How To Train A Cockatiel To Fly To You (Easy Guide)
Training your cockatiel to fly to you on command is easier than you might think.
One common mistake new bird trainers make is asking their cockatiel to fly to them from a long distance right away.
This is not the best way to start.
At first, you should start at a very short distance and then progressively make your way to longer distances.
This is the process I used to successfully flight train my cockatiel, Arthur.
Although no former training is necessary, your cockatiel might understand the command better if they were step-up trained.
This is because step-up training teaches them that getting on your hand will lead to a treat.
But they can just as easily learn this when starting recall training.
Note: In case you didn’t know, training your cockatiel to fly to you is referred to as “recall training” or “flight training”.
This article will teach you how to easily flight train your cockatiel.
You’ll also learn how to set yourself up for a successful training session, how to teach flight with target training, and how to get your bird to fly back to a perch.
But first, let’s talk about why you should teach flight training!
- How Flight Training Benefits Your Cockatiel
- Setting Yourself Up For A Successful Training Session
- Training Your Cockatiel To Fly To You
- Jump Distance Recall Training (First Repetition)
- Long Distance Flight Training
- Recall Training From Different Rooms
- Teaching Your Cockatiel To Come To You (Using Target Training)
- Teaching Your Cockatiel To Fly From You To A Perch
- Cockatiel Flight Training Tips & Tricks
How Flight Training Benefits Your Cockatiel
First of all, exercise.
A cockatiel’s main way to burn calories and maintain strong wing muscles is by flying.
Without flight, cockatiels can develop muscle atrophy.
Muscle atrophy is when muscles diminish due to a lack of use.
This is why I and many avian experts strongly discourage clipping a parrot’s wings.
Secondly, it builds confidence.
A cockatiel who regularly flies to you and around the house will be more confident in their flying ability.
Which ultimately makes them more skilled fliers.
Dodging obstacles (walls, furniture, household objects) will get easier for your cockatiel the more often they fly.
By teaching flight to your bird, you’re helping to ensure their own safety during flight.
Lastly, it’s fun!
Cockatiels and all other birds were built for flying and they absolutely love it.
Setting Yourself Up For A Successful Training Session
Before you actually begin flight training, you first need to set yourself up for success.
This means you’ll need to have your equipment, mindset, and environment ready for a successful training session.
Let’s discuss equipment first…
Your Cockatiels Favourite Treats For Training
The only piece of equipment you’ll need for flight training are delicious treats.
Treats will be your main way to positively reinforce desired behaviours from your cockatiel.
In this case, the desired behaviour would be them flying to you on command.
Each individual bird will have their own favoured treats that they enjoy working and training for.
A cockatiel’s typical favourites include:
- Millet spray
- Sunflower seeds
- Seed mix
- Dried fruit
- Leafy greens
Experiment with different foods to discover your bird’s favourite treat.
Related: Full List Of Safe Fruits For Parrots
The Right Mindset
Before you begin flight training, you need to be in the right mindset.
What I mean is that you need to be ready to be consistent with:
- The command phrase (phrase and tone)
- Hand gestures
- The way you train
- When to give treats
Because when it comes to any type of training, consistency is key.
You’ll also need to be prepared to be patient, especially if this is the first time doing flight training.
They might not come to you the first time you ask, which is totally normal.
You cannot rush or force your bird to do anything.
Doing that will only make them lose trust in you and will definitely not benefit the training process or the general bond between you and your bird.
Right now, I’m trying to get you to understand the bird training mindset.
This mindset will help you progress faster in any training.
The command phrase you use for flight training must be different from any other command phrases you use for other training programs.
You must also remain consistent with the command phrase that you choose.
Here are some phrases you could use for flight training:
- “Come here”
- *Your bird’s name*
If you have multiple birds, it might be beneficial to use their names as the command phrase.
This will give each bird their own unique command phrase so that you can call them to you individually.
Your goal with a command phrase is to get your cockatiel to associate the command phrase and desired behaviour with getting a treat.
How do you do that?
You repeat the command phrase until they fly to you and then give them a treat.
If you do this consistently and practice often, your cockatiel will start to understand what the phrase is asking them to do.
Flight Training Environment
Although training in and around the cage can be good, some birds get distracted by their toys and other objects.
For this reason, I believe it’s best to train away from the cage as often as possible.
I believe the two best places for training your cockatiel are:
- On tabletops (or other flat surfaces)
- Training perches
Wherever you decide to train, minimising as many distractions as possible will help your bird learn better.
For the best results, your cockatiel should have their full attention on you and the training.
This is best done in a distraction-free area.
Training Your Cockatiel To Fly To You
Once you’re set-up, you’re ready to begin teaching your cockatiel to fly to you on command.
I’m going to break this part down into 3 sections:
- Jump distance recall training (starting point)
- Long-distance flight training
- Room recall training (flying to you from a different room)
Think of each section as a progressive milestone that you must meet before moving on to the next.
Let’s go through each section, step-by-step.
Jump Distance Recall Training (First Repetition)
Jump distance recall training is exactly what it sounds like:
Teaching your cockatiel to come to you from a short jumping distance without using their wings.
This is where you’ll get that first repetition.
To get that first repetition at a jumping distance, you’ll need to do some luring.
Luring is when you’re directing your bird’s actions by enticing them with a treat.
Hold the treat near your hand but out of your cockatiel’s reach, give the command phrase, and then wait for them to jump to your hand.
They’ll need to jump to your hand in order to get the treat.
Luring should stop after the first few reps as it’s not actually teaching the bird anything.
They’re simply following the food.
After a few successful repetitions, you should stop luring by hiding the treat when giving the command phrase.
Those few successful reps have likely taught your bird that jumping to your hand earns them a reward.
This is your first foot in the flight training door!
It only gets easier from here.
Long Distance Flight Training
When your cockatiel understands jump distance recall training, you can slowly increase the space they need to fly to get to your hand.
This is essentially increasing the difficulty for them.
With each successful rep, increase the distance by about 5 – 10cm
You’ll eventually reach a point where your cockatiel doesn’t want to fly to you anymore.
When this happens:
DO NOT DECREASE THE DISTANCE.
This will make them less willing to fly that distance because they know you’re just going to make it easier for them by reducing the distance.
Instead, you should persist at that distance or end the training session and try again later.
You must allow your cockatiel to fail in order for them to learn.
Continue to work and persist at the distance your cockatiel is stuck with in order to get them to fly to you from long distances.
The longer the distance you can get your cockatiel to fly from, the better.
Especially if you plan on getting your bird to fly to you between separate rooms.
Recall Training From Different Rooms
To get a cockatiel to fly to you from different rooms, they need to:
- Be confident flyers (even through doorways)
- Be comfortable in each room that you want them to fly to and from
- Fully understand the command phrase
- Be motivated to fly to you
You likely won’t be able to get this to happen until you’ve fully mastered long-distance flight training.
If you’re just starting to flight train your cockatiel, this section won’t apply to you yet.
Once your bird has fully mastered flight training from a long distance, you can start conditioning them to fly to different rooms.
The way I would start conditioning them is by training them to fly through doorways.
Start with short-distance flights through doorways.
When your bird is comfortable flying through doorways, you can start increasing the distance.
Another thing you can do to condition them for flight training between rooms is having them fly to you from around a corner.
This will get your cockatiel comfortable with flying to you without seeing you.
You want your cockatiel to rely on their hearing to find you.
Continually give the command phrase until they land on you to ensure they don’t lose you.
Practice this with a corner in one room before trying to recall them from different rooms.
One last thing:
You should do flight training in any room you wish your cockatiel to be comfortable in.
This will make them more willing to fly there as they’re already confident enough to fly in that room.
Just letting them hang out in that room will also help them be more comfortable with the room.
Birds who aren’t comfortable with an area will be hesitant to fly there.
And hesitation is not ideal for training.
Teaching Your Cockatiel To Come To You (Using Target Training)
Now, what I taught earlier was just one method you could use to flight train your cockatiel.
I presented that as my main method because it’s the method that I used to flight train my cockatiel.
However, another effective way to teach your bird to fly to you is through target training.
For this, your cockatiel will need to be target trained.
If they aren’t, you won’t be able to train this way.
It’s the exact same process from jump distance to long-distance flight training, except you’ll be utilising a target stick to guide the parrot to your hand.
Starting off at jump distance, you’ll still be luring your bird to your hand at first…
But instead of luring with a treat, you’ll be using a target stick.
If your bird is target trained, they should know that they get a treat for touching the target.
Here’s what to do:
Simply hold the target stick by your hand, give the command phrase, and reward them when they jump over to you.
If you’re using clicker training, you *click* as soon as they jump to your hand.
Here’s a good demonstration from parrot wizard:
Again, you’ll slowly increase the distance after every successful repetition.
Eventually, your cockatiel will be able to fly to you from long distances.
One big difference between luring with treats and luring with a target stick is that you don’t need to stop using the target.
You can continue to direct your bird with the target stick for as long as you want.
Because when using a target, it’s not luring, it’s guiding.
You can transition to flight training without the target stick whenever you feel comfortable doing so.
Ideally, you should wait until your bird fully understands the command phrase.
Teaching Your Cockatiel To Fly From You To A Perch
As well as learning to fly from a perch to your hand, your cockatiel can also be trained to fly from you to a perch.
It’s pretty much the same learning process, except it’s the other way around.
When teaching your cockatiel to fly to a perch, you need to start small.
Start by rewarding them every time you put them back on their perch.
This will teach your cockatiel that being placed on a perch will earn them a treat.
For efficiency, you can reward them when perching them after each flight repetition.
Once you notice a bit of treat anticipation after placing them on a perch, you can start saying a new command phrase while asking them to fly a short distance to their perch.
Here’s a quick video demonstration:
A different command phrase should be used to ask them to fly away from you.
This helps your cockatiel differentiate between these two tasks.
Here are the command phrases I use:
- Flying to me = “Come here”
- Flying to perch/cage = “Go”
After each successful flight back to the perch, give a reward and increase the distance.
See? It’s exactly the same process as flying to you, except the other way around.
Try training your cockatiel to fly to different perches, table tops and cages to increase their flying and landing skills.
Cockatiel Flight Training Tips & Tricks
In this section, I just want to give you some general tips for flight training your cockatiel:
- You can positively reinforce any behaviour you want to see more of (including flying) by giving treats, vocal praise, or scratches.
- If you don’t think your cockatiel is comfortable starting recall training at a jumping distance, you can start by luring them to walk to you and then step up. You can then transition from step-up training to flight training from short distances and then longer distances.
- Achieving that first repetition is the hardest part of teaching new behaviours. Once you positively reinforce that first rep, getting the next reps will be easier as the bird begins to understand the actions that earn them a treat.
- Integrating clicker training when teaching new behaviours (including flight) has been proven to teach new behaviours faster. However, it’s not necessary if you don’t want to use it.
- Only train when your bird wants to train. If they’re ignoring you or they’re doing something else, they probably don’t want to train right now. Forcing any unwanted interactions will make them lose trust in you.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyDLpU5eZv0 (Parrot Wizard on flight training)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VxLG3UG-94 (BirdTricks on flight training small birds)