Parrots are among the most popular pets in the world, but most of us are just casual pet owners and not ornithologists.
For us, it can be hard to keep up with the distinctions between them all, what species is what, what all of the different nomenclature means, and so on.
One of the questions I get most commonly asked is about the difference between a parakeet and a budgie.
It’s an understandable question with a very simple answer—so let’s clear that up for you today.
There is no difference between a parakeet and a budgie. It is two words for the same species, used in different parts of the world. In most of the world, they are budgies, or budgerigars. In the United States, they are commonly referred to as parakeets.
So, it’s just a confusing issue of nomenclature.
Though budgies are only native to Australia, because they have become popular as pets all over the world, they have taken on multiple names over the years for different reasons.
For your sake, though, you only need to know that they are the same thing.
Let’s look at how the names became different.
Where does the name budgie come from?
Given that parakeets are native to Australia, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the more commonly used name, and indeed the name used in Australia, budgie or budgerigar, comes from an Aboriginal language.
Supposedly, the word ‘budgeri’ meant ‘good’ and ‘gar’ meant ‘cockatoo’, or a particular distinction of bird.
Thus, budgerigar meant ‘good cockatoo’.
Budgie is simply the natural shortening of that.
The story comes down to us from European explorers who discovered Australia at the end of the 18th Century, and spent the following century studying its native flora and fauna.
They claim that this is where the name budgerigar comes from, although we don’t have much in the way of verifying this claim.
In any case, budgie was somehow the native name for the animal, which the local people referred to it as.
There are many words in modern usage which come from similar pools of Aboriginal language, like Boomerang or Kangaroo.
So, how did it become Parakeet, then?
Where does the name parakeet come from?
Again, the simple fact is that we aren’t entirely clear.
What is clear, though, is that the term was already in use to describe a small parrot centuries before Australia was even discovered by the West.
Usage in the 1620s places the origin of the term with the Spanish ‘perquito’, earlier from Englishj parroket in the 1580s, and finally French paroquet—actually originally meaning ‘little priest’, or in some way referring to a parish or the clergy.
Eventually, the name became an exclusive term by European explorers living in America to describe these small parrots.
As soon as they were discovered, they were taken by Europeans and exported all over the world, and so naturally they began to drift away from the name given to them by the Aboriginals in Australia.
Essentially, though, parakeet just meant small parrot.
Are there any real, anatomical differences between the two, then?
Are all budgies parakeets?
Not to hammer home this point, but it is important to get clear that, today, even though in the past parakeet seems to have meant any small parrot, today parakeet specifically describes the budgerigar species.
Their Latin, scientific name is Melopsittacus undulatus, which scientists from around the world would use to describe what we in the U.S. would call a parakeet and what most of the rest of the world would call a budgie.
Anatomically, they are the same species, classified slightly differently by different groups of people.
When were budgies first discovered?
That depends on your perspective.
Native human beings have lived on the Australian continent for untold thousands of years—we can only guess how long.
During all that time, or most of it, they would have been aware of the budgies and their place in the ecosystem.
Unlike the American continents which were discovered much earlier, Captain Cook didn’t land on Australian shores until 1770.
It wasn’t until thirty or forty years later, at least, that parakeets were classified by European naturalists, sometime in the 1820s.
So, parakeets were discovered much later than a lot of other species of parrot, and this may explain why the term parakeet came to describe a more specific thing.
There’s a lot of interesting history behind it, then, but the simple fact is that the two words describe the same animal.
There is no anatomical difference between a parakeet and a budgie, it’s all about where you are in the world.
Indeed, in most English-speaking countries, even though the name is usually budgie outside the U.S., the two names are often used interchangeably and most will understand what you mean when you refer to either.