What Can Cockatoos Eat? Recommended Diet Guidelines

Cockatoos are a family of parrots known for the crown of feathers used to express their mood.

They are native to the Oceania region, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.

Due to their vocal nature and love of playtime, they have become popular pets.

With outdated cockatoo diet information still commonly shared, it is important know the truth and updated findings on cockatoo nutrition so you can feed your bird a nutritious and varied diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

What can cockatoos eat? Cockatoos can eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, plants, nuts, seeds, and meats in addition to formulated pellets. Most of the raw foods consumed by people are safe for cockatoos, however, some items, such as toxic seeds, avocados, dairy, raw meats, caffeine, and junk food should not be fed.

Food is the most important contributor to the overall health of your cockatoo.

These parrots can live to be 50-80 years old, but optimal nutrition is needed to get them there.

By feeding your cockatoo a balanced and nutritious diet, you can help keep your featured friend around for years to come. 

Cockatoo Diet: Recommended Essentials

Balance is the key to a healthy cockatoo diet. Your bird needs protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in the correct ratios to maintain top health.

An ideal diet consists of:

  • 60% vegetables
  • 10% fruit
  • 20% nuts and seeds
  • 10% other (herbs, legumes, and animal protein fed sparingly)

To ensure that only the most accurate information is given here, I reached out to the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital of Georgia.

Serina, a veterinary technician, confirmed what is provided here to be accurate and shared the following:

For an older cockatoo that might be used to an all- or mostly seed diet, transitioning to a healthier diet can take a while. Most cockatoos will gladly eat fresh fruits and veggies, but getting them to switch from seeds to pellets can be tough – but it’s worth it.

Fresh and Dried Fruits Safe for Cockatoos

Almost all fruits that are safe for human consumption are safe for parrot, and therefore cockatoo, consumption.

Some fruits your bird might enjoy include banana, coconut, berries, papaya, and mango.

If possible, it is important to try to buy organic fruits. The herbicides and pesticides used on conventionally grown produce can be toxic and sometimes fatal to birds.

Fruits should only make up approximately 10% of your cockatoo’s diet. Too much sugar in the diet can lead to watery stools and behavioral issues.

Just like in humans, too much sugar can lead to mood swings and hyperactivity in birds.

Fruit does, however, add beneficial fiber to your bird’s diet. In chickens, cannibalism has been seen when fiber is not included in the diet. 

Considerations With Some Fruit

Most fruits are safe for consumption, but there are considerations to keep in mind for some categories of fruit. 

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is one option to add a different texture and variety to your cockatoo’s diet.

Fruits that are usually dehydrated, such as currants and raisins, make a good addition to the diet but should be fed sparingly.

Through the dehydrating process, the amount of sugar in a whole fruit item is concentrated into the smaller, dried item.

It is also important to check the label on commercial dried fruits, such as pineapple and mango, because there is often added sugar that should be avoided.

Additionally, dried fruits lose some of their nutrients during the dehydrating process.

They are still a good source of fiber for your cockatoo though, and they make a great reward during training. 

Citrus

Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, etc.) are known for their high levels of vitamin C and are often recommended to boost the immune system.

While vitamin C is essential to overall health, bird owners should be mindful of how much their bird is consuming if they also feed a commercial pellet diet.

Pellet diets are often higher in iron than natural foods. Vitamin C increases the body’s absorption of iron and can lead to iron overload disease in cockatoos. 

In addition to watching out for iron overload disease, citrus fruit is also very acidic compared to other fruits.

Including too much citrus in your cockatoo’s diet can lead to pH issues in their digestive tract.

An unbalanced gut will make it harder for your bird to digest the rest of the food it eats. 

Raw and Cooked Vegetables for Cockatoos

Just like with fruits, most vegetables that are safe for human consumption are safe for cockatoo consumption.

It is still beneficial to buy organic when possible due to the toxicity of many pesticides and herbicides.

If organic is not an option, all produce should be thoroughly washed before it is fed to your cockatoo. 

Leafy greens are a nutritional powerhouse for cockatoos. The darker the leaf the better.

While romaine lettuce is a good option, try to incorporate more fibrous, rich greens like kale, chard, and collard greens.

These plants are similar to the rich plant material that wild cockatoos would find while foraging.

These greens are also high in vitamin A, a necessary vitamin for your bird’s immune system. 

Dehydrated vegetables can be a fun way to add variety into your bird’s diet. For example, cockatoos enjoy the crunch of dried carrots, green beans, and squash.

With the moisture removed from the vegetables, they can also be left out longer before spoiling.

If your cockatoo is a slow grazer, this can be a more sanitary option than raw or cooked vegetables. 

Did you know that cockatiels are a member of the cockatoo family? We cover cockatiels’ specific feeding requirements here.

Should Vegetables Be Cooked for Cockatoos?

Most vegetables should be fed raw to your bird. Cooking can remove nutrients from the vegetables.

However, there are a few items that should be lightly steamed before being fed to your cockatoo:

  • Parsnip
  • Yurnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Sweet potato

Meats To Offer Your Cockatoo

In the wild, cockatoos would include small animals, like insects and worms, in their diet.

While cockatoos are primarily herbivores, the added protein helps to keep their skin and feathers healthy. This prevents balding and makes for a smooth molt. 

Your pet cockatoo will get the same benefits from animal protein, but it should be fed sparingly.

Some owners like to include a small amount of animal protein, like half a hard boiled egg or a small piece of cooked meat, once a week.

Dried crickets and mealworms are another option that can be added into your bird’s food mix. 

Safe Dairy Products for Cockatoos

Cockatoos are unable to digest lactose and are therefore lactose intolerant. Dairy products, like cheese, yogurt, and milk, should be avoided for the most part.

Some cockatoo owners will give their bird a small piece of cheese or a tablespoon of yogurt every now and then for the vitamin D and calcium.

This small amount will not hurt your bird, but dairy should not be a regular staple in their diet. 

Safe Nuts for Cockatoos

All nuts are safe for cockatoos to consume. They should be fed raw, not salted or roasted.

You can provide nuts without the shell, but your cockatoo will enjoy breaking the shells off of the nuts.

This is also a good behavior for maintaining a healthy beak. Some examples of safe nuts for cockatoos are:

  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios

Garden Herbs Safe for Cockatoos

Many plants found in your herb garden are safe for cockatoo consumption. Some great options include basil,  dandelion, mint, and oregano.

You can feed fresh herbs or include dried herbs in your bird’s food mix.

Always try to use organic herbs to avoid toxic herbicides and pesticides. Clean your fresh herbs well before feeding to your cockatoo. 

Some herbs also offer medicinal benefits to your cockatoo. Just like for humans, mint can be calming and aid an upset stomach.

Red raspberry leaf is beneficial for egg laying or egg-bound birds. Always check with your veterinarian before including any herbs for medicinal purposes.

Best Cockatoo Treats

Just like us, cockatoos seem to enjoy less nutritious foods as treats.

Nuts and seeds make excellent treats, especially with the shells left on. Not only will this keep your cockatoo entertained longer, but it will also maintain a healthy beak.

Dried fruit, with its high sugar content, also makes a delicious treat for your bird. Treats should be fed sparingly to keep your bird’s diet balanced. 

Never Give These Foods to Cockatoos

A close-up shot of a yellow-crested cockatoo reaching for a pile of assorted seeds and nuts.

While there are almost endless combinations of safe foods to put together for your cockatoo, there are a few items to never feed your bird. 

Toxic Human Food

Any foods containing caffeine, including chocolate, coffee, and tea, as they are toxic to birds. Caffeine can cause heart problems, even cardiac arrest, in any bird.

It should go without saying, but alcohol is also toxic for your cockatoo. It can cause organ damage and failure. 

Onions, garlic, and related foods should be avoided as well.

Junk food, like chips, cookies, and crackers, is another item that should not be fed to your cockatoo.

While it may not be toxic individually, it does not have any benefits for your bird and can lead to obesity over time. 

All Seed Diet

Outdated recommendations for cockatoo diets include an all-seed diet.

Since wild cockatoos consume large amounts of seeds, it was thought that this would also be the ideal diet for pet cockatoos.

However, wild cockatoos are constantly traveling and exerting energy, so they burn through the calories and fat appropriately.

Cockatoos in captivity do not have the same activity levels of their wild counterparts, and therefore do not need the same amount of calories and fat. 

All Pellet Diet

Commercially made pellet diets try to create a product that has all the fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals necessary for your bird’s diet.

While they are better than an all seed diet, they should not be fed exclusively.

The pellets tend to be high in calories and can lead to obesity if overeaten. Also, there tends to be nutrient imbalanced that can lead to overloads or deficiencies. 

If you are going to feed a pellet diet to your cockatoo, it is recommended to feed it as only a portion of your birds total diet.

Your bird will greatly benefit from the added variety and nutrients from fruits and vegetables. 

Hidden Dangers

Some foods seem like they would be a great option for cockatoos, but they actually contain hidden dangers, such a toxins or bacteria. 

  • Seeds that contain cyanide: apple, peach, cherry, apricot, pear
  • Peanuts: aflatoxins have led to many bird deaths
  • Solanine containing foods: avocado, onion, garlic, potato, eggplant

Cockatoo Feeding Tips: General Guidelines

Now that you know the proper diet to feed your cockatoo, there are a few additional recommendations to create the perfect mealtime for your bird.

Portion Size

Your cockatoo should be eating a quarter to one half of its body weight per day, but the amount can vary based on activity level.

A digital scale will help you to make sure all the different components of the diet are weighed to the appropriate amount.

Washing Fruits and Vegetables

Taking the time to wash your fruits and vegetables could be the difference between life and death for your cockatoo.

Conventionally grown produce often contains pesticides and herbicides that can be fatal for your bird. Additionally, some plants have naturally occurring bacteria or fungus growing on them.

Variety of Foods

Offering your cockatoo a variety of food items will provide them with the most balanced, nutritious diet.

Their diet should consist of 60% vegetables, 10% fruit, 20% nuts and seeds, and 10% other (legumes, herbs, and animal proteins).

Routine Cleaning of Feed Bowls

It is imperative that your bird’s feed bowls are cleaned daily, at minimum. This will prevent the growth of harmful pathogens.

In addition to your feed bowls, clean water should be offered and refreshed daily.

If your cockatoo is a messy eater, you might need to change their water and clean the bowl more frequently.

Fruits and vegetables should be removed from food bowls after a couple hours to prevent them from spoiling or attracting pests. 

Supplemental Nutrition

Providing a balanced diet will give your cockatoo almost everything they need.

However, a couple of additions can help make sure they are consuming all the vitamins and minerals required for optimal health. 

  • Cuttlebone: great source of calcium, and birds enjoy scraping their beaks on it
  • Mineral blocks: another fun item to chew on and provide trace minerals
  • Vitamin drops: added to water
  • Sunbathing: 5-10 minuter per day in the sun will increase vitamin D absorption and calcium conversion

What you feed your cockatoo is the greatest contributor to its overall health. Feeding a nutritious diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds will set your bird up to live a long, healthy life.

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