Cockatiels Make Fun Pets
Cockatiel? I never even heard of it until my son bought one. Cockatiels are actually small cockatoos and are natives of the outback regions of Australia. They make great pets. I really liked my son’s and it was a time when my husband was working nights, my last child home was a senior in high school and I was alone a lot. Of course I had two dogs and a cat but their interpersonal skills are limited so I decided to buy a cockatiel. There are many cockatiel breeders but I went to a local pet store that housed their cockatiels in walk in cages. You could walk into the cage and choose your own cockatiel. When I walked into the cage the cockatiel I was looking at flew out, the rest stayed on their perches. I told the lady I wanted to the one that flew away. After a fifteen minute chase around the store, into the storeroom and back into the store she was able to catch the cockatiel that I named Trouble on the spot. I bought a cage and the necessary food and took Trouble home. What is it about cockatiels? They're adorable!
I began to read and study up on my new household member. I found out that cockatiels live anywhere from 13 to 30 years with the average being around 15. It is very important to keep their cages clean which is a real challenge since, like all birds, they aren’t very neat and being cockatiels they are very ‘dusty’ birds. I had bought a cage big enough for Trouble to flex and spread his wings with room for him to climb and play, all important for a cockatiel. I also learned that males are the talkers while females are the quiet ones. Quite the role reversal. The problem is when cockatiels are young, as Trouble was, you can’t tell if they’re male or female. The orange coloring on their cheeks denotes male from female. Males have the darker coloring, again, like all birds the most colorful are the males. Of course this coloring doesn’t really show until they are about six months to a year so we had no idea whether Trouble was a boy or girl until he was almost a year old. It’s also a good idea to hand feed your cockatiel to get him used to you. Anyway, I was determined to work with Trouble and to teach him to talk. Another important aspect is food. Most people feed their birds seeds but the new pellet foods are said to be more nutritious for the bird with less waste. Seeds are now being compared to the fatty foods and junk foods we eat while pellets are compared to our fruit and vegetables which by the way are good for cockatiels too, fresh fruit and vegetables that is.
Working with Trouble began the very next day. Young cockatiels are shy in that they really aren’t used to being handled and don’t want to be. You have to work with them slowly and consistently to teach them. I read somewhere to do your training in a confined space. The only confined space I could think of was my bathroom. Oh, and it was recommended that you begin trying to get them on a stick before trying your finger. So, off we went to the bathroom. I had Trouble in his cage and stick in my hand. We went in and I closed the bathroom door. I put the cage on the floor and sat next to it. I talked to Trouble, calling him by name over and over to get him used to his name and my voice. I just sat and talked to him for about an hour. The next day we repeated the procedure. The next day I opened the cage door and left it open while I talked to him. He began to get curious and look at me while I was talking. The next day (a lot of next days here) I decided to put the stick in the cage. I placed it right in front of his feet and kept talking to him the entire time. His only reaction was to peck at the stick. The big day finally arrived. We went into the bathroom, I closed the bathroom door and opened the cage door. I placed the stick by Trouble’s feet and began talking to him. As I talked I very gently rubbed the stick on his feet. Much to my surprise he jumped on the stick. I just held the stick with Trouble on it for a few seconds then tried to pull the stick out of the cage. He immediately jumped off the stick. We did this two or three days and finally I was able to keep him on the stick and take the stick out of the cage. He was now responding! Gradually I moved the stick further away from the cage. As he became more comfortable I stood up with him on the stick. He got a little spooked and jumped off onto the bathroom floor. I waited a minute, then put the stick in front of him and he jumped back on. I then put him back in the cage. We continued this training until he was very comfortable getting on the stick and I could move the stick and walk around a little with him on the stick.
These hour long sessions usually took place at night when no one was home. However, I was also determined to teach him to speak. I kept saying “Hey Trouble” over and over but knew it wasn’t enough so I made a tape of my voice saying “Hey Trouble” and played it over and over throughout the day. My husband and son were ready to strangle me and throw out the tape recorder until one day Trouble said “Hey Trouble!” That was just the beginning. He didn’t speak much, just hey trouble, hello and night night but could he whistle and mimic! Whenever he heard the microwave beeping he would imitate it. There were times we weren’t sure if it was the microwave or the bird. When my husband would stir his coffee Trouble tried to imitate the sound of the spoon in the cup. He did a great imitation of the phone ringing as well. Then came the ‘wolf whistle’ and the ‘come here’ whistle. Things got really interesting then. I taught him to whistle Happy Birthday and Rockabye Baby.
Trouble was becoming a member of the family. Though he spent most of his time in the cage we did let him out to play. No matter where he went or what he was doing if I put the stick by his feet he hopped on and I could put him back in the cage. We were always careful there were no windows open or no drafts to make him sick. Cockatiels aren’t too bright when it comes to flying around the house. They’ll fly into mirrors and windows. They can get going at true break-neck speed and will hurt themselves so we clipped his wings. With clipped wings Trouble could fly level and down to the floor but not up.
Trouble would sit on my husband’s shoulder and peck at his face and ears. He loved to sit by my husband because he also ate my husband’s mashed potatoes and corn right off his plate. One night he ate the butter off the mashed potatoes then spit it all over the counter. We kept him away from the butter after that. Trouble liked rice and nuts, and corn was one of his favorites but his absolute favorite food was chicken. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a relative he was eating.
He loved to play on our island counter and was fascinated by potato chip bags. He ate the potato chips then one day walked into the bag. The inside of the bag was like aluminum foil, very reflective. Well, he walked in and wouldn’t come out! We think he saw himself inside the bag and mistook it for another bird. He also fell in love with my blue geese salt and pepper shakers. He would often talk to them and peck at them.
Trouble especially liked my high school aged son. My son played with him and teased him and he loved it. My son would brush his teeth next to Trouble's cage and Trouble would imitate the sound of the toothbrush. Trouble's favorite activity with my son was putting his head in my son's mouth and just hanging out.
Trouble also made friends with our family dog. He would ride around on the dog's back. Fortunately the dog was an easy going dog and didn't mind having a bird ride on his back. He never bothered the bird.
In the warm weather I often took trouble out in the backyard with me and let him sit in one of our cedar trees. He thought he was the cat's meow! I was careful not to let him stay in the sun too long as small birds can get heatstroke very easily. We took him for rides in the car too - of course always making sure the windows were closed and he was secure when we got in and out of the car. As long as he was sitting on someone's shoulder he didn't care where he was or where he went. He was a happy, cheeful bird, often singing and whistling, sometimes when you didn't want him to like when you were on the phone or watching tv.
Birds need to chew. You can buy various bird toys and straw hangers for them to chew. Trouble had lots of toys. They also like to chew on wood but you have to be careful what type you give them as not all kinds of wood are good for them. I was fortunate to have a friend whose father had an apple orchard. She used to give me branches from the apple trees. I would wash them and bake them for a short time in a low oven to dry them out. Once they cooled they were ready for Trouble. Trouble chewed and played with them until he chewed right through them and there was nothing left he could holdl on to, then I'd give him a new one. I also bought him millet sprays. Cockatiels eat millet in Australia and I will say Trouble always ate his immediately and didn't stop until it was gone.
Trouble loved to take a bath. I bought him one of those bird baths that go in the cage and he would have no part of it, but when you'd look in the cage he'd have his head in his water dish. Then he'd dip one wing in then the other. So, I tried the spray bottle. I would fill a spray bottle with warm water (make sure all windows were closed so there were no drafts) and proceed to spray him. He'd put his head down, then up, he'd open one wing then the other, and hang upside down so I could get his whole body wet. Then he'd turn around so I could get the back. When he was totally wet, he was finished. I'd stop and he'd sit and preen till his feathers were dry.
Trouble was definitely a people bird. He loved being around people and he really loved to have his head rubbed. If anyone went near his cage he would immediately sidle up to the bars as close as he could and put his head down for you to rub. He'd turn his head around almost backwards so you could get the whole thing. If you started to walk away he'd back up to the bars and put his head down to let you know he wasn't finished yet! Actually, all you had to do was look in his direction and he'd put his head down to let you know he was ready.
As we know all good things must end and autumn leaves must fall. Troubles' autumn came one night when he was nearly 16 years old. We found him at the bottom of the cage one morning. He was a warm and friendly bird and sorely missed. I really believe cockatiels can be fun and are wonderful pets.
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