Training Your Cockatiel

A trained cockatiel makes a wonderful pet and a faithful companion. Training your Cockatiel is not difficult, and with a little time and patience training cockatiels can become a fun experience for both of you.

Cockatiels can be trained not to particularly mind being picked up in your hand. Beware when you first start this, as a cockatiel bite is a very painful thing to endure.  They sometimes hold on an chew like a rat.

When training cockatiels the trick is to never alarm them.  All your movements should be done in a slow and precise way that will minimize the cockatiels fear.

Taming should be started as soon as possible after purchasing your cockatiel.  The reason for this is that while the cockatiel is distracted with its new surroundings, it is easier to familiarize it with human contact.  The young cockatiel is extremely adaptable, but in its new cage everything is likely to be strange.  First let your cockatiel acclimatize himself with his new surroundings.  A baby cockatiel is far easier and quicker to train than an adult bird.

Cockatiels Love Having Their Heads Scratched
Cockatiels Love Having Their Heads Scratched

The new cockatiel may not even recognize at first where its food bowls are. To make it easier for your new cockatiel, scatter some seed on the floor of the cage and overfill the container so that the seed is brought into full view. Try to make the seed of the wildest mixture to start with, so that your cockatiel will recognize the type to which it has been previously accustomed.

When your cockatiel stands on his perches and eats and drinks from the correct containers, which will normally be by the second day, you can clean the floor of the loose seed.  The first day it is a good idea to put the cage high up to give your new cockatiel a sense of security.  It may also help to half cover the cage with a towel, which may encourage him to eat.

If your cockatiel hasn’t eaten after a day, try a spray of millet, and if this also fails, contact the person who sold you the cockatiel.  Cockatiels can easily withstand starvation for a day or two, so there is normally no need to panic.

Once your bird is eating and drinking, taming should be started, as it is best to start doing while the cockatiel is young and new.

Here are the two methods that I am familiar with in training your cockatiel.

Cockatiel Training Method 1:

The first cockatiel training method is slower.  The cockatiel must be kept in a place where there is continual noise and movement, like a well used room. For the first day the cockatiel should be ignored.  Notice while he feeds and preens himself, that at first he will stop if there is a sudden noise, and then as he gets used to the sounds around him it won’t hassle him in the slightest. This should start to happen by the second day.  Start talking to the bird in a low soothing voice.  Avoid sudden loud noises or movements at all costs.  At this stage, even things like changing food and water must be done slowly.

By the second or third day your hand can be slowly moved towards the bird when it preens itself.  Attempt to scratch its head with your finger.  Head preening is a very important aspect of a cockatiel’s social behavior and once the bird accepts having it’s head scratched, it can be tamed so much easier.  Take care during the first few attempts, as you could attract a few feints with his beak to warn you away, but if you move slowly it is unlikely that it will actually bite you.  A young bird will not bite you as viciously as an adult bird.

Spend as much time as you can close to the bird, and you could even move the cage around the house with you.

The next stage would be to get your bird to perch on a finger.  Introduce your hand through the open door of the cage with the index finger leading the way.  Speak to the bird softly and move slowly.  If your cockatiel becomes tense, stop the movement, and as it relaxes, move the hand towards it again.  Keep the hand lower than the bird until the indix finger is touching the lower part of the birds chest.  Press slightly so that the bird battles to maintain its posture and therefore should step up onto your finger.  If your finger is held too high, the cockatiel might need to hold onto your finger with its beak, so don’t be startled and pull your finger back.

Once you get your cockatiel to perch on your finger, hold the hand steady until the cockatiel is relaxed.  Once the cockatiel is used to sitting on your finger, you can move it around the cage and let it climb onto other perches by lightly pressing its chest to the perch.

Once this little operation has been accomplished several times you can remove the cockatiel from the cage.  Make sure that all the doors and windows are closed and that there are no other animals in the room.  Once your cockatiel is perched on your finger, gently remove it from the cage and once it is outside try to scratch its head with your other hand.  Try to feed it some greens to relax the bird.  Don’t keep the cockatiel out of its cage too long for the first few times.

Once it is used to being out of its cage you can allow it to step on top of its cage.  Try to get the cockatiel used to you gently cupping your other hand over its back while you carry it, and once it is used to this you will be able to transport it anywhere.

During the early stages of training, the cockatiel will often get startled and fly off around the room.  It is best to pick it up by holding out a finger and then cupping the other hand over its back for extra security.  Never chase your bird, wait until it has landed before slowly approaching it.  Until the cockatiel gets to know the room, it is better to draw the curtains to avoid it flying into the glass windows.

The more time that is spent with your bird in the beginning, with patience and consistency the quicker you will be able to train it.


Cockatiel Training Method 2:

Although I prefer the first method myself, this method is a lot quicker.  This method depends on giving continuous stimulation to the senses of contact, sight and sound but at the same time preventing the cockatiel from escaping.  Under all this stress the cockatiel’s nervous system eventually ceases to respond, and it quickly becomes indifferent to previously frightening stimuli.

This process seems to work, and is largely irreversible.  The cockatiel once trained remains trained

With this second method, you have to clip the cockatiel’s wings so that the bird becomes flightless and a considerable amount of chasing the bird about can be avoided.

The trainer then gently cups the cockatiel in his hands and then slowly releases his hold.  The cockatiel on finding itself free will perch on the finger for an instant before attempting to fly off.  It will of course flutter to the ground, and as it lands it should be immediately encircles with your hands held palms forward and fingers making a basket shape.  To escape now the cockatiel needs to climb forward and up over your fingers to perch on the top finger before trying to fly off again. It should not bite, but will use its beak to steady itself on your hands.

My Daughter Loves Playing with The Cockatiels
My Daughter Loves Playing with The Cockatiels

This process needs to be repeated again and again until the cockatiel settles itself on one of your fingers.  Once it pauses on your finger, you now try and make it climb onto your finger by pressing it to its lower chest.  Once it does this alternate fingers are used to make the cockatiel seem as though he is climbing a never ending staircase.  As with the other training method, keep talking to your cockatiel continuously.

Once the bird becomes reluctant to move onto the moving fingers and stops, a slight tap with the pressing finger will set it off again. The first hesitancy is a true indication that the cockatiel is becoming tame.  It should soon be steady enough to permit a gentle caressing of its head.

Providing the cockatiel is a young bird, this method should take about 2 hours or so.  The best results are obtained if only one person does the training.  For the next two weeks, after this initial training session, take the bird out each day and spend some time with it scratching its head.  Provided human contact is maintained, this training method should be irreversible.

A word of caution, never walk outside with your cockatiel if its wings are not clipped, as even the tamest of birds can get a fright and take to flight. Many people loose their beloved pets in this way.


  1. I don’t agree with the second method. While a lot of people do it and it is a fast method, clipping a bird’s wings takes away a lot of what it has. To me it’s just not fair to the bird to have to be totally reliant on you and can’t even fly up to it’s favorite perch. I don’t clip my birds’ wings, and they make terrific pets, even if they are constantly flying to me or around the house, it’s still better than it being stuck on a perch all day.

    1. Amanda, I don’t agree with you. Clipping a birds wings can be helpful, save time, and maybe once the bird is already trained, you could stop clipping them.

    2. I bypassed all this…. I paid £80 more for a hand reared bird.
      It was worth it.
      I wanted to know if it was possible to house-train the mucky b****r!!!!!
      He only eats and sleeps in his cage.
      I would never clip his wings……

  2. Their wings grow back, as they fall out when they molt. I just got a 5 1/2 mo old Bird -who had not been handled at all! (Ouch!!) and I had the vet clip his wings yesterday.
    When I would get him to “step up” he’d take off flying- we have 14’ ceilings and lots of windows – didn’t want a broken breastbone- so for now- he hasn’t had his first molt yet- we went with the clip. He’s a whole lot more amenable to being held now that he can’t take off. But of course- To each his own!

  3. I just bought my first cockatiel yesterday and he bit me only once when I was trying to put him in the cage. He’s about four months old and I’m wondering what is the best way to start training him. I want to build a strong trusting relationship with him.

    1. Hi Samantha,

      The best way is to work with him each and every day for about twenty minutes.

      If you want to build up trust slowly, then just put your finger in front of his breast bone and encourage him to step onto your finger. He will run away at first, but just keep persisting and eventually, he will start trusting you enough to let him stroke him and eventually step onto your finger so you can take him out. The first part of training a bird is to train him to step onto your finger so it makes it easier to get him in and out of the cage. It does take patience on your part, but I find this the best way to do it.

      There are other methods you can read about here if you want to do more advance training.

  4. I have been very successful with my baby cockatiel, and I have been keeping him free in the house and not putting him in the cage for last month or so. He is just 3 months old. But last two days I find him to be a lil aggressive. I just started to give him hard food instead of baby food just last week. Now he flies to me or any other person, on sight or even the sound of the door, before he usually used to fly only when called. Now he tends to be scared easily by sounds and tries to bite, and wants to be treated with hard food constantly even though I give him hard food and some baby food too, I would like some advice regarding how to discipline him

    1. It takes patience John, but it is surprising that he is suddenly scared. Something must have happened to scare him. Maybe when you weren’t around something like a mouse or sight of a cat or something scared him. This does happen from time to time and it takes time and patience but they do get over it.

      It could also be the change in food, but then this behaviour will be temporary. Birds are temperamental pets. My male is so friendly some days and so aloof on others, and I guess that is just his personality.

      All the best, but it does sound like you are doing a great job.

  5. I am on the fence about clipping wings. I had a cockatiel about a year ago that I had had for 2 years and he could freely fly around the house and he would perch on my shoulder. He was very trained and trusting. And then one day I went to the deck door to go outside, and didn’t realize he flew and perched on my shoulder right at the exact time I opened the door and stepped out…he freaked out and flew away. So in that scenario, I wish his wings would’ve been clipped. But I also understand the rationale behind birds being allowed to be birds. I have two now that are about 5 months old so I am honestly not sure. If you want to keep the bird for a long time it may be a good choice.

    1. Yes, it is sad to lose a bird because it flies away. I tend to clip as I can’t take a chance, however I don’t clip a lot, so they can still fly, just very low and they glide down to the ground gradually without hurting themselves. In this way, I can at least still catch them before they get too far.

  6. I have a 1-year-old Cockatiel. Have had him for 4 months and I am not getting anywhere in training him. Do you have any suggestion’s? He won’t let me near him. I have been told he is too old to be trained.

    1. Hi Carmen,

      The older the cockatiel is the more difficult they become to train, but I don’t think it is impossible. I have managed to train older birds, although I must admit some of them never get as fully trained as birds that you start training from young, but it is doable.

      Set aside ten to twenty minutes a day and just work on getting him used to your hand in the cage, then once he is not so skittish anymore slowly encourage him to climb onto your finger. Once you have this right half the battle is won. But it does take time and patience for him to learn to trust you.

      Talk to him or even sing to him calmly each time you walk past the cage and while you are training him.

      Best of luck.

  7. I got my cockatiel at 7weeks and after a couple of months he has decided he doesn’t want to fly to me. Not even millet gets him to come to me. Where do I start now?

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