Feeding a Cockatoo
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 cockatoo 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 Amazon 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 vet!
It is not good enough to feed a cockatoo just to keep it alive; instead, your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird’s entire health will depend on how well it is fed.
What does my cockatoo naturally eat?
Cockatoos eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries and vegetation in the wild. They are especially noted as great foragers on the ground. However, they are equally adept at feeding in branches. In captivity, cockatoos are vulnerable to calcium deficiency, reproductive problems, obesity and fatty liver problems. A well balanced diet must be maintained at all times to assist in avoiding these problems.
What should I feed my cockatoo?
Seeds are available everywhere and are very convenient to feed. Although cockatoos 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 cockatoo. These seeds may also be of poor quality or may have been badly stored. This will reduce the nutritional quality of the food (especially with respect to vitamin content) and contaminated seed is a common source of Aspergillus fungi that may cause an often lethal disease. Commercial seed mixes may contain a couple or dozens of different kinds of seeds and nuts. The problem that exists when offering a large container of seed to a cockatoo, is that the bird proceeds to selectively eat 1 or 2 of its “favourite” types of seed only. Peanuts, safflower and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially and are particularly deficient in calcium and vitamin A, calcium 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 cockatoos can fulfil their daily calorific needs on 1-3 tablespoons of seed a day. Volumes of seed offered should reflect this. 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 cockatoo 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. Fruits, vegetables and greens should account for approximately 30 - 50% of the diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Alcohol, chocolate, avocado, onion, rhubarb leaves and many dairy products are reported to be potentially toxic, so should be avoided as part of your bird’s 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.
"Treat your bird like a small child; offer a large variety of food items daily and never stop trying."
Another great source of nutrients, enjoyed by the vast majority of birds is sprouting pulses - chick-peas and beans, soaked overnight and then laid out to sprout can be included to a diet to give an excellent addition. If feeding pulses these should be prepared fresh each day.
Formulated or pelleted diets
Pellets, crumble and hand-feeding mashes have been developed, to meet nearly all your bird’s nutritional needs (reputable manufacturer’s recommend that their pellets form 70-80% of the diet with the balance made up of vegetables). A wide range of products are now available that have been designed to suit different species and different needs. 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 slowly train “seed eating” birds to convert to a pelleted diet. One important point is that pelleted rations are “boring” and the bird does not need to spend time foraging. It is best, if using pellets, to provide a form of feeding enrichment – e.g. “forage feeding” or hiding food in toys.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day.
What about “people” food?
Follow the general rule discussed above and your “common sense”. Many cockatoos would opportunistically feed on high protein foods so occasional “treats” of meat (not chicken), egg (scrambled or boiled), egg and biscuit mix, plain cake (e.g. Madeira cake) or cheese may be appropriate. These should not be given more than once a week. Chicken bones should be avoided as they are potential sources of Salmonella spp. Other foods to avoid include salted snacks, caffeine, and alcohol.
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 with regard to these situations.
Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?
If your bird is on a good diet, does it need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids? There is much written about supplementation. The powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Apply directly onto moist food. As cockatoos do not drink a fixed regular amount, in-water dosing is unreliable. 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. It is even better to put the supplement onto a small treat or, for birds that take from a spoon, mix with a little fruit juice or decaffeinated tea. It is suggested 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. moulting birds may require extra essential amino-acids). Your vet can help you assess your bird’s diet and its 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. 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. Offer 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 vet.
Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
- Offer fresh water every day.
- Offer fresh food 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 fresh food items:
- 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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