Site Menu

Interview With Great American Budgie Breeder Don Langell

Don Langell

Don Langell talks about raising, breeding and maintaining top exhibition budgerigars in this 1998 interview.

Boxford, Massachusetts was home to who most considered the top budgerigar breeder in America. In a large aviary outside his country home 35 miles north of Boston, Don Langell raised his champion birds for close to 50 years. He won many of the major shows in North America, including several All- Americans, the premier annual show of the American Budgerigar Society. The bloodlines from his aviary formed the nucleus of many successful exhibition studs around the country. Years ago, he was visited by Terry and Claire Pilkington. After the visit Terry dubbed him “The King”, a nick-name well earned that stuck with him and is still used today by those who remember him.

All American Winner  Opaline Light Green

Eric Peake paintings of two Langell birds

I met Don in 1981 when I judge Eastern Penn show in USA He had a large number of birds in the top ten that day. He was years ahead of the time with his super birds. In the years to come we became very good friends. Looking over his wonderful stock, seeing his success get better and better, and to see and hear his breeding successes, was really a time I enjoyed. ~ Eric Peake

Your Light Green cock won the All-American in 1996. Was that your first All-American win?

No. I have won it a few times in the past and there have been times when eight of the top ten up there.

Did you place any other birds in the top 10 at the 1996 All-American?

Yes. I had four more out of the top ten up there.

Tell us about the background of the All-American winner.

That’s one of my families. I have three families working. It’s a well established family I’ve had for years out of Light Green. I mixed the Grey-Green with them and it seemed to do very, very well. I also had a son that placed second Best in Show at Statton Island.

When did you start breeding and exhibition budgerigars?

When I was 25. Even as a kid I had pigeons, canaries, budgerigars and rabbits. I needed something to fill a void so I got into budgerigars again. I got in seriously because you’ve got to take it seriously if you’re going to get anywhere.

How do the birds of today compare to top exhibits when you first got started?

Oh my, today’s birds would bury the birds of years ago! Although I did have a strain of birds, around 1980. And one of those youngsters won an All-American then. He was a grey-green. Back then they were ten years ahead of their time. People were calling them vultures. They were massive with big heads, in my opinion gorgeous birds.

What is the origin of your birds?

That goes way back to Harry Bryan, Bob Miller and Tom McCleary from Scotland and also Alf Ormerod. These are the guys I got birds from to start, and they were very expensive then too. I’d say a bird you paid $500 (GBP300) for in 1966, you’d pay $2000 (GBP1400) for if they’d sell it today.

Where do you go to obtain a new bird to introduce to your breeding program?

I don’t. I have these three families going back and forth for years. And rarely consider going outside for a bird. There’s just no need.

How do you describe your breeding program?

I line breed. I have found that to be pretty steady. To line breed however the bird must have certain features. They must be of good size. They must have a rough/buff feather. Their feet must be dark, not pink, especially with the Cinnamons. There’s a lot of features people do not recognize in the birds which is quite a challenge.

What do you suggest to beginners when buying stock?

Buy youngsters. Never buy old birds, always current year birds, especially hens. Most breeders won’t sell a breeding hen. They may offer a hen that looks great, but she’’ be a heck of a problem for you. A hen you acquire between five and seven months of age will adapt. She’’ go through a molt in your birdroom, she’’ adjust to your feeding, and by ten months to a year she will be ready to breed. Old hens often don’t adjust. They’ll never go near the nestbox, they may kill the cock or do some other stupid thing. Old cocks are usually no problem, they adjust to anything.

What exhibition features are the hardest to maintain or improve?

Style and head. A lot of people have a bird with a nice head but it’s still a terrible bird with droopy wings, hinged tail, humpbacks that don’t stand right. It’s got to have that head and the face, and style and type. It is difficult and there is a lot to it, but the key is line-breeding and selective mating. When you get a bird with problems, his tail drops or he has a bad backline you just don’t keep it.

Breeding Room

When do you breed your birds?

I like to start in March and finish up in November. This year, for some reason, I’m still breeding and it’s January. The most important thing people need to remember when breeding is that birds need their rest. They must have their cycles. People will keep the lights on from 6AM until ten at night and that’s crazy. You’ve got to shorten their days, let them go to sleep sexually for three or four months, from December to February. Then you wake them up in March and you’ll be amazed.

What signs tell you the birds are ready to pair up?

Their sound. You don’t even have to look at them. You can pick out a bird that makes a certain sound, especially the males. Then watch the hens that are flying around, down picking around. The cocks will turn their heads around and dilate their eyes, turn sideways and take off like a cannon. The males will also start fighting, three or four tumbling to the floor. They are ready! You’ve just got to sit and listen.

Do you find fertility suffers when the birds are inbred or line bred?

I have no problem with fertility and never have. I don’t go for inbreeding. I’ve tried it in the past and every now and then get a brainstorm to try it, and it’s always a disaster. The chicks are never anywhere near as good as the parents. It’s not like breeding rabbits or horses where you breed the entire line off one sire. Budgies won’t breed like that. I’ve tried all the angles, and I don’t breed father to daughter or mother to son.

How many chicks do you breed in an average year?

Two hundred. I used to breed 350 but I’ve gotten old.



Who buys your excess birds, beginners or champion breeders?

Everybody. Champions generally. As for price I will a beginner what they can afford to pay. With a Champion it would take a lot more, but I don’t like to shake up the beginners.

Do you find people buying your birds have success on the show bench?

Tremendous success. I mean Best in Show winners. Many have moved through the ranks to champion using my line.

What is your advice to people when buying breeding stock?

Make sure you know what you are buying.

What should they expect to pay for top quality stock?

Generally, one to five hundred. It may sound a lot, but it really isn’t when you consider you will pay four figures for similar birds in England or Germany.

Do you have anything special that you feed your birds?

I could go on and on about diet. I feed them everything. Branches from trees, everything. You must keep in mind that all they get is what you feed them and seed alone won’t do it. They eat more than just seed in the wild, so I try to keep to nature as much as possible.

What about supplements?

Yes. I use lots of supplements, boiled eggs, fish meal, meat and bone meal, monkey chow, minerals… all kinds.

Do you change your feeding program during the breeding season?

No. My diet stays the same throughout the year. Some guys will tell you that you must feed your birds hot stuff during breeding, but the trick is to arrange a good solid diet from the start and stick with it.

What do you do with sick birds?

When you see one that looks sick you must move fast because they aren’t strong enough to last that way. You must learn how not medicate. Learn how to use a syringe. If you use a tube syringe you will be amazed how easy they take it in if you feed it slowly. Some guys use a needle type but I find that risky and it can damage the bird,

What training do you give the young birds?

 I don’t train any of them until they reach five to six months then they go in the show cage. Never train hens. Don’t show good hens…. Some won’t breed if you do.

At what age can you separate out the birds you will keep from those that will be offered for sale?

Usually between six to eight months. My birds develop and mature slowly but I can usually tell which ones I’ll keep and which ones I’ll sell by then.

How have you personally benefitted from your involvement in the hobby?

It has made me realize what a tremendous hobby we have. There is so much to look forward to. I mean, we are creating beautiful budgerigars. We’ve met so many excellent people and gained so many friends. I love to go to shows and meet up with people we know. For years now, it has been my pleasure and my goal to continually improve exhibition budgerigars through quality breeding. So, if I am helping to do that, it is my greatest personal benefit.

A Tribute To Don Langell

Templates in Time