How To Train A Cockatiel (5 Fun Tricks)

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

Training a new behaviour is one of the most enriching activities you can engage your cockatiel in. It’s fun, builds trust, and most importantly, training is educational for your cockatiel.

Parrots love to learn new behaviours and tricks!

This article shows you 5 fun training tricks you can easily start teaching your cockatiel today! 

You’ll also learn exactly how to begin training your cockatiel in the most effective way possible.

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5 Fun Training Tricks For Cockatiels

1. Touch The Target (Target Training)

One of the most beneficial tricks you can teach a cockatiel is to touch a target stick. If there’s any behaviour you should start before anything else, it’s target training. Not only is it the easiest trick to teach, but it can help lead your cockatiel into more complicated training programs, such as flight or spinning around.

Because once they know that they get a treat for touching the target, they’ll allow it to guide their behaviour.

Here’s how to start target training a cockatiel:

Firstly, you want to choose a target and get a clicker. Make sure the target is made from bird-safe materials as your cockatiel’s beak will be all over it.

Here’s my target training setup:

how to train a cockatiel

I use a bamboo skewer as the target stick and a pen as a clicker, pretty simple.

Secondly, you need to get that first-ever target training repetition. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get this by simply holding the target near their beak. Cockatiels are naturally curious about whatever you put in front of them, so they might touch it straight away, which is when you reward them heavily.

However, it’s best to start off with a bit of luring in most cases.

Hold your cockatiel’s favourite treat near the end of the target stick and reward them when their beak gently touches the target. Even accidental touches should be rewarded. Once the cockatiel realises they get a treat after touching the target stick, they’ll be willing to move toward it and eventually fly across the room to touch it.

This is the end goal of target training of course.

Each successful target training rep will make the next one easier and easier as the bird becomes more confident with the task.

Watch closely as I do a few target training reps with my cockatiel:

Learn the full tactical guide to target training your bird…

2. Go On Your Finger (Step-Up Training)

Everyone wants to train their cockatiel to perch on their finger, it’s only the BEST part of bird ownership. Not only is teaching this behaviour great for your relationship, but it makes transporting them around the house easy and stress-free. Your main goal with step-up training is to teach your cockatiel to step onto your finger upon command. Unlike target training, you must associate a command phrase with this behaviour.

“step up”, “hop up”, or “up” are all acceptable command phrases for step-up training.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start step-up training your cockatiel:

  1. As is the same with target training, you need that get that first step-up repetition through luring. With your right hand, hold a delicious treat about 7 – 10 cm away from your left hand. Your left hand should be held at about 5 cm from your cockatiels chest. This will prompt them to step onto your hand in order to reach the food. Luring using a target stick is also an option if your cockatiel fully understands target training. Say the command phrase whenever you present your hand – this will get your cockatiel to associate the command phrase with the action and reward.
  1. Repeat the previous step until your cockatiel understands that stepping up earns them a treat.
  1. Phase out the luring. Once your cockatiel begins to understand, you can hide the treat when presenting your hand. Reveal and give the treat once they step up.

Read the beginner-friendly guide to step-up training your bird…

3. Fly To You & Fly To A Perch (Flight Training)

Being able to recall your cockatiel from the other side of the room is one of the best feelings ever! Even after years of caring for these guys, I’m still in awe whenever he gracefully flies to my hand. Mastering flight training is a lengthy process as there are quite a few steps involved. It’s relatively easy to train a cockatiel to fly short or medium distances to and from your hand, but it’s a bit harder teaching them to fly between rooms or around corners.

To keep this article short and simple, I’ll only go through short to medium-distance flight training.

You can read the full flight training guide here…

Here’s how to start training your cockatiel to fly to you:

  1. Start off exactly how I explained in the first stage of the “step-up” tutorial, except beginning with small hops instead of a simple step-up. Offer your left hand for them to jump to, and hold a nearby treat with your right hand. If your cockatiel has already mastered stepping up, this isn’t too much of a change and they should pick it up fairly quickly. Select a unique command phrase and say it whenever you offer your hand. Every time they jump to your hand, give them a treat.
  1. After your cockatiel is comfortable enough with short hops, you can slowly increase the distance with every rep. You want them to start using their wings to reach you. It’s then only a matter of practising daily and increasing the distance even further. Eventually, you’ll have them flying across the whole house!

Here’s how to get your cockatiel to fly to a perch from your hand:

It’s really the same process, except you’ll be guiding your cockatiel to the perch from your hand instead of the other way around. Using either a treat or a target stick, lure them to the perch from your hand at a short distance. After a few successful short flights, increase the distance so they need to use their wings to reach the perch.

Practice a few times daily and your cockatiel will eventually be flying to you and to a perch from long distances.

4. Spin Around

Have you ever thought about training your cockatiel to spin around? Although teaching this behaviour has no practical use, it’s certainly a fun little trick that your bird will enjoy learning! For the best results, your cockatiel should be 100% comfortable with target training before teaching them to spin around. The target stick will be used to guide them in the spinning motion, so your cockatiel needs to know how to follow it.

Here’s how to spin train a cockatiel:

  1. You should first start with rewarding half-spins. Point the target stick behind your cockatiel so they need to turn around the touch it. Reward them for turning, and not touching the target. You must say the command phrase (“spin” or “turn”) as you’re pointing with the target stick. If you’re lucky, you might be able to request a full spin right off the bat, but it works best for most people if you start rewarding half spins and then gradually move on to full spins. Practice daily and reward half-spins until your cockatiel understands the trick before trying full spins.
  1. Try to get a full spin. You can do this by either moving the target stick all the way around your cockatiel or by using a treat to finish the full spin from the half spin position. A full spin is when your cockatiel spins from a position facing you back to the same position facing you. A half spin is when they turn from a position facing you to a position with their backs facing you. When they’re facing away from you (half-spin), you can use the treat or target stick to lure them back to the position facing you. That’s the full spin.
  1. Stop rewarding half-spins after they do their first successful full spin. You should also heavily reward your cockatiel for the very first full spin. This will tell them that full spins are required to earn treats and that half-spins are no longer good enough.
  1. Remember to be patient. Training a cockatiel to spin on command can be a lengthy process so you need to give them enough time to learn half-spins and then full-spins. It’ll definitely take a few training sessions to learn the full behaviour.

BirdTricks actually have a really informative video where they’re coaching a student on how to spin train their cockatiel, which I’ll link below if you really want to dive deep into teaching this behaviour.

It’s arguably one of the best spin training tutorials on YouTube:

5. Talk Or Sing (Train Your Cockatiel To Talk)

Generally speaking, cockatiels are often not the best talkers. Their voices are raspy and simply not as clear as a budgie or African grey parrot when they speak. However, you can train a cockatiel to say a few short phrases if that’s your goal, but you would have an easier time teaching them how to whistle a certain tune.

Male cockatiels are also much better at mimicking than females.

Although they can’t talk very well, cockatiels are masters at whistling and singing!

Whether you want to teach your cockatiel how to talk or teach them a whistle song, the guide below will help you!

Here’s how to train a cockatiel to talk or sing:

  1. Pick one phrase or song you want your cockatiel to mimic. Your cockatiel won’t pick up anything if you’re constantly switching between phrases or songs. Just pick a single sound and stick to it for however long it takes before your cockatiel begins repeating it.
  1. Repeat the phrase/song a lot. Cockatiels will only repeat sounds they hear often, so you’ll need to say or play a selected sound more often than you would probably like before your bird starts repeating. I would suggest allowing your bird to hear the selected sound for at least an hour a day, broken up into 15-minute sessions. For words, you can simply say them or you can have a recording of yourself saying them. For whistle songs, you could whistle them yourself or you can find a YouTube video that sings your chosen song.
  1. Try to associate the sound with positive feelings. If your cockatiel sees the sound you want them to repeat as positive, they’re more likely to say or sing it. Try offering both treats and attention while they’re listening to your selected sound. Hopefully, this will help them see it as a good sound.
  1. Reward their attempts at making the sound. Even if the sound isn’t 100% accurate, you should give a treat and some vocal praise for the attempt. Doing this actually encourages them to keep trying! When they eventually talk or sing with 100% accuracy, you can heavily reward them with LOTS of treats.

I’ve taught my cockatiel to sing one part of “another one bites the dust”, but there are almost endless phrases, words, and songs you can teach!

Learn the full step-by-step guide on how to teach a cockatiel to talk OR sing

Are Cockatiels Easy To Train? (REVEALED)

Thanks to their high intelligence, cockatiels can retain a lot of information, which makes them fairly easy to train. Obviously, some behaviours are easier to teach than others, but cockatiels have an overall high trainability.

They can easily learn the simple “step-up”, “target”, and “flight” commands that I encourage all owners to teach their birds.

Hand-raised cockatiels are even easier to train as they’re more accepting of people.

But my cockatiel was not hand-raised and he still knows many tricks!

How to train a cockatiel

5 Super Important Tips For Training Cockatiels

In this section, I want to quickly offer you my 5 most important training tips that you can use to get better results from your cockatiel. If you follow what has already been explained in this article AND the 5 tips below, you’ll get the consistent training results you need!

1. Always Reward Behaviours You Want To See More Of

Cockatiels are motivated by positive reinforcement, which means they’re more likely to behave in ways that were previously encouraged. Treats, attention, and head scratches are great ways to encourage your cockatiel to showcase good behaviours.

Using positive reinforcement is the most effective way to teach new behaviours to cockatiels.

2. Heavily Reward First Reps

The first time your cockatiel does a successful training rep for any new behaviour you want to teach, you should give them more treats than usual and a LOT of vocal praise.

It’s a simple trick, yet so powerful!

This helps the cockatiel realise what behaviours earn them treats FASTER, which will ultimately boost training efficiency.

3. Do Some Warm-Up Reps Before Teaching New Tricks

Before attempting to teach your cockatiel a new behaviour, you need to get them in the training mood. You can do this by doing a few reps of an easy trick, such as touching the target, before moving on to teaching a new behaviour.

I found that warming up with target training helps prepare for target-related tricks, such as spinning around or flight.

4. Reserve Favourite Treats Strictly For Training

Cockatiels will train primarily for treats, this has been pretty well established in this article. But what would happen if they get their favourite treats for free all the time?

Simple answer: They’re less motivated to train!

By reserving your cockatiel’s favourite treats solely for training, they’ll be more excited, motivated, and willing to work for them.

Cut back on giving treats for no reason.

Cockatiels are also more receptive to training when on a good base diet…

5. Use A Different Command Phrase For Each Behaviour

Each new behaviour you want to teach comes with a different command phrase. The whole point of training is to get your bird to associate your spoken phrase with the desired action and positive reinforcement.

This might seem obvious to advanced trainers, but I’m looking to help out some beginners too 🙂

Thank you for reading.

Click here to discover some more informative parrot training guides…


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