My cocktiel is eating his poop off the grate. Is he lacking something in his diet?
The ingestion of feces is called coprophagy. In some species, such as rabbits, coprophagy is considered a normal activity and actually provides the rabbit with certain nutrients. However, it is considered an abnormal behavior in pet birds. You are correct in thinking that it may occur as a result of a dietary deficiency.
The scant research that has been performed to determine the cause of coprophagy suggests that a cockatiel may be suffering from some sort of biochemical deficiency. In some cases, coprophagy may be attributed to boredom. A cockatiel may end up with a bad habit as a result. This seems to be a problem related to captive cockatiels, as wild cockatiels are rarely exposed to their own droppings (except for nesting birds).
I doubt that cockatiels like the taste of their droppings. Cockatiels have about a tenth of the number of taste buds that humans do, and it is thought that their sense of taste is not that well developed.
A cockatiel that is eating its droppings should undergo a complete physical examination, blood tests and fecal parasite examination. Your avian veterinarian should also take a thorough history and perform an evaluation of your cockatiel’s diet to determine if there is an obvious deficiency. There are very few specific tests to determine if a cockatiel is suffering from a dietary deficiency, so evaluation of his history and diet will provide your avian vet with the best information in that regard. Physical examination may also uncover evidence of certain deficiencies, as well.
Internal parasites, such as the one-celled protozoa Giardia, or Hexamita, can cause a cockatiel to lose micronutrients, and worms, including ascarids (roundworms) and capillaria may also steal nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract of cockatiels. These organisms can be more difficult to diagnose in cockatiels due to the speed in which ingesta passes through the tract, so it might take more testing to determine if these organisms are causing a cockatiel to develop nutritional deficiencies.
While it may be impossible to completely prevent a cockatiel from coming into contact with its droppings, it can be minimized. Unless the cockatiel is suffering from intestinal parasites or certain infections – which your vet can determine – it is probably not very dangerous.
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Excerpt from the Popular Birds Series magabook Cockatiels with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Cockatiels here.