Cuttlebones are commonly found in birdcages everywhere. You know, those ubiquitous white surfboard-shaped mollusc shells that birds chirpily peck onto? But what exactly is a cuttlebone for and why is it found in almost every birdcage in the world?
A cuttlebone is the internal shell of a cuttlefish that provides numerous health and wellness benefits to birds, such as parrots. Apart from supporting your bird’s bone health, cuttlebones also promote optimum beak health and enhance fertility, especially for egg-laying birds.
If you are a bird aficionado, you have probably given your feathered friend a cuttlebone to nibble onto at some point. But do you know the reason why this pervasive sliver of brittle shell is so widely used by breeders and pet owners alike? Let us take a closer look.
What is a cuttlebone?
Contrary to its name, a cuttlebone is technically not a bone; it is the calcareous internal shell of a cuttlefish. This pearly white shell is made of aragonite, or crystallized calcium carbonate, which is well regarded for its high calcium and mineral content.
A cuttlebone is comprised of up to 90% calcium carbonate and also includes various trace minerals such as calcium phosphate, phosphorus, sodium magnesium, iron, and other mineral salts.
In short, it is a natural calcium product that can be safely fed to birds, such as parrots, to support their daily nutritional requirements.
Why do parrots need cuttlebones?
Cuttlefish bones are a common fixture in bird cages for a reason. These pearly white mollusc shells offer a slew of health and wellness benefits to birds, most especially to parrots. Here are some of them:
1. Cuttlebones boost your parrot’s calcium.
Generally speaking, bird diets are naturally deficient in calcium. Giving your parrot a cuttlebone to nibble on can help boost its calcium intake, allowing its bones to strengthen and regenerate.
The calcium content of cuttlebones is also highly absorbable, making it a great supplement to support your bird’s bone health.
Calcium Deficiency in Parrots
Calcium deficiency is a very common issue among parrots.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body of birds and plays a significant role in innumerable physiological functions such as blood clotting, enzyme processes, nerve transmissions, and hormone production, among many others.
Unknown to many, calcium is not easily absorbed by birds as it is usually purged out quickly along with their food.
While calcium-rich foods such as kale and spinach can be safely given to parrots, their oxalate content binds with free calcium and turns into an insoluble compound, which cannot be processed by their digestive system.
The calcium content of cuttlebones, on the other hand, is more absorbable making it a quick and effective way to sustain your bird’s calcium requirements.
Apart from that, cuttlebones are also relatively cheaper than kale, spinach, and other bird-friendly calcium-rich foods, so it’s definitely a more practical way to sneak in some calcium into their diets.
It is important to note that just like humans, birds also need a good dose of vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption. So, make sure to give your feathered pal some “sun time” even for just a couple of minutes a day.
Calcium Overdose in Parrots
On the flipside, parrots can also get overdosed with calcium quite easily. There are also risks associated with excessive calcium intake, resulting from feeding too much-fortified bird pellets, supplements, and cuttlebones.
Always remember that high calcium levels in birds can cause just as much damage as low calcium levels. This is why it is important to take extra precautions, such as giving calcium-rich foods and supplements to your bird in moderation.
2. Cuttlebones promote optimum beak health.
Apart from being a rich source of calcium and essential nutrients, cuttlebones can also help trim and polish your parrot’s beak.
An overgrown beak can make eating difficult for your pet and can eventually lead to malnutrition, so it’s important to have your parrot’s beak groomed regularly.
Nibbling on a cuttlebone can prevent your bird’s beak from growing too long. Contrary to popular belief, cuttlebones don’t sharpen their beaks, instead, it simply acts as a grinding stone of some sort to trim their beaks.
3. Cuttlebones can boost fertility.
Cuttlebones are rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and other minerals essential in supporting a bird’s reproductive health. Giving a cuttlebone to your parrot can help boost its fertility and improve its egg quality.
It is especially important during the egg-laying phase as it helps form healthier and stronger eggs. The shells of their eggs are made of pure calcium carbonate, so it’s crucial for them to have high amounts of calcium in their diet during this period.
4. Cuttlebones provide hours of entertainment.
The benefits of cuttlebones are not limited to your parrot’s physiological health alone. Cuttlebones can also serve as a great tool for entertainment and exercise. So, apart from keeping your parrot healthy, cuttlebones can also keep your pal happy.
With its unique texture and enticing appearance, your noisy feathered friend will surely enjoy hours of nibbling bliss.
If you are looking for additional ways to entertain your bird, we recommend having a look at baby toys (we show you 8 great baby toys for parrots here) and we recommend having a look at our articles on rope perches here – your parrot will love it!
Buying and Preparing Cuttlebones
Cuttlebones are readily available at any pet store, so you surely won’t have a difficult time looking for one.
The ones sold in pet stores are already pre-sterilized and ready to use, but if you’re fortunate enough to live near the sea, you can prepare your own at a much cheaper price—or even for free, if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a cuttlebone while walking along the beach.
To prepare, just boil the fresh cuttlebone for about 10 minutes to remove the strong fishy odor and then let it dry under the sun to achieve optimum brittleness. It’s as simple as that.
It’s important to have the cuttlebone sterilized before giving it to your pet bird as it gets rid of any viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens in it, which may cause diseases.
Cuttlebones are hydrophilic, meaning, they attract moisture in the air. They are highly susceptible to mold and bacteria overgrowth, so it’s crucial that you store them in an air-tight container. Better yet, just don’t stock up a lot since it’s readily available in stores anyway.
How to Give Cuttlebones to Your Parrot
Placing cuttlebones on your parrot’s cage can be a bit tricky. Although cuttlebones come in various sizes, their odd shape can still take up a bit of space on your pet bird’s cage. You can hang it, lean it against the side of the cage, or simply place it at the bottom.
Just make sure that the soft side of the cuttlebone is facing up, or facing your pet because the brittle side can be difficult to nibble onto.
Some bird perches and toys sold in specialty pet shops already have cuttlebones in it, so you can also get these fancy accessories to give your pet some options.
Alternatives to Cuttlebones
While most parrots are keen on nibbling on a cuttlebone, some birds are not too fond of this brittle treat. If your pet bird refuses to nibble on a cuttlebone, you can try giving it in a different way.
Simply scrape off the soft part of the bone, crush it, and mix it with their food (How sneaky, right?). This way, they can still get all the nutritional benefits from it without them knowing.
If you find scraping and grinding and mixing the cuttlebone too tedious, you can just look for other alternatives to make your life easier. Limestone, oyster shell, calcium blocks, and even ground eggshell also make great substitutes for cuttlebones.
Just make sure to clean the eggshell thoroughly before giving it to your bird to prevent contamination.
Cuttlebones provide a natural and convenient source of calcium and other vital minerals to your parrot’s daily diet. It offers numerous health and wellness benefits to your pet and at a very attractive price point at that.
This is why despite being overshadowed by more advanced and expensive dietary supplements, cuttlebones have remained a staple in almost every birdcage in the world. It’s natural, safe, and effective, so it’s definitely here to stay.
Does your parrot really need a cuttlebone? Cuttlebones aren’t really necessary for parrots, but unless you provide your bird with other sources of calcium and a beak trimmer of some sort, it’s highly recommended to get your pet one.
What is the purpose of a cuttlebone? A cuttlebone is an affordable and accessible source of calcium and other vital nutrients, which help support your bird’s physiological processes. It basically serves as a dietary supplement to sustain your bird’s daily calcium and mineral requirements.
Do cuttlebones expire? Cuttlebones do not expire. It will last as long as your bird allows it. However, it’s important to avoid placing it in areas where your bird does its business, so as not to contaminate it and cause diseases.
How long do cuttlebones last? Some birds nibble on their cuttlebone for months, while some can completely chew up theirs in just a week. It really depends if your pet is an avid nibbler or not.