Feeding a Cockatiel
There is a lot of information available about diets for pet birds and as time goes on, our knowledge continues to improve. This is due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition plus increased research involving pets and wild birds. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.
Should I be concerned about what my Cockatiel eats?
Nutrition is the most commonly neglected element of owning a pet bird. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper balanced diet to their Cockatiel when in fact they are not. An unbalanced diet is a common underlying source of many health problems. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird’s diet. This will involve reading, carefully interpreting and integrating the information along with a certain degree of “common sense”. Above all, discuss nutrition with your veterinarian!
It is not good enough to feed a Cockatiel just to keep it alive; but instead your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird’s entire health will depend on how well it is fed.
Cockatiels eat a variety of grass and other seeds, fruits and berries. They have been known to raid farmers’ crops. In captivity, they are vulnerable to obesity and a variety of other diet related problems including feather picking, egg binding, weakness and paralysis. To assist in avoiding these problems, a well balanced diet must be maintained at all times.
What should I feed my Cockatiel?
Seeds are available everywhere, store well and are very convenient to feed. Although Cockatiel do eat seeds, they would naturally consume a far greater variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season at different times. An all-seed diet tends to be high in fat and provides an imbalanced source of nutrients that will lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life expectancy of your Cockatiels. Commercial seed mixes may contain a 4 - 10 different kinds of seeds and nuts. The problem that exists when offering a large container of seed to a Cockatiel, is that the bird proceeds to selectively eat 1 or 2 of its “favourite” types of seed only. Millet and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially. These seeds are high in fat and particularly deficient in calcium and vitamin A and other essential nutrients. This, of course, is what leads to further malnutrition. If a smaller amount of a good quality seed mix is offered then it is likely the bird will eat a greater variety of seed. Offer less and they will eat better.
How much do I offer?
As a guideline, most Cockatiel can be maintained on ½ -1 level dessertspoon of seeds per bird, per day 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 appropriate in a flock situation. Any seeds left over in the dish at the end of the day could suggest that too many seeds were offered originally. Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet. Your cockatiel needs to have seed as no more than 50% of its diet. See below for vegetables and other components you can add, to provide a more balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables
As a general rule regarding food offered to a bird, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can eat. Many cockatiels can be trained to eat reasonable quantities of green leafy vegetables and fruit, to provide some variety and diet enrichment. If left to their own wishes, the amounts taken are unlikely to have a significant effect on the overall diet. Cockatiels are rarely great eaters of fruit or vegetables in captivity – you need to work on this so that they consume more of these to mimic what they eat in the wild. You can remove the seed for some hours each day to encourage them to eat the vegetables and fruit - as a healthy snack between their meals of seed. But they can be single-minded and difficult to wean onto vegetables, once they are accustomed to an all-seed diet. The best strategy is to introduce your cockatiel to these fresh foods when they are young and easily weaned onto a more balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals and be cut into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. They should be offered in a separate dish.
Here is a tip to help get your bird to eat fruits and vegetables. Treat your bird like a small child; offer a large variety of food items daily and never stop trying.
Formulated or pelleted diets
Pellets, crumble and hand-feeding mashes have been developed to meet nearly 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. If you decide to go for a complete diet rather than making one up yourself with a variety of food inputs, then many consider that pellets are the ideal diet, therefore you are encouraged to train “seed eating” birds to a pelleted diet.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day, especially the tube or gravity water containers.
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. Consult your vet in these situations.
Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?
If your bird is on a well balanced diet, does it need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids? There is much written about supplementation. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted or formulated 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). Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird’s diet and it’s particular needs.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
In the wild, a bird would naturally consume small indigestible stones, gravel or grit whenever it wishes to. This is to aid in the mechanical digestion of seeds and nuts. Controversy exists over its need in captivity especially with easily-digested formulated diets. Offering a small amount in a separate dish will allow the bird to decide if it needs or wants it. Never place gravel on the bottom of the cage as the bird is then forced to eat it out of its “toilet”, the dirtiest part of the cage. Gravel with charcoal in it is reported to absorb certain vitamins from the digestive tract making them unavailable to the bird. White oyster shell may be part of some gravel mixes, to provide a source of calcium. Some sick birds will eat inappropriate amounts of grit, causing digestive problems and in some cases blockage. So grit should only be available in small amounts for any sick bird. If irregular or excessive consumption is witnessed, consult your veterinarian.
Some suggested food items include:
- beans (cooked) such as
- i.e. chic pea
- brussel sprouts
- carrot tops
- cherries (not the pip!)
- chili peppers (red, green & hot)
- Chinese vegetables
- e.g. bok choy
- dandelion leaves
- kiwi fruit
- mustard greens
- rice (brown)
- sprouted seeds
- sweet potato
- Swiss chard
Avoid cabbage, avocado, onion and rhubarb leaves as they are reported to be potentially toxic.
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