Budgies are native to Australia, so they’re naturally disposed to sunlight and warmth. Captive budgies will still need access to sunlight each day, which should be factored into the location of their cage.
As explained by Dermato Endocrinology, sunlight reacts to 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin. This is then synthesized into Vitamin D3, which helps your budgie process calcium.
This doesn’t mean that budgies should spend their entire day outdoors. Even in the wild, budgies occasionally need a break from sunlight to avoid heatstroke.
If you live in a territory where access to sunlight is limited, you’ll need an artificial light source.
Is Sunlight Good for Budgies?
Cholecalciferol is the avian-specific term for Vitamin D3.
Your budgie can consume Vitamin D3 in its food, but the benefits won’t be activated without sunlight. The core benefit is the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in a budgie’s body.
If your budgie eats pellets as a core part of its diet, it’ll absorb around 600 IU of Vitamin D per pound of feed. This will sit dormant until the budgie heads into the sun.
This sun exposure must be direct, so a closed window in the house will not suffice.
Once the budgie enjoys the benefits of D3, calcium is absorbed into the bloodstream. As per Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, calcium is vital to the performance of a bird’s internal organs and strong bone growth.
Vitamin D3 is also responsible for the absorption and excretion of phosphorous. This mineral performs a similar role to calcium, keeping a budgie’s skeleton strong and healthy. It also balances hormones in a budgie, encouraging egg production in females.
Vitamin D3 should only be received through food and sunlight. Only offer supplements when recommended by an avian vet, as too much Vitamin D is harmful.
Should Budgies Be Kept in Sunlight?
Budgies need access to sunlight but should not spend their lives surrounded by it. Too much sun is just as dangerous to a budgie as not enough, so consider this when positioning your budgie’s cage.
The budgie will still need to spend time outside wherever you place the cage. A closed window will block the sun’s UV rays and fail to activate Vitamin D3 in the bloodstream.
The best location for a birdcage is within sight of a window but backed by at least one wall, ideally two. This will provide access to natural light but not leave your budgie exposed.
Always ensure that you have a curtain or blind over a window. During the summer months, when light is hot and intense, you’ll need to close these periodically.
Balanced periods of darkness are just as important as sunlight to maintain a budgie’s circadian rhythms.
Can I Put My Budgies Cage Outside?
You can take your budgie outside, within its cage, to provide direct access to the sun, but this can’t be a permanent arrangement. Time outdoors needs to be supervised and short-term. Budgies should always be housed within a home for most of the day.
If your budgie lives outside, it’ll struggle to escape the sun. Once the bird has absorbed enough sun, it should retreat to the shade.
We also need to remember that weather is variable. Sunshine can turn to rainfall, or even more extreme variations like hale, in the blink of an eye. A budgie trapped in these poor conditions will get cold.
Also, consider the physical safety of your budgie if housed outside. If your bird escapes its cage, it’ll potentially fly away from the vicinity of your home. Captive budgies aren’t cut out for life in the wild, and your bird will lack basic survival skills.
The presence of a budgie in your yard can attract cats. As per Biological Invasions, feral cats feed on small birds. Pet cats that roam outside may also be attracted to your backyard if a budgie lives there.
Even if they can’t gain access to the bird, the stress can cause health concerns for a budgie.
How Many Hours of Sunlight Do Budgies Need?
A budgie needs 12 hours of light per day and 12 hours of darkness. This balance keeps maintains a bird’s natural circadian rhythms. These light exposure needs to be split between direct and indirect sunlight.
As a minimum, budgies need to spend around 20-30 minutes in direct sunlight.
Ideally, this will be daily, but every 2-3 days is enough to keep a bird healthy. The rest of the time can be spent outside in direct sunlight, with light coming through a window.
It’s important to maintain an appropriate balance of sunlight. Exposing a budgie to excessive UV can lead to hypervitaminosis – too much Vitamin D.
This can cause an array of musculoskeletal concerns, including:
- Avian gout
- Soft tissue mineralization
Balance is key when it comes to Vitamin D, so you’ll also need to moderate time spent in the sun.
Has My Budgie Had Too Much Sun?
In addition to concerns over hypervitaminosis, too much time spent in direct sunlight can cause heatstroke in budgies.
As birds don’t have sweat glands, they can be sensitive to prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Budgies are at risk of heatstroke in any ambient temperature that exceeds 85 degrees, though it becomes likelier at temperatures of 90 degrees or above.
The warning signs of heatstroke include:
- Panting and breathing with the mouth open
- Lifting the wings away from the body
- Lack of balance and coordination
- Nervous energy and trying to escape a cage
- Uncharacteristic aggression
If you suspect that your budgie is overheating, provide a bowl of room temperature water and place the bird inside. Keep the water tepid and steadily lower the bird’s temperature.
Mist the budgie with this water, lifting the wings to access the skin. You may also consider dampening some cotton pads and placing these under the wings.
An avian vet will need to administer intravenous fluids if your budgie shows no sign of recovery.
Creating Artificial Sunlight for Budgies
It may not be possible to provide your budgie with direct access to sunlight.
Potential reasons for this include:
- It’s too cold outside. Budgies flourish in an ambient temperature of 70-75 degrees.
- Chemicals in the air, toxins in the environment, or predators in the vicinity make it unsafe.
- You lack time to supervise your budgie while it’s outside. Budgies can’t be left unattended.
Equally, you may live in a climate or territory where the sun does not rise during the winter, or if it does so, it soon sets again. In these instances, your budgie will need an artificial sunlight lamp.
You can pick up lamps from many consumer retailers, often marketed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamps. As budgies have excellent eyesight, they’ll need access to full-spectrum lights. This means the lamp must provide both UVA and UVB light.
What is the Difference Between UVA and UVB Light?
Sunlight comes in three forms; UVA, UVB, and UVC.
The ozone layer blocks the latter, so your budgie won’t be exposed to UVC light. It’ll experience UVA and UVB rays when in the sun. If using a lamp, these conditions must be replicated.
The core difference between UVA and UVB are wavelengths, UVA rays have a long wavelength, penetrating the feathers of a bird and reaching the interior layers of the skin. UVB rays are shorter, typically limited to the outer layer of the skin.
UVA and UVB rays are equally important to birds, so any artificial sunlight source must contain both. Direct exposure to these UV sources through a lamp is just as dangerous as spending too much time in the sun, so they must be used sparingly.
What is the Best Light for a Budgie Cage?
The ideal lamp for a budgie depends on your unique circumstances and budget. There are some non-negotiable things that must apply to a lamp designed to imitate sunlight for your bird, though.
Only commit to a product that meets the following criteria:
- Emits both UVA and UVB light
- Doesn’t generate excessive heat
- Will ideally be timer-operated to manage light exposure
- Small enough to fit into a cage without dominating it
A typical budgie cage will measure 18.5 x 18.5 x 18.5 inches.
In such instances, a lamp shouldn’t exceed 8 watts in power and 12 inches in size. This will allow the budgie to seek shade and self-regulate light and temperature.
One final consideration is that budgies tend to chew through electrical cables. Keep this in mind when choosing a lamp, selecting and/or modifying a model that minimizes the potential for danger.
Access to sunlight, whether authentic or artificial, is non-negotiable for budgies. Build access to the sun into your bird’s schedule, alongside an appropriate diet.