Q: After a gap of more than a decade, we now have another cockatiel. We had to start from scratch buying a new cage, dishes and more, so we figured we'd look into what's the latest and greatest. A book we read said birds don't need grit, but the pet store said they did. What gives?

A: Misinformation about birds is commonplace. And it's everywhere, from bird clubs to pet supply stores to the internet — and even some general practice veterinarians' offices. What we know about keeping pet birds healthy has changed dramatically. Grit (which is finely ground rock) was once thought to help birds grind their food, but it's no longer recommended for most birds by avian experts, including "Birds for Dummies" co-author Dr. Brian L. Speer, a board-certified avian specialist and former president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

Indeed, grit is now thought to have a negative impact on bird health, removing vitamins A, B and K from the digestive system. And grit occasionally leads to a potentially life-threatening problem when the amount of the stuff in the bird blocks the digestive system.

Still, some birds can make use of a small amount of grit. Canaries and other finches can be allowed a couple of grains every few months. Other birds — from budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds on up to the rest of the parrots and parakeets — shouldn't be offered any grit.

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