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A Complete Handbook For Cockatoo Diet, Food, and Care

In our previous blog post, we spoke of the cockatiel, a member of the Cacatuidae family containing 21 species of birds. So it may be a bit difficult to keep track of which is which. Like the cockatiels and parakeets, they are natives of Australia. The larger Cockatoo family, however, inhabits a greater portion of Oceania including Papa New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia. In general, they are much larger, louder, and require more precautions when handling them because generally their beaks are larger and their temperaments are wilder than a cockatiel. So as long as the time is put in every day, they will be happy!

Cockatoo Crown
Like cockatiels, these larger relatives have regal feathers on their heads called a crown that expresses very vividly their moods. Cockatoos are known to be needy, so good food will go a long way, along with long and daily open-space time. They tend to become depressed and aggressive if kept in a cage all day; they need about four hours of playtime outside the cage every day (depending on their size). Cockatoos tend to live for 50-80 years much time outliving their owners and then spending time in bird shelters, so having a plan on where your cockatoo will go is a must.

the cuddliest of pets, too “basic”?

Across the world people are still making up their minds about cockatoos, calling them the cuddliest of pets, to “basic”, to perhaps the most vivid of all the birds out there. We think they are that, and much more. We try our best to keep them happy with a caring home and wholesome food. In this short guide, we will learn a few things we should consider when purchasing cockatoos, why being knowledgeable of what cockatoos eat is important, what the best cockatoo food is, and a frequently asked questions section.

What should I consider before buying a cockatoo?

Before going out and purchasing a cockatoo think about your daily life. Will you be able to let it out of its cage every day? Clean up after it every day? Feed and play with it every day? Our high volume noises okay with you? There are a lot of considerations to take into account. Many times people who do not, end up abandoning their birds or leaving them in bird rescues. It is important to take time and think about these so both you and your possible bird friend don’t end up in a situation that will be hard for both parties! Cockatoos need a daily maintenance routine, just like any other creature out there. If thinking about purchasing a cockatoo for a child. We do not recommend cockatoos as a first pet, because they are more temperamental than smaller birds and have larger claws and beaks (like scimitars according to Encyclopedia Britannica) making them dangerous for people who have little experience with birds, and especially for kids because of the aggression of cockatoos not cared for. We recommend buying a smaller bird for your children, such as a parakeet or a cockatiel. If purchasing a cockatiel or a parakeet, do check out our Bird Street Bistro website for a handbook on feeding them!

What else do I need?

If you have decided to buy yourself a cockatoo there are a few things to buy to make it happy. The crucial cage, a perch, water dishes, cockatoo food bowls, toys, cage sand, cuttlebones, mineral blocks, and a birdbath. It’s common for your cockatoo to break the cage lock or even the cage itself and escape, and bite and gnaw anything it sees. Buying several chew toys will keep your home a little less ravaged by their need to keep their beaks sharpened. Please remember that although bird owners must let their pet birds outside their cage, there must be enough space inside the cage for a cockatoo to spread its wings and fly. If you find your cockatoo bleeding or injuring itself it is because it is not receiving enough attention and exercise, it may also mean they are experiencing night frights. Which means they are harming themselves against the cage. Leaving a dim light at night may help them prevent this. Beyond these items, you will need healthy cockatoo food to keep your cockatoo happy, and to keep its wings as colorful as ever.

Should I be concerned about what my cockatoo eats?

Many customers ask if what cockatoos eat is important. It is important, but the question is not automatically thought of because bird owners assume it is already answered. It has been answered but with several assumptions about bird owners. This is something we will go over in one of our sections below, “The problem with all-seed diets.” A huge factor in cockatoo health is what they eat, and this is one of the things a pet owner must be proactive in. Food impacts your bird’s health in the following ways. When cockatoos are in a domestic setting they are normally given seeds, but this does not mean this is the best food to give them. Cockatoos expend different amounts of energy when they are in cages compared to free-flying cockatoos. This has to be kept in mind because cockatoos develop heart disease if given only all-seed diets and overloading their bodies with only fats. In the all-seed diets section below, we discuss this with a bit more depth. Another consideration is how much Vitamin D is synthesized from sun exposure, and how this affects balding and feather growth.

Food can affect cockatoo’s Health?

All parts of a cockatoo’s diet will impact their health. If given too many fats, heart disease such as atherosclerosis can develop, or obesity if given too much junk food or too little exercise. Cockatoo diets will certainly affect how happy and how long our cockatoo companions will stay with us. 60% of bird autopsies have shown signs of nutritional deficiency, this is according to Valerie Campbell, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. It is very sad to realize that these deaths could have been prevented, but luckily the developments in avian veterinary medicine science and the increased interest in pet birds are helping us learn about new ways to feed our birds. Common malnutrition in cockatoos can trace to our lack of knowledge. The Association of Avian Veterinarians and the board of certification that certifies avian veterinarians was only created in the early 1990s. Before this, we thought a simple diet of only seeds or only pellets could provide for our birds’ needs, but luckily our increased interest and care for cockatoos, their diets, and their well-being can help them live longer and happier lives.

What exactly does my cockatoo naturally eat?

These natives of Australia use the vegetation, seeds, fruits, nuts, and insects around them in nature. Finding a spectrum of nutrition in the wild Australian outback.

Does this affect what I should feed my cockatoo?

We can learn a lot from what their bodies need from what they evolved in. This means cockatoo diets must have a nutritionally balanced content, the best cockatoo food will mix the nutrition of fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. A mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Seeds with a low-fat content like safflower, millet, canary, sunflower, and groat seeds, are the best seeds for cockatoos. This is one of the first building blocks (fats), that make up a holistic and nutritious cockatoo diet. Some cockatoo owners tend to buy only seeds, but with serious effects on cockatoo well-being.

The problem with all-seed diets?

Seeds only contain fat, which means the other parts of nutrition are missing such as calcium or protein. Fats are needed but in portioned quantities.  This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, infections, or other problems. Genetically modified seeds grown for cooking oil production can lead our bird friends to have heart problems, over-feeding leading to obesity or other issues. A nutritious diet will be similar to the one birds have evolved in. Seeds also produced for human consumption are not a healthy choice because of their higher fat concentrations. Seeds in nature are less concentrated. The best cockatoo diet will be 10% or 20% in seeds.  You’ve heard of speed junkies, well now you can tell your cockatoo, “Say no to all-seed diets!”
Nuts, legumes, amino acids (protein), and fats
A diet balanced in protein will surely keep your feathered friend happy. Insects and nuts make up the usual protein in a day of the life of a wild bird. Protein helps with seasonal molting, natural development, preventing balding in cockatoos, and keeping your bird friend’s feathers beautiful. How often your cockatoo molts depends on what species they are, some molt seasonally others take up to two years to renew their feather. It depends on the species, but a balanced amount of protein will be crucial for your pet bird whatever the species. Nuts and legumes also satisfy the protein required for cockatoos. A list includes garbanzo beans, lentils, soybeans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, and split peas; nuts can include pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds. Please do remember that nuts are also high in fat, so the portion must be considered when feeding a cockatoo. 10% to 16% of a daily diet should be protein. Balanced diets protect our dear cockatoos against diseases like gout, vitamin D toxicity, or iron toxicity. If you’re looking for a healthy and wonderfully nutty yet balanced nutritious mix your cockatoo will always be thankful for, try our Cinnaspice Delight Mix.

What about carbohydrates for cockatoos?

Healthy veggie options include lettuce, spinach, corn, carrots, broccoli, kale, and chard. The darker the leaf, the healthier it is! Lettuce and celery, on the other hand, do not contain many nutrients. Healthy fruit options: pineapples, mangoes, melons, bananas, tangerines, apples, and coconuts. An FAQ below will have a larger list of edible fruits. Remember, purchasing organic options is crucial. The high content of herbicides and pesticides in non-organic produce are high enough to harm and perhaps even kill cockatoos. Seeds containing cyanide must be taken out, apples, peaches, and cherries contain cyanide About 10% of a feathered friend’s diet should be in fruits and 50% in vegetables. If your cockatoos begin to have watery stools after eating fruit, this is because of the sugar. High sugar content will affect appetites and moods, serve sparingly! The enzymes, vitamins, proteins (amino acids), and other nutrients contained in veggies and fruits cannot be replaced by synthetically made foods, but are provided by fresh and raw foods. Whole grains such as millet, buckwheat, oats, rye barley, wheat, quinoa, spelled, Kamut, amaranth, and rice, are all great sources of carbohydrates to mix in with a cockatoo’s diet. Owners usually soak, cook, sprout, or even let their cockatoos eat them raw. Remember to wash them so some of the pesticides and other micro-contaminants are washed away! A nutritious and tasty catering for your cockatoo and many other of these goodies can be found here!

The problem with an all-pellet diet                                   

Another easy solution that many cockatoo owners run into is the all-pellet diet. Cockatoo pellets are seen as the lesser of two evils, a common view when creating recommendations. One being seeds, the other being pure pellets. Neither has to hurt our cockatoos! According to Pamela Clark, CPBC, CVT :
“Many avian veterinarians believe that parrot owners should be encouraged to feed a 100% manufactured diet to their birds because the majority of owners are not capable of providing a good diet otherwise. I never fail to feed saddened when I encounter this ideology, for it essentially removes the benefit and privilege of choice from the parrot owner. In other words, the owner is encourage to feed a pellete diet, not because of strong conviction that the diet is optimal, but because it is perceive as the lesser of two evils.” Pamela Clark, CPBC, CVT
This lesser of two evils view from manufacturers comes from an understandable view of the average consumer and hectic schedules. Especially as nearly 60% of domestically kept birds show signs of malnutrition when dead. Whether pellets contribute to it or not we do not know, but cockatoo pellets are a way out for many people to keep some form of nutrition for their birds.

What should cockatoos rely on processed foods?

All-pellet cockatoo diets have some nutritional problems such as a lack of enzymes in synthetically made, and processed pellets. Just like us if we do not have these enzymes, our kidney, liver, and stomach health begins deteriorating. Resulting in declining health. Gout, vitamin D and iron toxicity can all result from the high density of protein and otherwise nutritious elements in pellets Just like we do not rely on multi-grain energy bars to keep us fed throughout the day, neither should cockatoos rely on processed foods. There needs to be a balance in nutrition. Both extremes are luckily not the only choices around, we have the choice to keep a healthy balance! By looking at how wild cockatoo relatives survive, flying through all the different ecological zones of the Australian outback, jungle, prairies, and badlands we can try our best to imitate a balanced diet. While also noting the different cockatoo lifestyles our feathered friends have. Through this lens, we try to provide our friends with wholesome and delicious mixes that will keep your cockatoo delighted!

Cockatoo Food FAQ

Frequently asked questions we get about cockatoos and cockatoo diets include:
How much does a cockatoo eat?
A cockatoo eats about one fourth to one half of his or her body weight, the smaller the cockatoo the larger he or she eats relatively to body weight. An 800-gram sulfur crested cockatoo will then eat about 200 to 300 grams of food depending on how active the cockatoo is (medium and larger sized cockatoos require about 4 hours of daily outside-cage time). The best way to measure this is with a digital scale and portion of each food group according to what we mention in the sections above. You can measure our Tropical Feast on the Fly mix, about 2.5 cups of the mix (for one day) per every 250 grams of weight to keep your cockatoo wholesomely happy!
What is cockatoos' favorite food?
Cockatoos will love to munch on seeds and nuts but remember they should only account for only a portion of their diet. They also love sweet fruits such as bananas, strawberries, and apples (with the core taken out) which should be 10% of their diets. Bananas are an excellent source of fiber and potassium, especially to prevent your cockatoo from feather picking and other aggression (chickens cannibalize if not given fiber). Seeds in many fruits are dangerous (we have a list below), but strawberry seeds are fine.
What foods are bad for cockatoos?
There are different types of chemicals and toxins that can seriously harm your beloved bird. The first of these are aflatoxins which are present in peanuts. This toxin was discovered when 100,000 turkeys were killed by the aflatoxins. Remember to avoid peanuts! The usual suspects of deadly foods for animals also affect birds. These include but are not limited to caffeine, chocolate, tea, or coffee. Avocados, onions, garlic, tomato leaves, potatoes, eggplants, and other foods with solanine harm birds. When in doubt, research and ask your veterinarian. Human junk food is avian junk food. Buttery foods, highly fatty foods like potato chips. Salty and sugary foods like candy are catastrophic to your cockatoo’s health. These foods are already bad enough for humans!
What to feed my cockatoos?
Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, spices, and other nutrients including vitamins and minerals should be part of a cockatoo’s diet. Our section above, “What should I feed my cockatoo,” addresses this question.
Can cockatoos eat oranges?
Yes! But remember small quantities. They are very acidic and can disrupt their pH balance.
What fruits and vegetables can cockatoos eat?
Here is a list of fruits cockatoos can eat: Bananas, oranges, tangerines, raisins, apples, pears, currants, strawberries, apricots, fresh pineapples, blackberries, mulberries, loganberries, lemons, dates, raspberries, grapefruits, juniper berries, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, gooseberries, rowan berries, mandarins, melon, peaches, plums, rosehips, hawthorn berries, wild elderberries, and figs. The seeds in apples, apricots, pears, peaches, and cherries, must be removed because of their cyanide concentrations. Vegetables include kale, broccoli, spinach,  lettuce, corn, carrots, and chard. A rule of thumb is that the darker the leaves, the more nutritious the vegetable.
Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids?
The best cockatoo food will be a mix of vitamins, minerals, amino acids (proteins), and spices. These come from grains, legumes, seeds, veggies, and fruits. If you would like to make feeding your cockatoo a treat for both yourself and your cockatoo companion, consider buying one of our rich mixes of carbohydrates, proteins (amino acids), vitamins, essential fatty acids, minerals, and spices.
What pointers should I remember about feeding my cockatoo?
A few pointers below: - Do not use gravel and grit as cockatoos remove the hull of seeds before ingestion, grit can cause digestive problems - Freshwater should provide and change every day, to prevent bacteria from accumulating. - As mention above people food is produced for humans and is not similar to the concentrations birds find in nature - Fruits and vegetables should only stay for a couple of hours at most in their food bowls. They can spoil and contaminate the home of the cockatoos and the cockatoos themselves - Seeds should only account for a portion of your cockatoo’s diet - All food should wash before serving to remove contaminants
I’m going away, can I just put food in a food dispenser and water dispenser when I’m away?
Automatic food dispensers or water dispensers can scare or anger your cockatoo, leaving your cockatoo unfed or starved for whatever amount of time you will not be home, possibly leading to their deaths. We recommend testing your cockatoo’s reactions to new equipment before leaving them alone with it, to make sure they can feed themselves.
Is there anything else that will be needed for my cockatoo besides Bird Street Bistro?
It is recommended that our customers buy a cuttlebone for calcium and a mineral block for other trace minerals. Putting vitamins in your bird’s water supply will help their nutrition. Sunbathing for about 5 to 10 minutes a day will help your cockatoo synthesize calcium so their feathers keep growing beautifully.
How can I get my cockatoo to eat this? They just will not eat it!
Just like children (and even adults), it will take time for cockatoos to acclimate to new types of food. Feeding cockatoos twice a day in the morning and early evening will help them grow a routine so they can expect when their food is on its way. Chopping and dicing your food into little pieces will help new food blend into already established food. If they ignore newer food, keep on trying! Be persistent when you are introducing food that requires for a nutritious, balanced, and healthy diet. For more information on how to introduce new healthy foods to your fid, you can try these 6 great ways! Please do make sure the food does not remain for too long because bacteria and fungi can grow in your cockatoo’s food and food bowl. They are very susceptible to these fungi and bacteria.  

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that the science and research behind a cockatoo's diet is still young and expanding. First, we fed our fids what they wanted (seeds), which lacked the necessary nourishment. We overcompensated with jam-packed pellets. We are taking a holistic approach, by not leaning towards either extreme. It is always best to use what mother nature has provided us. Pure. Simple. Consult your avian veterinarian to determine your bird’s individual dietary needs. Please do leave a comment or share this post, and let us know what you think. We love hearing from our flock, it gives us wings! Have a wonderful day.

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