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Feeding a Cockatoo Disclaimer

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 pet 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?   Top
Nutrition is the most commonly neglected element of owning a pet bird. Too often owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their cockatoo when in fact they are not. Poor nutrition is a common 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 enough to feed a cockatoo just to keep it alive. Proper nutrition will help it thrive and flourish. Your bird's entire health will depend on how well it is fed.

What does my cockatoo naturally eat?   Top
Cockatoos, depending on the species will eat an assortment of seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, blossoms, roots and vegetation such as leaf buds. Some cockatoos even eat insects and their larva. They are known to raid farmers' crops, destroying sprouts, mature crops and bagged grain. A well balanced and varied diet must be maintained at all times.

What should I feed my cockatoo?   Top
Seeds - Seeds are available everywhere, remain fresh when stored properly 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 than they do in captivity. 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. Commercial seed mixes may contain from a few to 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 and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially and along with an elevated fat content they are particularly deficient in calcium and vitamin A. This, of course, 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?   Top
As a guideline, most cockatoo can be maintained on 60 - 250 mL of seeds per bird, per day in a shallow dish depending on the size of the bird. If there is more than one Cockatoo 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 possible 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.

Formulated or Pelleted Diets   Top
Pellets, crumble and hand-feeding mashes have been developed to meet 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. Pellets are the ideal diet, therefore you are encouraged to slowly train 'seed eating' birds to a pelleted diet.

How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?   Top
Converting seed eating birds ('seed-aholics') onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Cockatoos can be very inflexible about trying new foods. Being a new item in the cage, pellets are not identified immediately as food. Slowly wean the bird off seeds over a period of weeks while having pellets constantly available in a separate dish. Some people mix the pellets in a reduced amount of seed which may aid its acceptance in the cage but be aware that the bird will not accidentally eat a pellet. It may take days, weeks or months to modify a bird's diet. NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain the bird is eating the formulated foods plus some fruits and vegetables.

Birds are stubborn, but can be trained. Remember, you train the bird, do not let it train you. This can be a stressful time for you and your Cockatoo. Consult your veterinarian if encountering any problems with this adaptation or the health of the bird.

Fruits and Vegetables   Top
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 20 - 25% of the diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg or Head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic.

Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals and 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.

Water   Top
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day.

What about 'people' food?   Top
Follow the general rule discussed above and your 'common sense'. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of lean meat, cheese or egg occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation. It would only be common sense that 'junk food' and alcoholic beverages be avoided.

Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?   Top
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. Consult your veterinarian with regard to these situations.

Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?   Top
If your bird is on a great 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. Mix these products in with water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. 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.

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 (i.e. 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?   Top
In the wild, a bird would naturally consume small stones, gravel or grit when it wants to. This is to aid in the mechanical digestion of seeds and nuts. Controversy exists over its need in captivity especially with 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. Some sick birds will eat inappropriate amounts of grit. If irregular or excessive consumption is witnessed, consult your veterinarian.

Tips   Top
  • 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 food items include:   Top
    AppleCarrot topsPeas
    ApricotsCherries (not the pit)Peppers (red, green, hot)
    Beans (cooked) such as:CucumberPomegranate
      chickpeaDandelion leavesPotato
      mungGrapefruitRice (brown)
      navyKaleRomaine lettuce
    BeetMelonsSprouted seeds
    Bok Choy etc.NectarinesStrawberry
    BroccoliOrangeSweet potato
    Brussel SproutsPapayaTomato

    Image of 'Danny Boy' the sulfur-crested cockatoo

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