Hand Taming Your Pet Cockatiel

Hand taming is best done with one cockatiel and when the bird is young at around eight to twelve weeks of age.  After six months of age it is more difficult and time consuming with the desired results often not achieved.

All hand taming lessons require a lot of patience and perseverance on your part, but it is worth it in the end.  You will get great satisfaction having your cockatiel hop onto your hand when it's time to go back into the cage after being out for a fly.  Otherwise, chasing an untamed cockatiel around the house will cause much stress to you and the cockatiel.

Allow your cockatiel its quiet settling in period, but two to three days after you bring your bird home you should commence training the cockatiel to use your finger as a perch.

By now you would have been doing everything quietly and slowly around your cockatiel and talking to it.  You should notice the cockatiel relaxing and beginning to show some interest and trust in you.  So, it's time to start on the hand taming.

For taming:

-          It is best that only one person works with your cockatiel, so that the bird can bond and get used to that person.

-          Always try to get down to your cockatiel's level, eye level is good, avoid towering over the cockatiel.

-          Start off talking to your cockatiel from a distance and gradually move in closer and chat to it.  When the bird is comfortable with you by its cage, try and get the bird used to the presence of your hand by placing your hand on the outside of the cage near the cockatiel, but never above the cockatiel.  If your cockatiel moves away don't draw back, just stay there talking until the bird settles, and then move your hand close to it again.

-          Next start to give your cockatiel a treat of spray millet from your hand.  Slowly move your hand and spray millet into the cage and offer this with encouragement to your cockatiel.  The bird should gradually move in to accept this from you.  If the bird pecks at you do not make a sudden movement away from it.  Your cockatiel will just be checking you out and will soon realize you mean no harm.  Talk quietly and gently to the cockatiel, all the time moving closer until it becomes comfortable with this.  Your bird may even hop onto your hand while eating the spray millet.

-          You can then try placing an empty hand with one or two fingers extended into the cage.  Gently move your hand in closer each time until your cockatiel gets used to the particular level of closeness.  Eventually start putting your finger alongside the bird's perch and feet and leave it there until your bird is relaxed with this.  Then move your finger so it touches the cockatiel's feet.  Once comfortable with this, the next step is to move your finger up to its stomach and the bird should soon hop onto your finger and use it as a perch.   Then every time you nudge your finger against the stomach and lift a bit your cockatiel should hop up onto your finger.

-          Next try moving your cockatiel about in the cage while on your finger.  The cockatiel may jump off and go back to its cage perch but just keep working on this one.

-          Once the cockatiel is used to your finger as a perch you can try moving the bird out of the cage on your hand.  This step can be difficult with a cockatiel often reluctant to venture out on your finger.  This is where a separate perch is useful.  Offer this and the cockatiel tends to come out of the cage on the perch rather than your finger initially.

Some extra tips:

-          Throughout your hand taming sessions never put your hand above the cockatiel's head.

-          Try and do a training session every two hours for five or ten minutes, but if you're not home during the day a ten-minute session in the morning and evening should be fine.

-          Never rush the training sessions - just let it come with time and be aware that some parts of the training will take longer than others.

-          My personal preference for hand taming is to use one finger (the index finger) and a separate perch.  If you prefer, you can try one finger on its own, a perch on its own or two fingers together (hold the two fingers one on top of the other - not side by side - so as to give the appropriate sized perch for your cockatiel).  Fingers must be held out straight.  Some people even use the back of the hand but the size of this is more daunting for the cockatiel initially.

-          You should aim to train your cockatiel to use a finger and a perch.  This makes things easier when your cockatiel's out flying and lands somewhere high up and out of reach of your hand.  You can then offer a perch knowing the cockatiel will use this.

-          Once you start to make progress with your lessons always end each training session with you 'winning', ie with your cockatiel perched on your finger.  Never let a session end with the cockatiel having 'won', ie moving off your hand and going to the corner of the cage.

-          It is difficult to tame two or more cockatiels as they distract each other.  You can work one at a time, ie separate from each other, but depending on how attached to each other they are, you may find they spend the whole 'training' time looking or calling for one another!

-          After your cockatiel is hand tame you can try stroking it on top of its head or on its chest and other areas of the body, but be aware that most cockatiels do not like to be petted.  You may be permitted to scratch its head only, beak only, or nowhere at all.  If you don't make much progress in this area, just accept this is how your cockatiel is.

-          It is best to only introduce other members of your household to the cockatiel when the bird is hand tame.

Hand taming may take two days, two weeks or two months to achieve so just persevere every day approaching it all very calmly.

Source:  Cockatiel Handbook - an e-book by Let's Talk Birds