Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due both to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and to increased research into birds different needs. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.
Should I be concerned about what my cockatiel eats?
Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. You should discuss your cockatiel's diet with your veterinarian. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their cockatiel when in fact they are not. This is a common reason for many health problems. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird's diet. This involves constantly educating yourself and a certain degree of common sense. It is insufficient to feed a cockatiel just to maintain life; instead, your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird's health depends on how well it is fed.
What does a cockatiel naturally eat?
Cockatiels eat a variety of seeds (grass seeds), fruits, berries and vegetation. They have been known to raid farmer's crops.
What should I feed my cockatiel?
Cockatiels are vulnerable to obesity, iodine deficiencies and other diet related problems including feather picking and egg binding. A well-balanced and varied diet must be maintained at all times.
"Cockatiels are vulnerable to obesity, iodine deficiencies and other diet related problems including feather picking and egg binding."
Wild cockatiels would eat a great variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season. Commercial seed mixes may contain from 4 - 10 different kinds of seeds and nuts. However, they tend to be high in fat and carbohydrates and provide a deficient or imbalanced source of many nutrients if fed as the only source of food that could lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life of your cockatiel. The problem is, cockatiels tend to selectively eat only 1 or 2 of their favorite types of seed. Millet and sunflower seed is often chosen preferentially leading to excessively high fat and deficiencies in calcium and vitamin A. Owners will often offer a millet spray or branch. This, of course, is more of the same seed and leads to further malnutrition. Honey Sticks are also often offered, but once again, they contain more seeds that are stuck together with sugar and honey. Molting foods, song foods and conditioning foods are also available. These products are simply different combinations of more seeds that really have no particular bearing on the condition they claim to treat. Healthy molts, vibrant song, talking and strong condition is achieved by feeding a balanced diet all of the time.
"Healthy molts, vibrant song and strong condition is achieved by feeding a balanced diet all of the time."
Seeds are highly palatable, preferentially sought after but nutritionally they are like giving candy to a child every day. Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet but should never be the entire diet. Gradually offer fewer seeds and your bird will start eating other foods more.
How much do I offer?
As a guideline, most cockatiels can be maintained on 1.5 - 2 level measure tablespoons of seeds per bird, per day fed in a shallow dish, depending on the size of the bird. If there is more than one cockatiel in the cage, separate dishes should be used for each bird to ensure those birds at the bottom of the pecking order have a chance to eat. This may not be possible in a flock situation. If there are any seeds left over in the dish at the end of the day, it could suggest that too many seeds were offered originally.
"Slowly wean seed-eating birds onto a pelleted diet."
Pellets have been developed to meet all your bird's nutritional needs. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. Mature cockatiels are challenging to convert to a pelleted diet. Pellets are the ideal diet, therefore you are encouraged to slowly wean seed-eating birds onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent approximately 75-80% of the bird's diet. There are many good brands of pelleted foods in the market place. Pellets come in different flavors, colors and shapes.
How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?
Converting seed eating birds (seed-aholics) onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, pellets are not likely even identified as food. Slowly wean the bird off seeds over a period of 4-8 weeks while having pellets constantly available in a separate dish. Some people mix the pellets in a reduced amount of seed to aid its acceptance in the cage, but you should be aware that the bird will not accidentally eat a pellet. It may take days, weeks or months to modify a bird's diet. NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain the bird is eating the pellets plus some fruits and vegetables. Birds are stubborn, but can be trained. This can be a stressful time for you and your cockatiel.
- Consult your veterinarian if encountering any problems with this transition or with the health of the bird.
- Remember that you train the bird; do not let it train you.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables and greens should account for approximately 20 - 25% of the daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg or Head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals. Cut them into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Offer fruits and vegetables in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce the volume or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the eating of other foods.
Treat your bird like a small child; offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily and never stop trying.
- A well balanced diet must be maintained at all times.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.
What about people food?
As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat your bird can eat. Follow the general guidelines discussed above and use your common sense. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg or cheese occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation. It is common sense that junk food, chocolate, products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages be avoided.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations.
Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino acids?
Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted food may not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Calcium supplements are available if your cockatiel is determined to be deficient.
"Mix these supplements in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food."
Powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these supplements in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish and not in the bird.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
Controversy exists over the need for gravel. It was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard as an aid to digestion. However, we now know that birds do fine without grit. Some birds will in fact have problems if grit is over eaten.
What pointers should I remember about feeding my cockatiel?
Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
Offer fresh water every day.
Offer a variety of fresh foods every day.
Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day
Clean all food and water dishes daily.
No to a food item one day does not mean no forever - KEEP TRYING!
Some suggested food items include:
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