There is a very big difference between parrotlets and parakeets – more commonly known as Budgerigars, or budgies.
First, it’s important to note that ‘parakeet’ refers to a wide range of parrots from around the world. It means very simply, ‘long tail.’ There are many types of parakeets, and yes, budgies are one species of ‘keet. So too are Indian Ringnecks, Monk Parakeets (also known as Quakers), conures, and Lineolated parakeets, just as an example.
Parrotlets originate from South America. There are many individual species, but all have adorable stubby tails and a wing span of 3-4″. They are the smallest parrots bred in aviculture, and are known for being like tiny Amazons: A 26-40 gram bundle of fierceness and attitude.
They are not cuddly birds, despite the picture below. In fact, our parrotlet hardly ever slows down – and this is not uncommon. Parrotlets as pets are birds on the go, and not for someone who can’t keep up with that nonstop energy.
Budgies are a parrot native to Australia. These long-tailed parakeets are one of the most popular family pets today, alongside the faithful cockatiel. They are slightly larger than parrotlets, ranging from 40-60 grams. Those few grams might not sound like much, but in the bird world it’s a fair difference. They are bred in many colour mutations throughout the world, although green is the variety found in nature.
The biggest difference between them is obviously their origin. They are difference species. One originates from South America, and one from Australia, so their ancestors are completely unrelated. Each species has adapted to very different environments: Budgerigars, to the arid desert life of Australia, and parrotlets to the humid rain forests of Ecuador (where, by the by, they are also eaten by spiders).
Their voices are quite different, too, Budgies can talk, as can parrotlets, but while budgies generally have a shockingly clear little voice, parrotlets have more of a robot squeak. It is quite cute either way.
Parrotlets are known for being more aggressive than budgies – they are a naturally territorial species with tendencies towards nippiness. That’s not to say that budgies can’t or won’t bite; your parrotlet is simply more likely to. Because of this, budgies are possibly a better bird for those who are timid or wary of a bite. A parrotlet will certainly bully anyone who acts afraid. Their beaks are slightly larger than a budgie’s, too.
Both birds live in flocks with complex social structures. Both are parrots – yes, a budgie IS a parrot. So is a parakeet (but a parakeet refers, remember, to many kinds of parrots). Parrotlets and budgies are highly emotional and intelligent in spite of their small size, and are very active – they need and deserve big cages, good diet, toys, and human interaction. Parrotlets tend to be more expensive, especially for the mutations, but budgies can be purchased inexpensively at nearly any pet shop.
The best place to get a budgie or parrotlet is to adopt! Many lose their homes because owners realise what a hassle these small birds can be if you’re not prepared. If you’re not up for adoption, however, a breeder is best. A good breeder will make sure a baby is properly socialised and healthy. Sometimes (sometimes) pet shop birds come from dubious origins.
When it comes to caging, neither species should be housed together – in fact, parrotlets are best housed alone at all times. They will even attack their own mates if housed together. A parrotlet does better singly. Conversely, Budgies can safely and happily live in pairs, or even groups – but this does require proper introduction, as not everyone will get along right away (or ever).
Some people will tell you that these two species need to be hand-raised to be properly tame pets, but this is false. A parent-raised bird will be just as joyful an addition. It will simply require a little more work and patience – and there are long-term rewards, such as not having your parrotlet try to drive off your husband/wife/partner/child because it thinks you are its mate.
Both these birds are wonderful pets. Neither one should be treated as a cast-off just because it doesn’t cost as much as, say, a macaw, and neither one should be neglected because of its size.
Please, buy a budgie or parrotlet because you love it, not because it’s cheap!