A proper diet will help ensure that your cockatiel leads a happy, healthy life. It has been my experience that cockatiels need a varied diet, not only for their physical health, but also for their mental well-being! Personally, we feed 50% of our diet as a mixture of pelleted foods. Twenty-percenty of their diet is green, leafy vegetables; another 20% is good, healthy "people" food (some examples are listed below); and the remaining 10% is seed. No one really knows what the optimal dietary needs are for psittacine birds, but avian nutritionalists certainly have brought us out of the dark ages regarding some of their needs. I've listed below the various components of foods, as well as what functions they benefit, and in what foods they can be found.


CARBOHYDRATES:

Carbohydrates are an essential yet misunderstood part of the diet. There are two categories of carbohydrates: starches and sugars.

Complex carbohydrates, or starches, provide a steady source of energy for your birds. Complex carbohydrates can be found in whole grains -- bread, cereals, pasta and rice. Make sure you check the ingredients on cereal; sodium (salt) and sugar should not be high up on the list. Definitely do not feed frosted cereals!

Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, provide empty calories and no nutrition.

PROTEINS:

Proteins are complex chemicals that have two important functions: they serve as the building materials of body tissue, and act as enzymes that regulate the chemical reactions that keep your birds' bodies growing and functioning.

Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids. Although more than 20 different amino acids have been identified, it is not known which of these amino acids are essential in the avian species (essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by the body and must be included in the diet). In humans, it has been determined that there are eight essential amino acids. Complete proteins are those that contain adequate supplies of these eight essential amino acids. Incomplete proteins are those that lack or have too little of one or more essential amino acids.

If your birds eat an incomplete protein at the same time as a complete one, their bodies can combine amino acids to create additional complete proteins. Macaroni and cheese are examples of an incomplete and a complete protein. Certain combinations of two or more incomplete proteins can also form complete ones, but this is only true when one food source supplies the amino acids that the other food source lacks. Peanut butter on whole wheat bread is an example of two incomplete proteins which work together to form complete proteins.

Sources of amino acids are: yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs, and nuts, as well as some bread, cereals, rice and pasta.

FATS:

Fat plays an important role in body tissue, providing energy and aiding in the absorbtion of calcium and the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fats are found in animal protein foods such as meat and egg yolks. Other important sources of fat are grains, nuts, and seeds.

A fat free diet would not only be unhealty for your birds, but also impossible to achieve. Among the nutrients supplied by fats is linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that your birds' bodies can't manufacture on their own.

Food fats are mixtures of three types of fatty acids -- polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated. Diets that are excessively high in fats, especially saturated fats, have been associated with obesity and fatty liver disease in birds. The largest amount of saturated fats are found in foods from animal sources (meat and dairy) and certain vegetable oils (such as palm and coconut oil).

Be careful of feeding seed as more than 10% of your birds' diets. Too much seed can contribute to an early death. See the chart below for the fat content in common bird mix seeds.

VITAMINS:

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A, which is necessary for the growth and repair of cell membranes, plays an important role in the well-being of your birds. Vitamin A helps to maintain the soft, moist condition of the cells in the skin and lining of the digestive tract. This vitamin is also related to the health of the eyes and the prevention of night blindness.

The best sources of vitamin A are fish liver oil, beef and chicken liver, orange or yellow vegetables, orange or yellow fruits, and green, leafy vegetables. Other food sources include egg yolks and some cheeses.

Vitamin A is fragile and sensitive to air and heat from cooking. To preserve as much Vitamin A in the foods you serve your birds, serve vegetables raw if possible and store them in covered containers.

Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, the body requires the presence of dietary fats in order to use this vitamin.

Beta-carotene, the pigment that gives vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots their color, is a naturally occuring dietary chemical that the body can convert to useable Vitamin A.

An excess of Vitamin A can be stored in the body tissues and cause harm to your birds, so don't let foods which contain Vitamin A be fed in more than 20-30% of the diet.

B VITAMINS

The B complex vitamins include B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin or Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12, and Pantothenic Acid.

The B Vitamins assist the body in responding to stress, so this vitamin is even more important during breeding, molting, and quarantine periods. These vitamins also aid in the digestion of carbohydrates and proteins.

Because the B vitamins are water soluble, excesses are passed out in urine rather than being stored in the body. For this reason, it is important that your birds get a consistent amount of B vitamins in their diet. Dietary sources include whole, unrefined grains (such as cracked and whole wheat, brown rice, rye, and wheat germ), leafy vegetables, and eggs. Since the B vitamins are fragile and sensitive to the heat from cooking and refining, be sure to serve enough of these foods to ensure that your birds are getting enough in their diets.

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C in sufficient amounts is necessary for strong cell walls and blood vessels. It helps a bird's body utilize iron, folic acid, and Vitamin A. The need for Vitamin C is further increased by stress or disease, so be sure to provide plenty of vitamin C-rich foods when your birds are molting, breeding, or ill.

Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines), melons (cantaloupe, watermelon), and strawberries are excellent sources of Vitamin C. Unfortunately, most cockatiels don't enjoy fruits, so try potatoes, brocolli, bell peppers, cabbage or kale instead. Because their bodies don't store Vitamin C, it is important that you give them foods which contain Vitamin C often.

Vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat and contact with the air. You need to minimally cook vegetables which contain Vitamin C, and use very little water because this vitamin dissolves in water.

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is required to regulate the absorbtion of calcium in your birds' systems. The best sources of Vitamin D are sunlight and full spectrum lighting. In addition, egg yolks are a very good source of this vitamin.

Since your birds' bodies will store excess Vitamin D, it is possible to overdose. Care should be taken, especially if you feed a pelleted diet and provide sunlight or full spectrum lighting, that you are not oversupplementing.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E helps to maintain the integrity of individual cell membranes, is related to normal growth patterns, and also aids your birds' bodies respond to stress. It is also necessary for the digestion of polyunsaturated fats, and is an antioxidant, which helps prevent cells from damage during fat breakdown.

The best food sources of Vitamin E are wheat germ, wheat germ oil, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, peanut butter, and whole grains.

Vitamin E is very sensitive to heat, oxygen and freezing, and it is best to eat in conjunction with fats.

VITAMIN K

Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting. It is synthesized from food in the intestinal tract. Dietary sources include leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, cabbage, and turnip greens. In addition, Vitamin K can be found in whole wheat, oats, bran, carrots, and cauliflower.

CALCIUM AND PHOSPHORUS:

Calcium is more easily absorbed in your birds' bodies in the presence of Vitamin D and moderate amounts of fat. Calcium can combine with certain other substances in foods and take forms that are less easily absorbed. The oxalic acid in spinach and beet greens decreases calcium absorbtion.

The following are good sources of calcium: cottage cheese, unprocessed cheeses, yogurt, and tofu (bean curd). Remember that birds do not have the enzyme necessary to digest the lactose in milk, so this is a less preferred method of supplying calcium. Non-food sources are your birds' cuttlebone and mineral block.

Calcium and the mineral Phosphorus must be in balance for your birds' optimum health. Seed is very high in phosphorus vs. calcium, which is another reason to limit the amount of seed in your birds' diet to 10%. An excess of phosphorus in relation to calcium could result in calcium deficiency.

IRON:

Iron produces hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Anemic birds, those which do not have an adequate supply of iron in their diet, may appear lethargic and fatigued.

Food sources of iron which your birds might enjoy are meat, poultry, fish, soyeans, egg yolks, wheat germ, nuts, kidney beans, and chickpeas. Iron may also have been added to your birds' favorite cereal or bread.

SODIUM:

Sodium is a mineral which helps to maintain the body's fluid balance. It naturally occurs in many foods, and because of this, there is no need to supplement your birds' sodium intake. In fact, too much sodium can cause serious neurological problems, so be sure to examine the foods you feed and avoid a high sodium content.

TRACE MINERALS:

Iodine is necessary for healthy thyroid functioning. Iodine deficiency is highly unlikely if 50% of the diet is a pelletized one.

Chromium deficiency will not be a problem provided you feed whole grain products such as bread, cereal and pasta. Brewers yeast is is a supplementary souce of chromium, as well as other nutrients.

The trace mineral zinc is known to be important to protein synthesis. The best source of zinc is wheat germ, whole grains, eggs, and potatoes.

Magnesium plays an important role in metabolism and and protein synthesis, and can be found in wheat germ, bran, whole grains, nuts, and some leafy green vegetables.

Potassium is necessary for muscle activity, fluid balance, and (again) protein synthesis. An adequate supply of potassium can be obtained if the following foods are fed: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, bran, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, and legumes.

Selenium plays a key role in disease prevention and stimulation of the immune system. Too much selenium, however, can be toxic. A protein-rich diet will provide your birds with all the selenium they need.

Other trace minerals that your birds need are copper, sulfur, manganese, and chloride. It is unlikely that your birds will ever experience a deficiency of these minerals.