Many people get parrots as pets in the hopes of teaching them to talk. Cockatiels will not really mimic human speech (so don’t expect it to say, “Polly wants a cracker,” no matter how many crackers you offer it). Some males can learn a few phrases—with the patience and proper tutelage of a dedicated teacher, of course. However, since cockatiels have a soft voice, it may be hard to make out the words.
But take heart: cockatiels can learn how to mimic sounds. This can include whistles, car alarms, the phone ring, or even the calls made by other birds. You may even be surprised to hear your dog bark—only to realize that it’s your pet cockatiel! (Perhaps this is their impersonation of the “cockatiel” spaniel.)
It’s always easier to train a young bird. But don’t start “lessons” too soon: give the cockatiel about eight to twelve days to get acclimatized to its new environment. At this “getting to know you” stage, minimize any loud noises or sudden movements that can startle it. It will be more open to being trained if it isn’t on its guard.
You also need the cockatiel to get used to you. Approach it at a particular time each day, so it gets used to “expecting” a visit. Speak to it with a very low, calm and clear voice. You should also be the one to offer food—it will help it realize that you are a “friend.”
Once it’s used to you, you can initiate training. It’s best for just one person to teach it tricks, or it will be confused. First give it a treat, like a seed or a millet spray, while speaking to it in a soothing and calming voice. Be sure to turn off any noisy appliances—even the music from a radio, or the whirr of a washing machine, can be frightening for a young bird.
Then, slowly insert your finger into the cage. Don’t open the door yet: just teach it to perch on your hand. Once it’s learned that, you can take it outdoors. There—it’s learned its first trick!
Don’t try to teach too many tricks at the same time. Let it master the “perching” before you even try to get it to mimic a sound or a word. And when you’re ready to build its vocabulary, be ready to repeat yourself again, and again, and again.
Patience is very, very important.
And so is affection. Spend as much time playing and petting with your cockatiel as you do training it. Like all animals, it will be more eager to please an owner that it is close to.
Be sure to give it lots of praise and a favorite treat when it does successfully mimic a sound. And don’t grow frustrated with it if it doesn’t immediately respond—if it becomes afraid of you, you will have less success getting its attention the next day.
Pet owners say that male birds are easier to train than females, but if you get a female when it’s very young, it will be open to picking up tricks.