What are the nutrition requirements of your cockatiel’s food?

According to avian veterinarian Gary Gallerstein, birds require vitamins A, D, E, K, B1, B2, niacin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, and choline to stay healthy, but they can only partially manufacture vitamin D3 and niacin in their bodies. A balanced diet can help provide the rest.

Along with the nutrients just listed, pet birds need trace amounts of some minerals to maintain good health. These minerals are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, sulphur, iodine,
and manganese. These can be provided with a well-balanced diet and a supplemental mineral block or cuttlebone.

Ideally, your cockatiel’s diet should contain about equal parts of seeds, grains, and legumes, and dark green or dark orange vegetables and fruits. You can supplement these with small amounts of well-cooked meat or eggs, or dairy products. Let’s look at each part of this diet in a little more detail.

Seeds, Grains, and Legumes

The seeds, grains, and legumes portion of your bird’s diet can include clean, fresh seed from your local pet supply store. Try to buy your birdseed from a store where stock turns over quickly. The dusty box on the bottom shelf of a store with little traffic isn’t as nutritious for your pet as a bulk purchase of seeds from a freshly filled bin in a busy shop. When you bring the seeds home, refrigerate them to keep them from becoming infested with bugs.

To ensure your bird is receiving the proper nutrients from her diet, you need to know if the seed you’re serving is fresh. One way to do this is to try sprouting some of the seeds. Sprouted seeds can also tempt a finicky eater to broaden her diet.

To sprout seeds, soak them overnight in lukewarm water. Drain the water off and let the seeds sit in a closed cupboard or other out-of-the-way place for twenty-four hours. Rinse the sprouted seeds thoroughly before offering them to your bird. If the seeds don’t sprout, they aren’t fresh and you’ll need to find another source for your bird’s food.

Be sure, too, that your pet has an adequate supply of seeds in her dish at all times. Some cockatiels are such neat eaters that they drop the empty seed hulls back into their dishes. This seemingly full dish can lead to a very hungry cockatiel if you aren’t observant enough to check the dish carefully. Rather than just looking in the dish while it’s in the cage, I suggest that you take the dish out and inspect it over the trash can so you can empty the seed hulls and refill the dish easily.

One foodstuff that is very popular with cockatiels is millet, especially millet sprays. These golden sprays are part treat and part toy. Offer your cockatiel this treat sparingly, however, because it is high in fat and can make your cockatiel
pudgy!

Other items in the bread group that you can offer your pet include unsweetened breakfast cereals, whole-wheat bread, cooked beans, cooked rice, and pasta. Offer a few flakes of cereal at a time, and serve small bread cubes and cockatiel-sized portions of rice, beans, or pasta.

Fruits and Vegetables

Dark green or dark orange vegetables and fruits contain vitamin A, which is an important part of a bird’s diet and which is missing from seeds, grains, and legumes. This vitamin helps fight off infection and keeps a bird’s eyes, mouth, and respiratory system healthy. Some vitamin A-rich foods are carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, dried red peppers, yams, dandelion greens, and spinach.

You may be wondering whether to offer frozen or canned vegetables and fruits to your bird. Some birds will eat frozen vegetables and fruits, while others turn their beaks up at the somewhat mushy texture of these defrosted foodstuffs. The high sodium content in some canned foods may make them unhealthy for your cockatiel. Frozen and canned foods will serve your bird’s needs in an emergency, but I would offer only fresh foods as a regular part of her
diet.

Other Fresh Foods

Along with small portions of well-cooked meat, you can also offer your bird bits of tofu, water-packed tuna, fully cooked scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt, or low-fat cheese. Don’t overdo the dairy products, though, because a bird’s digestive system lacks the enzyme lactase, which means she is unable to fully process dairy foods.

Introduce young cockatiels to healthy people food early so that they learn to appreciate a varied diet. Some adult birds cling tenaciously to seed-only diets, which aren’t healthy for them in the long term. Offer adult birds fresh
foods, too, in the hope that they may try something new.

Whatever healthy fresh foods you offer your pet, be sure to remove food from the cage promptly to prevent spoiling and to help keep your bird healthy. Ideally, you should change the food in your bird’s cage every two to four hours (about every thirty minutes in warm weather), so a cockatiel should be all right with a tray of food to pick through in the morning, another to select from during the afternoon, and a third fresh salad to nibble on for dinner.

Supplements

You may be concerned about whether your bird is receiving adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in her diet. If your cockatiel’s diet is mostly seeds and fresh foods, you may want to sprinkle a good-quality vitamin-and-mineral powder onto the fresh foods, where it has the best chance of sticking to the food and being eaten. Vitamin-enriched seed diets may provide some supplementation, but some of them add the vitamins and minerals to the seed hull, which your pet will discard while she’s eating. Avoid adding vitamin and mineral supplements to your bird’s water dish, because they can act as a growth medium for bacteria. They may also cause the water to taste different, which may discourage your bird from drinking. Birds on pelleted diets do not need vitamin-and-mineral supplements because these complex diets already contain all the nutrients your cockatiel needs.

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