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Introducing Pellets To Your Pet Bird

Before converting your pet bird to a pelleted food, make sure it is in good health.

By the BIRD TALK Editors
Posted: February 27, 2004

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Q: I have an umbrella cockatoo that is 1 year old. When I purchased her she was 8 months old and was on a seed-only diet. I am trying to switch her to a pelleted diet, because I heard it was much healthier. I have been introducing it to her for a month now along with her seed diet. She just refuses to eat the pellets. She holds out for the seed only and pushes the pellets to the bottom of her cage. Do you have any ideas on how to successfully switch her to a pelleted diet.

Umbrella Cockatoo
Umbrella cockatoos are native to Indonesia, and wild cockatoos eat seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and possibly insects.
A: Change is hard for pet birds and parrots as well as humans. We get comfortable with something, and we are not always willing to give it up or change. Just as with people, change for our pet birds takes time. You need to be patient with the process, and realize that there is no definite time schedule for changing what a parrot eats. Some pet birds accept bird food better than others. Each bird is unique and must be treated as such. What works for the umbrella owned by a friend may or may not work for your umbrella. Realizing that it is going to take an effort on your part, along with patience and an unknown amount of time, will make the entire process more comfortable for both of you.
In a natural environment, the parrots we keep as pets eat a wide variety of food items. For instance, your umbrella cockatoo's diet would vary depending on the time of year and current supply of food. They eat fruits, nuts, seeds and berries, as well as insects and their larvae. It has also been reported that many umbrella cockatoos will also eat meat on occasion. The diet changes with the seasons, just as it does for the birds in our back yards. The same fruits, nuts, and other items are not available every day of the year, so they eat what is available.

The food items they consume in their natural environment are in a different form than many of the same food items we would supply. The fruits would be eaten at the point of ripeness they choose — not picked from a tree several weeks before they would have naturally ripened, loaded on a truck and shipped across the country. The seeds are also often different seeds than we provide and in a different form. They are not harvested, dried, shipped and packed to be part of a seed mix we purchase from our supplier. The natural seeds eaten by birds in the wild are not dried but often in the "milky" stage. The nutrition of seeds and other natural foods can only be as good as the ground or soil they are grown in. If the soil is rich in nutrients, the food will have a higher nutritional value. The opposite is true if they are grown in soil that is nutrient poor.

Parrot-type birds have individual preferences when the subject of their food is concerned. I have found that cockatoos can be particularly fussy. Much depends on what they have grown accustomed to according to size, taste, fat content, shape and color. They have their own opinion on what they will eat and/or try. (Sound familiar? We do it all of the time. We may not even try something, because we know we will not like it!) Sometimes just the placement of the dish will make a difference in if they will eat it or not. There are also some birds that do not seem to have any preferences at all to color, size, etc.

Your bird will need to be trained to eat different bird foods. One thing on your side is that your cockatoo is still young and should still be at the stage of exploration and curiosity. Many pet owners have developed a bad habit of overfeeding their birds. The amount of food they supply would be enough for several days. If you are tossing as much or more food than your bird eats in a day, you are feeding it too much. Overfeeding permits and teaches the bird that it can eat only those items that it likes and not be hungry at all. Those items eaten first in a seed mix are normally sunflower seeds and peanuts. Cut back on the daily ration; feed only the amount that will be eaten. Also, identify the colors preferred by your bird (often red, yellow and orange), and use these preferences when considering pelleted brands. I would also suggest you purchase small amounts of several different brands to find the one your pet bird will eat. Slowly replace some of the bird seed with pellets, and continue to gradually reduce the seed and increase the pellets. Watch carefully that your pet bird is getting enough to eat. If you do not own a gram scale to weigh your bird, this is a good time to get one. Before converting your bird to a pelleted diet, make sure it is in good health. Never convert a sick bird, unless advised and supervised by an avian vet.

You can try to offer your cockatoo pellets by hand as a treat when it is out. Some birds will begin to eat pellets if they are softened or soaked. You can also add pellets with some of the favorite foods your bird is already eating. If it eats soaked or sprouted seeds, add pellets to the mixture. If it eats mashed potatoes, add a few pellets. Stick them into a piece of apple. Just keep in mind that the pellets are no longer dry, so they will need to be removed after a couple of hours.

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Posted: February 27, 2004

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Introducing Pellets To Your Pet Bird

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Reader Comments
Helpful article!
Sunny, Fort Collins, CO
Posted: 2/3/2008 9:19:53 AM
very good article.
mary, portland, ME
Posted: 9/11/2007 1:10:33 AM
change is hard for all of us!! i like the idea of using the pellets initially as treats! you have to be tricky! i am so glad my cockatiel loves his pellets! i know hes getting the nutrition he needs and deserves.
stephanie, no smithfield, RI
Posted: 6/19/2007 6:28:11 AM
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