What do cockatiels eat? | Diet & nutrition

As with all pets, feeding your cockatiel a high-quality and varied diet is one of the main keys to keeping it happy and healthy. Unfortunately there are still a lot of myths out there about what cockatiels and other parrots should be eating.

So what do cockatiels eat? Keep reading to find out all about cockatiel diet and what you should be feeding your bird.

What do cockatiels eat in the wild?

Although wild and domestic cockatiels have different dietary requirements, it’s still helpful to take a look at wild cockatiel diet. What have they evolved to eat in their harsh Australian native lands?

Cockatiels can be found almost all over Australia, generally preferring inland regions. Although these habitats are usually arid, the birds do tend to stay close to water. They are nomadic and move around in search of food and water sources if they have to.

Tip: Want to find out more about wild cockatiels, where they live and their habits? Check out the full article: Where do cockatiels live?

Like budgies, which are found in the same areas, cockatiels are ground feeders. Their food of choice are seeds: they’ve evolved specifically to be able to shell and eat a seed at turbo speed.

Which seeds are consumed depends completely on where the cockatiel lives and what’s available. Jones (1987), for example, found that the cockatiels studied had a strong preference for sorghum, although they ate a whopping 29 different types of seeds. Young and soft seeds were preferred.

In addition to seeds, cockatiels in the wild will eat pretty much anything they can get their beak on. They’ll raid farmers’ crops, snag up unsuspecting insects and happily dine on berries, fruits and veg if they can find them.

As for water, as is to be expected from a species that inhabits such arid habitats, cockatiels can go for quite a while without. They’re vulnerable when they drink, so they tend to gulp large amounts and quickly return to paying attention to their surroundings.

Did you know? Research suggests that cockatiels have a decent perception of taste. This comes in handy for them to figure out whether a food is toxic or not.

Matson, Millam & Klasing, 2004.
Lutino cockatiel puffed up and sleeping | What do cockatiels eat?
Hover over image to pin to Pinterest!

What do cockatiels eat in captivity?

Wild vs domestic cockatiels

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep the feeding habits of wild cockatiels in mind when thinking up a feeding routine for your domestic ‘tiel. After all, they’ve evolved for a very long time to get to where they are now in terms of feeding habits!

This being said, we can’t view wild and domestic cockatiels as equal. A wild cockatiel is nomadic and always on the go. They’re active birds that, during difficult times, have to work hard to find enough food and water. In captivity that’s obviously a bit different.

As much as you try to let your cockatiel out of its cage and stimulate active behavior and playing, a domestic cockatiel is never going to need as many calories of a wild one. Where seeds are the perfect high-energy food choice for wild cockatiels, a pet one is just going to get fat off them.

This being said, there is still a lot of discussion about seed-based diets vs diets based on commercial pellet foods. United States-based parrot enthusiasts seem to lean more towards pellets, while in Europe and other parts of the world seeds do still tend to be a popular choice.

So what’s the way to go in the end? Whatever you decide to feed your cockatiel, the key to success is always variety.

Grey cockatiel parrot being offered seed from two hands | What do cockatiels eat?

What can you feed?

The short answer: lots of things!

The long answer: most cockatiel enthusiasts prefer feeding a base diet of high-quality pellets. However, just offering pellets is also not going to cut it. In reality, feeding any type of food exclusively will eventually lead to issues like obesity and/or nutrient deficiencies, which can greatly shorten cockatiel lifespan.

Rather than relying on just pellets, you should be throwing in plenty of other foods for variety. Think vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, grains, sprouts, herbs, nuts (as treats) and even common garden weeds like dandelion leaves.

Did you know? Cockatiels, unlike some birds like pigeons, shell seeds before eating them. Because of this, you don’t need to add any grit to their diet. It can actually cause problems.

Although it can be difficult to get your cockatiel used to something other than seeds, offering a varied diet is very important, so keep trying. Feeding lower-calorie and more nutritionally dense foods is the best way to prevent obesity and make sure your ‘tiel lives a long life.

An example of a cockatiel diet plan could be:

If you’d like more in-depth information about all the different types of foods out there that you can feed your cockatiel, check out the article on parrot food and diet.

Tip: Don’t forget to also have a cuttlebone or calcium block available for your cockatiel.

Male grey cockatiel parrot eating grass.
Foraged grasses are tasty and fun!

Can cockatiels eat…?

There are a few foods that commonly get asked about. Let’s take a moment to go into whether your ‘tiel can eat them or if they’re unsafe!

Can cockatiels eat strawberries?

Yup! They’re high in sugar, though, so don’t make it a daily thing. ?

Can cockatiels eat bananas?

Yes! If you’re having a banana, you can totally share a slice with your cockatiel. ?

Can cockatiels eat grapes?

Yes, and many ‘tiels love them. Very high in sugar, though, so don’t give more than half a grape once in a while. ?

Can cockatiels eat watermelon?

Yes, although again, sugar. ?

Can cockatiels eat apples?

Yup, and they tend to appreciate the crunchy texture. Leave the peel on, though be sure to wash the apple. ?

Can cockatiels eat oranges?

Yes, although you should take it easy when it comes to citrus fruits. Oranges and clementines are okay in small quantities but lemons and limes are a bit too acidic. ?

Can cockatiels eat carrots?

Sure, and they’re a pretty healthy choice. ?

Can cockatiels eat bread?

You can totally share a few crumbs with your cockatiel, but don’t overdo it. Many types of bread contain salt or even sugar. ?

Can cockatiels eat peanut butter?

All-natural unsalted peanut butter is fine, but very high in fat. Tiny bits here and there won’t do any harm, though. ?

Can cockatiels eat cheese?

A little bit of cheese probably won’t do any harm, but this is really a human food, not a bird one. ?


If you have any more questions about cockatiel diet or want to share your own experiences with these spunky mini cockatoos, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. ?

Jones, D. (1987). Feeding ecology of the cockatiel, Nymphicus-Hollandicus, in a grain-growing area. Wildlife Research14(1), 105-115.

Matson, K. D., Millam, J. R., & Klasing, K. C. (2004). Cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) reject very low levels of plant secondary compounds. Applied Animal Behaviour Science85(1-2), 141-156.

8 thoughts on “What do cockatiels eat? | Diet & nutrition”

  1. My ‘tiel crew always loved loved LOVED their sprouts. The lady who I got my very first tiel from was very much against a seed diet for caged birds, and taught me about sprouting, how much better sprouted almost any seed was so much better. All the tiels she raised were partially parent fed and partially hand fed and we’re just so darn fun and sweet, and healthy. But their parents got fresh chop, always special little pots of grasses for then to munch, sprouts all the time. I followed her example, and both I got from her ( the only two I ever bought, discovered soo many people get bored with their birds easily..sheesh) lived long and healthy lives, as did most of the rest I ended up adopting along the way. I miss the noise and the activity, but I’m getting old… Maybe if I move to a place I can have a pet I’d have one more for the road..but, shoot, I’ll be 60 in a few months, the birdy’ll probably outlive me:)

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  2. Cockatiels do not need pellets in their diet and are seed eating birds in the wild. While Tops cold pressed pellets are a better choice than heat processed pellets, they are unnecessary.

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    • If you were to sprout a good percentage of the seeds and provide a great variety, maybe. Other than that, I don’t see how you would keep the calories down enough. Wild birds move a bit more than our domestic ones.

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