How to Feed Cockatiel

how to feed cockatiel in home

Feeding Your Cockatiel

Wild cockatiels spend a great deal of their time foraging for ripening grass sprouts, which are higher in carbohydrates and lower in proteins and fats than seeds alone. This need for sprouted fresh foods makes a simple seed-and-water diet unsuitable for pet birds. Poor diet also causes a number of health problems, including respiratory infections, poor feather condition, flaky skin, and reproductive problems, and is one of the main reasons some cockatiels live fairly short lives.

Along with providing nutrition for your cockatiel, food can serve as a mental diversion. Like their larger cousins the cockatoos, a cockatiel’s nimble brain needs challenges throughout the day to keep her from becoming bored. If you hang a piece of fruit or vegetable from a hook in the center of the cage so your bird has to work to eat it, she’ll enjoy the exercise!

Nutrition Requirements

According to avian veterinarian Gary Gallerstein, birds require vitamins A, D, E, K, B1, B2, niacin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, and choline to stay healthy, but they can only partially manufacture vitamin D3 and niacin in their bodies. A balanced diet can help provide the rest.

Along with the nutrients just listed, pet birds need trace amounts of some minerals to maintain good health. These minerals are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, sulphur, iodine, and manganese. These can be provided with a well-balanced diet and a supple- mental mineral block or cuttlebone.

Ideally, your cockatiel’s diet should contain about equal parts of seeds, grains, and legumes, and dark green or dark orange vegetables and fruits. You can supplement these with small amounts of well-cooked meat or eggs, or dairy products. Let’s look at each part of this diet in a little more detail.

Seeds, Grains, and Legumes

The seeds, grains, and legumes portion of your bird’s diet can include clean, fresh seed from your local pet supply store. Try to buy your birdseed from a store where stock turns over quickly. The dusty box on the bottom shelf of a store with little traffic isn’t as nutritious for your pet as a bulk purchase of seeds from a freshly filled bin in a busy shop. When you bring the seeds home, refrigerate them to keep them from becoming infested with bugs.

To ensure your bird is receiving the proper nutrients from her diet, you need to know if the seed you’re serving is fresh. One way to do this is to try sprouting some of the seeds. Sprouted seeds can also tempt a finicky eater to broaden her diet.

To sprout seeds, soak them overnight in lukewarm water. Drain the water off and let the seeds sit in a closed cupboard or other out-of-the-way place for twenty-four hours. Rinse the sprouted seeds thoroughly before offering them to your bird. If the seeds don’t sprout, they aren’t fresh and you’ll need to find another source for your bird’s food.

Be sure, too, that your pet has an adequate supply of seeds in her dish at all times. Some cockatiels are such neat eaters that they drop the empty seed hulls back into their dishes. This seemingly full dish can lead to a very hungry cockatiel if you aren’t observant enough to check the dish carefully.

Rather than just looking in the dish while it’s in the cage, I suggest that you take the dish out and inspect it over the trash can so you can empty the seed hulls and refill the dish easily.

One foodstuff that is very popular with cockatiels is millet, especially millet sprays. These golden sprays are part treat and part toy. Offer your cockatiel this treat sparingly, however, because it is high in fat and can make your cockatiel pudgy!

Other items in the bread group that you can offer your pet include unsweetened breakfast cereals, whole-wheat bread, cooked beans, cooked rice, and pasta.

Offer a few flakes of cereal at a time, and serve small bread cubes and cockatiel-sized portions of rice, beans, or pasta.

Fresh Sprouts

Serving sprouts is a simple and nutritious way to expand your cockatiel’s diet. Sprouted seeds are packed with vitamins and are a tasty addition to her diet. All you need is a sprouting jar, some mesh cloth, and a variety of seeds such as sunflower, mung, and radish. A health food store should carry this equipment, as well as instructions for sprouting seeds.

The first step is to wash and soak the seeds. The seeds should then be kept in a warm location to encourage sprouting. It is important that all of the material used is washed well to avoid spoiling. It takes about two to three days for the seeds to sprout. Once they have sprouted, offer them to your cockatiel for a nutritious treat. Refrigerate the leftovers, and don’t keep them for more than a day or two.

cockatiel fruits, fresh foods for cockatiel

 Fruits and Vegetables

Dark green or dark orange vegetables and fruits contain vitamin A, which is an important part of a bird’s diet and which is missing from seeds, grains, and legumes. This vitamin helps fight off infection and keeps a bird’s eyes, mouth, and respiratory system healthy. Some vitamin A-rich foods are carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, dried red peppers, yams, dandelion greens, and spinach.

You may be wondering whether to offer frozen or canned vegetables and fruits to your bird. Some birds will eat frozen vegetables and fruits, while others turn their beaks up at the somewhat mushy texture of these defrosted foodstuffs. The high sodium content in some canned foods may make them unhealthy for your cockatiel. Frozen and canned foods will serve your bird’s needs in an emergency, but I would offer only fresh foods as a regular part of her diet.

Other Fresh Foods

Along with small portions of well-cooked meat, you can also offer your bird bits of tofu, water-packed tuna, fully cooked scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt, or low-fat cheese. Don’t overdo the dairy products, though, because a bird’s digestive system lacks the enzyme lactase, which means she is unable to fully process dairy foods.

Introduce young cockatiels to healthy people food early so that they learn to appreciate a varied diet. Some adult birds cling tenaciously to seed-only diets, which aren’t healthy for them in the long term. Offer adult birds fresh foods, too, in the hope that they may try something new.

Whatever healthy fresh foods you offer your pet, be sure to remove food from the cage promptly to prevent spoiling and to help keep your bird healthy. Ideally, you should change the food in your bird’s cage every two to four hours (about every thirty minutes in warm weather), so a cockatiel should be all right with a tray of food to pick through in the morning, another to select from during the afternoon, and a third fresh salad to nibble on for dinner.


You may be concerned about whether your bird is receiving adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in her diet. If your cockatiel’s diet is mostly seeds and fresh foods, you may want to sprinkle a good-quality vitamin-and-mineral powder onto the fresh foods, where it has the best chance of sticking to the food and being eaten. Vitamin-enriched seed diets may provide some supplementation, but some of them add the vitamins and minerals to the seed hull, which your pet will discard while she’s eating. Avoid adding vitamin and mineral supplements to your bird’s water dish, because they can act as a growth medium for bacteria. They may also cause the water to taste different, which may discourage your bird from drinking.

Birds on pelleted diets do not need vitamin-and-mineral supplements because these complex diets already contain all the nutrients your cockatiel needs.

Vital Vitamins and Minerals

The foundation for cockatiel health starts with a balanced diet that offers sufficient quantities of vitamins (A, D, E, K, B1, B2, niacin, B6, B12, panthothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, and choline) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, sulpher, iodine, and manganese). A mineral block of cuttlebone will supplement a well-rounded diet.(alert-passed)


Along with providing fresh foodstuffs at least twice a day, you will need to provide your cockatiel with fresh, clean water twice a day to maintain her good health. One technique is to give fresh water in the morning with vegetables and fruit and to replace the morning water that evening when you remove the perishable foods and give your bird seeds or pellets. The water cups tend to build up a dirty film, so take care to wash and rinse them thoroughly.


Foods to Avoid

Now that we’ve looked at foods that are good for your bird, let’s look briefly at those that aren’t. Among those foods considered harmful to pet birds are alcohol, rhubarb, avocado (the skin and the area around the pit can be toxic), as well as highly salted, sweetened, and fatty foods.

You should especially avoid chocolate because it contains the chemical theobromine, which birds cannot digest as completely as people can. Chocolate can kill your cockatiel, so resist the temptation to share this snack with her.

You also want to avoid giving your bird seeds or pits from apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums, because they can be harmful.

Let common sense be your guide in choosing which foods can be offered to your bird: If it’s healthy for you, it’s probably okay to share. However, remember to reduce the size of the portion you offer to your bird—a smaller cockatiel-sized portion will be more appealing to your pet than a larger, human-sized portion.

While sharing healthy people food with your bird is completely acceptable, sharing something that you’ve already taken a bite out of is not. Human saliva has bacteria that are potentially toxic to birds, so please don’t share partially eaten food with your pet. For your bird’s health and your peace of mind, give your cockatiel her own portion or plate.

For the same reason, please don’t kiss your cockatiel on the beak (kiss her on top of her little head instead) or allow your bird to put her head into your mouth, nibble on your lips, or preen your teeth. Although you may see birds doing this on television or in magazine pictures, it’s really unsafe for your bird’s health and well-being.

The Pelleted Diet Option

Cockatiels have played an important role in the creation of pelleted, or formulated, diets for all pet birds. In the early 1980s, researchers at the University of California, Davis, began conducting nutritional research on cockatiels to determine the best diet for pet birds. To be able to make precise comparisons of the different nutrients, the researchers created formulated diets for the test flock. Avian nutritionists have used the data gleaned from this test flock in creating many of the pelleted diets that are available today.

Pelleted diets are created by mixing as many as forty different nutrients into a mash and then forcing (or extruding) the hot mixture through a machine to form various shapes.

Some pelleted diets have colors and flavors added, while others are fairly plain. These formulated diets provide more balanced nutrition in an easy-to-serve form that reduces the amount of wasted food and eliminates the chance for a bird to pick through a smorgasbord of healthy foods to find her favorites and reject the foods she isn’t particularly fond of.

Starting a Pelleted Diet

Some cockatiels accept pelleted diets quickly, while others require some persuading. To convert your pet to a pelleted diet, offer pellets alongside of or mixed in with her current diet. Once you see that your bird is eating the pellets, gradually increase the amount of pellets you offer at mealtime while decreasing the amount of other food you serve. Within a couple of weeks, your bird should be eating her pellets with gusto!

If your cockatiel seems a bit finicky about trying pellets, another bird in the house may show your cockatiel how yummy pellets can be, or you may have to pretend that you are enjoying the pellets as a snack in front of your pet. Really play up your apparent enjoyment of this new food because it will pique your bird’s curiosity and make the pellets exceedingly interesting.

Whatever you do, don’t starve your bird into trying a new food. Offer new foods along with familiar favorites. This will ensure that your bird is eating and will also encourage her to try new foods. Don’t be discouraged if your cockatiel doesn’t dive right in to a new food. Be patient, keep offering new foods to your bird, and praise her enthusiastically when she samples something new!

Ingredients for a Healthy Cockatiel Diet

  • Seed mix


  • Pellets


  • Fresh vegetables


  • Fruits in smaller amounts


  • Vitamin supplements


  • Occasional treats


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