Basic Training for Your New Bird

 

 

Q. How soon do I begin?
A.
Right away!

Q. What supplies do I need?
A.
A T-stand, a perch, a towel may be necessary, an area free from distraction, a positive attitude, and lots and lots of patience.

Q. Does clipping my bird's wings help in training?
A.
Yes, it does. Not only that, it's a good safety measure. If you take the time, it is possible to do a clip that really isn't visible and looks pretty good. Wing clipping is painless, and the bird isn't going to hate you for it. If you don't know how to trim your birds flight feathers your Vet should do it for a reasonable price. After about 6 months or so, the feathers will start to grow back in. By that time, your bird should have learned where it stands in the "flock" and some basic commands.  See "Obedience Training for Flighted Birds" for more advanced training for flighted birds.

Q. Okay, I have what I need, now what?
A.
Establish a routine, and stick to it! Birds are creatures of routine, and one that is consistent will help the bird feel more secure. Establish taming/training time, say, for an hour every day at two. Then just do it! Every day.

Q. But I have a hand-fed baby bird, not an older, untamed bird. Do I really need to "tame" it?
A.
You will need to train the bird to respond to an up command, and learn to stay on its perch when you put it there. Hand-fed babies are naturally friendly and tame, but they need discipline and rules too!

Q. What's the Step UP command?
A.
The Step Up command is a rule for your bird. When you say Step Up, the bird knows it is to step on the perch or hand/arm you are offering it. The Down command is used when setting the bird down.

To Teach the Step Up and Down Command.
Take your bird to the training area. Put the bird on its t-stand. Now, take your finger, hand, or arm (or use a dowel/perch) and press it against the bird's legs. The bird will then step up onto the perch. As the bird steps up, say "<bird's name> Step Up!" Praise the bird. Place the bird back on the t-stand, say "<bird's name> Down!". Repeat this.  It seems that most birds can learn this in about fifteen minutes, but results and birds vary. Always be patient, and no matter what happens with training, never, ever hit your bird. Being patient, gentle and most of all consistent, are the best things you can do.

Q. My bird is stick trained, but hates to perch on my finger or hand. What do I do about this?
A.
You have two choices, one using the perch, and the other using a training towel. Holding the stick on which the bird is perched, slowly tip one end of the perch up, so that it's higher than the other. A bird will instinctively go to the highest perch, and this would be your hand. Drop the perch away once the bird is on your hand. The bird might jump off when it feels the skin of your hand. Just keep repeating this until your bird just sits on your hand.  Remember, give your bird a good "solid" hand perch.  This may take a while, a week, or maybe even just ten minutes. Keep working until you get results. Once again, be consistent and patient.

Q. I'd like to teach my bird to talk. How do I do that?
A.
Some breeds talk better than others, and even that can vary by individuals. Greys are supposed to be the best talkers but Parakeets, Cockatiels and a lot of other species can talk as well. Start with something simple like "Hello Connor" and just keep repeating it to the bird. At night, say "Nite, Nite, Connor" when you cover him or her.  Once again, consistency and patience is the key. Once the bird picks up a few simple words, it may very well start learning on its own. There are also CD's and tapes with phrases on them but I haven't found these very helpful.  It's a good idea to teach your bird its phone number and address in case it escapes or gets stolen.

Q. Can I teach my bird to be quiet?
A.
All birds need some time to mouth off, but constant screaming is a problem. But you simply cannot punish a bird for doing what comes naturally. First, think about when the bird screams. Is it in the morning and at night? This is normal and natural. Is the bird near a loud TV or stereo or a window that has bustle and hustle going on outside? Or is the bird in place where it can hear but not see things that are going on around it? Did you forget to feed the bird? Did you forget to water the bird? I'd scream too, if I was hungry! Try moving the cage. Never yell at the bird, this is a reward of sorts for it. If the bird is screaming in its cage, try covering it for about five minutes. It should quiet down. Remove the cover when their quiet and praise him or her. Try to provide more toys for the bird if left alone frequently. Reinforce positive behavior. This can be hard to do...we're more inclined to notice bad behavior than good. Each bird is unique and may require a different approach to remedy its screaming. You can consult with a animal behaviorist to help in really bad cases.

Q. Can I teach my bird tricks?
A.
Yes. Once again, ability and inclination varies by individuals.  Tricks are taught by gradual conditioning towards the desired behavior. There are books and videos on how to teach a bird to perform tricks.

Q. I'd like to potty train my bird. How do I do that?
A.
Keep in mind that a bird flies, and in order to do that, it must stay as light as possible. So the bird just unloads its ballast whenever it feels the urge. I can speak from experience that our Quaker goes about every 10-15 minutes, although now he's started to hold it till we get him on his potty. What I did was get a t-stand and designate it as his potty. It's small with a wide base for catching the Birdie Bombs and it's portable. You can designate a pile of papers or the cage, or whatever is acceptable to you. I simply would put Connor on his potty and say "Poop!" until he did. Then he was praised, and taken off the perch. Every 10 minutes or so I would repeat this. Connor had perfected his bombing within three days. We rarely have accidents. I can hold him over a paper or in his cage and say "Poop!" and he will. You can choose whatever key word you like best, as long as it's not too common, which may confuse the bird if it hears its cue in normal conversations. Some birds potty train themselves. Some, unfortunately, do this using their water bowls and thus make poop soup. For a chronic soup maker, you may want to get a water bottle, like the kind used for hamsters.

Q. My bird bites! How do I stop it!?
Birds will bite for three reasons; they will bite out of fear, they will bite because they are excited or even just because they're feeling' good and are being high-spirited, and they will bite out of malice--biting for the sake of biting.

A. Any bird will bite, and justly so--if it's frightened. Birds also go through a nippy stage when they hit puberty. They're trying to establish their position in the social order. This is natural. You should give an "Up!" command in a firm voice when this happens. It reminds the bird just who is in charge of the flock.

Keep in mind that a tongue to a baby bird is like fingers to a two year old human. The tongue is tactile and the bird uses it to explore its world. Never jerk your hand away from a bird that's exploring, it may get frightened and bite you. An "Ouch!" is okay, if the bird "beaks" you a little too hard. The "Ouch!" will help the bird to understand your limits (and its limits!) But never yell, hit, or be dramatic, even though your fingers--and feelings may be hurt. Such behavior can be a drama award and it's exciting for the bird to see you jump around and yell. You would be very surprised how gentle birds are once they understand your limits, even the bigger birds.

Don't put the bird in its cage either, should it bite. This only reinforces territoriality about the bird's cage, and the parrot will quickly equate bite = back to cage. The bird will then bite whenever and however often it feels like going back to its cage.

A good bite correction is a wobble. If the bird is perched on your hand, and bites, drop your hand quickly. The bird loses it's balance and has to release the bite. This is unpleasant (imagine the floor dropping out from under you unexpectedly.) but effective. The bird soon learns to associate "bite = wobble", and will stop biting when on a hand.

A tame and well-trained bird is such a pleasure.
 

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Copyright 2004 [Southeast Texas Avian Rescue, Inc.]. All rights reserved. Revised: 12/10/11