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The parakeet is a small, slender seed-eating descendant of the parrot. There are more than 115 species that still reside in their natural habitat of Australia, and can often be found roaming in large flocks in the tens of thousands. Typically, the parakeet is a colorful bird that tends to live in warmer climates and nest in the hollows of high trees.

Today, the Budgerigar or "shell" parakeet is the most popular caged bird in the world. Owners range from one-pet lovers to Budgerigar showers and breeders, who have made a living from these colorful, easy to care for birds.

Whether you've been a parakeet owner for years or are just in the beginning stages, there are things you should know about properly caring for your bird.

Your Budgie will need a place to call home and as is the case when caring for any animal, bigger is better. Most veterinarians suggest that cages are at least three feet in length. Anything smaller will not give your bird enough room to exercise. Cages are made of a variety of materials including plastics, metal and wood. Never purchase a cage that appears too flimsy, as Budgies like to peck and chew, and can easily gnaw their way out of thin plastic or wooden framed cages.

Where you place your cage is up to you, but remember, parakeets are noisy, early morning birds. Positioning them near bedrooms is usually a mistake. Also, be sure to keep your pet's cage away from drafts, windows and out of direct sunlight.

In the wild, Budgerigars feed on grass seeds, eucalyptus leaves, buds and bark and a large variety of greens. It's important to note that parakeets are vegetarian by nature, and should never be fed meat, milk products or animal proteins, as their digestive system will not be able to process those foods.

The diet you provide your Budgerigar with should depend mostly on the climate in which you live. Hotter weather birds will need less starch and proteins, which are often used in colder climates to build up body fat. Similarly, birds that will be used for showing or breeding purposes will require a special diet, as well, consisting of higher protein levels and added supplements.

For the average Budgie owner, there are many diet possibilities. Feed mix is sold pre-packaged in pet food stores and Veterinary Clinics. Mixing your own feed is also a cost-effective option, with all the ingredients readily available at pet food stores and discount warehouses.

FEED MIX GUIDELINES 40% Canary seed 20% French Millet 20% Panicum 20% Oats

In colder climates, increase the percentage of oats and add a small amount of cod liver oil or wheatgerm oil to help build up the body fat of your Budgie.

Greens are naturally appealing to the parakeet and can be easily implemented into their regular diet. Leaves from vegetables make a great after dinner treat for your bird. You may also feed your Budgie (pesticide and chemical free) grass, sprouting seeds, branches from trees and Eucalyptus. Keep in mind that not all tree branches are edible. When in doubt, stick with feed or simple vegetable leaves.

Even though Budgies are considered one of the easiest birds to care for, sometimes incorporating supplements to their diet is a necessity. Budgies often need extra nutrients, not found in greens and seed, in order to live in a tamed environment.

CALCIUM: Calcium blocks or Cuttlefish bones are the easiest way to provide your bird with much needed calcium. For a cheaper alternative, try grinding eggshells into a fine powder and mixing with your Budgie's feed.

GRIT: Grit is needed regularly for your bird to digest foods properly. Grit acts as an internal grinder, milling foods down in the bird's stomach. You can purchase commercially prepared grit or add loose sandy soil to your bird's food. You can also add a separate dish of grit to your bird's cage.

WATER: Although Budgies can survive without water for up to three weeks, it's recommended that you provide your bird with fresh water daily. Your Budgie will not only drink his water, but use it for bathing purposes, as well. For this reason, your bird's water is often easily contaminated.

Like any other pet, your Budgie will have an entire day to fill, sitting in a cage. Providing him with entertainment and toys is always a good idea. When buying or making perches, it's best to use wood. Budgies often break plastic perches, presenting a possible choking hazard. Swings, tiny bathtubs, small mirrors, bells and bird balls all make for great fun for any Budgie.

Even though Budgies are easy to care for, their immune systems can be touchy. This means that at the first sign of illness, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Your bird's fast metabolism makes it essential that you act as quickly as possible. Even a simple virus can turn deadly overnight. Common symptoms of parakeet illness include huddled stances, withdrawn personalities, drooping body postures, blood in droppings, running nose, excessive blinking and disinterest in things around him.

There are a few things you can keep on hand to keep your bird happy. Most bird handlers have a special first aid kit kept near the bird's cage that include common ingredients like:

Dettol: For treating parasites and infection Antibiotic: Aureomycin and Bioserine are available at pet stores and can be used for scratches or bites and stings. Eye Ointment Mercurochrome: Used in the treatment of small cuts. Sprays: Sprays or solutions for common problems like red mites should be kept on hand.