How To Easily Teach The “Step-Up” Command To Your Bird

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

step up training bird

One of the most important things you can teach a bird is how to step up on command.

Whether you have a small parakeet or a large macaw, your bird should know how to step up onto your finger or handheld perch.

Teaching how to step up builds up the bird’s trust and confidence in you as their handler.

It’s also a great way to bond with them.

how to teach step up to a bird
(Image Credit: Pixabay)

Birds who know how to step up on command are much easier to transport and control.

It simply makes it easier to move them around the house or put them in the cage when needed.

This article will walk you through the entire process of step-up training your parrot.

You’ll also learn some general training tips and tricks that you can use to further boost training efficiency.

But first, there are some things you must know before starting.

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Before You Begin Step-Up Training Your Bird

Before starting, you need to decide how you’re going to train your bird.

Many bird trainers decide to integrate clicker training and target training with step-up training.

Although it’s not necessary, clicker training can help speed up the step-up training process as birds learn faster with clicks.

Read how to clicker train a bird here.

Consistency is key when it comes to teaching birds new behaviours.

Whether you decide to use clicker training or not, you must remain consistent with the way you train.

So, will you use clicker training?

(Image Credit: Unsplash)

Another thing you need to decide is what you want your bird to step up onto.

Of course, you’ll eventually want them to step up onto your finger, but you can start off with a handheld perch if your bird isn’t too comfortable with hands yet.

Personally, I taught my cockatiel how to step up onto my hand first.

If you decide to use a handheld perch, you must remain consistent with that for a while.

Once your bird learns the command, you can switch to step-up training on your hand.

But during the learning process, it’s best to remain consistent as you don’t want to confuse your bird.

Rewards For Step-Up Training

Rewards are an essential part of any training program.

Once your bird does the desired behaviour (stepping up), you give a reward to tell them that they did a good job.

If you’re using clicker training, you *click* as the behaviour happens and then give the reward.

Your main reward for bird training will be a variety of treats.

To keep the bird heavily motivated, it’s best to use their favourite treats.

Learn how to discover your parrot’s favourite treats.

For smaller birds such as cockatiels, budgies, and lovebirds, you could use:

  • Millet spray
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Vegetables (my cockatiel loves working for spinach)

Larger birds will prefer larger treats, such as:

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

Other rewards can be head scratches and voice praise, but these should be accompanied by treats instead of used by themselves.

(Image Credit: Unsplash)

Deciding On A Command Phrase

A command phrase is simply a word you say that tells the bird what you want them to do.

All tricks and training programs will have a different phrase.

You should decide on the command phrase before teaching the behaviour.

The goal with a command phrase is to get the bird to associate the phrase with doing the behaviour and getting a treat.

Some examples of command phrases for step-up training include:

  • “Step Up”
  • “Up”
  • “Hop Up”
  • “Perch”

Whichever command phrase you choose, you must keep it consistent.

Changing the command phrase will confuse your bird and cause training progress to delay.

Try to avoid saying the command phrase outside of training sessions as well.

You want your bird to know that the phrase only means for them to step up and not anything else.

Having A Designated Training Area

Any type of training is best done in a distraction-free area.

Distractions can impede a bird’s ability to learn new skills.

During a training session, all attention must be on you and what they’re learning.

For the best results, it’s best to take them into an area where the chances of getting distracted are minimal.

Here’s a list of common distractions for birds:

  • Windows (especially with birds flying around)
  • Their cage
  • Toys
  • Unfamiliar objects or people
  • Other pets

It’s best to have the training area in a different room than the cage.

Training can still be done around the cage, but some birds might get distracted which can delay learning progress.

Ideally, you should teach step-up while your bird is on a T-stand training perch.

T-stands give you more flexibility and room to work with the bird.

If you don’t have a T-stand perch, here’s a natural wooden one from parrot wizard.

(Image Credit: Amazon Reviews)

Once you have your bird set up in a distraction-free area and on a perch you’re comfortable working with, you’re ready to start training!

Teaching Your Bird How To Step-Up

Step-up training is, in my opinion, the easiest command you can teach a bird.

It’s quick, simple, and it’s easy for birds to understand.

Although it’ll get easier for them, a bird with no training experience will just look at your hand in confusion as they won’t know what to do.

Getting that first step up repetition is the hardest part of training.

Once they get it, the task will get easier and easier the more times they do it.

Below I’ll guide you through getting that first step up, I’ll then show you how to get it using target training.

Achieving The Very First Step Up (Without Target Training)

Simply placing your hand near your bird while saying the command phrase will not achieve the first rep.

They’re just going to look at you in confusion.

Your bird might even give you a bite if they get provoked by this sudden action.

Instead of doing that and risking a nasty bite, you should get a treat out and lure them onto your hand.

To lure your bird, hold the treat near the hand you want them to step up onto.

Present your hand just under your bird’s chest while saying the chosen command phrase.

When your hand is near your bird’s chest, the treat should be visible but just out of reach.

Since the bird will likely want the tasty treat, they’ll need to step up onto your hand to get it.

Important: Only give the treat when they step up.

(Video Credit: Salvador Budgie)

Luring is not something you should continue doing.

It is only needed to get the bird to understand that they get a treat when they step up.

After the first or second rep, you should hide the treat when trying the next rep.

If you continue to lure them with treats, the bird will not learn anything as they’ll just be following the food.

Your bird needs to learn what they’re actually doing to earn the treat.

If they’ve stepped up for the treat once or twice, they’re more likely to do it again when the treat isn’t in sight.

This is because they now have this new idea that step up = treat.

Which is exactly what you want!

Achieving That First Step Up (With Target Training)

Now, to get that first rep with a target stick, you pretty much need to use the same strategy except you’ll be luring with a target stick.

Instead of holding a treat near the hand you want your bird to step up onto, you’ll hold a target stick.

Needless to say, your parrot will need to be target trained in order for this to work.

how to teach a bird to step up
My super simple target training set-up

A properly target-trained bird will know that they get a treat when they touch the target stick.

In order to touch the target stick and therefore get a treat, your bird will need to step up.

If you’re also utilising clicker training, you need to *click* as soon as they step up.

Once again, you stop luring after a few successful reps in order to teach the behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you use target training or not, birds can learn how to step up both ways.

Another thing you must know is to have patience when getting this first rep.

Since the task is new and confusing, your bird won’t step up straight away on the first attempt, even with luring.

All you can do is keep asking them to step up until they either succeed or run away.

What To Do If The Bird Runs Away

If your bird moves away during the first training session before you get that first repetition, don’t worry, it’s all good.

You can always try again later on.

Running away from your hand is the bird telling you that they don’t want to engage anymore.

They’re either bored, too confused or simply not interested.

How you respond to this signal is very important…

The worst way to respond is by chasing the bird up and down the perch with your hand.

Doing that will give the bird reason to become fearful and untrustworthy, which will certainly discourage them from any further training.

Here’s the best way to respond:

Simply respect your bird’s boundaries and attempt the training again at another time.

how to teach step up to a parrot
(Image Credit: Unsplash)

If you don’t respect their boundaries or if you try to force unwanted interactions, they’ll start to lose trust in you.

Trust is often hard to get back with birds.

Showing a little respect, patience, and understanding will mean a lot to your bird.

Biting During Step-Up Training

While teaching step-up training to your bird, you’re likely to receive at least one bite.

As long as it doesn’t happen too often, it’s totally fine.

Even the best bird trainers get bitten every once in a while.

Birds will bite to tell you something, if they think you’re stepping out of line, they’ll bite to let you know.

Bites during a training session could have many possible causes:

  • You’re chasing the bird with your hand
  • You’re approaching them with your hand from too far above or below
  • You moved your hand too fast near the bird
  • They don’t want to interact with you

Read this article on why birds bite for more info.

How to Prevent Bites During Step-Up Training

The best way to deal with bites is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

While teaching step-up training to your bird, there are two main strategies you can use to prevent bites:

  • Using the target stick
  • Reading their body language

Using The Target Stick To Prevent Bites

If you’ve decided to use target training to teach the step-up command to your bird, there is a lower chance of receiving a bite.

Since your bird should be focused on the target stick, they would bite that instead of your hand.

Of course, there is still a risk of getting a nasty bite.

But that risk is significantly lowered when using a target stick.

If your bird gets the sudden urge to bite, they’ll likely aim for the target stick rather than your fingers.

Reading Their Body Language

By far the best way to prevent a bite is to understand when your bird is going to bite.

All birds will show signs when they’re about to bite.

To understand these signs, you’ll need to know about your bird’s body language.

Some species are easier to read than others.

Birds with crests are much easier to read than birds without crests.

For example, cockatiels will flatten their crest, open their mouth slightly, and aim their beaks at their target (probably your finger) when they’re about to bite.

Related: Cockatiel Crest: Everything You Need To Know (Crest Positions)

how to teach step up to a bird

First, you learn the signs of a bite.

Once you understand the signs, you simply need to move your hand away from your bird when they show those signs.

10 Tips And Tricks For Step Up Training Your Bird

  • You can start to teach the step-up command anytime after your bird is able to eat and fly by themselves.
  • Teaching your bird to step up for the first time requires patience. They may become aggressive if you’re too persistent.
  • Approaching your bird too fast with your hands may cause fear.
  • The best place to hold your hand when asking to step up is above their feet and under their chest.
  • Always approach your bird around their chest area. Approaching with your hand from too far above or below will cause confusion and fear.
  • Training is best done in a quiet, distraction-free area to ensure the bird’s full attention is on you and the task.
  • Using a target stick to teach the step-up command can lower the chances of biting.
  • The ultimate goal of step-up training is to get your bird to associate the hand gesture, command phrase, and stepping up with getting a treat.



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