Book Review: Budgerigar by Sarah Harris & Don Baker

Budgerigar: How a brave, chatty and colourful little Aussie bird stole the world’s heart…

About the Book:

A curiosity of everything you ever wanted to know (or realised you never knew) about budgies.

Budgies, budgies, budgies. Beautiful and cheeky, delightful and enchanting, wild or tamed budgerigars are Australia’s gift to the bird world.

They sing and dance, and yawn as contagiously as humans. They are masters of mimicry. They grasp simple grammar, can count to six and have memories that belie their size. They’ve been coveted by royals and been companions to the great and famous as well as grannies in suburban kitchens around the world. They’ve been painted by masters, rendered in the finest porcelain and graced fashionable hats and earrings of the highest order. Their image has been used to sell whisky, stamps and laundry detergent and everything in between.

Surprising, charming and occasionally alarming, Budgerigar is the book that at last opens the cage door on the incredible story of the little bird that grew.

My Thoughts:

This book was surprisingly compelling reading. What I thought was going to be a fluffy collection of anecdotes about budgies and their besotted owners turned out instead to be a complete and thorough history of the little parrot, from bush budgie to…well, what they are now, which also forms an integral part of this history. Honestly, I never thought I’d say this about a book on budgies, but this was excellent reading.

‘Generation upon generation of captive and selective breeding has produced, at best, a much-loved and cosseted companion and, at worst, a feathered Frankenstein that’s not so much a bird as a caricature of the original wild creature.’

As well as history, this book provides a commentary on aspects of society within the context of respect for nature. There is scientific enquiry from breeding through to research, examination of the very nature of budgies in terms of what makes them so appealing as a pet, changing ideals with regards to bird keeping, and of course, plenty of those anecdotes about budgies that I was expecting.

‘More than 150 years of intensive select breeding, favouring the qualities that humans want to see rather than those that might serve the bird if they developed naturally, have had an inevitable effect on the creatures’ physiology. They are shorter-lived, less fertile, more prone to disease, less adept at parenting and simply incapable of foraging for themselves.’

While always interesting, this book was also quite sad at times, the poor little budgie having been subjected to many indignities throughout its long history. This book has much to offer, even to those who don’t keep birds as pets. Really, anyone with a keen interest in history would enjoy this book. It offers many topics for contemplation and provides a wealth of talking points – just ask my family who know more about budgies now than they likely ever wished to! In all seriousness, this is an engaging read that I can highly recommend.

‘The point where you realise you have done a grotesque thing is always too late. That is human nature and maybe nature in general.’


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Budgerigar for review.

Read for #2020ReadNonFic hosted by Book’d Out
Category: Published in 2020

About the Authors:

Very conveniently co-authors Don Baker and Sarah Harris are also a couple. Both veteran journalists, they flirted briefly with being fruiterers before deciding to stick to their knitting. They live on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula with their flying dog Smudge.

Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 31st March 2020

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Budgerigar by Sarah Harris & Don Baker

    • I feel the same way as you. I’ve never been a fan of birds in cages. However, I’ve been surrounded by people who love birds as pets. My nanna had a sulphur crested cockatoo for decades, it was barely in a cage, only for sleeping, it had free range of the house and she adored it. My husband’s family have long been bird keepers too. I love watching birds flying and playing together in the yard and in the wild in general. I currently have a ringnecked parrot, it’s a rescue bird. One thing I like less than a bird in a cage is a bird in a cage being mistreated. I took this one on because I was still feeling raw about the loss of my previous rescue bird, a very timid and sweet hybrid cockatoo/galah, who died of old age. When we picked this one up, it was only six months old and it was so frightened of everything. A year later, it’s still a bit temperamental but very social. Rather clingy to me too. It likes to be in the same room as me as much as possible, preferably right by my side talking to me. When I think of how far it’s come in a year…
      Rescue birds are hard work and require patience and sometimes earplugs. They’re a bit like toddlers! But the gains are immeasurable. They can’t survive in the wild, but with the right owner, they can be saved and loved. By sheer accident, I’ve become a bird person too, but while my preference remains for them to be free, it’s just not right though to release birds born into captivity into the wild.
      I am completely opposed to breeding and showing. I would personally only ever own rescue birds.


      • I didn’t realise there was such a thing as a rescue bird, though now of course, it’s obvious that there would have to be.
        I do like tame birds. My neighbour across the road has tamed her magpies: Mumma, Papa and Baby Bird, and it’s gorgeous to see. Funny though, Yesterday we were talking from across the lawn and my husband joined me and the magpies immediately swooped him. They don’t like men with beards!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh dear! That is funny, actually.
        Birds are a lot more work than people realise, particularly parrots and especially cockatoos. Major Mitchells are particularly needy, like a toddler without an off switch. And destructive! They need stimulation (all parrots), company, and the right diet. Parrots are really prone to self plucking when anxious or bored too. Our previous one was a habitual plucker that came from loneliness. He was pretty much ignored for about 10 years and fed a diet far too high in sunflower seeds (which I suspect is what led to his death). It was very hard to get him to eat anything else after he came to us.
        I turned a corner today with Mordy, my ringneck. He asked me to pat his head and repeatedly called out for me to do so! It’s little milestones like that which are gratifying. I have a personal policy to never touch a bird unless they initiate it. That way, they know they are safe. That nothing unexpected will happen. Mordy is certainly lapping up the attention with me home all the time!


  1. Pingback: Non-Fiction (General) Round Up: March 2020 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Flight of the Budgerigar by Penny Olsen | Theresa Smith Writes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s