What Do Cockatiels Eat? (Avian Vet Reviewed)

Last Updated on December 28, 2023 by Ali Shahid

Step into the amazing world of cockatiels, a species known for their lively personalities and unique crests. As someone who has shared a home with these feathered pals, I can tell you they Are more than just pets; they Are cherished members of our family. Like any family, we prioritize their well-being, making sure they stay healthy and happy. Regarding a cockatiel’s health, their diet plays a crucial role. It’s not just about feeding them; it Is about giving them the right mix of nutrients they need to thrive. 

Cockatiels naturally consume a range of grass and other seeds, fruits, and berries. However, when kept in captivity, offering them a well-rounded diet is crucial. This includes pellets, constituting 60-70% of their diet; fruits and vegetables, making up 20-30%; and seeds and nuts, comprising the remaining 10%. Providing this balanced mix ensures your cockatiel receives the necessary nutrients for optimal health in a captive environment.

Join me on this journey as we explore the question: “What do cockatiels eat?” and learn how to ensure our feathered friends lead a vibrant and fulfilling life.

What Do Cockatiels Eat?

Understanding Cockatiels’ Natural Diet

Cockatiels, hailing from the semi-arid regions of Australia, boast a varied natural diet that shifts with the seasons and food availability. In the wild, these charming birds mainly munch on an assortment of seeds, favoring the softer, ‘doughy’ ones over their harder, mature counterparts. Apart from seeds, their menu includes fruits, berries, and vegetation. 

They’ve been caught raiding farmers’ crops, with a particular fondness for acacia seeds. The types of fruits and berries they chow down on depending on where they call home and what’s ripe for the picking.

It is vital to note that while seeds are a big deal in their diet, wild cockatiels indulge in a much wider array of seed types than your usual pet bird seed mix offers. This diet diversity isn’t just for show – it is crucial to keeping them healthy and happy.

The Problem with a Seed-Only Diet

Facing issues with a seed-only diet is a real concern for birds, including our feathered friends, the cockatiels. The problem lies in the fact that tasty seeds are not a complete meal. They’re high in fat but lack vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. Relying solely on seeds can result in malnutrition, causing various health issues such as respiratory problems and weak bones.

Like many birds, Cockatiels tend to be picky eaters, favoring specific seeds like millet and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, these favorites are heavy on fat and lack calcium and vitamin A. This selective eating worsens the nutritional imbalance caused by a seed-only diet, potentially leading to problems like obesity and fatty liver disease.

Changing a bird’s diet from seeds to a more balanced one is a tricky task, especially with older cockatiels. They might not recognize new food, like pellets, as something edible right away. This transition can take days, weeks, or even months. Some owners have succeeded by gradually reducing seed intake while always providing pellets separately. 

Others mix powdered pellets with seeds and water, creating a paste encourages birds to taste the pellets alongside their favorite seeds. Beyond pellets, a healthy cockatiel diet should include fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other nutritious foods. 

Introducing variety may be easier if the bird sees its owner enjoying the same foods, tapping into their natural curiosity. It’s all about ensuring our feathered companions get the diverse nutrients they need for a happy and healthy life.

The Importance of Pelleted Food

Based on my experience, pelleted food stands out as a specially crafted diet that caters to all birds’ nutritional needs. It surpasses seed-based diets because it ensures a well-rounded supply of nutrients in every bite, steering clear of the issue where birds selectively munch on their preferred seeds and miss out on crucial nutrients. 

These pellets consist of a mix of grains, seeds, fruits, and veggies, delivering the right levels of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats essential for a bird’s well-being. Some top-notch brands go the extra mile by balancing Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, promoting a robust immune system, healthier bones, and better feather quality.

Transitioning a cockatiel from seeds to pellets requires a gradual and patient approach, spanning days, weeks, or even months. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Acclimatize the bird to pellets: Introduce a small number of pellets into your bird’s regular seed diet. You can also hand-feed pellets or sprinkle them on fresh fruits and veggies or on a table when the bird is out of the cage. Experiment by softening pellets with water to enhance texture.

2. Decrease seeds and increase pellets: Once your bird is comfortable with pellets, gradually reduce daily seed intake while increasing the pellet quantity in the bowl. The aim is for the bird to finish the seeds but still be inclined to move on to the pellets.

3. Offer seeds and pellets separately: As your bird starts engaging with pellets, provide a small amount of seed in the original dish and place pellets in a separate dish. Ideally, position the second dish closer to where the bird spends most of its day.

4. Monitor the bird’s weight: Keep a close eye on your bird’s weight throughout the transition to ensure they’re eating enough and not losing weight.

5. Offer pellets in the morning: Since birds are hungriest in the morning, present pellets as the first meal of the day before other food.

6. Use the mirror method: Some find success by sprinkling pellets on a mirror to attract the bird’s attention and encourage pellet exploration.

It is essential to remember that each bird is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Patience and persistence are key during the transition process, and seeking advice from a vet is advisable if difficulties or concerns arise.

Incorporating Fruits and Vegetables

From my personal experience, I’ve learned that cockatiels can enjoy a diverse range of fruits and vegetables, constituting around 20-30% of their overall diet. The bulk of their nutrition should ideally come from cockatiel-specific pellet food.

When it comes to safe fruits, cockatiels can relish bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries, nectarines, apricots, pears, peaches, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, guavas, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapples, plums, raspberries, blueberries, and oranges. It’s crucial to keep in mind that fruits should be given in moderation compared to vegetables, as they are primarily composed of sugar and water.

Moving on to vegetables, cockatiels can munch on cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, carrots, endive, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, and sweet potatoes. However, it’s wise to steer clear or limit the intake of pale vegetables like celery and iceberg lettuce due to their high water content and limited nutritional value.

Balancing their diet with these fruits and vegetables not only adds variety but also contributes to the overall well-being of our feathered friends. It’s all about providing them with a nutritionally rich and diverse menu for a happy and healthy life.

Portion Sizes and Frequency

Maintaining a balanced diet for your cockatiel is important to keep fruit and vegetable portions in check, ideally not exceeding 20% to 30% of their overall food intake. A helpful reference is that a teaspoon of these foods for a cockatiel is akin to a dinner plate-size portion for a person, ensuring moderation. 

Establish a feeding routine by offering meals twice daily—morning and early evening, before dusk. A general guideline for a mature cockatiel’s seed or pellet consumption is 1.5 to 2 level tablespoons (30 – 40 grams) per day. This regimen contributes to your feathered friend’s overall health and nutritional balance.

Additional Notes

Prior to serving, it’s essential to meticulously wash all fruits and vegetables intended for your cockatiel’s consumption. These should be cut into manageable pieces and presented in a distinct dish. 

It’s worth noting that adapting to these additions may take time for your cockatiel, requiring patience and consistent encouragement. While fruits and vegetables play a crucial role in a balanced diet, it’s noteworthy that the optimal sustenance for cockatiels is commercially produced pellets. These pellets are meticulously formulated to encompass all the essential nutrients vital for the well-being of cockatiels.

Avoiding Common Feeding Mistakes

Bird owners frequently commit common feeding errors that can have detrimental effects on their pets’ health. These blunders encompass overfeeding, providing unsuitable foods, and overlooking signs of inadequate eating habits. One prevalent mistake is the failure to recognize when a bird has consumed its seeds.

Leftover hulls, mistaken for intact seeds, may lead owners to neglect to change the food bowl, potentially resulting in the bird starving. Overfeeding is another pitfall. While initially safer to err on the side of more food, quantities should be adjusted once the owner understands the bird’s optimal intake. 

Birds can be selective eaters, and it’s a mistake not to introduce various nutritious foods. Even if a bird initially spurns certain items like broccoli, green beans, or carrots, these should be consistently offered, as birds may take time to embrace new foods.

Concerning toxic foods, avocados pose a severe threat to birds, including cockatiels. The presence of persin in avocados can induce heart damage, respiratory issues, weakness, and even sudden death in birds. 

Chocolate is another perilous food containing theobromine and caffeine, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, elevated heart rate, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, and fatal consequences.

Cockatiels should be shielded from caffeinated beverages, foods rich in salt or sugar, and the seeds and pits of certain fruits, which may harbor trace amounts of cyanide. 

To avert these feeding missteps, bird owners must offer various suitable foods, closely monitor their bird’s eating behaviors, and steer clear of toxic items. Prompt veterinary intervention is imperative if a bird ingests a potentially harmful substance.

Recommended Commercial Foods for Cockatiels

In my experience with cockatiels, I’ve found that a diverse and nutritious diet is crucial for their well-being. While many think seeds are a go-to, their high-fat content makes them better as occasional treats than a main meal. Based on my firsthand knowledge, experts recommend specific commercial foods that have proven beneficial.

One standout choice is RoudyBush Daily Maintenance Bird Food Crumbles, personally designed by an avian nutritionist. This blend boasts 11% protein, 6% fat, 3.5% fiber, and 12% moisture, incorporating organic ingredients like millet, barley, corn, soybeans, peanuts, sunflower kernels, peas, lentils, oat groats, brown rice, chia, and alfalfa.

ZuPreem FruitBlend Daily Medium Bird Food is another winner, in my experience. Its highly palatable formula, enriched with flavors like orange oil and honey, tends to be a favorite for cockatiels.

Harrison’s Bird Foods Fine and Super Fine size pellets have also made it to my list of recommendations. Certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and non-GMO verified, these pellets ensure a wholesome diet.

For variety, I’ve tried Bird Street Bistro’s sampler pack with flavors like CinnaSpice, Viva La Veggie, Southern Feast, Tropical, and Cajun Bean. These packs, comprising organic whole grains, fruits, veggies, and a blend of spices, are my go-to, especially since they’re free of added sugars, salt, colors, and preservatives.

Other commercially endorsed options include Lafeber’s Classic Nutri-Berries, Kaytee Exact Optimal Nutrition Diet, Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Blend, and Harrison’s Adult Lifetime Fine Pellets.

Remember, even with these high-quality commercial foods, supplementing with fresh fruits and veggies is key for a well-rounded diet. And, of course, keeping an eye on portion sizes is vital to prevent overfeeding, a point I’ve learned through my own experiences with these delightful birds.

Conclusion

Ensuring your cockatiel enjoys a balanced and diverse diet is paramount for their well-being and longevity. Although seeds are part of their natural diet, relying solely on them can lead to nutritional imbalances and health issues.

Instead, incorporating a mix of high-quality commercial pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables offers the essential nutrients for your feathered friend to thrive.

It’s essential to recognize that each cockatiel is unique, and what suits one may not be suitable for another. Introducing a new diet should be a gradual process, requiring patience. Additionally, steering clear of common feeding errors, such as overfeeding and offering inappropriate foods, is crucial.

While this information provides general guidelines, consulting with a vet or a pet nutrition expert is always advisable for personalized advice. Their expertise can offer guidance tailored to your cockatiel’s specific needs and circumstances. Ultimately, our shared goal is to ensure our cherished pets lead a healthy and joyous life.

References:

1.https://www.npvet.co.nz/pets/animal-info-pets/bird-rabbit-turtle-articles/feeding-a-cockatiel/

2. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cockatiels-feeding 

3. https://adelaidevet.com.au/news/what-should-i-feed-my-cockatiel/

Author

  • Ali Shahid

    Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.

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