HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.

BASIC FEEDING OF THE COCKATIEL


One cannot hope to accomplish successful results with cockatiel unless a well-balanced diet is provided for them. Nourishing food is of prime importance in order to successfully breed and raise healthy, vigorous birds of size and stamina. The proper diet will also prevent most of the ailments and disorders which affect cockatiel. Basic diet requirements are proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. The necessity of getting cockatiels started on a simple but nutritionally sound diet cannot be stressed too often. Once the birds are accustomed to the foods and appear to be healthy and contented, the diet should not be changed if at all possible because they develop eating habits as humans do and sometimes will not accept new foods for weeks. Changing diets will often cause cockatiels to go out of breeding condition and may cause illness. Many times when I have purchased new breeding stock to introduce new blood into my strain of cockatiels, it has required great effort and patience on my part to induce the birds to accept a new food that I know is vital to their well-being. In these instances, I make sure to have the foods they are used to eating before them at all times. Many times they will begin eating new foods if they see the other cockatiels eating them, for these birds have a natural curiosity and inspect everything on the feed table. Basic seed requirements of cockatiels are white proso millet, canary seed, oat groats, (hulled oats) and sunflower seed. The oat groats should be given sparingly during the warmer months since it is fattening and considered a heat food. Some of the major seed companies have done a tremendous amount of research on nutritional requirements for cagebirds and manufacture a complete bird mix containing all of the known nutrients needed, including vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals. I have given a mix of this sort to all of my hookbills for several years and recommend it highly. For those fanciers who mix their own (seeds, I recommend giving to the breeder pairs daily a slice of whole wheat bread which has been sprinkled with a few drops of wheat germ oil, as this stimulates breeding and promotes fertility.

There are many supplemental foods available which will help provide a well-balanced nutritious diet for cockatiels. They need greenfood in some form every day for vitamin and mineral content. Most vegetables and some fruits are relished by these birds. If the birds are accustomed to a variety of these foods, substitutions can be made as necessary if a particular food is unavailable or out of season and too expensive to feed the birds. Foods which my cockatiels enjoy include sweet apple, carrot, fresh green leaflettuce or other leafy vegetable or any type of seed native grasses in the milky stage. Uncooked roasting ear corn is never refused by the birds and is one of the very best soft foods to give when babies are in the nest. Packaged frozen corn which has been thawed may be given when roasting ear corn is not available. On occasion if I do not have any other fresh food on hand, a dish of frozen mixed vegetables which have been thawed is welcomed by the birds. It is very important that the birds be fed on a regular schedule because they quickly become used to receiving these foods at a particular time each day and many times will wait for the soft food to be delivered before feeding young in the nest. Early morning seems to be the best time for this chore. When feeding vegetables or fruit, give the cockatiels only as much as they will eat in one day and remove remaining greenfood late in the day for wilted, spoiled vegetables and fruit will cause illness. When feeding leafy vegetables or native grasses, wash it well and be sure it has not been sprayed with insecticide or poison. My cockatiels enjoy playing with and chewing on fresh honeysuckle vines and tender willow limbs and twigs, and I frequently hang a bundle of this at the end of the perches for their amusement and enjoyment. The birds devour a pan of greens grown just for them. I spread a 2-inch layer of clean, moist earth in the bottom of a shallow pan, sprinkle thickly with the smaller seeds, sprinkle lightly with soil and cover with clear plastic wrap. The plastic keeps the moisture from evaporating and the pan is placed in a warm sunny location. Within 24 hours the seeds will sprout and in 4 to 5 days the greens grow to a height of 2 inches. The cockatiels eat greens, roots and most of the soil and this is so good for them. A dish of raw, shelled peanuts should be given once weekly. Peanuts are very high in protein and promote good feather structure and a beautiful sheen. However, I do not feed peanuts to breeding pairs when there are very young babies in the nestboxes as this sometimes causes digestive problems for the babies and resulting "hard crop", and very often the babies do not recover from this ailment.

A special conditioning food may be given to breeder pairs to insure a productive breeding season. My own formula for conditioning food is as follows:

1 cup Wild Game Bird Seed
1 cup uncooked Quaker Oats
1/4 CUP Crushed Bran Flakes
1/4 CUP Crushed Wheat Flakes
1/2 CUP Petamine
2 teaspoons Wheat Germ

This mixture may be fed dry or a small amount of grated carrot can be added to make it slightly moist and more tasty. This is a good food to give to the youngsters when they are removed from the parent birds to promote vigorous, healthy growth. Whole wheat bread is, in my opinion, one supplemental food that should be fed to all birds, young or old, every day. Many times, a cockatiel with a poor appetite due to a general rundown condition can be tempted to eat whole wheat bread when it refuses all other foods. Spray millet is another favourite food. Dried shelled corn boiled in water until the kernel is soft, then rinsed in cold tap water and drained is a very nourishing soft food for cockatiels. The cooking time will be shortened considerably if the corn is soaked in water overnight before cooking. Cockatiels of all ages relish corn, either fresh or cooked dried corn, and I feed it to all of them daily. Youngsters just out of the nestbox will begin to eat this food before they learn to crack seeds and even a sick cockatiel with no appetite for seeds can usually be coaxed to eat soft-cooked corn. I recommend this food for feeding breeder pairs when babies are in the nest. The babies thrive on it and the parents do not have to work nearly so hard to keep those little crops full of food. Pet shops and veterinary clinics usually keep in stock a good multiple vitamin-mineral supplement in dry form for feeding to birds and animals. This should be given to cockatiels each day in some type of soft food or sprinkled lightly on a slice of whole wheat bread which has been slightly moistened. Other basic items of the diet for cockatiels which must be available to them at all times are a good health grit, oyster shell, mineral blocks (iodine blocks) cuttle bone and charcoal. All of these items are absolutely essential for the good health of these birds. Grit, of course, is the "teeth" for birds and without it they cannot live. The oyster shell is necessary in the formation of eggshells and most commercial grit offered on the market contains a certain amount of oyster shell. Mineral block and cuttlebone are necessary to formation of feathers, beak and claws. The charcoal is an invaluable aid to good digestion of food and most of the health grits for birds contain this as well.

Of course, the cockatiels like salt as we do, and salt spools may be used or mineral blocks which contain traces of salt. Salt in excess can interfere with normal growth, produce excessive thirst, weakness and convulsions prior top death. Deficiencies from salt are likely to arise from an undue demand by the body for these elements when vomiting or serious exudation occurs. As far as avian medical books and journals we have say, is that traces of salt is not harmful and is actually beneficial to birds, while an excess can be very harmful and actually cause death. It is also stated that most birds will eat what they feel their body needs and/or wants and will not take salt in excess even if provided to them unless they have some other kind of problem or deficiency causing them to take excess salt if it is available.

Fresh, clean water at all times is essential to the good health of the birds and liquid vitamins can or should be added to the water every other day. I have devoted a great deal of space to this chapter on feeding because it is my firm conviction that a nutritionally sound diet is the most important factor in maintaining healthy, vigorous cockatiels of size and stamina and will prevent almost all the diseases and ailments which affect cockatiels.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.