Help, My New Pet Cockatiel Won't Eat!
By Pam Thompson

Dear Pet Adviser: Our new pet cockatiel has been with us for three days and has not touched his food. He is fully weaned at 4 months old and is very active. He does not appear to be ill, but I am concerned that he will starve to death. What can I do?

Sounds like your new cockatiel is just homesick. Due to the stress of changing homes, some young cockatiels that were recently weaned or recently taken away from their clutch mates refuse to eat. Older cockatiels that have lived for years in the same home may also refuse to eat for a period of time. In most cases, all they need is time to adjust to their new environment and a little help from you.

To help your cockatiel adjust better to his new home, here's what you can do:

  • Call the person you bought your cockatiel from and ask what diet (brand of food) they were feeding your cockatiel. A difference in diet may be the only reason why our cockatiel isn't eating.

  • Most cockatiels love to eat millet spray even when they aren't feeling well. Millet is high in calories, which will help provide some nourishment while your cockatiel adjusts.

  • With very tame cockatiels, you can try offering food from your hand. Sometimes this is all that is needed to encourage them to eat on their own.

  • Temporarily remove all the toys. These new items may be frightening to your new cockatiel. Enough so that they are afraid to move about in their cage.

  •  Some cockatiels are afraid to eat from a new feed dish, especially if it is fancy or brightly colored. Try using plain white dishes and later spice it up.

  • Many cockatiels feel vulnerable on the cage bottom, so use hanging dishes and place them near a perch. Additionally, since most birds tend to perch on the highest item in their cage, place the dish slightly higher then all the items in the cage. Keep experimenting with dish placement and you will find that place which is acceptable to your new cockatiel.

  • Don't add any supplements to the food or water until your cockatiel is eating vigorously. The taste and smells of these supplements could be turning them away from eating and drinking.

  • While your new cockatiel is trying to adjust to his new home, his living quarters should not be in a high traffic area. This is not to say put him in a room and shut the door, rather a quiet corner in the family room where your cockatiel can see everyone entering the room at a safe distance. Keeping the cage covered on 2 or 3 sides will also give him a feeling of comfort.

  • A well-bird visit with an avian vet is always a good idea with any new bird to rule out illness.

I've had new cockatiels barely eat a thing for as long as one week. Since I knew they were not sick, I wasn't too worried providing they did not dehydrate or lose too much weight. Eventually by the second week they were eating normally.

Rest assured a healthy cockatiel would not starve itself to death. Once they are hungry enough, their survival instincts will urge him to search out a meal. Providing your new cockatiel is healthy, you should see him eat within the first week. If not, then I strongly suggest you get him to an avian vet.