Parakeets are small to medium-sized parrots with long tails. More than 120 species and sub-species of parakeets -- with names like Indian ringneck parakeet and Alexandrine parakeet -- originated in different parts of the world, ranging from Asia to South America, all having different habitats. However, the bird referred to in the U.S. simply as parakeet, or the common parakeet, is the one most often kept as a pet. It originated in Australia, where it is called a budgerigar or budgie.
Nests in Trees
Parakeets live in the wilds of Australia in what is called the outback, a vast area of desert, woodlands, grasslands and open scrub far from the densely populated cities. Unlike most birds, parakeets do not make nests. Instead, they like to nest in hollow cavities of trees like the eucalyptus tree. Being social birds, they expect that other parakeets will also nest in different cavities of the same tree. By staying together in a flock or colony, they all look out for predators and warn other parakeets when danger is nearby.
Hot, Dry Climate
Australia is the second-driest continent, next to Antarctica. What little rain it receives occurs mostly during the wet season, which varies from one region to another. The rest of the year the riverbeds are dry; so parakeets must often travel long distances -- as far as 30 miles or so -- to find food and water. You may see them in the early morning drinking dewdrops and "bathing" in the moisture they find on the leaves of trees. Then they fly as a flock in search of food. When chicks are newly hatched, the adult female stays with them in the nest while the male forages for food. After a week or so, the female joins the male in the hunt for food. At about six weeks of age, the chicks will forage for their own food with the flock.
Grasses and Seeds
Grass seeds are one of the parakeet's favorite foods, including seeds of spinifex, Mitchell's and Tussock's grasses, wild oats and canary grass. They also eat wild millet and farm crops such as wheat. During the rainy season, they search for newly sprouted green grasses. Once the flock has eaten the available grass seeds in one area, they move on together to another location, living a nomadic lifestyle following their food supply. During dry seasons, parakeets can go for long spells without water because they get water from the food they eat. They also chew on tree leaves and bark to get moisture. When they find a large water source -- such as a pond or puddles -- they may descend on it in huge numbers.
Berries and Bugs
When food is plentiful, parakeets in Australia find berries to eat. Colorful berries attract them, but they primarily eat the berry seeds. Parakeets are ground foragers -- also called grass parrots -- because they are among the parrots that forage on or close to the ground. They are more likely to find low berry bushes and berries that have fallen to the ground than high up in the trees. When food is not as plentiful, parakeets in the wild will eat insects, too, although they are primarily vegetarians.
Back to the Trees
When day is done, after the parakeets have flown far, foraged for food and eaten their fill, large numbers roost together in tree branches. Before going to sleep, flock mates twitter and chatter softly in a bedtime ritual.
Pet parakeets are happiest in environments that are similar to their native habitat. They need a varied diet that includes not only seeds but also fresh berries, other fruits and vegetables daily. Change their water every day, and give protein, such as a small amount of chicken or hard-boiled egg, every few days. Outfit the cage with several high perches where they can roost at the end of the day. Keep the cage in a spot that's warm and away from drafts.