You hear so often about cockatiels that can whistle the Andy Griffith Show theme song, it's easy to think every 'tiel but yours does it. Truth is, although cockatiels are talented mimics, and many do seem to have a musical gift, many others never learn to talk or whistle.
The Parrot Family
Cockatiels are a type of parrot, and all parrots have the anatomy to be able to vocalize sounds, mimic words and whistle. However, that doesn't mean they absolutely will do any of these things. It is quite possible that in spite of how much you want your bird to talk or whistle, and despite your best efforts, your cockatiel just won't do it. You won't know until you give it a try, though, and some methods for helping it happen are better than others.
Male vs. Female
If you want to teach a cockatiel to talk or whistle, your best bet is to get a male. They are far more likely to vocalize than females. It's part of the male cockatiel's nature to put on a show for the female, and talking or singing can be part of the show. Females tend to watch the males and pass judgment on their presentation, by giving them attention or not. Females can talk, and some do, but males are more likely to do the chattering.
One or the Other
Some people who have worked with cockatiels say that with patience, many cockatiels will either talk OR whistle, but generally not both. It takes a lot of time to teach either skill, and your bird will be focusing on what you are teaching. Decide early on whether you'd prefer one who calls out "hello" when you enter the room, or one who whistles your favorite tunes. After all, a bird can't be expected to do everything, and once he starts whistling or talking, and is rewarded for it with praise or treats, that's what he'll continue to want to do. Some birds do talk and whistle, but you should consider it a big bonus if yours is one of these.
Age is Important
Just like children, cockatiels learn the most when they are young and impressionable. Three to four months is a good age to start training for whistling or talking. Birds who have recently been weaned and are hand-fed are the best choices because they are used to interacting with humans. Eight months is the average age for cockatiels to start to vocalize, which means you have been patiently trying to teach him for at least four months. While older birds can be taught to talk or whistle too, it will take much more of your time and continued patience.
Repetition is Key
The reason many birds say the same words -- like hello, bye-bye, or night-night -- isn't because these are easier to say, it's because they hear these words most often and can associate an action with the word. You'll have the most success by repeating a word every time you do the action, so make it an action you do a lot, like say hello every time you enter and bye-bye every time you leave. The reason many birds whistled The Andy Griffith Show theme song is simple: It was a whistled theme song, and it likely played every single day.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.