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Care of Your Cockatiel

When you first get your pet home you should leave it fairly undisturbed for a few days while it takes in its new surroundings and gets used to them. If you have bought a tame baby the only thing that you will have to do to begin a rewarding pet relationship is to gently take it out of its cage and play with it for short periods several times a day. There are 2 good reasons not to overdo it. First, the baby should not be separated from its food and water for extended periods. It is still growing rapidly, eating often, and sleeping more than an adult bird. I would suggest keeping early play sessions under 15 minutes then returning the baby to its cage for at least twice as long as it was out. Second, it is tempting to lavish a great deal of attention on a new animal for a few weeks while you are very excited about having a new friend, then, just as it becomes accustomed to a high level of human interaction, sharply reduce the amount of time you spend playing with your bird as other things in your life reassert their usual priority. If you can, its best to figure out what level of interaction you're likely to be able to sustain over the long run and start as you intend to go on.

These play times are a good opportunity to introduce the up command which will be important throughout your bird's life as a means of keeping it tame and reminding it who is flock leader in your house. It is very simple. Just put your extended finger crosswise against the bird's chest and say "up" or "step up" in a firm but not aggressive voice while gently pushing up and back. The bird will lose its balance and step up onto your finger. Soon it will respond to the verbal command without your having to push against its chest. Laddering is an exercise where you have the bird repeatedly step from one hand to another. A few minutes of laddering each day is your best insurance against dominance related behaviour problems later on.

If you have an older, never tamed bird or a lapsed hand-fed you will have to take things much more slowly. The initial period of adjustment will be a bit longer and the taming will go much more slowly. I begin with a good wing clip since a non-flying bird can't run away as easily and is more dependent on me. Then I start by simply holding my hand inside the cage while talking to the bird in a soothing voice. It doesn't matter what you say -- you can read the paper, recite poetry, discuss politics (if you can keep your voice calm ), whatever. When the bird has settled down from its initial reaction to your hand you can either end the session with a bit of praise for the bird or you can move your hand a bit closer and keep talking. Just be sure to hold your hand still, the bird will never settle down if you are wiggling it around.

After you've made progress with the hand in the cage you will want to get the bird out to interact with it outside its secure territory. Some birds will come out on their own, others are cage bound and will not venture outside the only oasis of security they have ever known. If your bird will come out you may be able to get him to step onto a spare perch so that you can move him to a small, enclosed room where the two of you can be alone in an environment where the bird will be inclined to cling to you as the only familiar object. If not you will have to towel the bird to get him out of the cage (gently cover him with a medium size towel so that he can be handled without fear of being bitten, because the bird's eyes are covered it can't see any danger and is more tolerant of handling). This is best done in a steady, no-nonsense manner that is neither aggressive nor so timid that you fail. Do not begin unless you are sure that you have the stubbornness and the patience to maintain your efforts until your bird is out. If your bird is extremely nervous you will do nothing but take him out and then return him to his safe place. If the bird accepts the towelling without panicking carry him to a small, enclosed space such as a shower enclosure, a small hallway that you can block off, or a closet that isn't so cluttered as to be dangerous. It must be out of sight of its cage. Personally I've always used the shower enclosure. The point is to get the bird into a place that's too small for it to be able to easily run away from you.

Since you are the only familiar object in the area and it can't see its own territory it will be much more responsive to taming. Continue to talk to your bird and, when it seems calm offer it your arm, or a spare perch and begin to teach the up command. Never end the session until some progress has been made -- at least a reduction in nervousness -- but don't drag it on. Short, frequent sessions are best In time you will be able to pick the bird up on your hand and carry it about. Petting or using your hand to pick the bird up inside the cage may be a long time coming but may be possible in the long run. Persistence and constancy are the key.

HISTORY AND ORIGIN

Cockatiels (Genus Nyphicus) are native to Australia. These birds were brought to England in the 1800's probably on the return trip from Australia which was a penal colony at the time. The birds popularity increased and it is one of the most popular pet birds. Much of the popularity is due to the sweet nature of the bird and it's colourful head and crest. It is also a bird that is easy to tame and hand-feed.

TYPES OF COCKATIELS

Cockatiels come in several different colour mutations:

There are many other cross-mutations of cockatiels, but above are the most common mutations.

BEHAVIOUR AND TRAINING

Cockatiels are very affectionate and need lots of attention. They will screech some if they do not get it. They are curious and sweet. A cockatiel will ride on your shoulder as you clean the house or watch television. They are less destructive than the larger parrots or Love Birds.

The best cockatiel to get is a hand-fed cockatiel. They are taken from their mother before being weaned and fed by a human. This allows them to bond to humans and not have fear. It also makes them need human attention.

Cockatiels can be taught to talk, but it is easier if they are the only bird in the house. If there are other birds around, they may not feel any need to communicate with you. Training them to talk is easy - just think frequency, repetition and rewards. Take your cockatiel on your finger and talk directly toward them in a sweet voice. Repeat the word you want them to say over and over. Keep the training sessions to 5 minutes or less, but do it several times a day. Reward them with praise or favourite food if they attempt the word. Then only reward them if the word is spoken correctly. You can also try a tape or CD for training your bird to talk from a pet supply store.

One thing to watch out for is puberty. Around 1-2 years old males go through a puberty and can become aggressive. This is true for even hand-fed birds. It is a time to be patient. It will go away, but your sweet loving boy bird may turn into a terrible teen for a while. It is just a phase they go through. Females do not seem to go through it, or certainly not to the same degree.

Puberty is probably the precursor to the male dominance of your cockatiel. They often become little macho birds when they are over 2 years old. Again, be patient. They will have episodes of trying to be the boss, but it will not be forever.

Cockatiels prefer a varied diet. Seeds, pellets, fruit, and vegetables. They also like crackers, bread, pasta, and anything you are eating. Stay away from excessive fat, sugar, and salt. Make it interesting for them by giving them a little pasta, even with sauce. They love it.

Purchase only seeds and pellets created for cockatiels. Do not be surprised, though, if your bird rejects cockatiel mixes. Often they prefer the foods made for smaller birds, like parakeets. They tend to be delicate about seeds. For more information on feeding click on Feeding.

Cockatiels like to climb, so get them a cage that they can climb around and stretch their wings. Remember, a cockatiel has a very long tail and they need enough room to walk around without damaging their tail. Don't be fooled into thinking a small cage is the best. Get one at least greater than 20" square. They really need the room to move around.

A talking bird can be a lot of fun. Some birds are great talkers like the African Grey Parrots or amazons. Other birds, like canaries will never talk. The larger breeds of parrots tend to be the best talkers, although a cockatiel can certainly talk. If your breed is a possible talker, you can train them to improve their vocabulary and amaze your family and friends.

A talking bird can be so much fun and sometimes annoying. I have heard stories of birds that wanted to get out of their cage by saying "Mom, let me out Mom." Or birds that picked up some less savoury language from owners who thought it was cut to have a cursing bird - not good manners anywhere. Be a responsible bird owner and don't encourage the use of foul language with your bird.

There is some debate whether a bird is really talking or just mimicking human speech.

Dr. Pepperberg of University of Arizona and Brandeis University worked for over 20 years with an African Grey Parrot named Alex. She found that Alex could distinguish shapes, colours, and number of objects. Alex could actually answer her when she asked "how many blue squares are there?" He would properly answer her. Parrot owners will also attest to the cognitive ability of their birds and say the birds know exactly what they are saying. Whether you think your bird is just mimicking what he hears or that he is the next bird Einstein, a talking bird is nothing short of amazing.

The Training Process

Start the process by making sure your bird is happy and healthy. No sick bird can be taught to do anything.

Start with short, frequent sessions that are positive and happy experiences for you and the bird. No one who has a lack of patience or a short fuse should train a bird. Like a child, the bird learns best when he feels loved and accepted.

Use small words first. "Hi", "Hello", and "Bye" are great to begin training. Don't expect to start with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - this is a bird, not a savant. "Hello" and "Bye" are enough for starters.

Reward your bird with praise when he says the desired word. "Good bird" goes a long way in reinforcing the training. Reward whether he says it during training or when you are in another room. If necessary, run back to the bird and praise him.

Don't add more words until the bird gets the first one right. No need to confuse the little guy. Add words as once he has learnt the previous word.

Be an enthusiastic trainer - A positive sound in your voice will make the bird excited too.

Use the words in real life situations. Come into the room where your bird is and say "Hello". When you leave the room say "Bye". If you are offering them a cracker, say "cracker?". This will allow the bird to associate the word with the object. It will give him added reason to learn to talk.

The Talking Bird

Remember that patience is rewarded when training birds. They may take a while to catch on, but when they do it is a joy. It is also one more way to interact with your bird and bond.

You will always have different concerns or worries about your bird. It doesn't matter if you are a new bird owner, or if you have had a cockatiel for several years. Cockatiel care, behaviour and health problems are important issues for all bird owners. This page has tips on bathing, taming, teaching your bird to talk or sing, diet and other topics. I hope my answers are of some help.

My new bird bites and won't come out of the cage. What should I do?

Give your new bird a few days to adjust to you and a new environment before taking it out of the cage and trying to tame it. Make sure the cage is in a room with plenty of family activity. Do not poke your fingers into the cage bars and do not put your hand in the cage and grab the bird. Sit down by the cage several times a day, for 5-10 minutes and talk/whistle very softly to your bird. When your bird approaches the front of the cage and seems relaxed by your presence, start offering him/her treats through the cage bars. Millet seed buds, Lafeber's Nutriberries, Avicakes, cold cereals like Cheerios that are generic (store brands not name brands) that do NOT contain zinc. Zinc is toxic and trace amounts accumulate and are stored in the liver. After a week or so, open the cage door and coax your bird with treats to sit on the open door. Then start teaching it the Step Up Command which is on my 2nd page about biting.

Why does my bird scream, hate me and act so afraid of me?

You're bird doesn't hate you. There's is no such thing as a mean bird. Unfriendly birds are responding to a situation. Once you figure out exactly what the situation is, you can help them learn that they can trust you. Read this page to find out all of the different things that can threaten or frighten a cockatiel, causing it to behave aggressively towards you.

How can I tame my cockatiel?

Your bird needs to have its wings clipped. This will make it more dependant on you. It will also prevent your bird from flying away and you won't have to chase after it or catch it with a towel to put it back inside of the cage. By chasing after a bird you can be perceived as a predator. Spend as much time as you can sitting next to your bird's cage, talking to it and offering treats through the cage bars. Your cockatiel will slowly learn that you can be trusted. Do not put your hand inside of the cage and grab your bird. You want your bird to come to you willingly, not by force. When you bird trusts you enough to sit in front of an open cage door, start teaching it the Step Up command. Directions for teaching the step up command can be found on another page CLICK HERE This method can be used to tame a new bird, re-tame a bird that has become cage bound or tame one that bites. When your bird knows the Step Up command, take it out of the cage, into a quiet room away from its cage and away from other people. Talk to it very softly and in a quiet tone of voice. Do this several times a day, for short periods of time, 10-20 minutes.

What words should I teach my bird and are some letters easier for them to pronounce?

I'm not sure. However, a cockatiel will only mimic sounds that catch its attention. If it likes a sound, it will learn to repeat it. If it doesn't like a sound, it will ignore it.

How can I teach my bird to talk and sing?

There are a few different methods to do this, but each one requires that you repeat the sound for about 10 minutes per session, and for several sessions during the day. One method suggests that you remove all food and toys from the cage during the lesson. Another method suggests that you cover the bird's cage during the lesson. A third method suggests that you just conduct the lessons while your bird is in the cage or out of the cage where it can see you and your mouth moving. (The method that I had success with). Mama came right up to my lips and listened intently to the sounds that she liked. When she was in her cage, she started eating as soon as a sound caught her attention. Each bird is different, so follow your bird's cue. You may purchase tapes made specifically for teaching cockatiels to talk and whistle if you prefer.

What tricks can I teach my bird?

The easiest and most simple tricks to teach your bird are those that imitate his natural behaviour. Watch your bird's body language closely and choose a command word for him to associate with the action. When you bird bows its head, say something like "Up Down, Up Down". When your bird displays its wings, say something like "Pretty Wings" When you bird starts climbing the bars of the cage, swinging on a swing, banging on toys, tapping on a food/water dish, starts to eat or does anything on a regular basis that you think is cute, just use a command word, saying it several times when your bird does it. Eventually your bird should do this for you on command.

Should I feed my bird grit?

Do NOT feed your bird grit or gravel. Certain species of wild birds eat the entire seed, including the hull. They need grit to help digest the hull. Cockatiels and other pet birds discard the hull and only eat the seed inside. They do NOT need grit. There have been confirmed reports of lead poisoning as well as serious digestive problems caused by grit. Veterinarians report that it is one of the most widely abused substances in birds. Only use grit if your avian vet prescribes it for a digestive problem. Use the correct size for cockatiels to avoid causing internal injuries.

My bird won't eat vegetables, what should I do?

A factor that influences a bird's acceptance of a new food is the size of the pieces. I had the most success when I cut the food into pieces as small as a seed. To make fresh vegetables and fruits into very tiny pieces, try cutting them this way. First slice or use a potato peeler to slice pieces into long, paper thin strips. Next, hold the stack of slices together and cut lengthwise into sticks about the size of a toothpick. Hold the stack of sticks together and cut a third time, across the sticks to make super thin, tiny pieces for your bird. Carrots, broccoli, apples, pears, celery green peppers and green beans work very well. Also, let your bird see you cutting up the vegetables and let your bird eat them outside of the cage. Click Here for Other Tips.

What types of vegetables and other foods can I give my cockatiel?

There is a list of fruits, vegetables and other foods with the nutrients each one contains on my page called Healthy Table Foods. Click Here To Read the Page.

Is chocolate really bad for cockatiels and why?

Yes, chocolate is toxic for cockatiels and all parrots,including budgies. It contains a chemical called theobromine which birds cannot digest well. Chocolate can kill your bird so don't share.

How do I get my bird to eat pellets?

Read about the 3 different methods of converting your bird to a pellet based diet.

Does my bird really need to be eating pellets?

Yes. An all seed diet can cause liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, seizures, low blood calcium which can cause egg binding, nutritional deficiencies that can cause diseases, as well as the sudden death of a bird as young as 2 years old. Most board certified avian veterinarians in the USA would recommend that you put your bird on a pellet based diet. I receive at least one sad email each week from somebody whose very young bird died as a direct result of an all seed diet.

My new bird is on a seed diet, when should I convert it to pellets?

Your new bird has to adjust to new surroundings and new people. This is a stressful time for it. Wait a few months until your bird has adjusted to you and its new home. Changing diets is also stressful for birds. You don't want to add more stress during the adjustment period.

Should I put a mirror in my cockatiel's cage?

It's not advisable unless the bird is already accustomed to having one in the cage. Eventually, mirrors seem to frustrate most birds because the reflection can't respond back the way the cockatiel wants it to. Birds with mirrors often turn into biters because they can become very possessive of the reflection, which they think is their mate. If your cockatiel is enjoying the mirror and not biting you than it's fine to have a one in the cage.

How do I give my bird a bath and do I really have to?

Frequent bathing helps prevent your bird from getting dry skin, helps soften the keratin coating on new feathers so it sheds more quickly and helps to keep your bird's feathers looking bright and clean. It also helps to cut down on the feather dust you find around the cage. There are a few different ways to bathe a cockatiel. First, baths should always take place in the morning so your bird has plenty of time to dry off before going to sleep at night. You can offer them a sturdy, shallow bowl with an inch of cool water to take a bath in. Pet shops also sell little bird bath dishes for them as well. Some have a mirror on the bottom and this can encourage a new bird to explore the water. Put the bath on the kitchen counter so the inside of the cage doesn't get wet. Another method of bathing is to put your bird inside of a CLEAN sink that has been disinfected. Clean, disinfect and rinse the sink at night so there are NO FUMES in the room in the morning. Bleach and other cleansers contain toxic fumes. Put an inch of water inside of the sink and place your bird in the water. Some birds like to have the faucet running or prefer to sit on your hand next to a faucet with cool, running water. You can also give your bird a daily misting bath outside of the cage instead. Buy a new water mist bottle at the pet shop or use a new misting bottle for plants. Spray the water up into the air so it falls down like rain on your bird. Do not spray the water into your bird's face. Other birds really like to go right inside of the shower with their human. Special perches are sold that mount inside of the bathroom wall just for this purpose. Make sure your bird does NOT come in contact with HOT water. After your bird bathes let the feathers dry naturally. My avian vet discourages the use of a blow dryer, although many people do use them. Many birds are afraid of water and won't take any type of bath. You have to introduce different types of bathing to them slowly and gradually until you find one that they enjoy.

How often should I give my bird a bath?

Your bird should be allowed to bathe as often as it likes. Some birds love water and will enjoy a daily bath or misting. Your bird should have at least 2 mist baths a week if it will not take a bath on its own. My avian vet recommends putting a reluctant bird in an extra cage or a small travel cage for mistings. I put my bird on my hand or shoulder, stand in front of the bathroom mirror and mist her. Seeing her reflection in the mirror seems to help calm her down during bath time. My bird was terrified of the sound the water misting bottle made. Before giving her the first bath, I let her sit on my shoulder while I went around the house spraying clean water on all of the windows and mirrors. I did this for a week and it helped to get her accustomed to the sound. I also had really clean windows and mirrors!

Do cockatiels get mites, lice and fleas and what should I do?

Cockatiels rarely get mites or lice unless they live or come from in an outdoor aviary. Cockatiels that are breed and kept indoors very rarely get them. Do not use mite protectors inside of your bird's cage. They give off fumes that can actually hurt your bird and make it sick. Do not spray or use any product on your bird unless an avian vet prescribes it. The possibility of your bird getting fleas is extremely remote. Fleas will find better hosts to feed off of, dogs, cats, other small furry animals and humans. If you think your bird is being bothered by insects, please take it to an avian vet.