Do my budgies and cockatiels feel bored or depressed with their life of captivity?

yellow budgiw wearing head phone and rollerblades
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Captivity is a relative term. I’m not relegated to my home but I still have to pay rent, go to work, pay taxes and perform all those duties that enable me to be a good neighbor and good citizen of the world.

 

If captivity is all that you know, is it really captivity? We have four budgies, all rescues. We don’t have the background on any of them but we’ve kept them flighted thus they don’t ever leave the cage.

They have a Fluval LED light on top of their cage on a timer which goes on the 7:20 every morning and turns off at 7:20 every evening (we do not change for daylight savings time so come summer it will be 8:20 to 8:20). 

When the light comes on in the morning I’m usually up and will uncover the cage to find that their day has already started.

 

Although we have one male and three females, Jam, one of the females seems to be an organizer of the flock.

 

When I watch them in their cage from my desk which is about 8 feet away she’s always giving some sort of direction.

She’s also best at what I call “helicoptering”. The cage is wide enough at 28 inches for them to do small flights but Jam just starts flapping keeping herself floating in the middle of the cage while shouting out orders like a drill sergeant.

 

“Toast, stay away I’m not interested in your shenanigans today I don’t want to have sex go do something else”.

 

“Eggs, go over to the back cage wall and keep trying to tug on that toy until you can rip it off”.

 

“Bacon, you’re looking better today but I want you to just stay there and watch all of us”.

 

“I’m going to land on the millet holder so I can be the first one to chow down on our millet breakfast“.

 

And so it goes. I call them my “singing flowers” they are always making fun little noises and really don’t seem to notice whatever noise we have on be it music or television or just conversation.

For reasons at many levels we just haven’t taken the time to start from the beginning, i.e. clipping their wings, flight training and socializing them but they are doing fine together.

 

It’s been more than a year now they’ve existed as a flock in their own little caged universe and I’ve interacted with a lot of birds – the budgies seem happy.

 

They always have a project that they’re working on be at destroying a wooden shelf, ripping the newest toy apart or taking turns enjoying a lettuce and water bath.

 

So perhaps at some point in the future we will pluck them out of the cage, clip their wings and begin to bring them into the family but until then they seem pretty happy to me.

 

We also have a solitary female Senegal, Peaches, who we rescued about a year and a half ago.

 

She spent 22 hours a day in a cage for more than seven years with a caregiver bringing her out an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

 

She was in a rescue with birds of all sizes but didn’t care for the larger birds so she spent her time isolated in a smaller cage in the room with smaller birds.

 

She had her wings clipped before she ever fledged and never experienced flight.

 

For the year and a half in our home she’s never in her cage when we’re there unless it is birdie bed time.

editors note: Peaches our Senegal will sit on the headrest of my office chair. When Catherine and I start to chat Peaches joins in with unintelligible sounds but clearly feels she is part of the (conversational) flock.

For eight or nine months of the year she comes to work every day where she’s delegated to her shop cage because she’s fully flighted we can’t take the chance of her escaping with the door opening in our busy little store.

 

She enjoys her cage during the day and will begin to bob her head if she likes a particular song we have on the stereo.

The thing that makes her unhappy is me not being there. She tolerates my wife Catherine but Catherine brings her no joy.

 

I am working with Peaches, training her to fly to me under various circumstances.

If I come home and open the door and she doesn’t come out I leave her there although I can tell by her body language she really wants me to reach in and scratch the top of her head which I usually do.

 

I’ll take a seat at my desk with a high back office chair and usually within a few minutes she will fly over easily landing on the head rest.

 

From there she will make it down one of my arms to land on my main desk or side desk where I have all sorts of activities for her to engage in.

 

Flinging business cards, foraging on junk mail. Looking for treats hidden among all these paper things one will find on a desk.

It’s only when she starts headbutting the other bird’s reflection of the monitor of the desk will I shoo her away.

 

She is now learned to take refuse on top of the monitor which is quite boring, eventually flying back to her cage, having a snack returning to my desk – ad repeat.

 

In the mornings she’s free to follow me around the apartment. Popcorn a rescued cockatiel that we had for three and half years (having died of cancer) was great at flying from room to room knowing where to land in each environment.

Peaches is not so good at landing, so if I’m going into a room that she is still not certain about where to land, I’ll bring her in with me and let her fly the 12 or 24 inches or so to the play stand that we have on the kitchen table.

If not she will fly around and land on top of the refrigerator or the decorative baskets we have on top of the cabinets making it harder to get her down without stressing her out – I usually get a step stool and come to her.

 

I feel bad for the six or seven hours she spends in the cage alone at home in the winter when it’s too cold to transport her back and forth with us to work but I think all the out of the cage time that she gets makes up for that and overall I think she too is a happy bird.

In conclusion

Many write about providing foraging and enrichment “things” to help replicate activities birds would be doing in the wild. It’s also said that parrots spend 40% of their time seeking food and 60% of their time trying not be food (in the wild).

This begs the question, with 99 million years of evolutionary instinctual expectations, does captivity without the worry of predatory attack make for a less stressed bird?

A case can be made that captivity is rewarding.

Does the failure to acknowledge equatorial light cycles, simply replace the “no more hawks to fear” stresspoint?

Circling back to the original question the easiest way to know if your happiness level of your captive bird is to put on your holistic captive bird viewing goggles and look at every aspect of your birds life.

written By mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing

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Author:

He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they would visit their monthly birdie brunch in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground. Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care. He's met with the majority of  CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis. He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.