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Help with scared and aggressive cockatiel

ClarityBee

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Hello everyone! I need your help!
About two years ago I rescued a cockatiel (Lucky) and a budgie (Tiny), both seniors, from a bad situation. They were in the care of a friend of mine who didn't take good care of them. Their cage was always filthy, their toys were never changed, they were on a seed only diet, and they recieved barely any attention. I didn't know a lot about birds at the time, but I knew I had to help them, so I did a bunch of research and took them home with me. I got them on a better diet and gave them lots of love and attention, and they improved. Somewhat.
Tiny did really well. She was friendly and affectionate, and although she never really warmed up to people and didn't like to be handled, she seemed like a pretty happy bird. She would sing and give me kisses in the morning, and was really responsive to us. Lucky seemed okay, but he was terrified of people and would hiss and bite anytime you went near him. I got him to the point of not being afraid while we were near the cage, but that's it. Neither of them were at all tame, and although I tried to work on handling, no matter what I did or how many guides I followed, it never worked, so eventually I gave up. They had each other and were very bonded, so I figured they would be okay with interaction through the cage. I know this isn't what I should have done, but I didn't know what to do. They seemed happy to just play together in the cage and interact with us through the bars, and none of my attempts at friendship were working, so I let them be.
Tiny passed away last week. Lucky seems to be doing fine, and I've been watching him really closely. However, now I'm stuck, because he's an aggressive and scared bird that won't interact with people that no longer has a bird friend. I don't feel comfortable getting another bird at this time, and I live with my parents and they won't allow it because they don't like birds, so that isn't an option. He won't play with toys. I don't know why, but he never plays with anything I put in the cage, which means without Tiny around all he does is sit in the cage by himself doing nothing. We've been playing lots of music and interacting with him a lot, which he likes (he enjoys playing and singing with us through the cage), but that isn't enough anymore. I've been trying to work with him, but I've hit the same wall I did before and I don't know what to do.
He's okay with faces, but is terrified of hands. If you put your hand in the cage, he hisses and lunges at you. The only treat he likes is millet. (He's super picky about food. I've tried every trick out there to get him to eat fruits, veggies, and other treats, but he won't go near them. He's terrified of anything I put in his cage, and the only things I can get him to eat are his pellets, millet, and some lettuce on rare occasions.) He won't take millet from your hand unless it's an entire sprig that you're holding at one end, and as soon as he notices your hand he freaks out. He's an avid singer and loves to chirp along with us when we're talking or playing music, but will not come out of the cage. It's been two years of me trying to get him used to hands in the cage, and still nothing. He still hisses everytime I change his food and water. There has been lots of treats and patience, but nothing is working and I'm getting desperate.
I don't know what to do. I love him so much and I want to make him happy, but I'm stuck. No matter how slow and patient I am, he still hisses and bites me. I've spent so many hours with my hand resting in the cage, and although he's better than he was two years ago in the sense that he will kind of tolerate it, if I move my hand or go anywhere near him he hisses and lunges. He has a history of pulling out his feathers so I'm terrified of stressing him out. I've shed so many frustrated and heartbroken tears over him and I need help. So to everyone out there who knows more about birds than I do, what should I do? Where do I go from here? How do I tame a lonely bird that is scared, aggressive, and unresponsive?
 

sunnysmom

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I'm sorry for the loss of your budgie. It can be frustrating when all we want to do is scoop them up and love them and they want no part of it. Does he come out of his cage at all? Have you tried putting a perch just outside of the cage door and hanging some millet by it to entice him to come out? Often tiels are cage territorial so you may have better luck working with him outside of the cage. You just need to make sure it's safe for him to come out. My current foster tiel tends to fly out of his cage instead of climbing out.

What kind of toys have you tried? Balsa is often a tiel fav. With my senior tiel, I would have to lay a toy beside his cage for a few days where he could see it. Then hang it on the outside for a few more and then eventually move it in.

I'm sure others will have ideas for you too. :)

@CeciliaZ ? @Tiel Feathers ? @Birdbabe ?
 

ClarityBee

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Thanks for the tips @sunnysmom ! And thank you for the kind words! It's been difficult not having Tiny around.
He won't come out of the cage. I've attached a perch to the outside of the cage with millet before but he's never gone for it. Tiny would climb out for it, but Lucky never would. He seemed interested a few times but was never brave enough. I'll have to try again. I think part of the problem was that he's not a very good climber and he can't fly (His wings aren't clipped or anything, he just can't and I'm not sure why. Maybe too many years in too small of a cage? He has some odd feathers on one of his wings so it could be an old injury or something) so he couldn't figure out how to get to it. I'll see if I can find an easier spot for him. Because he can't fly, won't come out on his own, and is so terrified of hands, it makes it almost impossible to get him out of the cage. The few times he's been out he seems okay, less outright aggressive but still afraid of hands. Once I had the cage door open while I was cleaning it and he fell out the door (he was totally fine! It scared the crap out of me because he fell about three feet onto a hard floor, but he was totally uninjured, thank god. Just a clutz!) and I offered him my finger to step on to get him back into the cage and he climbed up without thinking, suddenly realized he was standing on a hand, and then promptly bit me hard enough to draw blood. So he knows how, but refuses to. His original owner got him when she was young so I think he might have been traumatized by demanding child hands.
I haven't tried Balsa because I haven't been able to find any near where I live, but I'll see if I can order some online! I've tried tons of different toys; foraging toys, toys he can destroy, toys with moving parts, toys he can climb on, etc. I've bought toys and made toys and he hasn't been interested in any of them. According to his past owner, the only toy he has ever taken interest in was a mirror, but I've heard that those aren't good for them so I got rid of it when I started caring for them. Is it possible he just doesn't know how to play?
I realize now that my original post was a little emotional and dramatic, my apologies, but I had a rough morning with him. I love him so much and I want him to have a good life, especially with his past, but it's hard when he doesn't respond to anything I try. This is my first real experience owning birds, and man did I start with a difficult one! :p
 

sunnysmom

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It's completely possible that he doesn't know how to play. Sometimes seeing you play with a toy could spark his interest. Can you get him to step up on a perch and get him out that way? The tiel I'm currently fostering wasn't let out of his cage for many years, I was told. So, I understand how touch it can be to get them to come out. Oops. I just looked at the time and I have to leave for an appointment. But I'll write more later.....
 

ClarityBee

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@sunnysmom I haven't ever been able to get him to step up on a perch or anything. He isn't as instantly aggressive as he is with hands, but as soon as it gets too close for his liking he hisses and bites it. I'll keep trying though. I don't really mind if he never likes hands, I would just like to get him out to make sure he's getting all of the socialization and stimulation he needs.
 

CeciliaZ

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Welcome Claire! I have 6 tiels and my oldest, Buddy has been with me almost 18 yrs. He sounds a little like Lucky. He also does not like my hands in his cage but has learned to tolerate it. I only put my hands in his cage to change food, water, toys, etc. He still may be grieving the loss of Tiny. Hopefully he will accept you as his "flock" and that may take a lot of time. I would stop resting your hand in his cage for him to get used to it. When you do place your hands in his cage to change food, water, toys, etc - maybe show him a piece of millet when you are done and place it in somewhere when you are done. Leave his cage open and let him explore coming out on his own - never force him. Talk to him, whistle, sing while sitting by his cage - maybe hold a sprig of millet to see if that will encourage him to come out.

Mine love toys they can shred. Mostly, I make my own toys with their favorite parts - balsa, mahogany pod slices, small pieces of cardboard, palm strips, finger traps, thin pine slices. Cabirdnerds.com has a great selection. I use a plastic toy top as a base and string these parts on their leather rope. Check out the "marketplace" section - lots of great vendors for a variety of products.

It can be hard to get him to eat veggies but try sprouted wheatberries. My budgies love them also. Mine also like dandelion greens which I put in their cages. Good luck and keep us posted.
 

ClarityBee

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@CeciliaZ Thanks for the tips! I try to sit and interact with him as much as possible, and his cage door is always open when I'm home and able to keep and eye on him. I think him still mourning Tiny is a definite possibility, he's been much louder in the mornings than he ever has before and he's been whistling a lot which he normally doesn't do much. They were very bonded to each other and I'm certainly missing her, so I'm sure he is too.
I'll look into those websites for toy stuff, maybe I just haven't found what he likes yet! Money is a little tight because I'm a college student so I've mostly been improvising with whatever bird safe stuff I can get my hands on.
I'll try sprouted wheatberries and dandelion greens, though I don't have much hope. I put a tiny piece of strawberry in his cage a few days ago and he wouldn't even go near that part of his cage until I took it out lol.
I think my current approach is just going to be trying to bond with him as much as possible and hoping he starts to trust me eventually.
 

AmyJas

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My two adult budgies are very un-tame and skittish around humans (long story). It's frustrating that they still aren't used to people, but I am happy that they have each other and are willing to eat fresh greens and veggies, so that they can have a healthy life. Have you tried putting leafy greens in his cage with clips? Broccoli usually accepted well too. I really think the best option is getting another cockatiel (a hand tame baby this time might be best for your own sanity) that you work with one-on-one while in quarantine, then introduce slowly to Lucky. If that's not an option, I'd recommend working with Lucky daily by standing still and holding out millet until he comes to you to take some. I've had some success with my budgies through this method, but it takes a lot of patience and persistence.
 

ClarityBee

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@AmyJas I don't think another bird is an option right now because I don't live alone, but if I feel like it's something he really needs it's not completely off the table. The only issue is that he's getting pretty old now (about 14 or 15) so I worry about him bonding with a young bird and then dying and leaving them on their own. Though I guess if that bird was bonded to me it wouldn't be such an issue.
He'll eat lettuce on clips, but that's the only thing he'll touch so far. I'll keep trying different things. Hopefully he'll cave and try something eventually! At least he's on a high quality pellet so I'm not super worried about his diet (at least it's much better than what he was on before) but I would feel better if he would eat some veggies.
Patience and persistence is what it's going to come down to! I think I've gotten my patience down over the last two years with him but I haven't been the best with persistence. It's summer now though and I'm almost done with my degree so I finally have time to really work with him! I think it comes down to showering him in lots of love and compassion and accepting that our best probably won't ever be perfect.
 

Tiel Feathers

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I’m so sorry about the loss of your budgie! Maybe you can put a big platform perch right outside the door and make it really accessible so he doesn’t have to do much climbing. I would also save millet just for training. That way it’s more enticing. Maybe you could try getting him to step on a stick by using millet as a lure. If he will take millet from the long spray, maybe slowly over time you can make the sprig shorter and shorter. Drop millet in his food cup when you walk by so he sees his favorite treat coming right from your hands frequently. I had a tiel who didn’t like hands or skin, but I was able to get him to step up into my covered arm. Have you looked at any of Barbara Heidenreich training videos? Playing with toys in front of him is a good way to entice him to try playing. My tiels like toys that are on the smaller side in the materials already suggested. Tiels also don’t usually like fruit, so sprouts, broccoli and leafy greens are a good idea, especially since he already likes lettuce. Good luck, he sounds like quite the little fellow, and I would love to see pictures!
 

ClarityBee

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@Tiel Feathers I like the platform idea, I'll definitely try that since he's not great at climbing and he has a tendency to fall. I'll look into those training videos and see if I can get him to eat some veggies and sprouts! I assumed he would like fruit but maybe he's more of a savoury guy.
I think all the pictures I have of him are him hissing at the camera! XD
 

AmyJas

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@AmyJas I don't think another bird is an option right now because I don't live alone, but if I feel like it's something he really needs it's not completely off the table. The only issue is that he's getting pretty old now (about 14 or 15) so I worry about him bonding with a young bird and then dying and leaving them on their own. Though I guess if that bird was bonded to me it wouldn't be such an issue.
He'll eat lettuce on clips, but that's the only thing he'll touch so far. I'll keep trying different things. Hopefully he'll cave and try something eventually! At least he's on a high quality pellet so I'm not super worried about his diet (at least it's much better than what he was on before) but I would feel better if he would eat some veggies.
Patience and persistence is what it's going to come down to! I think I've gotten my patience down over the last two years with him but I haven't been the best with persistence. It's summer now though and I'm almost done with my degree so I finally have time to really work with him! I think it comes down to showering him in lots of love and compassion and accepting that our best probably won't ever be perfect.
Romaine and other lettuce on clips is a good start (Iceberg doesn't have much nutritional value however). You should also try spring mix, spinach, or chickweed from outside and offer something at least three times a week. My birds love celery too. Another thing you can try is dried alfalfa or timothy hay from the small animal section of the pet store. I put mine in the food cup with their pellets and they love chewing on it and playing with it...I think that's a good attitude to have. Good luck!
 

Birdbabe

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What everyone else say, I have a teil,,rescue,,named Buddy also, he hates hands, but that's ok, I love him,,he hates me, ..its ok.
 

Monica

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First off, welcome to AA and sorry to hear about the loss of Tiny. It's never easy losing a cherished one, especially when those around you don't seem to understand your loss.


However, now I'm stuck, because he's an aggressive and scared bird that won't interact with people that no longer has a bird friend.
Is he really aggressive? Is he going out of his way to attack and bite you?

Or is it that you are going into his safe zone and he feels like he's under attack and only trying to defend himself?


He won't play with toys. I don't know why, but he never plays with anything I put in the cage, which means without Tiny around all he does is sit in the cage by himself doing nothing.
I know you've tried a lot of different toys. Were any the pinata style? Woven palm? Craft sticks?

Did you ever try hiding millet in his toys? Hiding as in, easy to see but he still has to work to get to it, a little?


I've been trying to work with him, but I've hit the same wall I did before and I don't know what to do.
Can you define how you've tried working with him?


He still hisses everytime I change his food and water.
Does the cage you have have food doors you can access from outside of the cage or do you need to reach into the cage? Can you share a picture of his cage?


I love him so much and I want to make him happy, but I'm stuck.
Maybe your idea of happy is not the same as his? Not every bird *NEEDS* to be tame and friendly to be happy/content. I know it's not an ideal situation, but maybe it would be better if you had another bird in a separate cage? You may not be able to provide that right now, just something to consider for the future.


No matter how slow and patient I am, he still hisses and bites me. I've spent so many hours with my hand resting in the cage, and although he's better than he was two years ago in the sense that he will kind of tolerate it, if I move my hand or go anywhere near him he hisses and lunges.
He sounds scared and afraid, not aggressive. There's nothing wrong with using millet as a treat, either, if that's the only way to "work" with him in accepting you.

"Self-Tamed" Cockatiels | Avian Avenue Parrot Forum


So he knows how, but refuses to.
Common misconception... just because a bird steps up in one situation does not mean that they know "how to" in all situations. You could kind of say it's like a kid that does excellent in math at school but sucks at it out in the "real world". They have never needed to use math outside of school, so they don't know how to apply their math skills to the real world.

Him stepping up from the ground was a situational event. Birds who are not confident are not comfortable being down low. He probably stepped up because it was away from 'down there', not because he was trained to do so. Even if he was previously trained to step up, if the behavior of stepping up was not reinforced for his many years of life, he could have easily forgotten how to step up. This means that everything needs to be taught, or re-taught, again.


The only issue is that he's getting pretty old now (about 14 or 15) so I worry about him bonding with a young bird and then dying and leaving them on their own.
Until he's in his late 20's or 30's, I will not consider him "old"! ;)

Casey, my first cockatiel, is 18 this year! I've had her since she was 5 months old! Well, to be exact, her 18th birthday was on the 21st! :dancing:


Hopefully he'll cave and try something eventually! At least he's on a high quality pellet so I'm not super worried about his diet (at least it's much better than what he was on before) but I would feel better if he would eat some veggies.
If his primary diet is pellets, then he has a higher chance of having kidney failure... I feed seeds and pellets to my little birds, plus fresh foods and sprouts.

Converting Parrots to a Healthier Diet - Tips | Avian Avenue Parrot Forum
Bird Safe Fresh Foods & Toxic Food Lists & More | Avian Avenue Parrot Forum
 

ClarityBee

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Hey everyone! Thanks so much for all of your input and support, you're going to make Lucky a very happy bird! I was worried posting about my situation would generate some negativity because I haven't been doing the best with him, but it's been nothing but kind words and I appreciate it so much! It makes me very excited to be a bird parent!

To answer a few questions posed by @Monica : His food dishes are changed from the exterior of the cage, but he still hisses at my hands. He's fine with faces, and he's been on my shoulder once or twice and is fine, it's really just hands. He freaks out at the sight of them.
I mean he knows how in the sense that he had a previous owner who I know handled him (even if not well or appropriately he was somewhat trained) and he has stepped onto my finger quite a few times, so I mean that he's done it before and it seems he knows what to do when asked to step up. He may have forgotten though, and it could just be an automatic reaction.
I've tried working with him with treats to try and get him used to hands, but I think at this point I'm going to let that go and instead focus on making him happy because I'm realizing that handling doesn't necessarily mean happy, especially if it's causing him lots of stress.
And yeah, he's not that old, but he's been so mistreated that I'm not expecting him to live the full lifespan, though fingers crossed he does. He deserves a long, happy retirement!

And for everyone who asked for updates: I'm working on getting him some new toys and setting up a play area for him that he can get to from his cage when the door is open so that he can come out and interact without the terrifying hands! I'm still going to try and work with him (lots of treats!) to get him used to hands but it's not my main focus right now. I'm also trying to set up some platforms and things to make his cage a bit safer for him because he has a tendency to fall. We've also been playing lots of his favorite music and singing to him which he loves! (He's a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and so is my brother, so they always jam out together! He also loves 70s rock, piano music, and anything with guitar solos!) I haven't introduced any new food yet but I'm going grocery shopping in the next few days and am going to pick up some new veggies to try, hopefully something takes!

And a question for all of you who know more about birds than me: I know I said no more birds but there's a potential opportunity to bring another budgie into the home. Would that be a good idea? I don't know if I would want to house them together for safety reasons since Lucky is very protective of his space, but would having another bird in the house benefit him? I do have the time to work with another bird. I'm currently on summer break, next quarter I'm finishing up my last 13 credits of college, some of which are online which makes it a pretty light load, and then after that I'll just be working part time. Would it be better to work with Lucky solo or would he benefit from another bird? Is having another bird in a separate cage actually beneficial?
 

Tiel Feathers

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I think if they are housed separately and are closely supervised if they are ever out together it could be very beneficial. Lucky might like having a companion again, even if they are separated, and he might also become more secure if he sees another bird out playing and interacting with you. Even if they don’t get along well enough to play together, I think it would be a good thing.
 

Monica

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His food dishes are changed from the exterior of the cage, but he still hisses at my hands. He's fine with faces, and he's been on my shoulder once or twice and is fine, it's really just hands. He freaks out at the sight of them.
A larger cage may be beneficial here... or teaching him to station far away from the dishes. I have a wild caught african ringneck that doesn't like human interaction. She has learned not to freak out though when changing her food and water bowls. However, she "needs" to move away from them so that she doesn't become stressed out and injure herself. It took a while to get her to that point though.


I've tried working with him with treats to try and get him used to hands, but I think at this point I'm going to let that go and instead focus on making him happy because I'm realizing that handling doesn't necessarily mean happy, especially if it's causing him lots of stress.
I had a conure that was like that... it really helped to work with her on her terms and slowly teaching her that hands were okay but she still preferred shoulders!

Jayde Update | Avian Avenue Parrot Forum


And a question for all of you who know more about birds than me: I know I said no more birds but there's a potential opportunity to bring another budgie into the home. Would that be a good idea? I don't know if I would want to house them together for safety reasons since Lucky is very protective of his space, but would having another bird in the house benefit him?
I wouldn't recommend caging a new bird with your tiel right off the bat, but in a separate cage would be fine. Even if they don't get along, they can still enjoy the company of a flock member. I've seen this even in birds that don't get along, they still copy each other.
 
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