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Taming An Older Cockatiel

Stitch's

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Hi, so I have a cockatiel who is around 14 years old. His name is Stitch. My mother bought him for my sister when I was around 7 and she was nine. Unfortunately, she didn't do much research in how to care for a bird properly and the time and effort that should go into it. Growing up I felt really bad for Stitch and always wanted to buy him toys and a bigger cage but I didn't have the money (I was a little kid) and it was made very clear it was my sister's bird, not mine. Now I'm 20 and my sister recently moved away to another state and left Stitch behind. There's more empty space in my room and now I have a job, so I bought him a much bigger flight cage and new toys and I'm going to try to change his diet because he currently eats all seeds. I also bought him a play gym for when he's out of the cage. I'm also taking him to an avian vet next week because he's never been to one. He's not clipped and I don't plan on doing so.

However, Stitch has of course become mistrustful of people and he is very afraid of hands. He doesn't like anyone in my family besides me. Even then, he hisses at me a lot if I'm near his cage and won't let me pick him up. He's very hot and cold with me. He is a lot nicer outside of his cage, and when I do get the chance to pick him up he constantly asks for head scratches and becomes very nice and cuddly. I'm trying to get him used to my hands by giving him treats when my hands are lying still nearby and seeing if he wants to come near it. Today he felt comfortable enough to walk over my hand to get some millet and stepped up on me without biting twice. Sometimes though it's hard to train because he wants me to scratch his head and doesn't pay any attention to the millet.

My questions basically are how should I go about getting Stitch to become more trustful of my hands? What questions should I ask the avian vet/should I ask him to do any specific tests? How do I teach him how to play with toys (he's never really had any)? Should I start training him in the cage and let him out when he becomes more trusting of my hands (I don't really want to do this because he's been cage-bound for so long now)? How should I go about changing his diet to a mix of pellets, seeds, and fresh vegetables? How do I make chop? What do I do?

I want to turn this poor little bird's life around because I truly do love him and dislike how my family and myself have treated him in the past. He's been through so much that no animal should ever go through, and it breaks my heart. I'm sorry this is so long I just need all the help I can get. If you take the time to read this and respond thank you so much.
 

MC_Hahn's

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Marie C.
First, know that helping this bird and dedicating so much time to him is truly an amazing act of kindness.

Secondly, although I can't answer all of your questions, I will try to answer at least a few.

My questions basically are how should I go about getting Stitch to become more trustful of my hands?
Target-training is an excellent, hands-off approach to taming that can be useful in the future (getting your bird to go into a travel carrier, learning tricks, etc.). There are a variety of resources both on the Avenue and in books and online articles regarding this topic. Most birds catch onto the general concept quickly.

He doesn't like anyone in my family besides me.
Parrots, like people, pick and choose who they like and don't like. Could you try to play a game of "warm potato" with your birdie and new people/family? Here's a link to more information about it and how it helps to strengthen bonds: Confidence Games for Birds - Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services

Even then, he hisses at me a lot if I'm near his cage and won't let me pick him up. He's very hot and cold with me. He is a lot nicer outside of his cage, and when I do get the chance to pick him up he constantly asks for head scratches and becomes very nice and cuddly.
Male cockatiels aren't known for being especially cuddly, although this can vary from bird to bird. Most 'tiels and parrots in general are territorial of their cages. A parrot's cage is their palace. Offer a perch near the front door of the cage if you haven't already, so that Stitch can have easier access to moving in and out of the cage comfortably when he has time to romp around.

without biting
Birds usually give signs before reacting aggressively or in defense. If he is hissing, swaying back and forth, or showing any other threatening behaviors, back off and allow him to calm down for a few minutes. Trust takes time. You could have another 15+ years with your new fid for all you know!

Sometimes though it's hard to train because he wants me to scratch his head and doesn't pay any attention to the millet.
Do you have a more high-quality treat to offer? Some common favorites are sunflower seeds, almonds, and oat spray. Try to discover the top value treat for your bird. That will be key to harnessing his true potential. Do not offer millet inside the cage, unless it is during an interaction with you. This will elevate the worth of it in your bird's mind.

How do I teach him how to play with toys (he's never really had any)?
Toys can be simple. Weave a few pieces of dull newspaper in between the bars of the cage, or mix seeds and scraps of paper into a bowl for some foraging fun. Cockatiels take an interest in preening toys. Offer toys with lots of pieces to pick and nibble at, as well as to hide treats in. Basket toys, seagrass mats, and leather tassels or beads are great. Our vendors here on AA have a wide selection of quality bird toys that are safe and recommended, if you are interested.
Interact with the toys in front of your bird. Fiddle, talk to them, do whatever it takes to keep the bird interested. It may seem stupid at first, but it usually works wonders for picky parrots and cautious cockatiels.

Should I start training him in the cage and let him out when he becomes more trusting of my hands (I don't really want to do this because he's been cage-bound for so long now)?
If you are going to start training in the cage, target training would be the easiest. You aren't encroaching on the bird's space--The target is. Offering treats through the cage is also a good start. Let him out once you feel that he is ready, and make sure that your home is bird-safe. Startled birds can crash into windows or become injured.
Place some perches and treats outside of the cage and on the playstand when he is out and about.

How should I go about changing his diet to a mix of pellets, seeds, and fresh vegetables? How do I make chop? What do I do?
There are many ways to go about the conversion. It depends on your individual values and preferences.

he currently eats all seeds
'Tiels are one of the parrot species that do require some seeds in their diet, although these should not make up the main meals. Be careful that your bird does not starve himself. Smaller birds are known for refusing to eat foods they do not like. If you can, weigh your bird daily. There are special scales designed specifically for this purpose.

Thank you for not giving up on this bird--It is a blessing to find a person who truly cares about their pets in today's world.

Best of luck to you and your feathered friend! :)
 

Tiel Feathers

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First, know that helping this bird and dedicating so much time to him is truly an amazing act of kindness.

Secondly, although I can't answer all of your questions, I will try to answer at least a few.


Target-training is an excellent, hands-off approach to taming that can be useful in the future (getting your bird to go into a travel carrier, learning tricks, etc.). There are a variety of resources both on the Avenue and in books and online articles regarding this topic. Most birds catch onto the general concept quickly.


Parrots, like people, pick and choose who they like and don't like. Could you try to play a game of "warm potato" with your birdie and new people/family? Here's a link to more information about it and how it helps to strengthen bonds: Confidence Games for Birds - Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services


Male cockatiels aren't known for being especially cuddly, although this can vary from bird to bird. Most 'tiels and parrots in general are territorial of their cages. A parrot's cage is their palace. Offer a perch near the front door of the cage if you haven't already, so that Stitch can have easier access to moving in and out of the cage comfortably when he has time to romp around.


Birds usually give signs before reacting aggressively or in defense. If he is hissing, swaying back and forth, or showing any other threatening behaviors, back off and allow him to calm down for a few minutes. Trust takes time. You could have another 15+ years with your new fid for all you know!


Do you have a more high-quality treat to offer? Some common favorites are sunflower seeds, almonds, and oat spray. Try to discover the top value treat for your bird. That will be key to harnessing his true potential. Do not offer millet inside the cage, unless it is during an interaction with you. This will elevate the worth of it in your bird's mind.


Toys can be simple. Weave a few pieces of dull newspaper in between the bars of the cage, or mix seeds and scraps of paper into a bowl for some foraging fun. Cockatiels take an interest in preening toys. Offer toys with lots of pieces to pick and nibble at, as well as to hide treats in. Basket toys, seagrass mats, and leather tassels or beads are great. Our vendors here on AA have a wide selection of quality bird toys that are safe and recommended, if you are interested.
Interact with the toys in front of your bird. Fiddle, talk to them, do whatever it takes to keep the bird interested. It may seem stupid at first, but it usually works wonders for picky parrots and cautious cockatiels.


If you are going to start training in the cage, target training would be the easiest. You aren't encroaching on the bird's space--The target is. Offering treats through the cage is also a good start. Let him out once you feel that he is ready, and make sure that your home is bird-safe. Startled birds can crash into windows or become injured.
Place some perches and treats outside of the cage and on the playstand when he is out and about.


There are many ways to go about the conversion. It depends on your individual values and preferences.


'Tiels are one of the parrot species that do require some seeds in their diet, although these should not make up the main meals. Be careful that your bird does not starve himself. Smaller birds are known for refusing to eat foods they do not like. If you can, weigh your bird daily. There are special scales designed specifically for this purpose.

Thank you for not giving up on this bird--It is a blessing to find a person who truly cares about their pets in today's world.

Best of luck to you and your feathered friend! :)
Well that about sums it up, doesn’t it!
 

Hankmacaw

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I'll pick that one up. Take him to the vet soon so you can start any changes or treatments as soon as you can. There is some risk of liver disease or atherosclerosis or vitamin A deficiency, from him being on an all seed diet for 14 years. Be sure you tell your Vet everything you have told us - many things give them hints as to what to look for.

You should ask for - too start with - a fecal and throat gram stain, CBC and Chem panel. Your vet should give him a very thorough external examination. The results of the first three tests will tell your Dr. if there are any other necessary tests and they will tell you a lot about your bird.It's going to cos $300-$400 dollars ask for an estimate.

Read this to get ready for your well bird appointment.
Avian Lab Tests - Dr. Sakas

PS - who is your vet?
 

Stitch's

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Thank you guys so much for the help! He just got his new cage today and he seems to be enjoying it very much. I actually caught him biting at a few of the toys I bought him. I ordered real perches for him and stainless steel bowls that will come on Wednesday but for now he's just using the dowels and plastic bowls with the exception of the one perch he had in his old cage.
Stitch.jpg
Best of luck to you and your feathered friend! :)
Thank you so much for putting in the time to read and reply to this! I appreciate it so much.

PS - who is your vet?
So I used the website aav.org to try and find an avian vet and it led me to this animal hospital here

So that's where I'll be taking him. I found a different place too but when I called they said they'd call me back and never did. :(
 

MC_Hahn's

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Marie C.
I ordered real perches for him
Be careful when ordering perches, especially from the larger online services such as Amazon or Chewy. I've received many with cracks in the past, and those can become dangerous (catching nails, beak, etc.).

On a side note, he seems to be enjoying his new cage. :)

Edit: Guillotine doors can pose a potential hazard to curious birds. It is best to safely close them with zip ties or quick links, to prevent birds from dropping them on themselves, which can cause serious injuries for the smaller species.
 
Last edited:

Stitch's

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Guillotine doors can pose a potential hazard to curious birds. It is best to safely close them with zip ties or quick links, to prevent birds from dropping them on themselves, which can cause serious injuries for the smaller species.
Stitch hasn't seemed super interested in the doors BUT I will zip tie them closed ASAP because one can never be too careful. Also, I just put a piece of carrot in his food bowl to see if he would eat it or not and he LOVED it! He ate it all no hesitation. It gives me hope that he won't be too picky changing his diet.
 

sunnysmom

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Stitch hasn't seemed super interested in the doors BUT I will zip tie them closed ASAP because one can never be too careful. Also, I just put a piece of carrot in his food bowl to see if he would eat it or not and he LOVED it! He ate it all no hesitation. It gives me hope that he won't be too picky changing his diet.
Wow- that's great. It took me forever to get my first tiel to try vegetables. I don't have a lot to add from what's been said already but want to say thank you for helping this tiel. All of my tiels have been older males. They are complete joys. You have to kind of take them as they are- my first tiel was a cuddle bug- which is unusual for a male. My tiel Scooter who is 21 still doesn't like scratches with fingers but loves when I rub my face on his head. Rosie, who is 31, and I've only had for about a year, still kind of thinks hands are evil but will sit on my shoulder happily. So, you just have to be accepting with whatever their comfort level is. As for working in the cage- I personally don't like to. I think it's "their" space and try to keep my hands in their cage to only what's necessary. You can try hand feeding some treats through the cage bar. And also put a perch just outside the door and hang some millet spray by it to encourage him to come out on his own.
 
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