THE quest to "build the ultimate budgie" can be long and tedious, but a Mackay man has recently shown he's ahead of the flock.
While Michael Pace might live a relatively normal life as a school teacher by day, by night he can be found in his garage-cum-breeding room, piecing together the "jigsaw puzzle" of budgerigar genetics.
A self-described "budgie fancier" since age 14, the father of four recently had his tireless efforts recognised, winning the opaline class of the Australian National Budgerigar Championships, held in Toowoomba.
"I was looking for something I could do at home with four kids, so it's a good hobby," Mr Pace said.
"They (the kids) tell me which ones they like and which ones they don't - it can be quite time consuming.
But Mr Pace isn't content to let nature take its course while creating his feathered masterpiece.
"I do artificial insemination," he said.
"If I really want it to happen, I'll make it happen."
Mr Pace said he used a capillary tube to extract sperm from the male budgie and then inserted it into the hen.
But the window of opportunity is small. "Once the hen starts laying she'll lay every second day, between 4-10 eggs," he said. "You've got to get the cock bird, extract the sperm, and get it into the hen within six hours of her laying that previous egg. Otherwise the next egg will be formed in her ovaries and that egg will be infertile."
Mr Pace said it had taken four years for him to breed his winning budgie - a grey opaline mutation.
While he doesn't name his birds, he said he found a lot of satisfaction in his hobby.
"I love the competitiveness of shows and you learn about genetics," he said.
Two other members of the Mackay City Budgerigar Society, Bob Robinson and Matt Grant, also scored places in their respective competition categories.
The society meets on the first Thursday of every month at 7pm at Mackay showgrounds' bird pavilion. New members are encouraged.
Budgies find homes worldwide
WHILE many of us may have had a pet budgie in our youth, wild budgerigars are a common sight across much of inland Australia.
Domestic birds can be much bigger than their wild counterparts, and can come in a variety of colours, whereas wild budgies are mostly green.
A number of different theories exist on how the bird got its name, including a mispronunciation of the Gamilaraay word "gidjirrigaa".
Budgerigars have been captive-bred since the 1850s, and can be found as pets in countries all over the world.