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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
***Note, please make sure your bird is healthy with a veterinary checkup before making drastic changes to his or her diet, especially when doing this method of change. It can be a pretty abrupt change for some birds. This method has worked for me for over 120 rescues and fosters, however, every bird is an individual and sometimes the timing had to be modified for a slower adjustment. Be especially careful with older birds who have been on a junk food diet for a long period of time.***

So your bird is a seed junkie? Does he prefer Millet to Kale? Does he stick his nose up at Broccoli? Does she think that carrot greens or sprouted seeds are for nesting and not eating? Does your bird act like a typical child looking at veggies in the same way? Welcome to the world of the hard core seed junkie.

Back in 2002, I spent some time volunteering at a parrot sanctuary in NJ. We had parrots of all kinds there, over 80 birds at one point. They would come in from all over NJ, PA and NY and 90% of them were die hard junkies. One poor bird that came in would only eat sunflowers and peanuts or powdered sugar covered doughnuts. Yes, the poor cockatoo was allowed to eat doughnuts for breakfast with his owner, along with a sip of coffee. Horrendous! Most of the birds came in with poor or no feathers, behavioral issues like screaming and many came in with deformities which came from either being raised on poor foods or having parent birds who were given poor foods while raising their babies. 95% of those birds were converted to a healthy diet in six weeks or less using this method.

Continued...
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
First, lets look at what a normal diet is for our birds in the wild.

In the wild, our Cockatiels would eat a variety of items. They are normally ground feeders, which feed on a variety of grass, leaves, flowers, seeds, nuts, berries and grain. They are social feeders and typically feed in flocks from just a few to hundreds. Cockatiels roost in trees near water and travel from these areas in large flocks to feeding grounds. The foods they eat will be in varied conditions from succulent ripe to dried, seeds can be sprouted, dried or immature. They will consume berries and even forage on small insects. Their diet changes according to the available foodstuffs and they can adapt to a wide range of foods.

In captivity, our birds can only eat what we give them. As they are domesticated, their natural foraging ability diminishes and they “learn” to only eat what we offer. There have been many arguments to seed vs. pellet diets and if this is all you feel comfortable offering, your bird may live ok on such diets. BUT, the cost of seed and pellets can get expensive. What if we could offer a more natural diet that would benefit not only our beloved pet, it would cost less in the long run? Not only in veterinary bills but in overall food costs! The simple answer is, convert your junkie! Adding fresh and cooked foods to your bird’s diet will cut your food cost from 20 to 30%! And the added benefit of a healthier bird means less money spent at the vet!
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Safe Foods

So, what foods are safe? Well, cockatiels can eat almost any vegetable and fruit out there with a few exceptions. Avacado, Onion, Shallot, Tomato and regular Potatoes are items that I recommend you avoid. They are not good for our birds at all. There are other items which are not good for our birds such as chocolate, coffee, apple seeds, cherry pits and other items which can be found easily through a search online or here in the forum.

But, some of my favorite and inexpensive bird foods are;
Chard, Kale, Broccoli, Spinach, Carrots (including the green tops), Peas and Beans (dried or fresh but cooked), Cabbage, Lettuce (red, leaf, butter, endive and so on - iceberg has the lowest nutritional value so it would be better to offer one of the other darker leaved varieties), squash, pumpkin, yams, sweet potato, peppers (my birds like them ALL, especially the hotter ones), fresh ginger root and corn. We also find cooked items like Quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oats, whole wheat pasta, eggs (including the shells), barley, corn bread, toasted whole wheat bread, lentils and beans are a huge hit.
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
So – What is the Magic food?

In single word, we refer to the magic food as MASH. Mash can be any mixture of the above safe food ingredients. My base mash consists of the following cooked and fresh foods to begin with.

Cooked portion -
¼ cup Cooked Black beans
¼ cup Cooked Pinto beans
¼ cup Cooked Lentils (green or red or both)
¼ cup Cooked Brown Rice
¼ cup Cooked Quinoa
4 tbsp Cooked Steel Cut Oats
2 tbsp Cooked and Mashed Pumpkin or Squash
1 Cooked, peeled and mashed Yam or Sweet Potato

Combine the above ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that items are cooled. Do not mash beans or grains, only mash Pumpkin, Squash, Yam and Sweet Potato.

Once mixture is fully combined, it can be placed into ice cube trays and frozen so that smaller portions can be served. This makes a large amount!


Basic Bird Cornbread
1 box cornbread mix (Jiffy mix is what we use)
1 egg (including crushed shell)
1 c. fresh or frozen broccoli or mixed frozen vegetables

Mix the cornbread mix as directed on the package.
Add an extra egg, egg shell, and the broccoli or mixed vegetables (I chop fine the vegetables in a food processor). Bake as directed on package. Cool. Cut into serving size pieces and freeze until needed.

Fresh Raw portion -
Carrot with green top
Piece of Broccoli or several Broccoli leaves
Kale
Chard
Red Lettuce
Raw corn cut from the cob
Spinach
Sprouted seeds
Piece of Ginger root
1 slice, toasted, Whole Grain Bread

Combine the fresh raw ingredients along with a piece of Bird Cornbread in a food processor and chop until fine but not liquid.








 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
And Finally -

Combine 1 cube of cooked portion to the mix of fresh raw portion. This is the basic MASH. You can add or change most of the vegetables. I have occasionally added fresh berries into the raw mix.

Now you can combine the basic MASH to a portion of your bird's regular seed/pellet diet. Because the MASH is a little sticky, your bird can not avoid tasting the MASH along with his seed/pellet diet.





So – How do I convert my Junkie?

Whether your bird is on an all pellet, all seed or mixture of both, the premise of this conversion will be the same. Remember, you will not eliminate your bird’s preferred diet overnight. It will take time. He or she will likely have their favorite foods and continue to eat what they prefer but this will widen their horizons and open up their pallet to a more natural way of eating.

I will break this down over a couple weeks so that you can follow along. The photos I have used to illustrate are taken from my own flock feeding and are LARGE amounts to feed a flock of 40+ birds. You need only get the idea and then tailor it to meet your smaller or larger flock needs.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Week 1
Remove all food bowls around 6pm the night before you begin, leave plenty of water. I have my birdies a little on the hungry side before we start. This is especially true if you have a bird who is used to noshing throughout the day instead of eating at a particular time. Don’t worry, once you have undergone the full process, we will return a “nosh” food to your bird’s routine.

Around 8 or 9am prepare the first meal. The mix should be 20% MASH to 80% regular diet of seed/pellets. Offer this for an hour then remove and toss. At first this will seem to be a great waste but trust me, it will be beneficial in the long run.

At around 2pm, offer your bird a few tablespoons of his regular food alone. Leave it for 2 hours, then remove. Be sure to leave water at all times.

At around 6pm, offer the second meal. Again, the mash mix should be 20% MASH and 80% regular food. Leave it for an hour, them remove and toss.

The Mash must be tossed after an hour or bacteria will develop and the food will spoil. We do not want your bird to get sick.

This routine should be your daily routine for a week. Monitor your bird’s progress with a gram scale. Be sure he or she is not losing too much weight while they are learning to enjoy the healthier options.

Week 2
This week, you should increase the mash to 40% and decrease the seed/pellets to 60%. Follow the previous schedule for feeding times. Continue to offer the normal seed pellet mix at around 2pm for about 2 hours only.

Week 3
By now, you should see your bird eating a little of everything. If you do – wonderful! You can leave a few tablespoons of seed/pellets in a bowl throughout the day but continue to remove this bowl by 6pm each night! The Mash should be 50% MASH and 50% seed/pellets for the two feedings this week. Continue to offer once in the morning and once in the evening for an hour each time. If your bird stops eating the MASH, go back to week 2 for another week.

Week 4
If your bird is now greeting you at the door for his morning and evening mash – you will now increase the mash to 80% with only 20% being seed/pellets. Continue to offer the normal dry foods of seed/pellets without the mash throughout the day and remove the mash mix after one hour each time.

Week 5
100% mash is the goal for this week. Your bird should be excited to get the mash now and should be buried in his bowl. You can now offer the mash as a once-a-day or twice-a-day meal and provide a normal amount of dry seed/pellet to nosh on throughout the day. Congratulations!


You can now begin to add additional foodstuffs to your Mash. We have added whole wheat pasta, hibscus flower, apples, nectarines, apricots, mango (a favorite), chopped nuts and many other safe foods. Variation will keep your bird trying new things and will keep him or her healthier in the long run!
 

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Please be very careful while you're teaching your birds to eat better. Drastically reducing the percentage of your bird's old diet can be dangerous if he/she isn't eating as much of the new food if you think. My personal preference is for cafeteria-style feeding, where you provide seed, pellets, veggies, and other healthy foods (like mash) and let the bird decide how much of each one to eat. It's OK to provide only the new foods first thing in the morning, to give your bird more of an incentive to eat it and learn to like it. But the bird should have a variety of foods available for most of the day to make sure that he/she gets enough calories. A balanced diet is important for long-term health but getting enough to eat is more important in the short term, even if it's junk food.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
You all are very welcome. Remember, you want to be sure your bird is healthy and monitor him or her closely when doing this type of conversion. I do agree with tielfan that a cafeteria style is a more preferred way of transitioning, however, there are birds who require a more "cold turkey" approach. You MUST carefully monitor your bird's weight if you do this method. But, when changing your bird to a more healthy diet regardless of the method, you will always want to monitor your bird's weight closely. Weigh your bird and record the daily weight! I can not stress this enough! Using any method of food change should always start with a record of daily weight and monitoring. It only takes a second and a gram scale is $20 at Walmart and a very valuable investment for bird owners. As I said, this method worked for me but every bird is different and the schedule is meant to guide you, it is not necessarily a perfect rule.
 

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Just to reinforce the message one more time, because this can't be said too many times:

Most birds will eventually learn to eat healthier if you go slow and teach them instead of forcing them. If you do decide to use some force you have to monitor the situation carefully, because birds have been known to starve to death rather than eat an unfamiliar food. This is instinctive behavior, not stubbornness; there are a lot of toxic plants in the wild and a bird that eats something unfamiliar could end up dead. Baby birds are flexible-minded and learn what to eat by copying their parents and the rest of the flock, but once they are older it's a lot harder to get them to change.

Don't use force techniques on a bird that isn't perfectly healthy. That would put more stress on a bird that is already in trouble and could make the health situation worse.

A good mash is an excellent addition to the diet, but you don't have to feed a mash diet if you don't want to. There are other ways to achieve a balanced diet, and mash is one of the available options. There's general information about diet at http://talkcockatiels.com/showthread.php?t=27479
 
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