Cockatiel Advice and First Aid 101

Parrot Taming

All about taming your parrot

Cockatiels

COCKATIEL FEARFUL OF HANDS

WHY ARE PARROTS FEARFUL OF HANDS?

Many people ask the question, "Why are birds terrified of hands"? There are a number of reasons. However, one specific reason; is that your hands are a million miles away from your face and body which they recognise! Your hands to them, are a completely foreign scary object, which branches off far from what is familiar to them! This is why it is extremely important to associate your hands with good things when taming, such as yummy treats!

COCKATIELS HATE FINGERS

New parrot owners often make the mistake of offering their hand cupped with fingers pointing upwards, or offering a single finger, when asking a parrot to step up. Most parrots hate fingers and are afraid of them, especially, when first being tamed.The only thing the parrot can see are these things wiggling coming towards them, no wonder the parrot won’t step up, or go near hands.

Whenever you asking any breed of parrot to step up; your palm has to ALWAYS be FLAT, with fingers pointing facing downwards, and thumb tucked in. This is less scary for them, and you won’t get the tips of your fingers bitten.

Offering one finger will often result in a bite. Newly tamed parrots especially, may not feel secure on a single finger; this is because fingers don’t have the thickness of a perch for them to stand steady, they can lose balance; baby parrots are still developing the muscles in their feet.

HOW TO CATCH YOUR BIRD EASILY

Some people find it difficult to catch their bird to place it back in the cage; whether tame or untamed, sometimes they just won't go back in. Often the owner will chase the bird around the room until they both extremely exhausted. This is very dangerous; and sadly birds have been known to die of heart attacks this way. They become so tired and stressed they just collapse, or get trapped behind objects, or fly into walls and windows.

One of the simplest and easiest ways to catch a bird is to make the room as dark as possible. This temporarily stuns the bird, where it freezes for a moment and the owner can catch it. I’ve personally used this method to catch untamed birds, in and out of cages and I've caught them within seconds. This helps prevent any unnecessary stress and injury.

Another option is saving your bird’s most favourite treat for bed time, or for when it’s time to go back into the cage. If you make this a habit, the bird will know that when they go back in they get a tasty reward!

This is also a reason why cages should NEVER be used as a punishment, time out or whatever one wants to call it. The parrot then associates the cage not as a place of security, but a place where he gets punished! From the start cages should be made fun and exciting; do this and the bird won't mind going back home!

AUTHOURS NOTE : One of the most important thing an owner can teach a bird is the step up command, this helps the owner to take the bird back to his cage peacefully. The above methods do work, and are much safer and easier than chasing a bird to exhaustion!

HOW TO SETTLE YOUR BIRD INTO ITS NEW HOME

The position of the cage is very important, please never house a parrot in a kitchen, it is a dangerous place to house a parrot! Parrots can be housed against a wall for a feeling of security. Please never house them next to a TV, the constant flashing of the set can be very stressful, and of course be very noisy.

A new bird should be housed somewhere where he will be with the family, but allowed to get some peace and quiet too, especially at bed time. A parrot needs 10-12 hours undisturbed sleep a night to remain physically and psychologically healthy. So, if your parrot is going to live in the family room, then purchase a travel cage as their sleep cage, and place the bird in a quiet room at night.

If you have brought home a hand reared bird, it may step up on your hand and go straight into the new cage , but if your bird is not used to being handled, then place the carrier against the cage door so the bird can come out on its own, or place the carrier inside the cage . Don’t stick your hand in a grab the bird, this will cause a lot of fear, not to mention you likely to get a nasty bite, especially from a larger parrot!

The best thing you can do now is allow your new bird to get used to its environment, don’t stand over the cage make loud noises, or sudden movements around the cage (children especially should be supervised around the new bird) Many people make the mistake of handling the bird the very first day without giving it time to settle, parrots shouldn’t be handled for at least a week, giving them lots of time to get used to all the new sights, sounds and smells! Yes, this is recommended with hand reared bird’s as well, they may have stepped up on your finger nicely in their known environment at breeders, but you and the environment are now completely new, so they are feeling as vulnerable as any other bird. Movements in cleaning and feeding should be slow and deliberate, the whole time speaking softly to the bird reassuring it.

After the first week, one can begin taming the bird, unfortunately, this is when some new parrot owners may decide to clip their wings “to control the bird.” Unfortunately, many owners have no idea how to tame or Handle the bird, so render it flightless in order to get the bird on their hand .

Birds naturally fly away when they sense danger, not being able to fly away or fly in general has an enormous physical and psychological impact on the bird!

 

POTTY TRAINING YOUR PARROT

Potty training your birds is always easier when they are young, so if you want to potty train your birds, start before they are one year old, and you’ll be able to train them much more quickly. Firstly, let us look into why birds poop so often; a cockatiel for example, will poop roughly every 20-25 minutes. Birds are designed for flight; their entire body and all its functions are built for this purpose, therefore, in order for a bird to stay airborne and be acrobatic in the air they need to remain as light as possible, hence, why parrots don’t have teeth for example, it would add on extra weight. Therefore, a bird pooping as often as they do is something that one has to take into consideration before getting bird as a pet; some parrot owners like myself, have no problem with their birds pooping in their home, a quick swipe with a baby wet wipe will remove a dropping very quickly. However, I can understand that some bird owners may only want their bird’s toilet habits to be designated to one area, so let us look at how we can achieve this SAFELY!
 
I use the word “Safely” above for a reason; some advice given on the internet and in various books will recommend training your birds to poop on command. This can be very dangerous for your bird’s digestive health as the bird will have to hold the dropping until such a time their owners “remember” to give the command to let it go. As you can imagine this can lead to many digestive issues and become very stressful for the bird. Instead, it is safer to train the bird to go potty in a designated area.
 
You start by timing your bird’s bowel movements, as I mentioned above, cockatiels poop roughly every 20-25 minutes, however, all birds are individual so it’s important to get to know your bird’s bowel movements. Have a designated area for your birds to poop in, once you know your birds pooping timeline, place your bird on this spot. When they produce a stool, give them lots of praise and a treat for going potty in that area, this has to be repeated just before each movement.  Another way of doing it is becoming aware of your birds pooping “sign”, for example, a cockatiel will fluff themselves up and kind of squat when they want to do a poop; once you see this behaviour, quickly move the bird to the designated area, again, giving praise and rewarding the bird for his achievement. Eventually, the bird will become aware that this is the area he goes to when needing the toilet. I must warn you that potty training takes a lot of time and patience, it is not taught quickly. Personally, I feel a baby wet wipe is more than adequate. Before I end this article, I wanted to address the new trend of attaching a flight suit or bird diaper or whatever you want to call it onto the bird. These have sadly become more and more popular among bird owners to the detriment of the bird’s mental health. It is completely unnatural for the bird to wear this monstrosity on its body. Birds may develop many behavioural issues such as feather plucking, screaming, biting, self-mutilation, depression etc. If not changed regularly the droppings can stick to the vent causing a blockage, you can also appreciate how faeces and urine can burn their skin and vent. Please, let a bird be a bird. 

RELEASING TAIL FEATHERS

Do you know that cockatiels are able to release all their tail feathers simultaneously. They do this because as ground foragers if a predator attacks them from behind they can release their tails to get away. They do this out of adrenaline when they are terrified.

So when you have an untamed cockatiel don’t grab from behind on their tail feathers. Instead use a small tea towel that has a solid colour, light grey or white is best (not a glove this causes more fear) turn off the light so it’s dark, this temporarily stuns the bird and you can catch him quickly.

Make sure you don’t apply any pressure on its chest as this stops them breathing.

TAMING A BIRD IN THE CAGE

(SO THERE IS NEVER A NEED TO CLIP WINGS)

Start by spending as much time as you can next to your parrots cage, read a book, watch a movie, eat your meals etc. This allows your parrot to get used to your presence (do this in the first week while you not handling your bird) by the second week your bird will be used to your presence and you can start offering it treats through the cage bars. Millet is a hit with most parrots or plain unsalted / unbuttered popcorn.

Once your bird is eating the treat through the cage bars and happily taking it, you can then place the treat in the palm of your hand, hold it still within the cage. Don’t chase your bird around the cage to get it to eat. Whatever you do DON’T starve your bird to get it to eat the treat out your hand (yes sadly people have been known to do this). Simply have your hand still but reachable so your parrot can eat from your palm. This may take time to gain trust for them to do this but be patient. When the bird is eating out your hand quite happily you can then move onto the next step, which is teaching the step-up command within the cage.

Teaching the step-up command within the cage allows your parrot to only concentrate on you. With slow and deliberate movements use a FLAT palm facing down, have your thumb tucked under and place it with one flowing movement, just above the legs and give the command “step up.“ As soon as the bird steps onto your hand give it a treat and praise it (positive reinforcement). Don’t chase your parrot around the cage to step up. If he’s not wanting to or hisses , backs away or lunges at your hand slowly close the cage door and try again once he’s calmed down! The last thing you want is to cause the parrot to bite you by not respecting its warnings.Doing this can then start biting behaviour!

Make your sessions 5-10 mins only at a time this allows the parrot to calm down and refresh itself between taming sessions.You can only have your bird’s full concentration for this length of time. Once your bird has mastered the step up command, you can then take your fully flighted parrot out the cage to give it the freedom it has been longing for.

AUTHORS NOTE: Trust me there is no better feeling on earth than having bonded with your bird and it comes to you willingly! Not because it had no choice because it was clipped and couldnt get away from you.

TEACHING YOUR BIRD TO TALK

I’m writing this article from my own personal experience having taught my own birds to talk. All my parrots have a fantastic vocabulary, with one of my male budgies mimicking roughly 60 or more words and phrases. I’m sure I could teach him many more words if my days weren’t so busy. As I mentioned, I am going to share my own tips and what has worked for me personally, therefore, the advice may be different from what you may read in books or other online articles.

Keep words and phrases very short and direct at the start of training. For example, pretty boy, I’m cute, give me kisses, love you, good boy, sweet girl, etc. Once your bird has mastered these very short phrases, you can extend them, for example, I’m a cute bird, I’m a good boy. Give me kisses I love you.

Be persistent with your teaching and say the exact word and phrases in the same tone every single time, this is very important. For example, one day you may say “Polly is a good girl”, the next day you may say “Polly you are being a good girl” this will confuse the bird, you are adding too much vocabulary too quickly and not repeating the exact phase. You will not teach the bird this way.

Watch your bird’s eyes!! When teaching my birds to talk I know exactly when a word will stick and when they not interested in that particular word and will never use it. Want to know how I know? Here’s my secret, when a bird is interested in a word, they will watch your lips. I can literally sit there and reel off 30 words and my bird will be preening, looking away, scratching its head, etc, but I can say one phrase such as “Bee is a cutie pie” (my budgies name is Bee) and he will start watching my lips as I repeat the phrase over again. So, keep a look out for where your bird’s attention is drawn to because when they like the sound of a word they will watch your mouth as you say it.

Some advice out there encourages you to repeat yourself like a stuck record, repeating a word over and over until you and your bird are both sick to death of hearing it, you do not need to do this in my personal experience. Yes, you need to be repetitive, but you can say the same phrase casually when cleaning out their cage, feeding them, playing with them etc. When I wanted my parrot to say, “This is yummy”, I would only say it every time I saw him eating, I didn’t have to say it repeatedly every time I walked into the room. A bird will not be interested in learning anything if they are sick, tired, preening or sleeping. Therefore, choose a time to teach when your bird is interactive, alert and in good health.

 

TEACHING YOUR PARROT THE RECALL COMMAND 

When we welcome a new dog or cat into our home it is only natural for us to teach them to respond to their name and come to us when called. Therefore, why is this basic command rarely taught to a pet bird? This simple recall command may save your birds life, especially, if they escape outdoors. Below I have listed a few recall training steps. Please bear in mind that all birds are individuals, therefore, will learn at their own pace. These training sessions should be kept short (5-10 minutes) and can be repeated two to three times a day; spread the session out over a period of time. The best time to teach a parrot anything is when they are most active such as in the morning and early afternoon; trying to teach a bird late at night or at times when they are feeding, preening, and sleeping will be a waste of your time.
 
1. Find out what your bird’s favourite food is and use this as a positive reward. Birds that are not food motivated may instead respond positively to lots of praise. You may use a clicker if your bird is clicker trained in conjunction with a treat reward.   
 
2. Decide on your recall command. Choose a phrase such as your birds name followed by come here, or you can make up a whistle your bird will respond to.
 
3. Start by having your bird on a tabletop or the floor. Place your bird on the opposite side from you and call him, the entire time showing the bird the titbit you have in your hand. To begin with reward any movements your bird makes towards you, such as taking just one or two steps.
 
4. Once your bird gets the hang of it you can then move further away and repeat the basic training exercise in step 3.
 
5. Once the bird is responding well and coming when called on the tabletop or floor, you can then take it to the next level and hide around the corner and call your bird. During this phase continue the recall command, always encouraging your bird to come to the sound of your voice. Always reward your bird and give lots of praise. If the training is made fun your bird will enjoy it, and you may get faster results.
 

A cockatiel

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