Pellets vs. Seed Diets
By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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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.

Research 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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