Taming and Training your Pet Cockatiel


Copyright © 1997 by Mary Beth Voelker
NCS Online Pet Consultant
All Rights Reserved

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 not only helps foster a cooperative attitude
from your new pet, but it also helps in building a new relationship.

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 toweling 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.

169 thoughts on “Taming and Training your Pet Cockatiel”

  1. My cockatiel comes out easily but refuses to go back inside. What should I do?

  2. Great article,
    I just got an 2 y.o. male cockatiel, not tame, and I’ve been using very similar method to yours. He hates my hands, lunges and hisses at them, and I work on getting rid of that bad habit. I just wanted to add that I use light colored leather gloves to handle him and teach to step up – it helps to avoid painful bites.


  4. Never grab a bird with a towel it makes things worse! You will never gain trust. The best method is patience praise and reward. The bites barely pinch it’s not a hawk or macaw. You have to show trust to get trust. I own a cockatiel and owned one before for fifteen years which I tamed and taught tricks and its wings never were clipped. She would fly to me and never was hurt. Birds deserve to fly. One faulty wing clip will cause your bird to bleed to death. Use a hands on method. Have a routine every day eventually your bird knows what to expect. All difficult animals respond wonderfully to the routine method. If you do not have the time to have a daily routine then you don’t need any kind of pet. Whomever wrote this article has no clue of the proper steps of handling a bird. This article should be renamed: How to Give a Cockatiel a Heart Attack. Please no one attempt this articles suggestions they will make things worse.

  5. To get your cockatiel back in the cage let it watch you putting its favorite treat in the cage. It will willingly go in for its treat and when it does praise it. This shows your bird its okay to go home. If you say home when you do this it will associate the word with the action which makes it even easier.

  6. Did a site called COCKATIELS.ORG just recommend toweling to get your bird out of its cage?

    Yeah sure, if you want to have it never trust you, go ahead and do that.

    This article needs a rewrite, what terrible advice!

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