If you want to find new and fun things for your cockatiel to do, here are 5 ways to encourage your cockatiel to play.
It’s the rare cockatiel that can resist a strand of multi-colored beads. String beads onto a leather strand and tie it in the cage, or put the beads into a dish along with your bird’s dry foods and it will have fun picking them out.
"Enrichment” and "foraging” are the current buzzwords in bird circles, and for good reason — these types of toy and activities simulate conditions in the wild and keep birds entertained at home.
"I recommend foraging toys for cockatiels, but there aren’t a lot on the market for smaller birds,” said Gregg Burkett, DVM, and owner of The Birdie Boutique in Durham, North Carolina. He suggested pouring seed or other treats into colored 20-pound paper, which is then rolled up and tied at the ends with cotton string or a leather strip. "Start by having a piece of colored paper opened flat and sprinkle some seeds on it. When the bird starts to associate the color with food, then you can twist the paper.” A variation of this is a plain, unwaxed paper cup or cone or a plain brown coffee filter filled with some seed and the top rolled down.
"Another way to encourage foraging is to sprinkle treats on a tabletop and mix in non-food items, such as a tooth pick or a balled up piece of paper, so that they can sort through items — cockatiels especially enjoy doing that,” Dr. Burkett said. "You can also mix food and nonfood items for your bird to sort through. "Foraging is important to preventing boredom, to give the birds some exercise and allow them to use their mental prowess and intelligence. Animals can feel accomplishment, so if they’re allowed to use their minds to figure something out and be rewarded in the end, I think they’re happier.”
Perhaps you have an adopted cockatiel, or an older bird that doesn’t know the first thing about playing with toys. Omar Gonzalez, owner of Omar’s Exotic Birds in Orange County, California, recommends mixing things up. "If you have an older bird that’s not used to a lot of toys, put in a skewer that holds fruit so it can learn to pick at it and play with it,” he said. "Very shiny toys and bells are great. There are jewelry type toys that are exciting, too. If your bird won’t go near toys, Gonzalez suggested placing a mirror on the outside of the cage and then placing a toy between the mirror and the cage bars — your bird will have to go near the toy to get to its mirror ‘buddy.’
"Try switching the toys around to the area of the cage where the bird hangs out the most or sleeps,” said Gonzalez. He also pointed out that birds will often find a toy to hang out with for security. An older bird that isn’t used to toys might not like to snuggle with a toy but, over time, it will get closer to it. " Gonzalez also suggested incorporating a favorite treat into the toy. "wrap a piece of millet around it. You can encourage the bird to get closer to the toy using food.”
By far, the most fun your ‘tiel can have is to play with you. Make time every day to handle your bird. There’s a lot of controversy about allowing birds onto shoulders, but most tame ‘tiels are pretty gentle and won’t take a chunk out of your ear — but only you know what your bird is capable of, so be careful.
"Indirect contact” is important, too. This is when you and your bird are just "hanging out” together, like a couple of pals watching the big game or QVC (just hide your credit card or you might end up with some shiny jewelry you didn’t order). Being in the room with your bird makes him feel comfortable and part of the flock. Above all, take time to figure out just what your cockatiel likes — the last thing you want is a bored, crabby bird. Like humans, birds need friends, exercise and some fun every day. If you have tried everything in this article and still can’t find anything that your ‘tiel likes, rip out this page and hang it in the cage — perhaps that will prompt him to have a little nibble.
Many cockatiels like flying or climbing down to explore the floor. Create a safe, supervised walk-about area for your cockatiels and drop some foot toys and special treats as items to be discovered.