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Cockatiel nutrition

Expert Question

Hello Glenn, Could you advise me on a diet for my cockatiel that would get his weight down? I don`t want to loose him. He is 20 years of age and weighs 120 grams and he doesn`t seem to want to fly now. I stopped giving him the cockatiel seed mix which contains sunflower seeds and have been giving him canary and budgie seed, but still his weight doesn`t come down. He doesn`t eat pellets and doesn`t take much fruit or vegetables.

Thank you,

Expert Answer

Hello Elizabeth,
120 grams is heavy for the average cockatiel, but there are some that are larger. A lot of it has to do with blood lines, ethical breeding standards in your bird’s background, etc. It would be helpful to know what your bird’s average weight has been over a long period of time. Furthermore it would be helpful to know if a qualified veterinarian has determined him to be obese.

If he truly is over weight your only choice is to get him off of the high fat diet and increase his level of activity. There are a lot of reasons beyond obesity to do so. Fatty liver disease comes to mind, as well as diabetes, and simply a lack of proper nutrition.

I don’t know that anyone fully knows the correct diet for a parrot of any given species. You will find there are as many diets as there bird owners. This is not to say that people aren’t feeding their birds properly. What I am saying is that on the research end; although, we are learning a lot more about feeding parrots, there is still a lot to learn. The magnitude of the number of different species in captive circumstances makes this even harder. Wild parrots are geographically located all over the world and in many cases have diets dictated by food availability in that given region. That said you can’t necessarily try to feed a captive parrot the same diet it’s wild relative would eat in it’s natural environment. Foraging birds burn a lot of fat in their daily quest for food. Captive birds don’t. Many wild birds eat food items that aren’t fully ripe. Un-ripe foods will have a different nutritional make up than the same food once it has fully ripened. Generally we can’t purchase those food items in the same stage of development as it is in when wild parrots are eating them.

A broad range of food items in your bird’s diet is the best way to go. I use a mix of pellets (about 50% of the daily intake), mixed fresh vegetables and greens (about 30% of the daily intake) and make up the other 20% with fruits, nuts (for larger birds) and a small amount of high quality seed mix. Many people add sprouts, bird breads, bird muffins, etc. I do too now and then. Parrots’ nutritional needs do vary by species, and you should spend some time researching what other people are using successfully with cockatiels.

I have found that in most cases the statement that, “My bird won’t eat pellets”, or “My bird won’t eat vegetables” has more to do with the owner than the bird. I don’t mean to insult anyone. I am being truthful. You have to find the motivation to be persistent, and you have to be creative. Your bird’s long-term health should be the primary motivation.

In my opinion the first step is for you to make a financial investment large enough to motivate you to follow through. Take your bird for a complete work up at a qualified avian veterinarian to see if he has any obvious nutritional deficiencies. Some deficiencies can be found on physical exam, such as a vitamin A deficiency. Others will require a complete work up including blood tests. Your veterinarian will take a look at the results and make suggestions. If one of those suggestions is to add a formulated diet don’t go out and purchase a couple of pounds of pellets or ask a manufacturer for a free sample to see if your bird will eat it. Doing so makes little to no investment on your end and won’t result in you being persistent. Purchase enough to last a few months keeping in mind that the pellets should be changed out daily.

Now that you have a substantial financial investment to keep you motivated you need to get creative. Try soaking the pellets in some sort of sweet fruit juice such as pineapple juice to make the smell and taste of the pellets more attractive to your bird. If this works gradually reduce the amount of juice and soaking time until your bird is eating the pellets without the soaking. Try melting peanut butter in a bowl and stirring pellets in to coat them. Once your bird starts eating them gradually reduce the amount of peanut butter. Try mixing the pellets with canned corn kernels, so that the pellets soak up the juice. Once your bird starts eating the pellets gradually reduce the amount of corn. Please note, I am not saying that pineapple juice, peanut butter, or corn kernels is a healthy diet for your bird. These are simply tricks that I have found to work on my own birds. The purpose at this point is to modify your bird’s diet and eating behaviors. Always offer up new foods in a separate bowl, and don’t starve your bird while you are making the changes. If you add new foods to the same bowl as the seed he is now eating he will most likely dig through the bowl and throw out the new food items to get to what he is familiar with. If you withhold food he will get frantic and fixate on only what he currently knows to eat.

As far as vegetables and greens go you have to get creative with them too. Try cutting them in different sizes. Try hanging them from the cage with a clothespin to make them more like a toy . Try stuffing them in a hole in a toy. Try using them as treats. If you often handle your bird let him see you eat them and offer some to him at the same time. Make them a play time toy.

Above and beyond all of the suggestions I have made, take your bird off of his feeding schedule. You don’t want him to know when his next meal is coming. If he does he will always know when he is going to get the foods he likes and hold out on eating the food you want him to eat. Wild birds may forage on somewhat of a schedule, but they often don’t know when they will find their next meal; therefore, they are more likely to eat what is available. Feeding your bird off schedule can result in a “psychological hunger” even though your are not actually withholding food. This can create the same results in him being more willing to eat what is available.

Once you have changed his diet you will need to get just as creative in thinking of ways to make him more active. Parrots are smart, but you can be smarter. Invest in his long-term health both monetarily and in persistence. Make it YOUR goal to get him to eat a better diet. You will find the more variety you can get him to eat the easier it will be to add even more new food items to his daily intake.

I hope this works for you,

Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist. In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn later resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc. Glenn oversaw the WPT-USA office until June 2018, when he stepped down to pursue his passion for farming and agriculture.