Cockatiel breeders and experienced owners usually recommend choosing a young cockatiel for best bonding and training results. However, many older cockatiels are in need of new, loving homes. While not the best choice as a first pet bird, an experienced cockatiel owner who has the extra time and patience needed to tame an older cockatiel will find it a rewarding experience.
The Older Cockatiel’s History
Older cockatiels become available for new homes for a variety of reasons. An owner may be unable to care for the bird due to family illness or allergy. Other older cockatiels are rescued or surrendered from homes where they were poorly treated. Some older cockatiels have just been lingering in pet shops. Find out all you can about the bird’s history to be have a better idea of her circumstances prior to coming to you, including training, human contact, habits and illnesses.
Bringing the Older Cockatiel Home
An older cockatiel who has had limited handling, or has been neglected or abused, may have developed some bad habits, such as biting. Biting is always a reaction to a threat; you'll need to determine the bird’s biting triggers and avoid them. Just getting the older cockatiel to trust you enough to stop hissing, lunging and biting may take a long time -- in fact, in cases of neglect or even passive abuse, it could require the assistance of a cockatiel expert or veterinarian. Even if your new older cockatiel's background lacked only training, she's new to your home and will need to acclimate. Place her cage in an area where she can be exposed to household members but not stressed by noise or overt activity. Sit by her cage and talk gently to her so she becomes accustomed to your voice. Sit close enough so that she hears you but not so close that she hisses or hides in the back of the cage. Eventually you will be able to stand very close to the cage and speak gently to your older cockatiel without her backing away.
The next step is to hand-feed the older cockatiel through the bars of her cage. Depending on her history, she may have been rarely hand-fed or touched. Many such cockatiels are "hand-shy" and will panic if you move too quickly. Using slow movements, raise your hand up to the cage and offer a treat such as a spray of millet. Be patient and gentle. Your older cockatiel may spend a long time looking at the treat and at your hand; she may even back away and hiss. If she doesn’t approach right away, continue to talk softly, using a special word like “treat” to help her associate the word with the hand-held food. Let the food be more visible than the fingers holding it. Eventually she will approach the treat and likely cautiously give it a taste. Continue to do this until she readily takes hand-held treats from you through the bars.
Preparing for Training and Handling
Cockatiels are intelligent birds who need mental stimulation and time outside their cages. Therefore, they must tolerate being touched, carried and examined. This is much easier for a younger bird to learn than an older bird. The older bird may have to overcome fear and distrust from previous neglect or bad treatment. However, as with all cockatiels, proper training ensures that she won’t hurt herself when being handled by you, other family members and your veterinarian. Before starting training, an experienced person must clip her wings. Neglected, older birds may have never had their wings clipped. If this is true of your bird, you'll want to get that handled before bringing her home for the first time. Correct wing clipping allows your cockatiel limited mobility, making her more dependent on you and protecting her from injury and escape.
Stepping Up on Your Finger
If your older cockatiel has spent most of her life in a cage with little human interaction, she will need to learn basic skills, such as stepping up on your finger, for being outside of her cage. The training method is the same as for a younger bird but may take many more training sessions, especially if your older cockatiel was extremely hand-shy. First just open the cage door and encourage her to come out by offering a treat outside of the cage door. Getting her to come out of the cage is an accomplishment in itself. Once she is used to doing that, you can position the treat in your hand in such a way that she must step up on your outstretched finger to reach the treat. As she does this, gently push your finger under her feet and raise her up slightly. Use a command such as “Step Up” to let her associate the word with the action. Once she has mastered this, you will be able to approach her with an outstretched finger both in and out of the cage and she will step up. Your older cockatiel will be well on her way to being a tame and well-adjusted pet.
Noreen Braman has been writing professionally since 1987. She has contributed to publications such as "GRIT," "Modern Dad," "DayCare and Early Education," "Women’s Harpoon," "Priority Parenting," "New Brunswick Business and Entertainment Journal" and "NJ TechNews," as well as several fiction and poetry anthologies. Braman earned a special publishing certificate from the Institute of Children's Literature and a design certificate from the Sessions School of Design.