Cockatiels use sounds to communicate with each other or with their owners. Cockatiels, like most parrots, naturally live in flocks. One of the ways a flock has of communicating is calling back and forth. In the wild, there are many individual contact calls that alert flock members to different situations, such as the presence of a predator. In a pet situation, the cockatiel’s flock includes other birds, pets and people it is in regular contact with.
Julie Mitchell of J&A Aviaries in Virginia has a 4-year-old male white-faced cockatiel, Baxter, that whistles a flock contact call to her. "He whistles so that I can whistle back. I mimic his whistle, and we play this little game,” said Mitchell. "My cockatiel gets very inventive to try to trip me up. He will do this in the van when we are on the road going somewhere.”
The most common times for cockatiels to vocalize are when the sun first comes up and at sunset. In the wild, this helps flock members keep track of each other. In your home, some cockatiels stick to this schedule, but most vocalize intermittently throughout the day.
Rhonda Steffens of Michigan has two cockatiels: Ollie and Ellie. The male cockatiel, Ollie, "sings for us every morning [as if] to say thank you for the beautiful view he has. If I sleep in, he will start to sing at sunrise, but then he is quiet until I get up. He is very considerate. He sings before being tucked in for night-night, again to say thank you for a beautiful day. He sings to his Ellie with full abandon. Then, when I go in and whistle, he will sing to me. I tell him how beautiful his singing is.”
The female cockatiel, Ellie, also whistles but not as much as Ollie. While she mostly whistles to Ollie, she also responds to her owner. "Sometimes I say, Ellie that was you?!” Steffens said. "And she will make another sound. I will say, ‘Wow, Ellie you do make sounds!’ She will make more.”
Linda Black of Australia has a 6-month-old white-faced male cockatiel named BJ that never stops talking. He started talking at 4 months old, and he can say "What ya doing,” "Love you,” "Speckles, come here baby,” "Hi baby,” "BJ, come on,” "Give me a kiss,” "Thank you baby,” "Pretty boy” and "Yum yum.” BJ also whistles the Glasgow Rangers’ football theme tune. "There’s no special time for him to talk,” said Black. "He talks nonstop all the time wherever he is.”
Kimberly Parker of Utah said her 1 ½-year-old male cockatiel, Loki, speaks "Anytime I’m in the room, when there is a room full of people, when the TV is set to ‘Animal Planet,’ or I walk out of the room (he squawks until I return if he knows I’m still in the house). Loki loves to be the center of attention at any time of the day.”
Jennifer Blair’s cockatiel, Itchy, vocalizes "off and on throughout the day if he’s happy. He starts laughing and making some whistling noises before the light comes on in the morning, and he won’t stop until the lights are out at night,” said Blair, who resides in California.
Miriam Leibovitch of California said that her 21-year-old cockatiel, Ricki, greets her excitedly when she comes home from work. Ricki says his name and whistles when Leibovitch puts food in his cage and when the TV is on. He also talks when Leibovitch goes up to his cage and talks to him. Even at 21, Ricki will try new songs. "If I whistle to him, he whistles back and tries to copy me,” said Leibovitch.
If you don’t want your cockatiel to make early morning noises and wake you up, cover the windows with curtains or blinds. Carrie-Anne Foster’s cockatiel begins to vocalize first thing in the morning. "It isn’t unusual for Buddy to strike up a song in the middle of the day, too. He’ll sit on his perch and whistle away.”
Language often helps cockatiels communicate with their flocks. A single cockatiel may be more interested in learning your language than one that already has a bird companion.
It is normal for cockatiels to vocalize, so get yours talking! The simplest way to begin is by whistling and talking to your cockatiel. Try to do this several times a day as a formal lesson. Whistle or talk to your cockatiel briefly whenever you pass by its cage.
A good way to start teaching your cockatiel to talk is to listen carefully to its sounds. Pick a sound you like and imitate it, saying it back to your cockatiel. When your cockatiel makes this sound, offer lots of praise.
Like most parrots, a cockatiel can pick up on any sound that it hears, so make sure that your cockatiel is hearing the sounds you want it to imitate. There are a few methods for teaching cockatiels to talk, but each one requires that you repeat the whistle or word for about 10 minutes per session several times a day. One method suggests conducting the lessons while your cockatiel can see your mouth moving. Some people have success with placing the cockatiel on their finger and talking closely to the cockatiel’s beak. Each cockatiel is different, so follow your cockatiel’s cue. Choose a time and a place where you can work without other noises or distractions. Pick one word or phrase to begin with. Your cockatiel’s name is a good one to start with. Repeat it with enthusiasm so that your cockatiel will pay more attention to the word. Say it clearly and repeat it slowly. Wait until your cockatiel has learned its first word, phrase or whistle before teaching it something new.
You can also purchase CDs made specifically for teaching cockatiels to talk and whistle. Use the tapes for 10 minute-intervals several times a day. Do not let a CD play indefinitely, because it will blend into the background noise, and your cockatiel won’t be able to differentiate and learn from the CDs.
Let your cockatiel know that you are happy with its vocalizing by praising it, telling him that it is a good bird in an excited voice and repeating the words and phrases back to it. Don’t be afraid to go a little over the top in your praises.
Many cockatiels learn from each other. Buddy also whistles and talks back and forth with quaker parrot Max. The two of them have "whistling wars,” according to Foster. "One will start, and the other will try to repeat it back. They don’t often make it too far, but it is funny to listen to.”
Steffens’ Ollie "has learned the sounds the African grey and Senegal say, so Ollie now uses those, too.” Ollie learned to say Steffens’ name, from her Senegal parrot. Click here for more suggestions to get your cockatiel talking.
Excerpt from the Popular Birds Series magabook Cockatiels with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Cockatiels here.