Cockatiels, Diet and Research on Cockatiel Nutrition, A Healthy Cockatiel Diet, Avian Nutrition and Research

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Pellets vs. Seed Diets     By Eleanor McCaffrey, Copyright© , No photos or portion of this text may be used, copied, printed or reproduced without author’s written permission. Cockatiels receiving proper nutrition sparkle with life. They are healthy, alert, active, […]

Pellets vs. Seed Diets


By Eleanor McCaffrey,

Copyright© , No photos or portion of this text may be used, copied,

printed or reproduced
without author’s written permission.

Cockatiels receiving proper nutrition sparkle with life. They are
healthy, alert, active, have thick glossy feathers and generally have a long
lifespan. Cockatiels require protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and
water just like humans do. In the past, cockatiels were fed a
seed based diet because seeds are inexpensive, readily available and they are eaten by birds in the wild.

has shown that an all seed diet is inadequate and leads to nutritional deficiencies and health problems
in pet birds. Diet related problems include
malnutrition lack of energy, a weak immune system, sinusitis, muscle weakness, nerve
damage, seizures, delayed blood clotting, liver and kidney disease, rickets, goiter,
anemia, poor skin/feather conditions, rough dry skin, dry eyes, thickened eyelids,
overgrown beaks and egg-binding and sudden death. According to Dr. Bruce Henderson DVM, 80% of all avian illness that he encounters have a nutritional basis. According
to the American Cockatiel Society, a cockatiel’s life span can be as short as 5 years with
improper nutrition.

Vitamin enriched seeds, which were recommended in the past, have a coating of vitamins
on the hulls and birds discard hulls. According to avian veterinarian
Gary Gallerstein, birds require about a dozen vitamins to stay healthy-A, D, E,
F, K, B1, B2, niacin,B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid and choline.
Seeds lack vitamin A & D which cockatiels need to fight off
infections and to prevent kidney and eye problems and vitamins C, K and B12.
They also lack necessary minerals and several essential amino acids.  Cockatiels on an
all seed diet are receiving inadequate nutrition.
A poor diet is one of the main
reasons why too many cockatiels live short lives and die suddenly.

Fat Content of Seeds and Other Fatty Foods

 Most seeds contain a very
high fat content and when given a choice, birds will select
the seeds with the highest fat content over the ones with a lower fat content. Simply put, they just taste better.
Sunflower seeds contain a whopping 47%-49% fat and safflower 24.6% fat.
Cockatiels love sunflower seeds. According to Dr. Bruce Henderson,
DVM, sunflower seeds are the “Cupcakes and Twinkies”
of the avian world. High fat diets contribute to the same health problems in birds as do in humans.

Birds can have high cholesterol levels, become obese, get strokes,
heart attacks and other heart problems or develop serious illnesses such as Fatty Liver Syndrome which is fatal.
High fat diets also cause birds to have a
short life span. Since cockatiels can live 15- 20 years of age, it is
important that they receive adequate nutrition to ensure that they live within
range of their full life expectancy.

Nutritional Needs
Based on Chickens

Prior to 1985, the nutritional needs of cockatiels were based on the nutritional
needs of chickens. In 1979, the
University of California-Davis began a research program on a colony of
cockatiels. The Psittacine Research Project was the first
research ever conducted on the dietary needs of pet birds and cockatiels specifically.
The results of this ongoing
project have created new standards in avian nutrition and diet. The avian research from the University of
California is further
supported by additional research conducted at the Hagen
Avicultural Research Institute, Rigaud, Quebec and by other research sites. A
diet based on pellets,  fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, other natural supplemental foods
as well as seeds is now being recommended as the best approach to
meeting all of a cockatiel’s nutritional needs. An all seed diet
provides inadequate nutrition, causes health problems and is now a thing of the past.

Energy Requirements:

Birds only eat food to meet their energy requirements. The July 2000 Exotic Bird Report,
(Published by the
Psittacine Research Project) reports that the amount of food a bird eats depends
on the amount of energy it requires for any given day. Cockatiels in the wild do
eat large quantities of seeds but they also eat insects, crops, plants and other
foods. Seeds are consumed primarily during the Winter months when other food
sources are unavailable. Wild birds that eat seeds based diets are much more
active than our pet birds. Wild birds need much more energy for flying, foraging
for food, building nests, raising chicks and maintaining body warmth during
Winter. Since wild birds must consume a greater quantity of food to meet their
energy needs, they are able to derive all of their nutritional needs from a
primarily seed based diet. Wild cockatiels consume “3 times more food” in a day
then our pet birds. Because of this, they can select foods with less nutritional
values. Their nutritional needs are being met by the larger quantity of food
that they eat.

Changing Diets: This
clearly explains to us why cockatiels in the wild
can receive adequate nutrition from an all
seed diet and why our pet birds can not. Pet cockatiels
consume much less food in a day so the foods that they do eat need to contain a
higher concentration of
nutrients.  According to UC Davis, factors such as growth, reproduction and molting, will increase our
pet birds need for energy. In all other stages of their life, they
are in a state of maintenance. Most avian veterinarians in the USA will strongly advise pet bird
owners to convert their birds from an all seed diet to a pellet based diet,
supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, other healthy table foods and seeds each day. The health problems associated with the high fat
content and lack of nutrients in an all seed diet has been well documented.

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