Feeding your pet cockatiel is a big part of establishing a good bond with your new pet bird. You want to choose a diet that will keep your cockatiel healthy and also offer fun, enrichment, and enjoyment.
In this article, we will review all the basics of setting up a healthy complete, and balanced cockatiel diet.
Some of the information you find here may surprise you! This is because avian nutrition and veterinary health is an ever-evolving field of study and there is always more to learn.
So now read on to learn what can cockatiel eat in captivity.
What Can Cockatiel Eat
Cockatiels in a wild setting are a foraging species. They are largely herbivorous but will eat small amounts of insect or animal protein if they can get it.
Grasses, seeds, grains, fruits, fresh herbs, fresh leafy greens, and vegetables all form a part of a wild cockatiel’s diet and should be present in a pet cockatiel’s diet as well.
Learn About Feeding Cockatiels
This short YouTube video gives you a great overview of the best diet for cockatiels.
While it is never possible to exactly match what a wild cockatiel would eat, this video helps you get close by providing a variety of bird-safe foods.
Learn About the Wild Cockatiel Diet
Animal Diversity shares that cockatiels are native to Australia.
They forage for food and nesting sites throughout much of the country, gravitating to areas where plenty of freshwaters is also available.
As VCA Animal Hospital points out, wild cockatiels mainly eat plant matter.
This can include everything from wild grasses and grains or seeds to strategically raiding a local farmer’s nicely ripening crops.
One fact that typically surprises first-time cockatiel owners is that cockatiels mainly forage for food on the ground. Their strong curved beaks help cockatiels to de-hull seeds quickly and swallow the nut meats.
A wild cockatiel’s diet is seasonal based on what plants, fruits, herbs, and grasses are available during different times of the year.
This doesn’t mean you have to feed your pet cockatiel on a seasonal schedule, although that is one method some owners recommend. In fact, you will do this somewhat naturally based on what produce you can easily find at your own local grocer.
Here are the staples of a wild cockatiel’s diet throughout the year:
- Wild grasses
- Leafy greens
- Vegetables (usually from crops)
- Small ground insects
Don’t worry – if the idea of foraging in your backyard or even the local pet store for insects doesn’t appeal, this isn’t a necessary part of a pet cockatiel’s diet!
Why Are So Many Pet Cockatiels Seed-O-Holics
Now that you know more about what your cockatiel would have available to eat if they lived in the wild in a flock, it can start to make more sense why creating a balanced diet is so vital.
Without this knowledge, the natural seed preference cockatiels are born with can cause the dreaded “seed-o-holic” feeding syndrome that causes so many cockatiels to struggle health-wise.
Overweight, obesity and fatty liver disease are common in captive cockatiels fed a seed-centric diet. Wild cockatiels have to work hard to forage for sun-dried seeds and will consume lots of other types of food along the way.
In captivity, where big scoops of seeds are freely available for the consumer, it is easy to see how a pet cockatiel could pack on the weight and end up health compromised!
If you adopt an adult rescue cockatiel who has been eating a seed-exclusive diet, it can be challenging to transition these birds to a more holistic feeding plan. But your bird’s health depends on you succeeding with your efforts.
Learn About An Ideal Pet Cockatiel Diet
What is the ideal diet for a pet cockatiel, you might be wondering?
As you might imagine, this is a matter of some debate between cockatiel owners. Different owners may have different preferences for feeding their birds, such as owners that follow the seasonal diet we discussed here earlier.
In this section, we will talk about the main types of food that should be included in a pet cockatiel’s diet. However, this is a very general guide and should never supersede the guidance of your own personal avian veterinarian!
A cockatiel’s dietary needs can and do change throughout life. Young birds typically need to consume more calories than adult birds. Pregnant cockatiels need more calories and a more nutrient-dense diet with extra vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Always consult your avian veterinarian for guidance on how to adjust your cockatiel’s diet as may be needed. It is a good idea to get into the habit of doing a diet review with your cockatiel’s annual “well bird” exam.
So here are the general categories of nutrients your cockatiel should have available on a daily and/or weekly basis.
As Aztec Animal Clinic explains, cockatiel pellets are specifically formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition for captive cockatiels.
What many cockatiel owners do not realize is that there are different types of pellets for different cockatiel life stages.
However, pellets are not a food source a cockatiel will ever encounter in a wild setting. This is part of what can make converting a seed-o-holic over to a pelleted diet.
To make matters more challenging, birds, like most wild animals, learn early in life what foods are safe and what foods are toxic. So when a cockatiel encounters a new food, they are often wary and refuse to try it.
Even though your cockatiel has never lived the wildlife, those instincts to avoid unknown foods later in life still remain. So you will want to work with your avian veterinarian to convert your bird over to a pelleted diet.
Pellets should not be the sole nutrient source your bird receives. Rather, the guidance is to offer 75 to 80 percent of daily calories from pellets.
The other 20 to 25 percent of nutrients can come from the other categories you are about to read through below.
Seeds and nuts
Seeds and nuts do offer a protein source as well as beneficial fatty acids and other nutrients. It is fine to offer high-value, palatable seeds for treats.
As a perk, offering hull-on seeds helps to condition and file down the beak and gives your bird a wild-equivalent and thus enriching behavior to enjoy.
Fruits, vegetables, and fresh produce
Cockatiels can safely consume a wild variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and herbs.
Take care to wash any fresh produce well or only offer organic fresh foods.
Remove any seeds, pits, or stems that could cause choking or impaction.
Certain types of produce, such as avocado, have been reported to be toxic and should not be offered.
Cockatiels are a flocking species. In a wild setting, they forage together as a flock. So it is only natural your cockatiel will want to eat when you eat – and will probably want to eat whatever you are eating!
Cockatiel Cottage offers a great and very comprehensive list of safe “people” foods that cockatiels can also enjoy.
You will notice that in addition to fresh produce, seeds, and nuts, cockatiels can also safely eat plain boiled pasta, beans, rice, and baked potatoes.
The key here is to avoid any type of salt, sugar, or seasoning that a cockatiel will never have access to in the wild.
Cockatiels do NOT need grit and offering grit can cause crop impaction and death. However, most cockatiels do need cuttlebone (calcium) and mineral blocks to help supplement their diet and keep their beak trim and sharp.
Always ask your avian veterinarian for guidance on what supplements to offer and how much.
Foods That Are Never Safe for a Pet Cockatiel
Cockatiels may beg for the food you are eating, but you need to know that some foods can be irritating, toxic, or even poisonous to a cockatiel’s body.
However, you can offer substitutes that your cockatiel can enjoy while you are eating.
For example, if you are eating “people” bread, there are “birdie bread” mixes you can use to make bread for your bird that is chock-full of healthy nutrients.
Be sure to avoid feeding your cockatiel any of these foods:
- Onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and other produce in this family.
- Anything with xylitol, a popular sugar substitute – xylitol is a killer!
- Any fruit pits.
- Ask your avian veterinarian for additional guidance here.
With this information in hand, you can design a weekly menu for your pet cockatiel that will be tasty, nutritious, enriching, and fun.
Your pet cockatiel should have a variety of foods to add environmental excitement and enrichment as well as complete and balanced nutrition.