We’ve all seen it: a lone budgie in a small wire cage, sitting on a plastic perch singing into a mirror. Mirror toys have long been considered the standard for budgies, and they do indeed seem to love having one around.
Recently, though, parrot owners have been realizing that mirrors may actually not be as good for their parakeets as was long thought. But are mirrors bad for budgies? And if so, why?
Below, let’s have a look at everything you need to know about budgies and mirrors.
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Did you know? The information provided here also applies to other parrot species, as well as pet birds like canaries and finches.
What are budgie mirror toys?
A quick look at the small bird section of any pet store will reveal a variety of different toys that include mirrors. With their colorful frames, sometimes adorned with moving parts like beads or a perch for the bird to sit on, they do look pretty attractive.
There are a lot of persistent myths out there about budgie care, relics of old times when we parrot lovers didn’t really know better. One of the more difficult beliefs to eradicate is the thought that mirrors, like the ones described above, make budgies happy. Unfortunately, they can cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Below, let’s have a look at the problem with mirror toys, as well as discuss a bunch of other, healthier toy options to keep your bird busy.
So, are mirrors bad for budgies?
If you’ve ever given a budgie a mirror toy to play with, you will have noticed that most of them are indeed highly attracted by their reflection. They’ll chatter excitedly, burst into whistles and head bobs, and some end up never wanting to leave their mirror friend’s side.
This behavior is especially pronounced in solo budgies. But is it a good thing? Not really. Although placing a mirror in a large flock or letting your bird play with it for a few minutes at a time isn’t going to cause much harm, you shouldn’t leave a mirror in its cage permanently.
The main reason is that, despite being quite intelligent, budgies can’t tell that their reflection is actually them. They interpret it as being another budgie, which can cause solo birds in particular to become obsessed.
Did you know? Even African grey parrots, considered to be the most intelligent parrot species, rarely pass the “mirror test”. Unlike apes, dolphins and, indeed, humans, they usually struggle to realize that the mirror shows their own reflection.
What happens when you give a budgie a mirror?
So what happens if your budgie takes a fancy to their reflection? Why is it such a bad thing? There are several reasons, but the main gist is that it can cause them stress.
Here are some things you can expect:
- Some will try to mate or fight with their reflection, but because it never behaves like a real partner, they can end up becoming highly frustrated. The stress of it can shave years off their lifespan.
- Normal eating and sleeping behaviors can become disrupted, and a budgie may spend hours trying to preen or feed its “friend”. Its own needs can fall by the wayside, eventually potentially causing health issues.
- In some cases, mirror-obsessed budgies can become aggressive towards their actual flock mates or even their human caretakers!
Should I avoid budgie mirrors completely?
As mentioned, placing a mirror in a large flock of budgies probably won’t do much harm. After all, they’ve got plenty of real friends to play with and to fulfill their social needs.
It’s also usually not too much of an issue if you give your budgie a mirror to play with for a few minutes at a time. It breaks the routine and gives its curious brain something new to explore.
This being said, I personally don’t offer mirrors to solo budgies at all. I feel it’s cruel to tempt them with a friend that doesn’t actually exist. They’re incredibly social and they love spending time with other budgies, so it just feels wrong. But then again, I’m also not a proponent of keeping budgies alone in the first place!
Below, let’s have a look at a few budgie toys that don’t come with the risk of negatively affecting your parakeet’s (mental) health. I promise it’ll still love to play with them – but without the risk of obsession.
Better toys for your budgie
Budgies are very playful beings, and the idea behind mirror toys does make sense. These small parrots do indeed need something to keep them busy during the day, as lack of stimulation can cause boredom and stress.
But what do you give yours to play with if budgie mirrors are out? The good news is, you’ve actually got a host of different options! There are more budgie toys out there than your parakeet could ever dream to play with.
Here are some of my budgies’ favorite options:
- Foraging toys. These encourage your bird to search for its food, as it would in the wild, and can keep a budgie busy for hours.
- Chew toys. Budgies love to chew soft wood and other materials. So why not give them something to destroy aside from your furniture and picture frames?
- Noise-making toys. Yep, budgies love bells and other jingly items. If you think your sanity can handle the constant ringing, this may be a good option.
- Training toys. Budgies are very smart and highly trainable. Bond with yours while training it to ride a skateboard or dunk a tiny basketball. It’s both fun and productive!
You can find much more information, as well as plenty of toy inspiration, in the full post on budgie toys. Your parakeet will thank you.
Other persistent budgie care myths
So if mirrors aren’t good for budgies, what other things that we consider standard parts of budgie care are actually bad for them too?! Unfortunately, there are indeed a few other persistent budgie care myths.
Here are the most notable ones, in my opinion:
- Seed diet. Although the typical dry seed mix is still considered a staple food for budgies and other parrots, it’s actually detrimental to their health to feed them only seeds.
- Grit. You can still find grit for sale marketed toward budgie owners. But did you know that, unlike chickens, parrots don’t need it? In fact, it’s considered potentially harmful to their health.
- Plastic perches. Did you know that budgies and other birds need natural perches? Plastic and dowel sticks can cause foot problems in the long run.
- Small cages. I frequently see cages for sale that are smaller than the laptop screen I’m writing this article on. Budgies that spend most of their day enclosed in their cages actually need full-sized flight cages.
If you were unaware of some of these myths, or if you’d just like to brush up on your general budgie knowledge, head over to the full budgie care guide. This way, you can be sure you’re giving your parakeet what it needs for a long, healthy and happy life!
Frequently asked questions
Your budgie thinks its reflection is a flock member. It’s trying to woo its mirror friend by feeding it. You should remove the mirror from its cage, as these obsessive behaviors are not healthy.
So, are mirrors bad for budgies? Well, they don’t have to be, but they can potentially cause severe distress if you allow your bird unlimited access to one. Consider one of the many other budgie toy types out there for your parakeet to play with instead!
If you have any more questions about budgie mirrors or if you’d like to share your own experiences with the matter, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
Lin, Y., Pei, E., Liu, Q., Ma, J., Zhang, E., Zhao, J., & Chen, M. (2023). Mirror responses in African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) support the gradualist perspective on mirror self-recognition. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 1-16.