Healthy and Toxic Table Foods for Cockatiels  
By Eleanor McCaffrey
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Whenever your cockatiel eats table foods, he will cut back on the amount of pellets consumed that day proportionately. Birds only eat as much food as they need to maintain their energy level. According to Tom Roudybush, avian nutritionist who conducted research at UC-Davis for 15 years, pet cockatiels consume approximately 15 grams of high energy food daily. The goal is to get your bird to eat 15 grams of foods that have a high concentration of nutrients. In addition to pellets, offer your bird a variety of healthy foods daily for a well balanced and nourishing. diet. Avoid the toxic foods that are described below. They can make your bird sick or cause death. Some of the information on this page is in a list format which you may print out for reference. Click Here.  

Water : Birds need fresh, clean water at all times. Water should be changed daily and whenever droppings, food or feather dander are present throughout the day. If you wouldn't drink the water, neither should your bird.  Bacteria and fungus that can make your bird sick can accumulate in water pipes. Let the faucet run for several minutes to flush before filling your bird's water dish or use bottled water. If you use a faucet water filtration system, change the filter regularly. Water filters will harbor bacteria if not maintained. Adding vitamins to water promotes the growth of bacteria because they contain flavor enhancers. That's what that slimy feeling inside of the water dish is. If you have lead or galvanized metal water pipes in your home or your source of drinking water comes from an underground well, avoid giving your bird tap water to drink and bath in. The water could contain lead or zinc. Give your bird bottled water instead. Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include loss of balance, muscle weakness, inability to fly, red droppings, vomiting and respiratory distress.

Calcium: Sources of calcium include fresh dark green, leafy vegetables, kale, cilantro, beet greens, turnip greens, bok choy, endive, chard, collard greens,  parsley, mustard greens, watercress, romaine lettuce, broccoli leaves and stalks and yellow wax beans. Keeping a cuttlebone and mineral block in your bird's cage may supplement calcium needs. Dr. Warren Briggs, DVM, states that "When we observe a bird gnawing on a cuttlebone, the bird may be just playing, rather than ingesting it. A bird's diet should be well balanced so that even if there were no cuttlebone present (or ingested), there wouldn't be a problem." 

Dairy products are a rich source of calcium. However, birds do not have the enzyme lactase which is necessary to digest milk products containing lactose (milk sugar). Yogurt and cottage cheese as well as some other types of cheese do not contain lactose and are generally considered safe to feed to birds by board certified, Avian Veterinarian, Dr. Margaret Wissman. The living organisms in cultured yogurt consume  lactose, rendering yogurt lactose free. Milk products containing lactose can remain undigested in the large intestines and there is a potential for digestive problems. Because of this, some avian vets advise against the inclusion of all milk products in a bird's diet.

Protein: Cockatiels will benefit from having protein added to their diet, especially when molting. Protein rich foods that are nutritious for you, are also nutritious for your cockatiel. Offer well cooked chicken, turkey, lean meats, fish, hard boiled or scrambled eggs, cottage cheese. Serve your bird these foods when they are freshly cooked, not after they have been cooked, refrigerated and reheated. Remove from cage after 30 minutes to prevent spoilage.

Vitamins Vegetables and Fruits: Iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and celery are mostly water and  have little nutritional value. If your bird enjoys them, serve as an occasional treat. Bright orange and dark green vegetables have the most vitamins. Offer cooked sweet potatoes or yams, raw  or lightly steamed fresh asparagus, cooked beets, fresh beet greens, bok choy, broccoli (leaves, stems and florets), carrots, carrot tops, corn, chicory greens, chard, cilantro, collard greens, endive, fresh sprouts, green and yellow wax beans, kale, cooked lima beans, fresh mustard greens, peas, parsley, pumpkin, red or green sweet peppers, turnip greens, watercress, romaine lettuce,  yellow squash, zucchini, dark green lettuces. Some vegetables should be served in moderation, only once or twice a week. Spinach and parsley contain oxalic acid which binds with calcium, blocks the absorption of calcium and puts stress on the kidneys. High levels of oxalic acid in the diet can also cause poor blood clotting and convulsions in birds. Other vegetables with lesser amounts of oxalic acid include beet greens, carrots, collard greens, lettuce, turnips, and berries. Serve these foods in moderation. Low levels of oxalates can result in decreased growth, poor bone mineralization and kidney stones. Some foods like broccoli contain phytate or phytic acid. Phytates have the same effects as oxalic acid, blocking the absorption of calcium, as well as blocking the absorption of zinc and iron. Phytates can be found in broccoli, legumes, nuts, carrots,   potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes and berries.  Serve these vegetables in moderation as well.  Carrots and sweet potatoes are  high in sugar and can contribute to yeast infections. Serve in moderation.  Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, honeydew melon, kiwi, mango, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, watermelon may be offered although cockatiels are not big fruit eaters. Be cautious with strawberries and grapes. They spoil faster than other fruits. Mushy, discolored, bruised fruits or vegetables should never be served to birds because of possible bacterial or fungal contamination.  Note: 1. Should you eliminate some of the above foods from you bird's diet? Of course not, only eliminate foods that are listed as being toxic (below). Serving in moderation means offering your bird certain foods once or twice a week and offering a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit each day. Avoid serving the same foods day after day. Since many of the vegetables and fruits that birds enjoy contain an enzyme inhibitor, anti-nutrient, or a natural toxin that has not been specified above, it's important to vary the foods in a bird's diet. In addition, different foods contains different nutrients. A variety of fresh foods will ensure that your bird receives maximum nutritional benefits. 2. Greens contain high amounts of water, 80%-90%. Too many servings of greens each day may cause polyuria, excess water, (urine), in droppings.

Carbohydrates: Cooked pasta, cooked rice or brown rice, cooked dried beans, baked sweet potatoes, bird bread, whole wheat toast, oatmeal and other cooked cereals, cold cereals (cheerios, shredded wheat and grape nuts), fresh corn and fresh peas are all good sources of carbohydrates. They are also high energy foods so should be served in moderation. Because some cold cereals contain zinc, serve as a treat a few times a week or purchase brands that do not contain zinc. Zinc is a nutrient that is found in many fresh foods and birds do require a very small amount of zinc in their diet. According to my avian vet, the zinc in food is NOT the same as the toxic form of zinc which is found in heavy metals. Several avian vets were interviewed for an article in Bird Talk Magazine. All stated that when served in moderation, cold cereal that contains zinc is not harmful to pet birds.

Treats: Pet shops have an enormous variety of treats for your bird to enjoy. Treats range from biscuits and yogurt balls to fruit treats that resemble Gummy Bears. Larger treats, like honey seed sticks, can be broken up into several smaller portions to stretch over a week or two. Other treats include unsalted popcorn, animal crackers, cold cereals like cheerios, rice krispies, cornflakes, grape nuts or mini shredded wheat,( 1 or 2 pieces a day), birdie breads, a small amount of loose seeds, 1-2 sunflower seeds daily, millet seed once a week (or as often as your avian vet recommends), or one AviCake, Nutriberry or other small treat  daily.  Honey seed sticks can be broken up to provide a week or two of smaller treats. This site also has a recipe section which you can find on the main index. There are all sorts of  recipes submitted by visitors for making birdie breads and other homemade treats. Click Here. Serve treats in moderation, 1-2 treats each day. 

Parsley  is not toxic to pet birds, according to Petra Burgmann DVM. There is no evidence to suggest this. It's a rumor. Parsley induced photosensitivity was reported in ostriches and ducks fed large quantities, but only when they were exposed to unfiltered sunlight. Parsley has many nutritional benefits and smaller pet birds like parakeets and cockatiels enjoy an occasional sprig. Since parsley does contain oxalic acid, which blocks calcium absorption, serve in moderation, 1-2 times a week.

Pesticides: Fruits and vegetables contain pesticides which are toxic for birds. Wash, scrub, peel and rinse several times before serving. Soaking veggies/fruits for a few minutes in a mixture of grapefruit seed extract and water or apple cider vinegar and water will help to remove  pesticides.

Vitamin Supplements: Should be provided for birds on an unbalanced, all seed diet.  Choose a vitamin that comes in a treat form or powder instead of one that is added to water. Vitamins in water degrade rapidly, becoming dilute and ineffective. They also promote bacterial growth due to the added flavor enhancers. Never supplement the diet of a bird on pellet diet with commercial vitamins. This can cause a toxic overdose of Vitamins A and D. 

Grit: Grit or bird gravel is composed of tiny pieces of sand and stone, (granite or quartz). In the past, grit was thought to be an essential aid in the digestion of food in a bird's gizzard. Some species of birds, ( turkeys, chickens, pigeons, doves), benefit from some grit in their diet because they consume entire seeds without removing the hull. Grit helps to grind up seed hulls so they can be digested. Cockatiels and most other pet birds crack open seeds and remove shells  before eating seeds.  Healthy cockatiels and other pet birds, with the exception of canaries, finches, doves and pigeons, do not need grit to aid in digestion. Feeding your cockatiel grit or using sandpaper type cage liners/perches  can make your cockatiel very sick.  Veterinarians report that grit is one of the most widely abused substances used with  birds. Birds with health problems and abnormal appetites may consume too much grit. Using the incorrect size of grit can cause internal injuries. There have been confirmed reports of lead poisoning, crop and gastro-intestinal impactions and other health problems in in birds that ingest grit. Avoid using grit with your cockatiel unless your avian vet prescribes it for your bird. 

Mouth Feeding: Human saliva contains bacteria that is potentially toxic to birds. If you are getting a cold or the flu and you develop a secondary infection, your bird can get sick from you.  Avoid this habit and offer you bird a separate portion of food.

Toxic Foods: Avocados, rhubarb, leaves and stems from potato, tomato, eggplant and bean plants, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, salt, greasy foods, tobacco, fruit seeds or pits from apples, apricots, oranges, cherries, peaches, pears and plums are toxic and can make your bird sick. If a large quantity is ingested, some foods can be lethal to birds. 

Shellfish, Meat, Eggs & Beans: Avoid feeding your bird shellfish. (shrimp, crab, lobster etc.) because of high levels of bacterial contamination. A bacteria count that is considered safe for humans may not be safe for birds. Serve your bird freshly cooked meat, fish and eggs. Do not feed your bird meat, fish or eggs that have been refrigerated and re-heated after cooking.  Uncooked dried beans, barley, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, turnips and beets contain enzyme inhibitors that will interfere with your bird digestion of food.  Cook them first to deactivate these compounds.

Canned: Vegetables in cans are often high in sodium content. The heat used during processing also destroys the vitamin content. Avoid them and use fresh or frozen instead. If you must use canned, rinse several times under running water to remove sodium.

Moldy Foods: Seeds, grains, fruit, meat, cheese, bread and other foodstuffs can become toxic if contaminated with mycotoxins.  Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced  by many species of mold-causing fungi. Under the right conditions, fungi will multiply rapidly, producing high levels of mycotoxins. "Moderate levels of this compound, if ingested, will cause lesions on a bird's organs and may have carcinogenic effects (cancer causing). High levels of mycotoxins are lethal and can cause mortality within 2-3 days." (Source: Avian Medicine, Principles and Applications, Ritchie, Harrison & Harrison, page 27) Birds and other pets are especially susceptible to being poisoned by mycotoxins  because of poor quality control and improper storage of food. Although some molds are visible, like the fuzz on old bread and strawberries,  mycotoxins if present, can not be detected by sight, taste or smell and they can not be destroyed by cooking or freezing.  Never feed your bird mushy, discolored, bruised fruits or vegetables or a food that has mold growing on it. "When in doubt, throw it out."

Fresh Peanuts & Moldy Foods: Fresh peanuts, Brazil nuts and other nuts in shells are often contaminated with a toxic, mold-causing fungus. Aspergillus flavus,  and  Aspergillus parasiticus  are most commonly implicated. These 2 species grow beneath the shell of the nut and produce a  mycotoxin (toxin from a fungus) called  Aflatoxin.  Aflatoxin is undetectable by sight, smell or taste and it can not be destroyed by cooking or freezing. Ingesting food contaminated with a  high level of Aflatoxin is lethal and  will cause death . Avoid feeding your bird fresh peanuts, other fresh nuts, bulk peanut butter or peanut butter sold in health food stores. All can  contain deadly levels of Aflatoxin. Commercial brands and dry roasted nuts are monitored for this.  Dried corn, grains and birdseed can also become  contaminated with Aflatoxin. Keep your bird safe. Store all seeds, pellets, treats, grains in tightly closed containers, off the floor and in  a cool, dry area. 

Spoilage: Offer your cockatiel low energy, fresh food at least twice a day. Remove all cooked fresh foods after 30 minutes and remove fresh, raw vegetables after 1 hour to prevent bacterial contamination. During hot weather remove all fresh foods after 30 minutes. Always wash feeding dishes thoroughly with hot soapy water after each use. 

Mealtime: Eat with your bird. Cockatiels are flocking birds. Just as birds in the wild prefer eating with their flock, your bird will enjoy eating with you. Offer fresh fruits and vegetables in the morning, afternoon or while you have dinner, not late evening. Cockatiels love eating dinner with the family. Take advantage of this and serve your bird a small portion of healthy, fresh, foods from you dinner menu. Scrambled eggs with shredded carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, brown rice with assorted veggies and mashed chicken are big hits with Mama & Cookie.  Before bedtime, offer your bird a small amount of  loose seeds from the palm of your hand to further bonding. A bird's crop should be filled with seeds or pellets before sleeping.

Labels: Always read the labels on foods before buying or serving to your bird. Avoid products that have  chemical additives or products that have a high fat, sugar or sodium content. 

Variety For a well nourished bird, include a variety of fresh, dark leafy green vegetables, fruits and other table foods in your bird's  diet. Variety assures maximum nutritional benefits, since each food contains different nutrients. Offer foods that have different colors, shapes, textures and flavors to prevent boredom. Also vary the presentation of foods. Serve them chopped, sliced, diced, minced, mashed etc. Eating nutritious table foods should be an interesting and enjoyable experience for your bird.

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