot of money in birds and equipment. Learn to recognize the qualities of a champion bird. Does it have the right bone structure? Does it have the necessary width, the right feathers and good quality markings? Does the bird stand like a champion? Take note of what types of birds consistently win at the shows and those that don’t.
When you’re ready to start buying birds, Langell says you should buy from well-established, good quality breeders. He says it’s also important to buy young birds. “Do not buy old birds, especially hens. Buy youngsters if you can. Hens don’t adjust like the males do; it would be best to buy young hens about 5 or 6 months old. They’d go through the molt at their establishment, and when they come into breeding condition, they’re used to people, they’re used to the husbandry, and they shouldn’t have any problem.”
Take your time with your breeder birds and don’t try to rush them. “The perception of a lot of people,” says Wilson, “is that you throw these birds in a cage and they breed like mice or rabbits. And indeed the small, what we call ‘Type-E, pet-quality’ birds do breed very easily, but you have to be extra patient with the bigger, show-quality birds.”
He continues, “It’s only an experienced aviculturist who tends to be able to look at the birds and observe them and know when they’re ready to breed, because the birds actually tell you by their actions when they’re ready. An inexperienced breeder will tend to put those birds up to breed when they’re not ready; consequently, they’re not fit for breeding and you’ll end up with infertile eggs, which will kill the enthusiasm of the breeder.”
Anyone contemplating breeding budgies for show should appreciate that it takes patience, good observational skills and commitment. In this hobby, like most others, knowledge is also a key ingredient to success. If there is a bird club in your city, get in touch with the secretary, who will tell you where, when and how often the group meets. You will be welcome to attend, and you can learn a lot about birds, shows, breeding and general care — and you will make a lot of friends in the process.