Changing a Cockatiel's Diet from Seeds to Pellets
6 Methods of Converting Below

By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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Trying to persuade a cockatiel to eat new foods and converting from an all seed diet to a pellet based diet is just as stressful and frustrating for your bird as it is for you. Cockatiels will instinctively reject food, if they do not recognize it as being food. (Exotic Bird report Jan.2001). This is a built in survival mechanism. Research from the University of California-Davis, (Exotic Bird Report, July 2000), has shown that "cockatiels respond positively to things that are familiar". Even putting a feeding dish in a new area of the cage is unfamiliar to a cockatiel. Also, according to this same report, cockatiels have 300-400 taste buds (Humans have 9000) and they do have taste preferences. Birds may just not like the food being offered to them. Trying a variety of different brands and shapes of pellets may also help to get your bird eating pellets. Your bird may like one brand better than another. Cockatiels will also reject a food that is unacceptable to them in taste, shape, color, texture or size being offered. Mama would not eat pellets after 24 hours of fasting. She was hungry because she kept picking up the pellets and dropping them. I crushed the pellets into small pieces and she began eating them immediately. Within 20 minutes, I bought and gave her the exact same brand but in the smaller parakeet size. She began eating the smaller pellets as soon they were put them in her food dish. The formulation of nutrients in cockatiel and parakeet size pellets is the same. (UC-Davis July 2000).

Some trial periods should not extend any longer then 2 days, unless there is evidence that your cockatiel is starting to eat a significant amount of pellets. A wait of at least one month before beginning a new trial period is necessary, so the bird can recover from stress and any weigh loss that may have been occurred. Converting to a different diet takes patience. It can take 2 days for some birds to change over to pellets and up to a year for others. At UC-Davies, 250 cockatiels converted to pellets within 1 year. Some birds converted after 48 hours while others required several trials before the pellets became a familiar food to them. When attempting to convert your bird to a pellet based diet, it's important to first have your bird examined by an avian vet to determine if any health problem already exists. You will also need to monitor your bird's daily food intake, weight, and droppings each day. Count your bird's daily droppings before starting a new diet and during the transition. A decrease in droppings or much smaller droppings will be one of the indications that your cockatiel is not eating. A cockatiel will starve itself to death, rather than eat something that it doesn't recognize as being food. According to research conducted at the Psittacine Research Project at UC-Davis, a healthy cockatiel can withstand losing 10% of its body weight without suffering any ill effects, over the course of a 2 days.

6 Methods of Converting, Described Below

1. Mix Pellets in With Seeds.
2. Change Foods 2 Times Daily
3. Soften Pellets With Fruit Juice.
4. Serve Only Pellets for 2 Days
5. Mirror Method
6. Seeds In and Out

1. Decreasing Seeds & Increasing Pellets: The first method is the safest way to change your cockatiel over to a diet of pellets. Remove 10% of your bird's seeds and replace it with 10% of pellets. Each week remove another 10%, and increase the pellets by the same amount. Within several weeks, your cockatiel should be eating the pellets. You can also try sprinkling some pellets on the carpet, kitchen counter, table or other area where you bird likes to play. Since birds are always picking up little crumbs to nibble on your bird may get its first taste of pellets this way. This will make the pellets in the food dish familiar and they will be recognized as food. This method did not work with Mama.

2.One Hour Feeding: The 2nd method, is also considered safe. Offer your cockatiel its regular food in the morning, but for only an hour, then replace it with pellets. By the afternoon, your bird will be hungry and searching for food. Hopefully it will try the pellets. If your cockatiel has not eaten anything all day, remove the pellets and replace them with your bird's regular seeds in the evening, but for only one hour. It takes a bird about 2 weeks to change diets using this method. This method did not work with Mama but it does work for most birds.

3. Pellet Pudding: A soft mixture of pellets may be appealing to cockatiels that enjoy eating soft, moist foods. Remove your cockatiel's regular food from the cage. Fill a small cup with pellets and add warm apple juice and stir until the pellets start to soften and expand.  Cockatiels seem to enjoy food that is slightly warm. Serve a fresh batch of the soft warm food to your bird every 2 hours to prevent spoilage but only for 2 days (48 hours) Your cockatiel must be closely monitored to prevent starvation. (This didn't work with Mama Bird either). Wait at least a month before trying another method of conversion.

4. Cold Turkey:The 4th method is to remove all foods from your cockatiel's diet and  replace the seeds with pellets but only for 2 days (48 hours) and no longer. When a bird gets hungry enough, the instinct for survival will cause it to search for food. A cockatiel must be closely monitored with this method to prevent starvation. You should weigh your bird each day. A healthy bird should be able to withstand losing 10% of its body weight with no ill effects. It can break your heart, watching your hungry bird look for food and not eating. This method worked with Mama Bird when after about 24 hours, I gave her the smaller parakeet pellets. I will confess, that by dinner time, the first day, I was so upset by her not eating, that I took her out of the cage, and gave her a small amount of seeds from the palm of my hand. I just couldn't let her go to sleep hungry. Once again, wait at least one month before trying another method.

5. The Mirror Method:Dr. Harrison, from Harrison's bird foods, was a speaker at an exotic bird conference that my avian vet attended in Florida in May, 2005. Harrison explained a method for converting any type of bird to pellets. (Thanks Doc Briggs). Harrison contends that this method will work for even the most stubborn and finicky bird, any species from finches to macaws. Get a cardboard box and a mirror, the same size as the bottom of the box. Put the mirror on the bottom of the box and tape the edges to the cardboard so your bird can not chew on the edges of the mirror. Sprinkle some pellets on the mirror and put your bird inside of the box, (wings need to be clipped). Do  this for 20 minutes a day. According to Dr. Harrison, even birds that are seed junkies can NOT resist the temptation to eat pellets when confined to a box with a mirror, flat on the bottom. Once you see your bird eating the pellets, continue doing this for an additional week then start putting pellets in your bird's food dish with a small amount of seeds. Gradually discontinue feeding your bird seeds. (Note: I found that putting a mirror where Mama is playing works too.)

6. In and Out Method: Give your bird pellets in the morning and remove all seeds. If no pellets are eaten by the end of first day, give your birds seeds for 1-2 hours that evening then remove the seeds. Offer pellets again in the morning. If no pellets are eaten by the end of day two, offer your bird seeds again for 1-2 hours then remove the seeds. By the next morning, the bird should be very hungry and accept pellets as food. Discontinue after 2 days if your bird doesn't start eating pellets.

Tips on Converting to Pellets:Try different brands of pellets. Cockatiels have taste buds and taste preferences. Your bird may not like the taste of the brand you are currently using. Read labels and call manufacturers. Many of them will send you free samples. Also try the smaller parakeet type pellets or crumbles instead of the larger cockatiel size pellets. Nutritional formulation is the same and some birds prefer the smaller size. Grind pellets in a coffee grinder or mini food processor, making them even smaller. Offer pellets to your bird from the palm of your hand or one by one like treats. Sprinkle pellets over your bird's fresh foods or seeds. Keep 2 food dishes in the cage, one with seeds and one with pellets. Sprinkle a small amount of seeds over the pellets. Sprinkle some pellets or ground pellets on the floor or in an area where your bird like's to play. Cockatiels are always foraging for food. Your bird may pick up a few pieces to eat. Put a mirror in front of your bird's food dish. Parrots learn from the example of other birds and they also enjoy eating with a companion. Eat a cold cereal that resembles the pellets you are offering. Trix looks like fruit flavored pellets and Grape Nuts look like natural ones.

Natural or Flavor Enhanced Pellets? Natural flavored pellets are usually pale yellow, tan or a light green color. Flavored pellets contain an assortment of lively colored morsels. Most name brands, with the exception of Harrison's All Natural,  contain a preservative which can be natural or artificial. Look for brands that use all natural flavors, all natural colors and natural preservatives. Avoid brands that contain ethoxyquin, BHT or BHA.  Chemical additives and preservatives should always be considered when choosing pellets. There have also been reports that artificial additives can cause allergic reactions in some birds, causing feather plucking. When choosing any food for your birds, read labels, compare ingredients, call the manufacturers and talk to your avian vet. Some suggest that if a cockatiel doesn't like the fruit or vegetable flavors of the enhanced pellets, then he certainly will not enjoy the natural ones. Another thought is that natural pellets resemble seeds, thereby making them more appealing to a bird. Mama prefers a mixture of Zupreem Fruit and Zupreem All Natural, parakeet size. Cookie, my other cockatiel, prefers Zupreem Avian Entrees, Garden Goodness, cockatiel size, which are larger, all natural and contain dehydrated veggies and fruits. 

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