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   The Budgie and the Eucalyptus, Once Upon a Time in Australia

A Relationship that Ended over 160 years ago:

The Budgie and the Eucalyptus, Once Upon a Time in Australia

by Peter McLaren

I live in Australia, where I have, in the last few years, re-discovered a relationship between a bird and a tree that ended in 1840 after having evolved together over hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of years.

The bird is the world’s most popular cage bird, the budgie. The tree is the Eucalyptus, or, at least, five species of Eucalypts.

In around 1840, budgerigars were found in Australia by a British naturalist named Gould who took a few back to England. In its native habitat the budgie used to eat grass seeds and Eucalyptus leaves, but it was too cold for Eucalyptus trees to grow in Europe.

Since then the bird has been fed on all sorts of diets in every country in the world, but never its original Eucalyptus leaves. It eats cabbage in Russia, dandelions in Turkey, lettuce in the USA and so on.

When the budgie arrived back on Australian shores, it had been modified more than Bruce Willis. It had gone through a selective breeding program that gave it a whole range of colors besides its natural green. Even Australians didn’t recognize this native son, and they fed him, as per European instruction books, on foods that were nothing like his native grasses and Eucalyptus leaves. The bird had undergone a complete cosmetic makeover outside the country.

I can’t think of parallel in the history of the world where a species was removed from its native continent and never tasted its natural food again.

When I was at university doing Aboriginal Studies, I visited Aboriginal communities in the Outback. There I saw flocks of budgies strip Eucalyptus trees like locusts, and I realized that this was part of their original diet. It gave me the idea for starting a business exporting Eucalyptus leaves and re-introducing budgies to their native food. I now have customers in many countries on four continents.

In Britain alone there are estimated to be 540,000 households containing at least one budgie each, plus all the breeders, exhibition budgie fanciers etc. The worldwide caged budgie population is hard to estimate but various people have put it at something like 30 million.

To put your budgie back on its natural diet, please visit our site.

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This story was published on January 8, 2003.
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