Today I would like to talk about what is exactly a cuttlebone for birds and why they are important for your budgies health.
Cuttlebone is actually the brittle internal structure of the Cuttlefish – a small, squid-like cephalopod belonging to the family Sepiidae. In Australia, the use of the word ‘cuttlefish’ is commonly used instead of cuttlebone. It’s just another weird Aussie thing I guess!
Here is a short video of what a Cuttlefish actually looks like. A very interesting creature I think.
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw7rebr5aJA by jacektravel1
Before I dig deeper into the topic of cuttlebone, I would like to make a point in saying that providing health supplements for pet birds can be a somewhat controversial subject and the provision of specific health advice is, I think, best left to the experts – avian vets.
And yet a lot of ‘armchair’ experts seem to have a very opinionated view of best practice for budgie health and nutrition. I see it a lot in online forums and Facebook groups – an ‘expert’ declares that dietary supplements are unnecessary and should not be given under any circumstances – or conversely, dietary supplementation is essential and not providing additional nutrition is akin to an act of avian cruelty!
I call B.S on those individuals who seem to make it their business to preach their ‘opinion’ and make the newbie budgie keeper feel intimidated and unlikely to ask for further help.
The vast majority of pet owners ARE responsible people who want to care for their pets in the best way they can. We all do things differently. And that’s okay!
But how on earth does this relate to Cuttlebone?
Well, is cuttlebone necessary for pet birds or is it not? Depends on who you ask!
My budgie loves it, is healthy and happy and so I have no issue in writing about it or providing my opinion!
So now on to the interesting stuff!
What Is Cuttlebone?
Cuttlebone (or cuttlefish as it is known in some countries) is a standard supplement to the companion bird diet and is enjoyed by millions of budgies around the world.
In its natural form, it is most often found washed up on the beach – a white, lightweight, teardrop-shaped object with a hard back shell and a chalky textured front. It is commonly found along the coasts of East and South Asia, Western Europe, and the Mediterranean, as well as all coasts of Africa and Australia, but not found in the Americas.
Cuttlebone is actually the brittle internal structure of the Cuttlefish – a small, squid-like cephalopod belonging to the family Sepiidae. They have eight arms, two suckered tentacles, a circulatory system incorporating three hearts (!) and highly sophisticated eyesight.
Unlike their squid cousins, all cuttlefish have a cuttlebone which is used for buoyancy control. It is comprised mostly of Aragonite which is a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate.
Why Is Cuttlebone Important For Birds?
Most people have heard the saying that calcium builds strong human bones, but did you know that this also applies to birds?
Why Supplement With Cuttlebone
Cuttlebone can be an important dietary supplement for birds because it is a readily accessible, inexpensive source of calcium, which assists with bone formation and blood clotting.
While many fruits and vegetables can also be a source of calcium, many budgies are raised on a seed only diet or tend to pick and choose which foods they will eat, which can lead to deficiencies. Providing cuttlebone (whole or flakes) for your budgie will ensure its calcium requirements are being met.
Cuttlebone Promotes Beak And Jaw Exercise
Besides being an important dietary supplement, cuttlebone has a rough, chalky/ grainy texture, which makes it an ideal means of promoting beak strength and jaw exercise.
Although harder fibrous materials such as wood are more effective at reducing beak overgrowth, when a bird rubs his beak against the rough surface of a cuttlebone, he smooths the uneven outer layer of the beak which encourages healthy, new growth. His jaws get an awesome workout too!
Do All Budgies Like Cuttlebone?
Wouldn’t it be great if they did!
But no, not all budgies like cuttlebone.
If cuttlebone was introduced early on in the budgies life, it might increase the likelihood of it being accepted as a source of nourishment, however, this is no way to guarantee a taste for it. After all, just like humans, budgies have their own preferences and tastes in food!
Luckily, cuttlebone is readily available and inexpensive, so offering one of these to your bird to try isn’t going to send you bankrupt!
Where Do I Get Cuttlebone From?
Cuttlebone can be bought cheaply from any pet store, online or collected for free from the beach.
Collecting Cuttlebone From The Ocean
If you are lucky to live in a coastal area where cuttlebones are commonly washed up (I do – yeah!), you can probably find all you will ever need. If you live in the U.S – sorry, but you will not find cuttlebone washed up on any beach.
Preparing Beach Collected Cuttlebone For Use
Before giving cuttlebone to my budgie, I soak all pieces in a pot of water (with a splash of common vinegar) for 24 hours – changing the water several times throughout. I then boil the cuttlebone in the pot with more fresh water, remove it after 10 minutes and leave it to dry thoroughly.
How Do I Use A Cuttlebone?
Offer It Whole Or Add To Other Food
Most often, a whole cuttlebone is attached to the inside bars of the birdcage in an upright or sideways position.
Make sure that the soft side of the cuttlebone is facing the bird because the hard side is not normally eaten.
Some cuttlebone is supplied with a metal clip which secures the bone to the cage bars. I prefer to use the durable, Prevue Pet Products Birdie Basics Cuttlebone and Treat Holder, which can also be used to hold millet and longer lengths of fruit and vegetable.
If your budgie doesn’t like pecking or scratching at a whole shell, there are other ways of getting cuttlebone into their diet.
You could use a sharp knife to scrape off bits of the cuttlebone and add this to their normal food.
Simply scrape the bone along the edge – this will produce a flake-like piece or even fine powder. Both can be added to seed mix, chop or sprinkled over greens.
They might be a bit wary at first, but in time, should adjust to the addition and consume it as required.
Other Ways To Use Cuttlebone
For a more creative way to provide your bird with cuttlebone, look for toys that incorporate it or make your own! You can as creative as you want with this.
Buy Bird Toys That Incorporate Cuttlebone
There are several companies that use cuttlebone in their toy range and they provide a fun way for your budgie to obtain calcium. Here are a couple of ready to purchase toys: Cool Party Cuttlebone Secrets Bird Chew Toy and Seaskyer Loofah Sponge Chew Toy .
Hanging Cuttlebone Kebabs
You could also make your own cuttlebone toys by drilling holes and stringing pieces on a bird safe length of leather or by skewering them with a metal kebab rod as shown in the fruit kebab below.
I don’t know a budgie that doesn’t like to forage! In fact, food foraging is an important part of daily life for a wild budgie – if they don’t forage, they don’t get food. Our companion pet budgies are often not made to work for their dinner and this can lead to inactivity, weight gain and boredom. For an excellent beginners guide on the importance of foraging for captive birds, I recommend spending 30 minutes to watch this DVD by M. Scott Echols.
Try hiding pieces of cuttlebone in the cage or in foraging trays or play gyms. It’s like a treasure hunt for our birdie friends!
Other Sources Of Calcium
There are many different perches, powders and mineral blocks that are an alternative source of calcium. Most calcium perches are made from plaster of Paris and can also contain artificial coloring or other additives of the manufacturers choosing.
I prefer to use a plain cuttlebone (not colored) as it is the most natural and I try to minimise exposure to potential contaminants sometimes found in artificial colorings. But hey – I’m not the sort of gal to judge if you want to go down this path!
And now over to you…
Without wanting to start yet another debate 😉 I would love to hear your experience in offering cuttlebone to your budgie!
Do they love it or loathe it?
Have you any great tips to share on how to use it? You know what to do – leave me a message. I look forward to hearing from you!