Book Review: Flight of the Budgerigar by Penny Olsen

About the Book:

The Budgerigar is arguably Australia’s best-known bird. At the same time, it is so ubiquitous that not everyone knows that it is Australian. Nor do many realise that the multicoloured bird that comes to mind—not to mention today’s super-sized, extravagantly coiffed show budgie—is as different from the free-living original as a chihuahua from a wolf.

Far from the cosy domestic lives our pet budgies live today, the native budgerigar has lived millennia of boom-bust cycles in the arid inland of Australia. Life was often short; if they were not fodder for predators, they starved or had to struggle their way to districts closer to the coast. For the Warlpiri and their Arrernte neighbours around Alice Springs, the Budgerigar (in its ancestral form) was a totem animal, featuring in art, ceremonies, songlines and legends.

Since 1840, when ornithologist John Gould took living specimens to London, this little parrot has been on a remarkable journey. The Budgerigar was Australia’s first mass export; its story includes British queens and nobles, Japanese princes and Hollywood stars. It has won the hearts of British spies and world leaders, including Churchill, Stalin and Kennedy.

Taking the reader from the Dreamtime to the colonial live bird trade, the competitive culture of the showroom and today’s thriving wild flocks, Flight of the Budgerigar is the authoritative history of the Budgerigar, written by respected ornithologist Dr Penny Olsen, and lavishly illustrated in full colour.

Published by NLA Publishing

Released 1st October 2021

About the Author:

Penny Olsen is an Honorary Professor in the Division of Ecology, Evolution and Genetics at The Australian National University. After a career as a field biologist and ecological consultant, she has is now mostly occupied writing books about Australian natural history and its recorders, both artistic and scientific. She has written more than 25 books, including Australian Predators of the Sky (2015) and Australia’s First Naturalists: Indigenous Peoples’ Contribution to Early Zoology (2019).

My Thoughts:

Last year I read a non-fiction book titled Budgerigar by Sarah Harris and Don Baker (you can see my review here) and to be honest, there was a lot of cross over between that book and this one. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed returning to the topic. The research within Flight of the Budgerigar is immense and the wider focus on natural history was fascinating. The illustrations throughout were wonderful and provided an informed history on their own. From the earliest images of budgerigars to the most modern photos, I really loved poring over all the illustrations and reading the captions that accompanied them. My favourite section of the book was the chapter titled ‘Casualties of War’ which detailed the impact WWII had on budgerigars and other pets in London during the Blitz. Very sad, indeed. I immensely enjoyed the stories sprinkled throughout about well known people from history and their beloved budgies, such as Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, and the Kennedy’s. I just love the way these stories highlight that when it comes to loving a pet, be it cat, dog, or bird, we’re all the same.

“The Budgerigar was Australia’s first mass export and yet another example of Australians selling off their natural resources for a pittance to be value-added elsewhere and sold back at great expense. Perhaps, too, an example of talent that must prove itself overseas before it is celebrated here.

The elegant little parrot that Australia gave away and then reclaimed is arguably the nation’s best-known bird. At the same time, it is so ubiquitous that not everyone knows that it is Australian.

…in the mid-1930s, the Budgerigar was protected and feted back in its home country, having already seduced a good slab of the rest of the world.”

I have a personal interest in birds, so I am drawn to books like this, plus, it is just quite fascinating history, and you all know how much of a history buff I am. This little parrot, the budgerigar, native to Australia and unable to survive in the wild anywhere else, has evolved into such an iconic little pet all around the world. It’s a rather impressive and interesting history. The author has also considered the place that budgerigars have within Aboriginal history, and this is something of which I was previously unaware. This book will appeal to those who love budgerigars, of course, but also those who have an interest in natural history, particularly that which relates to Australian birds. Well written, extensively researched, and beautifully presented, Flight of the Budgerigar is a book I highly recommend, particularly as Christmas approaches. It would be an ideal gift for the non-fiction book lover in your life.


Thanks to Quikmark Media for the review copy.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Flight of the Budgerigar by Penny Olsen

  1. How wonderful! And a great review! My family have loved and cared for many budgerigars for many years and I am dismayed when overseas bloggers misname or misrepresent our good old Aussie budgie. They may not be the melodious of birds but they are certainly chatty and friendly 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love budgies! I’ve had several as pets over the year and they’ve all been such delightful little personalities. I’ve seen the huge swarms in the wild too (in docos, unfortunately not in reality) and they are absolutely incredible little birds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve read a couple of Penny Olsen’s books and they are beautiful, they’re like works of art in many ways. The NLA really does the author proud with their expensive papers and the reproduction of the images…

    Liked by 2 people

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s