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Health & Diet

Ask the vet
Caged birds and diet
Vitamin A Deficiency
Weeds for Birds


Ask the Vet

with Dr Ron Woodhead B.V.Sc

What are the danger signs of illness to look for when purchasing a new bird?

When purchasing a new bird inquire of your fellow aviculturists for a reputable dealer. Look over their aviaries and assess their standard of housing and husbandry. Inquire as to the history of the bird you wish to purchase. Was it bred by the vendor or was the bird purchased elsewhere by the dealer for resale ?


Observe the bird in question from a distance. Is the bird active, moving about the cage or aviary freely? The bird should not be fluffed, sitting quietly on the perch or floor. It must be alert and aware of its surroundings. Birds cover their illnesses very well, and it is not until they are very sick that their appearance indicates their condition. Do not feel sorry for the quiet, sitting-on-its-own type, as this could be the first sign of a sick bird.

The next step is to handle the bird and feel its breast bone, making sure that the bird’s weight is within the normal body weight range for that species. The bird should not be too light nor too heavy. Overweight birds can have health problems, as do underweight birds. 

Look at the bird’s feathery. Is it complete? Some cockatiels have bald heads, which is normal for the breed. Are there any abnormal feathers or any stress lines in the feathers indicating previous stress conditions? Check for mites or lice on the bird's body of feathers. Start at the bird’s head and look at the eyes for any sign of discharge or blockages, and at the beak for malformation or scaliness (this could be the first sign of mites). Move the feathers and look into the bird’s ears, making sure they are not blocked or discharging. 

The bird’s beak and mouth should be clean, with no caking of food inside the beak or wetting of the feathers around it or over the bird’s head. Check the bird’s vent, making sure there is no green diarrhoea or soiled feathers indicating diarrhoea. 

The bird's legs and claws should also be observed for normal confirmation and skin texture. Poor confirmation of the feet may interfere with the bird's breeding ability. If a clean dropping cannot be observed for the bird in question, place the bird in a clean holding cage and wait for it to pass a dropping so as to observe its colour, texture and consistency. Birds with abnormal droppings should be avoided. 

A visit to your avian veterinarian with your new bird for further advice and possible tests is also advisable. Additionally, it is advisable to quarantine all new arrivals for 45 days before placing them into your aviaries.

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Caged Birds and Diet

by Mark Upton

The diet for caged birds is necessarily vastly different to that of their wild cousins. Where wild birds are able to seek out their own preferred food (and their choices are many and varied, depending on the time of the year), our captive friends are more or less confined to a very basic diet indeed. In many cases where a bird is being kept as a pet, its diet consists mainly of seed and water only, with the occasional piece of vegetation thrown in--which amounts to bread and water in human terms. Birds can exist on a diet of seeds alone but they most certainly won’t thrive. In reality, they enjoy immensely the textures and tastes of different foods, and these should be included in their diet regularly.

Whiteface-Platinum Hen

Seed should form the basis of the diet, and a high quality mix specifically blended for cockatiels should be the choice. If you keep only a couple of cockatiels, you certainly won’t be looking to purchase 20 kg bags of seed.

Fortunately, most supermarkets now carry the Bird Munchies Cockatiel Blend. For a very long time, however, pet cockatiel owners were forced to feed their birds seed mixes that were simply not suitable for them. They included too many large grains like corn and wheat, sorghum and black sunflower, and if you have been feeding your bird one of these mixes you will have noticed how these grains were never eaten. Cockatiels prefer the smaller grains such as millet. The Australian National Cockatiel Society has worked very closely with the people from Bird Munchies to develop their Cockatiel Blend specifically for the person with only a small number of charges. The blend contains the same proportions of fresh, high-quality grains that most breeders use.

Water should be fresh daily, and the dish washed at each water change.

Greens should be supplied fresh daily, and any uneaten scraps removed at the end of the day. Vegetables need to be well-washed before feeding them to your bird, as they are likely to have pesticide residues on them. Feed only small quantities but vary the offerings made. If your bird is unused to eating greens, he may well shy away from the proffered goodies. But if you persevere, his curiosity will get the better of him sooner or later and he will then eagerly look forward to new treats.

Choose from the following list:

  • carrots - cut into thin, beak-size strips

  • zucchini

  • silverbeet - include the white spine

  • whole string beans

  • corn on the cob

  • spinach

  • broccoli 

  • snow peas

  • celery - stalks and tops

  • cabbage

Things NEVER to feed your cockatiel are avocados, lettuce and bits of house plants.

The gardeners amongst you will probably be able to identify an annual weed around at the moment called Stellaria or chickweed. This plant grows rampantly during the cool parts of the year, and sets flower and seed about now, and these seem to be what cockatiels love most of all. If I take a detour on my rounds and visit the patch of chickweed behind the aviaries, the birds immediately know they are about to receive a treat and start hanging off the front wire, waiting and watching eagerly. When I toss a handful on the floor the birds descend on it like piranha fish. They just love it!

Vitamins are necessary for the good health and well-being of your pet. They may be supplied in either a soluble form, which is mixed into the drinking water, or a powdered form, which is sprinkled over their seed or greens. If you use a water-soluble vitamin supplement, be aware that in hot weather the water must be changed daily, as it goes ‘off’ rather quickly.

Extras, in the form of native tree branches with some bud or flower on them,
are a great source of amusement for a pet bird. They will spend many idle hours stripping leaves and bark, and all the while a picture of contentment. Select from Callistemon, Grevillea, Melaleuca and Eucalypt. Just make sure that no pesticides have been used on the plant before you offer it to your birds. Oddly enough, hibiscus and calendula flowers are favourites as well.

Calcium should be available in the form of calcium blocks or cuttlebone.

Grit should also be made available to a pet bird. Wild birds spend a great deal of time eating small pieces of gravel to grind food in their crops. Caged birds have no such access to gravel, and so it must be supplied. Choose grit which also contains charcoal. I believe that charcoal absorbs a lot of toxins from the crop and helps to maintain the bird's vitality.

The diet of the caged bird is most important, by offering your feathered friend new tastes you will be greatly increasing the range and quality of nutrients being consumed by the bird. This will in turn lead to a much healthier and happier life and for that your bird will thank you.

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Vitamin A Deficiency

by Dr Ron Woodhead B.V.Sc

Based upon an evaluation of the diet, many birds would seem to be chronically Vitamin A deficient, but may appear relatively normal as long as they are free of stress. These birds are usually also lacking in other vitamins, minerals and protein.

Sources of Vitamin A include:

  • spinach

  • parsley

  • endive

  • yams

  • carrots

  • egg yoke

The functions of Vitamin A are classically characterised as being related to vision, skeletal development and tissue maintenance. Early cases of Vitamin A deficiency may manifest as oral pustules. Although these lesions are seen in psitticine birds, the absence of lesions does not rule out Vitamin A deficiency.

Other signs of Vitamin A deficiency are:

  • eye infections

  • nasal discharge

  • intestinal disease

  • respiratory infections

Presenting signs may include severe respiratory distress due to lesions in the syrinx.

Swollen sinuses which are non-responsive to antibiotic therapy could suggest a possible Vitamin A deficiency.

Reproductive failure is another result of Vitamin A and other vitamin deficiencies. The use of a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement on a daily basis, along with a selection of fruits and vegetables should prevent Vitamin A deficiency symptoms occurring in your birds.

Waterworks Rd Veterinary Surgery

07 33661888

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Weeds for Birds

by Andrew George

Pastel Silver CockWhat is a weed? A weed can be described as any plant growing of its own accord in a place where it is not wanted. Weeds are a part of everyday life, and thus we can use some of them to our advantage--this advantage being, to feed them to our birds.

I must stress at this point, before I mention any names, that there are many things to consider before feeding any weeds to your birds.

Pastel Silver Cock

Knowing your weeds is imperative for a start, you don’t want to make the mistake of feeding a poisonous weed to your birds. Once you know your weeds you must consider where it is you are getting the weed from. Never take a weed from the roadside, as the pollution from cars and trucks will be on the leaves and flowers. Be sure that the area you get the weed from hasn’t been sprayed with anything. I wouldn’t recommend taking a weed from a park, for instance, as they are areas often sprayed for pests. The old saying, "it’s better safe than sorry" is a golden rule to follow when picking weeds to feed to your birds.

Following is a list of some of the weeds you can feed your birds:

Most if not all grasses are edible, Avena fatua and ludoviciana are wild oats related to the oats used in seeds and for porridge. Phalaris paradoxa grass and lesser canary grass are related to the canary seeds found in bird mixes. Setaria is millet grass, with italica being a cultivated form and verticulata being a common weed form. Panicum maximum Guinea grass is a tall grass of disturbed areas and provides plenty of food. Wild sorghum is a useful weed though, as with Johnson grass, has been described as possibly causing some poisoning in stock. I have fed it to my birds in small amounts with no adverse effects.

There are many varieties of Amaranthus that you may find, a common one is Amaranthus viridis, also known as green amaranthus, this is what I would call a great weed, as it grows quickly and my birds absolutely love it, from its roots to its seeds.

Gomphrena weed is the one that Galahs enjoy in parks in the summer, and you may find it in your lawn. It has been reported that horses can be poisoned if all they eat is gomphrena weed for prolonged periods. That is not likely to happen to your birds but be cautious.

Milk Thistle:
Sonchos oleraceus is also known as sow thistle. It is enjoyed by birds all over the world, as its milky stem is classed as a delicacy by even the snobbiest of birds.

Brassica juncea, Indian mustard and wild turnip, a member of the cabbage, Brussels sprout family, is enjoyed by some but not all birds. It is cultivated in Russia for oil for medicinal purposes. It may also provide something for birds, who knows?

Portulaca oleracea is a succulent plant that grows in areas where there is high rainfall. It is also called purslane or munyeroo. This plant should only be fed to your birds in small amounts.

Stellaria media is a widespread garden weed. It is regarded as a major problem weed of crops in many parts of the world. It is sometimes used as a green vegetable in cooking.

There are a few weeds that birds will enjoy if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to have them growing near you. Your local library is a good source to identify weeds through books and you local nursery may also be worth a try. Happy bird keeping & happy weeding!

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