Much of a bird's
behavior when interacting with people depends on the bird's past experiences with people. Birds that were not hand
fed, hand tamed or socialized as babies and birds that were neglected or abused
will not trust people. It's not unusual for cockatiels with these types of
backgrounds to bite and trying to tame a cockatiel that bites can
be a frustrating and discouraging experience. Some birds respond quickly to the gentle, loving care of a new owner while other
birds can take weeks, months or even years to respond.
Young birds are the easiest to tame but older bird that bite can be
tamed too. When taming a bird, it's important to remember that biting is always
a response to a situation that a bird perceives to be threatening. Biting is
always provoked and it's a bird's last response when he thinks there is no way
to escape danger or defend territory. Birds simply lack the physical abilities
to be fighters, like massive body weight, teeth, fangs and claws. When birds
feel threatened, their instinct is to take flight not to fight. There are no
quick fixes or miracle techniques to tame or re-tame a bird that bites. It takes time and
patience and what works for one bird may not work for another one.
Identifying the cause of biting and learning
how to read a
bird's body language are the first steps in discouraging a cockatiel from
biting. To read about the causes of biting, CLICK HERE.
Once you have identified the cause of biting, there are several things that
you can do to stop it. First: Learn
to identify the meaning of your bird's body language.
Cockatiels will always give you a warning sign before
tail fanning, eye pinning, backing into a corner, swaying from side to side,
moving away from you or turning their back on you, lifting 1 foot, moving wings
away from body, puffing out and lunging towards you with an open
Mama is doing in the left picture above. Lunging
is a bird's way of saying back off. Stop
whatever it is that you are doing
provoke your bird and give her time to calm
down. Don't force the issue until your bird is more relaxed. If you continue to
provoke your bird
and create a confrontational
situation, your bird's aggression will escalate. Wait until your bird is calm. Second:
behavior with praise, rewards and treats.
behavior and try not to physically react
to biting by pulling
your hand away, hollering ouch or wobbling your
arm so your bird loses his balance.
A firm but quiet
verbal command of "no" may
teach a bird that biting is not an acceptable behavior.
Third: gently nurture your
bird's personality by spending
as much time with him
as possible. Talk to him in a gentle voice.
Birds respond to our voice tones and energy levels. If
you tend to be an energetic person with a very high energy level, lowering
your energy level and speaking to your bird in a slow, calm and quiet voice.
This can help a great deal.
If talking is upsetting your bird, lower your
voice, whisper or stop talking. (Signs
of a frightened bird include: Bird turning his
back or head away from you, moving
away from you, trembling, hiding in a corner on the bottom of
the cage, running and flapping wings in a frenzy).
Talk to him in a gentle voice. Sit next to the cage
quietly and read a book or magazine the first few days instead.
If being too close to the cage is upsetting your bird, move further back until you find your bird's comfort zone, a proximity where your bird's
body language tells you that he is calm and relaxed. Fourth, don't allow a
cockatiel that bites to perch on your shoulder.
This makes your bird feel more dominant than you. Keep your bird on your arm or hand at
chest level or on your knee and maintain eye contact.
keep your bird's wings clipped. This will make him feel
more dependant on you and you won't have to chase your bird all over the room if
he tries flying away. .Sixth, teach your bird the Step Up Cue. Note: Cockatiels,
will use their beaks as a third foot to help balance
when stepping onto your hand. This is not biting.
Gaining Your Bird's Trust
Trust is not part of the package when
you adopt a bird. Trust has to be earned and it can only be earned if your
bird learns that you are not a threat, that you
are not going to hurt him and that being with you is an enjoyable activity. Don't ever stick your hand inside of the cage and grab or towel your
bird to get him out of the cage. This will cause him to bite
and lose trust in you. You want your
bird to come to you willingly, not by force.
Spend as much time as you can sitting near your bird's cage. Read a book or magazine. Do a crossword puzzle. Eat your
meals and snacks next to the cage. Talk to your bird in a gentle,
slow and loving voice. Cockatiels are sociable, flocking birds and they need interaction
with humans. Sooner or later your bird is going to show an interest in your
voice and he will move over to the cage bars nearest to wear you are sitting.
Offer him some treats through the cage bars. Once he has become comfortable with
accepting treats from your hand, if his wings are clipped, open the cage door
when he's sitting on the front perch and offer him some loose seeds from the
palm of your hand. Munching on popcorn, often entices a
reluctant bird to come near you. Food is a powerful
motivator when working with birds.
The Step Up Command
Once you bird has learned how to eat out of your hand, he may step onto your
hand without you having to doing anything else. Even if your bird does this,
it's time to teach him/her the Step Up Cue.
For birds that bite, move your finger or the palm of your
hand in a steady, rather quick upward motion forward towards your bird's
lower body, right above its legs. Try to imagine that his upper
legs are invisible and you are going to move your hand right through thin air. The
motion is exactly like the way you move your hand through a lit candle flame.
Don't pull your hand back or stop, giving the bird a chance to bite. The idea is
that your hand should be quicker than the bird's eye. As soon as he/she steps
up, reward him/her with a favorite treat and verbal praise. If your bird is not
responding to this technique and is getting even aggressive,
stop and try again the next day.
If you continue you will make this a confrontational issue, causing your bird to
of moving your hand quickly,
slowly move your finger or the palm of your hand towards the top of your bird's legs
right below the abdomen. Apply gentle pressure
to the top of the legs in a slightly upward motion towards his body. This should get him to
step up onto your hand.
Reward him immediately with a favorite treat and verbal praise.
Some Biters and Non-Biters,
may respond better
by learning to step up onto a perch or ladder instead of your hand. You would move a perch
or ladder the same way as you would move your hand. This is called Stick Taming or Training.
This may help with birds who are afraid of hands. If your bird
is cage bound, get
his wings trimmed and leave the cage door open. Keep a toy box and a fresh dish
of pellets on top of the cage. Eventually your bird will come out of the cage
all by himself. When he does, praise and reward him with seeds or a favorite
treat. You can start teaching him the step up command from the top of his cage.
After a few days of practice, take him into a different room away from his cage
and practice stepping up as described below. Reward your bird with a treat and
verbal praise consistently, each time he/she steps up for you.
a Cue Word: such as "Step Up, Hop or Jump" when moving your hand
towards your bird for stepping up. Cockatiels can learn to associate words with
an action or object and your cue word will tell your bird exactly why your hand is moving
towards him and that a treat and verbal praise will be available for him
immediately after he/she steps up. If your cockatiel starts biting while
teaching him to step up try to ignore it but if the biting becomes very
aggressive, then stop and don't force the matter creating a confrontational
situation. Tell him that you love him and that you'll try again tomorrow. If you
do succeed in getting your cockatiel out of the cage and onto you hand, praise
him and offer him a treat as a reward. Your bird will need to practice stepping
up for a few days. It's usually easier to practice in neutral territory, in a
room away from the cage and from the back of a kitchen chair or a bird play gym.
Have your bird step up from the back of a kitchen chair, onto your hand, then
back to the chair. Keep taming sessions short, about 5 minutes, but have several sessions throughout
the day. Too much repetition in a single session can cause your bird to lose
interest in what you are trying to teach him. Coming out of the cage several
times a day to practice will give your bird more frequent opportunities to
practice and be successful for stepping up to be reinforced. Giving your bird
attention of the cage several times a day also helps to break up boredom and prevents both you and your bird
from becoming frustrated.
Makes Perfect: For stepping up practice, have your bird walk up a "Hand
Ladder", by slowly moving one hand slightly higher then the other, in a series
of steps. Also encourage him to hop from the palm of you hand to the palm of the
other hand as well. Use your cue word for each step up or hop and always reward
your bird with a treat and verbal praise when he succeeds in performing the
behavior. If your bird doesn't want
to step up (remember body language above), wait until he is more relaxed and
receptive. For some birds, repetitive actions can be upsetting, so watch your
bird's body language for warning signals of biting. Your bird will also
need to practice going in and out of the cage by stepping up onto you hand and
stepping off of your
hand for a few days as well. Use the back of a kitchen chair or a play gym
to practice stepping on and off of your hand so your bird doesn't receive mixed
signals and become confused
by going in and out of the cage during a practice session. Always reward your
bird with a treat and praise him for desirable
behavior in a cheerful and lively voice tone, the same as you would a
toddler taking those first steps. After all, isn't that what
you are trying to get your cockatiel to do, take his first steps onto
Returning to the Cage
your bird to his cage while he is still in a good mood and before
he gets over tired. A bird's last experience out of the cage should always be a positive
one. To return your bird to his cage, keep him perched
on your hand so he's facing you and keep your hand very close to your waist or
lower chest. This will block your bird's view of an escape route Once your
reach the cage, put your hand near the front perch and let your cockatiel step
back inside by himself. Use a cue word like "Home". Eventually your cockatiel will associate the
word "Home" with returning to the cage and a treat. Always praise your bird and have a special treat
ready for him when he goes back into the cage If your bird keeps flying away,
get his wings trimmed so this does not become an issue. Don't grab your bird or throw a towel over him to put him back inside of the
cage. This will just frighten him. Forcing your
bird to do something that he doesn't want to do will usually provoke a bite. There's a big difference between
teaching your bird do
something and forcing your bird to do something.
When a cockatiel wants you to pet him, she will bend her head submissively,
like Cookie is doing in the picture to the right. Although it can be mighty tempting to start
petting the back of a bird's soft, fluffy neck immediately, take it slowly. Choose a word, such as
kisses, scritches or loving, as the word you want your bird to
associate with affection and add a soft
kissing sound after the word. (If your bird is vocal he may learn to mimic the
sound back). Slowly approach your bird from the
front and don't ever sneak up on him from the back. This will startle your
bird and his immediate reaction will be to bite you hard. Slowly
move your index finger forward, with your other fingers curled around your
thumb. Gently scratch the feathers right above the cere, like in the picture of Mama to the left. You can also gently stroke your bird's head from the beak to the tips of
the crest feathers. Some cockatiels also enjoy having the tips of their
crest feathers gently twirled between the thumb and pointer finger as well. If your
bird nips you, ignore it. If the biting is escalating, try again later
when your he's more receptive. Some cockatiels prefer to
have their heads and necks stroked with the tip of the chin. This can be a very
enjoyable way of interacting with your bird too. When you bird learns that you will not hurt him and that
good things happen when he is with you, he will enjoy having you pet him and
cuddle with him.