Eating Problems

NOTE: Many birds will start eating healthier foods if they can see the food in full-spectrum lighting.  Birds can actually see nutrition in their food, with proper lighting.  In low light, they cannot even see in color.  NEVER use the Avian Sun bulbs or any other bulb with UV-B without explicit presciption from your Avian vet.  For a complete description of proper Avian Lighting, see the Newsletter Article on Proper Lighting and a summary of why lighting is important and where to purchase bulbs. 

Q. I just adopted a Cockatiel but he won't eat, what can I do? 

A. Sounds like your new Cockatiel is homesick. Due to the stress of changing homes, some cockatiels refuse to eat. They need time to adjust to their new environment and a little help from you. Here's what you can do:
Call the person you got your Cockatiel from and ask what diet (brand of food) they were feeding your Cockatiel. A difference in diet may be the only reason why our Cockatiel isn't eating.

Most Cockatiels love to eat millet spray even when they aren't feeling well. Millet is high in calories, which will help provide some nourishment while your Cockatiel adjusts.
With very tame cockatiels, you can try offering food from your hand. Sometimes this is all that is needed to encourage them to eat on their own.
Temporarily remove all the toys. These new items may be frightening to your new Cockatiel, enough so that they are afraid to move about in their cage. Some Cockatiels are afraid to eat from a new feed dish, especially if it is fancy or brightly colored. Try using plain white dishes and later spice it up.

Many Cockatiels feel vulnerable on the cage bottom, so use hanging dishes and place them near a perch. Additionally, since most birds tend to perch on the highest item in their cage, place the dish slightly higher then all the items in the cage. Keep experimenting with dish placement and you will find that place which is acceptable to your new Cockatiel. Don't add any supplements to the food or water until your Cockatiel is eating vigorously. The taste and smells of these supplements could be turning them away from eating and drinking.

While your new Cockatiel is trying to adjust to his new home, his living quarters should not be in a high traffic area. This is not to say put him in a room and shut the door, rather a quiet corner in the family room where your Cockatiel can see everyone entering the room at a safe distance. Keeping the cage covered on 2 or 3 sides will also give him a feeling of comfort.

If none of the above works a visit with an avian vet will be necessary.


Copyright ©1986, Lafeber Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Q. How can I convert my stubborn bird from seeds to a healthy diet?

A. It can be very difficult to convert adult Cockatiels and Budgies to a healthy diet (pellets and fresh foods) but by no means is it impossible! It is going to take time and patience. It is possible to unknowingly starve a bird during the process so it is important that you take care in observing the bird closely during the process. It may seem like a lot to ask to convert your bird but the rewards are tremendous. Your bird will be healthier, live longer and be happier. It will also pay off in that you will have fewer vet bills from a bird on a healthy diet. A healthy diet should consist of approximately 50-60% pellets, 40% healthy table foods (leafy greens, carrots, sweet potato, pasta, rice, non-sugary breakfast cereals, whole wheat bread, fruits) and approx. 10% seed. Keep in mind that it is always best to see an avian vet before starting any diet conversion. It is best to convert only healthy birds and your vet can determine whether your bird has any underlying health problems that should be addressed first. Also, your vet can get a baseline weight prior to starting the diet change and can weigh the bird weekly (usually at no charge) during the conversion.

Start by placing a bowl of pellets in the cage in addition to the bird's seed. Some birds (probably ~10% of them) will willingly choose the pellets. For those birds, you will still want to follow the plan, you just won't have to do it for very long. Most birds will either completely ignore the pellets or pick them up and spit them out as if they were poison. After about a week of having the pellet bowl filled next to the seed bowl, you will begin to restrict the seed. Start restricting the seed to one hour of uninterrupted seed time in the morning and one hour of seed in the evening (remember if you have more than one bird to put as many seed bowls as there are birds in the cage for the one hour am and pm, otherwise the "alpha" bird will eat the seed during the two hours and the others will be left hungry). Make sure you offer the seed during a time when the bird will eat it (in other words, not at 4am when the bird is sleeping) For example, offer the seed from 8am to 9am, then remove the seed and put the pellet bowl in the cage along with fresh foods and leave that there until evening. Then, at 6pm replace the seed and remove it at 7pm. This will need to be repeated until the bird starts eating the pellets. Once you notice that the bird is eating them you will begin to restrict the seed to 45 minutes twice daily, then 30 minutes, etc. until the bird has only pellets and fresh foods in the cage daily. You can still offer seed as a treat and in small amounts. Once your bird begins eating the pellets you need to discontinue any vitamin supplements you may have been giving or it could cause problems. The pellets are fortified and adding vitamins or mineral supplements would be "too much of a good thing" and can cause serious problems. Always make sure you are providing a good assortment of healthy table foods during the conversion as the bird may take to kale, swiss chard, carrots, or brown rice before "breaking down" and eating the pellets and you can improve the diet more quickly that way.

There are also some excellent conversion foods you can use during the process. Avicakes and Nuts and Nuggets from Lafeber are two foods that mix pellets and seed together in tasty little pieces. It may hasten the conversion to offer these sprinkle on top of the pellets. My birds took to the pellets more quickly when offered them with these on top. You can also try tricks like "food toys" or birdie bread to entice your bird to eat pellets (see our Web site for more info on these). If your bird likes pasta or rice, try crushing the pellets in the food they like to get them introduced. It also works sometimes to offer the pellets in a "clip cup" up high in the cage especially near a favorite toy or mirror. Another trick is to offer small pellets (budgie size for a tiel and canary size for a budgie) as they seem to like the smaller nuggets. Trying different brands of pellets may help, too, as there does seem to be a big difference in the taste buds of different birds with some choosing certain brands over others. We would just recommend staying away from the pellets that have a lot of artificial colors or flavors. The most important part of conversion is making sure you are doing it safely.

Watch your bird's weight closely during the conversion. They can really trick owners into thinking they are eating when they are really only rooting through the food so weighing is very important. You can purchase a gram scale through bird product catalogues or you can get a postal scale at an office supply store. Another gage of how the bird is doing is by checking and counting the birds droppings. Watery droppings or too few droppings may be signs that your bird isn't eating enough. If that is the case contact your avian vet for consult and return your bird to his previous diet to get him to eat. Variety is the spice of life, so don't forget to offer fresh foods in abundance during the conversion and remember it can take time. It can take a year to convert a bird! Keep it up by be careful and watch your bird. If he/she becomes listless, depressed, looks or feels thin, develops watery or black droppings or if you notice any symptoms of illness (see our site for symptoms to be aware of) contact your avian vet immediately.

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