Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet budgerigars and cockatiels. All too often I see owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their bird when in fact they are not. This is a common reason for many health problems I see. It is important to continually try to improve your bird's diet.
This involves educating yourself in addition to having a certain degree of common sense. It is not enough to feed a budgie or cockatiel just to maintain life, but to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird's health depends on how well it is fed. It is the single most important thing you have control over to positively or negatively influence their life.
What would my Budgie or Cockatiel eat in the wild?
They eat a variety of seeds ( native GRASS seeds), fruits, berries and vegetation in the wild. They feed on or near the ground. They may fly up to 100km a day for suitable food and water. This is a little different to life as a pet!
What should I feed my Budgie or Cockatiel?
Budgies and Cockatiels are vulnerable to obesity, Vitamin A deficiencies and related problems. Their energy requirements as pet's are probably about 80% LESS than if they were in the wild and unfortunately the classic tray of seed diet is about as far from the ideal diet as it could get. Do you feed your bird with a week's worth of seeds in a tray, with a millet stick or honey stick (seeds with added sugar), seeds in a shape (bell, stick, roll, bar etc)? This is like a person eating fast food all day every day, on top of exercising about 20% of what they are genetically built to do. Any wonder I see a lot of birds with obesity, metabolic syndrome, fatty tumours, and fatty liver disease. All these diseases are potentially fatal and certainly preventable through diet.
Wild Budgies and Cockatiels would eat a great variety of grass seed types in the wild as different plants come into season. Commercial seed mixes may contain from 2 - 8 different kinds of seeds and cereal grains. These tend to be high in fat and carbohydrates and provide a decreased or imbalanced source of many nutrients if fed as the only source of food. This could lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life of your bird. The problem is that a bird will selectively eat only 1 or 2 of its favourite types of seed. Millet seed is often chosen preferentially. A millet spray or branch is more of the same seed and leads to further malnutrition. Honey Sticks contain more seeds that are stuck together with sugar and honey. Moulting foods, breeding foods and conditioning foods are also available. These products are often simply different combinations of more seeds that really have no particular bearing on the condition that they claim to treat. Healthy moults, happy chirping and strong condition is achieved with a balanced diet all of the time.
What is the alternative?
Offer a balanced pellet as PART of a balanced diet.
Pellets have been developed, to help fill your bird's nutritional needs. Different formulations are available for different life stages and to aid management of certain obesity related diseases. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. Pellets are part of an ideal diet; therefore, you are encouraged to slowly wean seed-eating birds onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent approximately 50-60% of the bird's diet. There are many good brands of pelleted foods available and pelleted diets come in different flavours, colours and shapes. Good brands include Vetafarm and Feathered Friends.
Converting seed eating bird “seed-aholics” onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, pellets are probably not even identified as food. Slowly wean the bird off seeds over a period of 4-8 weeks while having pellets constantly available in a separate dish. Some people mix the pellets in a reduced amount of seed to aid its acceptance in the cage, but you should 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 pellets plus some fruits and vegetables. Birds are stubborn, but can be trained. This can be a stressful time for you and your pet.
Consult us if encountering any problems with this transition or with the health of your bird.
Remember that you train the bird; do not let it train you.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables and greens should account for approximately 20 - 25% of the daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg or cos lettuce or celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is potentially toxic.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals. Cut them into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Offer fruits and vegetables in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce its volume or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the eating of other foods.
Some suggested food items include:
apple, cherries (not the pip), peaches, apricots, chinese vegetables (bok choy, wom bok etc), pear, asparagus, coconut, peas, banana, corn, capsicim, beans, cucumber, pineapple, chickpeas, dates, plums, lentils, pumpkin, figs, grapes, raspberry, silverbeet, kale, blueberrys, kiwifruit, spinach, broccoli, melons, sprouted seeds, brussel sprouts, mango, squash, cabbage, nectarines, strawberry, orange, sweet potato, carrot, paw paw, tomato, zucchini, parsley and green grass.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.
What about people food?
As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat your bird can eat. Follow the general guidelines discussed above and use your common sense. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg or cheese occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation. It is common sense that junk food, chocolate, products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages be avoided.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special nutritional requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult us regarding these situations.
Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids?
We can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. I suggest that a bird eating 60% of its diet in the form of pelleted food and the rest a combination of real fruit nuts and green leafy veggies should not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). It is best to mix these supplements in water or preferably apply directly onto moistened food.
Powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these supplements in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will end up on the bottom of the food dish and not in the bird.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
It's controversial. It was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard, as an aid to digestion. However, now we know that birds do fine without grit in their diet. Probably intermittent exposure to small amounts is best.
What is most important in feeding my bird?
Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird if possible
Offer fresh water every day.
Offer a variety of fresh foods 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!