Parakeets and Cuttlebones - The Gnawing InstinctThink of your bird's beak like a long fingernail. It's made out of a tough material that's built to crack open seeds so the bird can eat the nutritious insides. The beak keeps growing, and the bird keeps wearing it down. Many times, though, the bird does not wear the beak down fast enough, and looks to find other ways to keep the beak the proper shape.
This is where the cuttlebone comes in. A cuttlebone can be found in most stores, and is simply a 'nail file' for birds. The birds naturally start gnawing on it when they want to trim their beaks. In the wild they would use all sorts of other natural items to do this sanding, but in a bird cage you have undoubtedly removed all of those nasty sorts of harsh materials. The bird isn't left with anything it can perform this important maintenance with.
If the beak really gets too long, where it starts to cut into the area below the bird's mouth, then it's time to take it to a vet to get a trim. This is a very rare situation, and usually only happens when there is no cuttlebone or other substance for the bird to do this naturally.
In addition to trimming a parakeet's beak, the cuttlebone is also full of calcium, just like other bones. Calcium is an important part of a parakeet's diet.
Note that female parakeets are naturally chewy birds. In their native Australian habitat, they would gnaw out holes in Eucalyptus trees to build their nests in. The female parakeet loves to gnaw. Be sure if you have a female that there are lots of things for her to gnaw on in her cage, from wooden toys to perches to cuttlebones.
Sometimes birds can be afraid of a cuttlebone when they first see it. Remember that for most birds, their cage is their "domain" and they don't like new scary things just appearing in it. So put the cuttlebone in the room but not in the cage for a few days, so they can get used to it. Then put it in the cage in a back corner, so they don't have to be near it until they get comfortable with it. If they're still afraid of it, try putting it on horizontally or cut it in half. Some birds are afraid of a big, vertical thing as it reminds them of big, overpowering birds.
Also, remember that keets have relatively small beaks. They aren't hinged like a snake's. If the cuttlebone is too big, they simply can't really use it. Make sure you get a small cuttlebone meant for a keet - not a gigantic one meant for a parrot.
What Is a Cuttlebone?
As the 'bone' part might indicate, the cuttlebone is the bone in a cuttlefish :) The cuttlefish is Sepia officialis - a mollusk. They are about 2' long and are built of a main body / head plus 10 tentacles. Most mollusks have shells outside their body, like oysters and clams. The cuttlefish has its shell within its body.
Photo of a Live Cuttlefish
Mineral Block Information
In addition to cuttlebones, there are also mineral blocks, which are in essence artificial cuttlebones. Sometimes they are flavored and colored to make them look more interesting. Cuttlebones have around 35% calcium in them, so you want your mineral block to be somewhere in that 25%-35% range.
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