When it comes to birds – and pets in general – I don’t think there’s any one way to do something. What works for some animals won’t necessarily work for others. This can apply to training, bonding, you name it.
There is no secret to birds, or any animal – except this:
Love, compassion, trust, respect, gentleness. And time.
When you bring a new pet home, it takes time to build a bond – time for your new companion to adjust to you, its new environment, and everything else. You end up returning the trust an animal puts in you, knowing it won’t bite you or turn on you. (Especially true with birds.)
Taming your bird is definitely not impossible, although it can be difficult and even frustrating. You don’t need to pay a single cent or pence, either, even if your bird bites.
Try, first, not to think of it so much as taming, but as making a friend. Sounds a bit silly, but it’s a good mentality.
Remember that a biting bird cannot be punished. It is trying to tell you something in the only way it knows how.
I’ll give you an example: It took our pet shop cockatiel, Mishka, well over six months to even begin to trust us. Up until that point, she was terrified of us. We couldn’t even dream of getting her to step up, let alone do something like carry her around the house without her having a nuclear meltdown.
So how did we do it?
For the first phase, we moved slowly and quietly around her cage for a good two weeks. We rarely made eye-contact with her, as that can be perceived as threatening.
During this time, we kept her company by sitting as near to the cage as she was comfortable with, talking softly to her, saying her name lots, and letting her see that we weren’t going to hurt her. She gradually got used to our household noises. Around that two week mark, we started opening her cage door. She had the freedom to choose if she wanted out. Mostly she didn’t.
We did not clip her wings. This meant that she felt she could remove herself if everything was becoming too much. (I personally feel that you should not clip your bird’s wings unless in special circumstances.)
We tried not to force her to do anything.
Sometimes not forcing Mishka to do something simply wasn’t an option… but we offered her as much choice as was safe and reasonable.
We showed her how to play with toys by playing
obnoxiously enthusiastically with them ourselves. She had comfortable perches, was encouraged to exercise by flying, and we introduced her to new, healthy foods day by day.
When she was looking forward to these tasty things showing up in her bowl, we offered them to her by hand – through the bars, with our bodies facing away from her (non-confrontational). She was slow to take them, but eventually gained confidence. Millet and broccoli were two particular favourites.
To encourage our ‘tiel to come out of cage, we had to try a variety of things. First, we placed strategic perches all around the outside of the cage. She had the option to sit on the door as it was open, or near the top/front of her cage. The top/front perch also gave her better access to the top, where we often placed millet and toys.
Every now and then, we also offered her meals outside the cage. We’d get a bowl heavy enough that she wouldn’t topple it, put down some newspaper, and serve her breakfast on the kitchen table. With the cage kept very near the table itself, she had the option to quickly retreat.
Eating meals at the same time as our parrot helped. It’s a flock instinct. When she was happy to take food from our fingers, we shared tidbits straight off our plate (of the healthiest bits, of course).
Slowly but surely, she began to see that we weren’t completely evil.
Our journey with Mishka has been at times frustrating. We would often sit and wonder whether she’d ever be ‘tame.’ She would bite us from fear, fly away at our approach, and seemed generally to hate us. She’d scream all day from loneliness, fear, and boredom. Merely approaching her cage caused her to shake visibly.
And then there was a breakthrough moment where my boyfriend, O., called Mishka’s bluff and let her bite him as he asked her to step up. Soon, she was stepping up quite regularly, and now we’ve even struck upon a compromise: I offer a wrist, and she hops on quite happily.
If you give an animal compassion and understanding, it will appreciate that. These creatures may not have ‘human’ intelligence, but believe me when I say that birds, cats, dogs, etc., have emotions and feelings. They are also more clever than you might expect – just ask any owner.
The only true secret to birds and animals is respect.