If there was a popularity contest in the United States for pet birds, cockatiels would win every time. Their affectionate nature contributes to their popularity, as well as their intelligence, which makes it easy for them to learn entertaining tricks. Start teaching your cockatiel tricks by reinforcing behaviors already natural to them, and then challenge them to go a bit further.
In the wild, cockatiels naturally step up or down onto branches, so stepping up onto a finger, hand or perch on command is a cinch. Pairing this behavior with the phrase “step up” or “step down” helps them associate it with the behavior so they can do it on command later.
When you see your cockatiel bob her head, reinforce this natural behavior with a treat to turn it into a trick. Associate it with the word "yes" or with a question you want her to answer that way.
Praise your cockatiel when she moves her head from side to side, give her a treat, and associate it with the phrase “no, no, no” or a question you want her to answer in the negative.
Fly on Command
This handy trick is good exercise for your pet and helpful for you, as it directs her where to fly. Place a treat on the destination you plan for her (to your shoulder, from one hand to the other or back to her cage) and use a command word or phrase to associate for your bird. If your pet happens to unexpectedly get out of doors, this trick, also called recall, can save her from getting lost.
Half way to stepping up, this behavior involves your cockatiel placing one of her feet on your palm on command. Associate the action with “gimme five” or “high five” for her to do it on command in the future.
Flex Her Wings
Cockatiels love to stretch and spread their wings. Try associating this behavior with the words “show me your wings” or even “flex,” and reinforce with treats.
Whistling is an entertaining talent for male cockatiels especially. Whistle a short tune, like a cat call, or a longer tune, such as the first line of “Happy Birthday,” to your cockatiel, and reward her when she mimics you.
With this trick, your cockatiel will complete one turn around clockwise on command. Give her treats and praise, and associate this with the command “turn around.”
Ever the clown, many cockatiels will do somersaults around their perch or over your finger in a full 360 degrees, landing upright back on the perch. This is a bit less common as a natural behavior, so you may need to work with her a bit to get the hang of it.
Say Her Name
While their capacity for language isn’t vast, cockatiels can often learn to say their names if the names are one or two syllables. Try saying her name repeatedly and reward her when she mimics you. Once she gets it, associate it with the question "What's your name?" for her to do it on command. This may take quite a few tries, but it is really worth the effort.
Jennafer Martin has more than 14 years of experience in writing, editing and brand management for literary, business-to-business and consumer publications. She is a writer for Zoe Soul Spa and "Pets in the City" magazine.