Taming And Training Cockatiels: What You Need To Know

Everyone sees cockatiels as friendly and intelligent birds, but it takes hard work in taming and training cockatiels to become like that. As a new bird owner, read this guide to learn what you need to do.

When buying a pet bird, you’d usually prefer to get one that’s easy to tame and build a strong bond with.

This is one of the main reasons behind the popularity of cockatiels, especially among children.

However, to tame a cockatiel, you need a lot of patience, some experience and like everything in life, a bit of luck.

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    As the first step, you need to earn its trust. You can eventually train a cockatiel well enough to even teach it some tricks.

    I understand you might be excited to train your new pet, so let’s get right into it without beating around the bush.

    Taming And Training Cockatiels

    What Is The Right Age To Train A Cockatiel?

    Just like almost any other species (even humans), it’s best to train your cockatiel at a young age. They are the most malleable then and it is easy to get their attention.

    You should start training the bird when it’s about 8 to 12 months old. Even if you start a bit later, it should be before the first six months.

    Adult birds are much more difficult to train, and you may not get satisfactory results.

    We have added a section at the end on how to go about taming an older bird, if this is what you are looking for, you might want to skip ahead.

    How To Build Trust?

    As I warned in the beginning, you can’t tame a bird unless it trusts you. It takes some effort to build trust with a cockatiel as they are prey animals in the wild.

    Their wariness of human interaction is a survival instinct for them. Here are some tips on earning a cockatiel’s trust.

    Stop trying to touch it

    A common and big mistake that bird owners make while trying to tame their pet is extending their hands or fingers inside the cage right away.

    Cockatiels are scared of hands, which means you’re making them afraid of you rather than gaining their trust.

    You might even get a few nips and scratches in the process because the bird is not afraid of using its sharp nails or biting using its nippy beak against what it perceives as threats.

    To avoid this, you might have to learn how to trim your bird’s nails as well.

    Taming And Training Cockatiels
    Don’t touch the cockatiel, let it come to you instead

    Don’t let it fly around

    Don’t let your cockatiel out of the cage and allow it to fly around until you have trained it. It’s best to take the bird to a vet and get its wings trimmed to prevent it from flying.

    Don’t worry; this won’t hurt your pet, and the wing feathers will grow back.

    If you let the bird fly before you tame it, you will have to chase it around and catch or trap it (discussed below). If you are afraid, this is going to happen.

    The cockatiel would see this as a huge breach of trust and will become harder to tame. One way to prevent your bird from flying around is to learn how to clip its wings.

    Catching a cockatiel

    If, for any reason, you find yourself in a situation where you have to catch your cockatiel, do the following:

    • Do not grab a cockatiel from behind to catch it. Cockatiels can detach all their tail feathers from their body in one go. Because they are ground foragers in nature, if a predator attacks them from behind, they have this survival mechanism to release their tail feathers to get away. They do not have extra body weight or sharp teeth to fight, their instinct is to escape.
    • Instead, get a small, neutral-colored towel (white or grey is the best). do not use a glove as that can be scary for the bird.
    • Turn off the lights quickly to temporarily stun them and quickly catch them from behind.
    • Do not put pressure on their chest while holding them. this can obstruct their breathing. Instead, hold them gently, ideally with fingers wrapped around their back and stomach or abdomen.

    Chat with your pet

    I know you might find this a bit silly, considering your cockatiel cannot understand you.

    However, when you sit by its cage at eye level and talk or whistle to it softly, it will grow more comfortable with you. You can consider bringing your face within its visual range and making eye contact.

    Say encouraging words. Praise it. Cockatiels are intelligent. Your bird probably does not understand the words, but it will soon catch on to the tone.

    Don’t rush it – the bird will slowly come to you by itself when it wants to. You can understand from its body language as to how comfortable it is doing so.

    Do this for only 10 to 15 minutes per training session, twice a day, or several smaller sessions.

    Treat it

    The next step should be to offer treats by hand. Once in a while, take a treat and hold it out inside the cage while talking to the bird softly. Start with holding it just inside the cage door.

    This is also a perfect time to teach your cockatiel its name by using it as you talk to the bird.

    However, you should try to hand-feed a cockatiel only after it’s comfortable with having you close by.

    How To Start Training Your Cockatiel?

    Now that you have the cockatiel’s trust and it has learned your voice, you can start training it.

    Keep a lookout for behavioral changes that indicate that the bird has grown comfortable with its surroundings.

    Apart from spending more time exploring the cage and playing with its toys, the cockatiel will also walk across the cage to come closer to you.

    Can Cockatiels Eat Asparagus
    Let your bird walk around its cage

    Hand-taming a cockatiel

    As mentioned previously, cockatiels are scared of hands. This is because they cannot relate to the hand or the fingers as a part of the friendly person they are familiar with.

    Instead, they perceive your hand as a different entity that branches out from your body and snakes towards them.

    Handfeeding them treats should already help get them to associate your hand with happy experiences.

    Start during meal times and with their favorite foods like millet or seeds like sunflower seeds or even popcorn. The cockatiel will eventually be less suspicious and would slowly start to approach your hand.

    It takes patience to hand-tame a cockatiel – wait for the bird to make its move, and don’t make sudden movements.

    Sometimes, it may take a couple of days before the cockatiel starts eating from your hand.

    Once they’re accustomed to being handfed, place your hand inside the cage without any food.

    You’ll see your efforts paying off when the bird walks over to your hand, even without the incentive of a treat.

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      Holding the cockatiel

      I remind you again – never rush when trying to train a cockatiel. This might cause unwanted stress and aggression in the bird. You should try to hold the bird only after you have hand-tamed it and it loves your touch.

      Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t hold a bird the same way you’d hold other pets.

      Never wrap your hands around a cockatiel you are trying to train – it makes them feel trapped and scared.

      Rather, slowly reach out with your index finger (or the index and middle fingers), approaching the cockatiel’s chest with the side of the finger.

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        Taming And Training Cockatiels
        Don’t try to hold the bird, reach gently with your finger

        Gently press the side of your finger against its chest to make the bird step forward and get on your finger.

        Remain very calm and still, and speak gentle words of encouragement to your pet. If the cockatiel gets scared and rushes away, wait a bit and try again with patience.

        Don’t rush the bird or try to push it when you need it to get off your fingers. Move your hand next to a cage perch and gently press the bird against it.

        This will make it step down on the perch, just like it stepped onto your finger earlier.

        Taking your bird outside the cage

        You shouldn’t keep a cockatiel confined within its cage 24/7. Cockatiels need some activity to stay healthy, and leaving them in the cage for too long can also get them too attached to it.

        You may gradually start letting it out of the cage when the bird is comfortable with letting you hold it.

        The next time you hold the bird, gently bring your hand out of the cage while it sits on your hand or arm.

        Be careful not to bump into the cage bars, perches, or any other obstacles, as it would startle the bird.

        In case the bird feels scared or uncomfortable and gets off your hand, just be patient and give it another try.

        How To Train Your Cockatiel To Step Up

        You can eventually get the cockatiel to step on your finger by giving it verbal instructions. Here’s how:

        • Pass a simple command like “Step up” every time the bird starts to step on your hand. Always praise it when it follows your command.
        • Repeat the process when it steps up with the other foot too, rewarding it again. After a few days of practice, it won’t need a reward anymore. The cockatiel will learn to step up on hearing the verbal command.
        • Once your pet learns to step up on your finger, you can teach it to climb up a ladder the same way. It would be just like making the bird get off and step on a perch, except with a verbal command.
        • The same command should work for this too, but you can also use another basic command, like “ladder.”
        • If you have some trouble teaching your cockatiel to climb onto a ladder, you may first train it to step from one hand to another on verbal commands.

        Taming And Training Cockatiels
        Learning to step up is the first step in training and older cockatiel

        Training To Do Other Tricks

        Like most parrots, cockatiels are intelligent birds and their learning abilities aren’t limited to just stepping up on your hand. You can also train them in several other ways.

        Clicker training

        Whenever your cockatiel displays good behavior, use a clicker to make the same clicking noise and follow up immediately with a treat. Do not neglect to reinforce good behavior. Like humans, cockatiels learn by repetition.

        You may also tap on the cage to make a distinct noise if you don’t have a clicker. Eventually, the bird will just accept the sound as its reward, and you won’t need to treat it anymore.

        Teaching it to talk

        As you might already know, cockatiels can talk by mimicking human speech. You may train your pet to talk by repeating a phrase with an animated facial expression and the same tone a few times.

        If the bird finds the phrase interesting, it will look at you and cock its head, dilate its pupils, or show some other reaction. Don’t forget to treat the bird when it repeats a phrase.

        Walking on a tightrope

        This is an easy trick to teach your cockatiel since these birds are very accustomed to climbing on tree branches in the wild.

        Hang up a sturdy rope between two supports and get the cockatiel to move along it by offering treats for any progress it makes.

        After training the bird for a while, you can get it to cross the entire length of the rope by just holding the treat at the other end and passing your command.

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          Always remember to praise your cockatiel when it makes progress. Some cockatiels would like you to stroke the back of their heads as a form of encouragement.

          Taming And Training Cockatiels
          Remember to praise your bird regularly

          How To Train An Older Bird

          An older bird who has been neglected in the past or is unaccustomed to hand-feeding and handling is a bit harder to train.

          Although new bird owners would admittedly have some trouble, experienced bird owners can still train an older cockatiel. I’ll leave some tips for training an older bird.

          • If you buy an older bird, keep in mind that there’s a high chance that it may have suffered significant trauma. Older birds often end up for sale after being surrendered or rescued due to the inability of the previous owner to provide adequate care or poor treatment by their owners. It will take you significantly longer to build trust with birds that associate human beings with abuse.
          • Be especially careful with an older cockatiel as it might bite you if it feels threatened. You may need a veterinarian or a cockatiel expert to help with an overly aggressive cockatiel.
          • When sitting next to the cage and talking to your bird, don’t get so close that it feels threatened.
          • A hand-shy older bird might hiss at you and back away when you try to feed it. Be patient and gentle and talk to the bird softly to reassure it.
          • The process is almost the same as training a younger bird. You just have to show much more patience and affection.

          Frequently Asked Questions

          What is the fastest way to tame a cockatiel?

          I’ll be honest – there’s no way to rush it when taming a cockatiel. You have to be patient about it and give the bird as much time as it needs.
          Hurrying and making quick movements will only scare the bird and it will take longer to tame.

          Is it hard to train a cockatiel?

          Cockatiels are relatively easy to train as they are highly intelligent and social birds. The only difficulty is gaining their trust, but even that shouldn’t be too hard if you are patient.
          Just make sure your pet sees you as a friend and associates your approach and touch with good experiences.

          What not to do with a cockatiel?

          New cockatiel owners often make mistakes that ruin their bond with the pet and cause unnecessary trauma.
          Never force your cockatiel to do something or punish it – use positive reinforcements instead. Also, do not grab the bird, pet it on the body, or approach it from above – doing these will scare it.

          Should I let my untamed cockatiel out?

          It’s best not to let an untamed cockatiel out of its cage. If you haven’t built a bond with the bird and earned its trust, it won’t come to you voluntarily.
          You will have to chase and catch it, which would be rather counterproductive and make the bird even more scared of you.

          What type of music do cockatiels like?

          Cockatiels love to dance to high-tempo music. They are quite famous for their head-bobbing antics and there are many videos online showing them indulging in this activity.
          Over time, some cockatiels even learn to mimic the tunes or whistle the sounds in their own way.

          Wrapping up

          As you now understand, taming a cockatiel isn’t too complicated.

          It’s as simple as being nice to it, showing it that you don’t mean any harm when you get close, and giving it treats.

          It’s a cockatiel’s nature to be afraid of loud noises and sudden movements.

          You can’t do much about it besides being patient and careful. Thank you for your time, and I hope you and your cockatiel will become best buddies.

          Photo of author

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          Beautyofbirds.com's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

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