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How To Tame Your Cockatiel

Earn the trust of your cockatiel bird with these tips.

Sally Blanchard

Work slowly with your parrot to build its trust. 

Q: I have a cockatiel. I have had him a couple of weeks. He will not let me near him, I can't touch him. He won't step up on my finger. He bites. I have taken him out of the cage and when sit on the floor with him he runs or flies away. I whistle and talk to him every morning before work and at night. I also leave his cage open in the evenings to let him come out on his own. He rarely does. How can I best go about training him and getting him to trust me?

A: From your description, my guess is that you have purchased a cockatiel from a source that didn’t socialize him to learn to trust handling by people. These cockatiels have to be tamed by the new people in their lives. Since he was never handled, he is simply not used to it and is most likely afraid of you. Biting is his way of dealing with that fear, and his way to get you to leave him alone. The first step is to win his trust, and this may take awhile. If you haven’t taken him to a veterinarian yet, I recommend doing so. Ask the vet to trim a few of his feathers; no more than three or four feathers off of each wing. Once he is tame to you, you can then allow him more flight if you want him to.

Pay attention to your cockatiel’s food preferences. If you find that he has a favorite food, even if it something that is not particularly healthy for him (like sunflower seeds), take it out of what you feed him in his cage. Take his cage into a bedroom and place it on the bed. Sit on the bed and open the cage. Hold some of his favorite food in the palm of your hand near the cage door, but look away from the bird. If you are intently staring at him, he will most likely run away. Direct eye contact can be threatening. You can also slowly place your hand in his cage with his favorite treat in your palm. Be patient and don’t try to force him to do anything. The key is to gradually pattern him to accept you and trust your hand near him. Cockatiels are very social birds, and he will want to be with you once he learns to trust you.

However, although most cockatiels like a good head skritch they are rarely cuddly birds. One of the best ways to interact with him is to talk to him. Label everything that you do consistently. For example if you say something like, "Hi Buddy, do you want to come out?” He will learn to understand that this is an invitation for him to come out of his cage. In this way, each time you start to work with him, you can use words so that he will know what you are going to do.

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Posted: September 8, 2008, 12:00 a.m. PST

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How To Tame Your Cockatiel

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Reader Comments
Good article
Terry, Houston, TX
Posted: 7/10/2016 3:48:09 AM
"Rarely cuddly."

That caught my eye. I'm only 17 years old and have a female grey cockatiel named Kitty. We got her at PETCO, and to our suprise, she is the very definition of sugar. She absoutley loves head scratching, petting, and I've even trained her to 'hug' me with her wings. These birds are the epitome of cuddly, and they make the most amazing companion birds ever. However, I do agree that trust is certainly something earned, as we just picked up a male cockatiel yesterday. Hawkeye, he was named. Biting, hissing and flying away is mostly what he does, but I'm certain that within a few weeks (or a couple months) of patience and love, he'll be affectionate just like my female.
Connor, Longmont, CO
Posted: 8/4/2015 7:38:09 AM
My cockateil loves men and hates women & human hands. I am female. It took months to gain her trust/interest enough to get her out of her cage. It took a year of 'trickery' before she permitted me to pet her. I had to 'pet' her with my face, and at some point of the daily face-petting I would transition to my hand when she wasn't looking, but make sure she 'caught' that my hand was petting her and that nothing bad happened. Eventually she let my hand pet her right away. She has since become very, very cuddly. Loves being cuddled up against our neck for at least an hour a night, or having us rub our face against the top of her beak or face. She just had surgery and we're heartbroken that she's hurting :( I hope your bird starts trusting you. Keep us updated!
Kelly, St Louis, MO
Posted: 2/24/2014 6:00:27 PM
When I brought my girl 'tiel home from the pet store six years ago, she was horrified. I let her see me interact with my dear little parakeet, and how affectionate he was with me and how I played with him. I also just sat by her house and, without making eye contact, just sang little songs or read to her from a magazine. Two weeks passed, and one day she surprised me by stepping out of her house and bowing her head so I could give her scritches!
Caroline, Salem, MA
Posted: 5/14/2012 1:49:58 PM
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