The New Home
Bring your cockatiel, packed in its box, home as quickly as possible, taking care to protect it from cold, dampness, and heat. When you arrive home, the cage should be all ready for its new occupant and set up in its permanent place. If things aren't quite ready, the bird should stay in its cardboard prison a bit longer, for once it has entered its cage, nobody should reach a hand in for the rest of the day. Also, no changes should be made in the cage for the next few days.
Setting Up the Cage Properly
If the cage comes equipped with plastic perches, or even wooden dowels, these should be removed and replaced with tree branches of the right thickness. Squeeze the ends of the branches between the cage bars or tie them into place with raffia. Supply at most one more branch than there were perches in the cage. Mount the branches so that three of them are horizontal, the others at an angle. In nature, birds don't always sit on horizontal branches. Don't place the branches directly above the food and water cups. If you do, droppings may land in the bird's seed or water. Spread about % inch (1 cm) of corn cob in the tray at the bottom. Fill one cup with birdseed, one with water, and one with washed, coarsely grated carrot or apple. Attach a piece of spray millet to the cage grating with a clothespin, or insert it in a special holder you can buy at a pet store. The spray of millet should be easily accessible from one of the branches. Fasten the mineral stone or cuttlebone to the cage bars with the wire supplied in the package. The stone, too, should be near a perch. Do not place toys in the cage such as bells where the bird can get its toes caught in them. If you want your cockatiel to climb onto your finger, press the finger gently against the bird's abdomen in a horizontal position.
Tip: Make sure you have a good supply of raffia, because the bird will nibble on it, and it will have to be replaced periodically. (Raffia is leaf fibers used to make baskets etc.) It may take several weeks for your cockatiel to overcome its fear of you. Don't lose patience! Eventually the bird will learn to trust you completely.
The Move into the Cage
Remember that your cockatiel is probably still in a state of shock. Being caught, banded, separated from its companions, and transported were highly traumatic experiences for it. Under no circumstances should you attempt to reach into the box for the bird. If you did, you would make painful acquaintance with its strong beak, and the bird would form and remember an image of you as a dangerous enemy. Instead, hold the opened transport box in front of the cage door in such a way that the only way out is into the cage. Since the bird will want to get out of its dark box toward the light, it will move into the cage without outside urging. Important: As soon as the bird is out of the box, shut the cage door and move away.
The First Hours at Home
Leave the bird completely undisturbed at first, so that it can inspect its cage and other surroundings in peace and get used to them. Wait several hours or until the next day before sitting down at some distance from the cage but close enough so that the bird can see you. Talk to it and repeatedly pronounce its name, which you will have chosen ahead of time. After just a few days the bird will realize that the name has something to do with it and will respond by producing a sound of its own, shaking its plumage, or raising its wings. You will know that it has recovered from the shock of being relocated when it no longer sits in the same spot as though glued there but starts moving back and forth a little and examining its quarters more closely.
Tip: If the bird keeps sitting in the same place for hours, approach it very gently, speaking to it in a soothing voice, and offer it a few sunflower seeds on a long stick. The way to do this is to cut a notch in one end of the stick and jam the kernels loosely into the notch. Often such an offer is the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between a bird and its keeper.
Night Rest Is Important
Cockatiels that are not yet used to their new surroundings are very easily frightened. Especially at night, unfamiliar noises can make them panic, and they can get hurt when they flutter around frantically in the cage. For this reason you should leave a small light on during the first few nights. If the bird can orient itself visually, it will not react with the same violent movements when it gets frightened.
Tip: Don't cover the cage with a cloth at night. Being unable to see, the bird may get frightened for even the slightest reason and begin to thrash around wildly.
Bedtime for the Cockatiel:
Once your bird has become acclimated, it will decide for itself when to go to bed. At the beginning you can induce sleepiness by dimming the light and playing soft music or talking quietly. Even if the television is on, the bird won't be bothered as long as the sound is not too loud and the screen is not directly in the bird's line of vision. A set sleeping spot: Later, when your cockatiel has become acclimated to life with you, you will notice that it always settles down in the same place when bedtime approaches. Or perhaps the bird will have two or three favorite sleeping spots. Make sure, before you turn off the light, that it is perched in one of these locations because in the dark it may not be able to find the right place and may panic.
The First Days at Home
The morning after the first night your cockatiel spends with you will bring new excitement for you and your bird because now you may have to reach into the cage to replenish the food. When you do, speak softly to the bird and avoid abrupt, hasty movements. Don't be afraid of the big beak--the bird is still too frightened to Use it in self-defense. It will undoubtedly slide into the farthest corner of its cage to get as far away as possible from your hand. When done with the morning chores, avoid reaching into the cage unnecessarily for the first few days, until the bird begins to realize that this human hand is a source of food.
How to encourage the bird to trust you
Always speak to the bird in a soft voice when you have to do anything in or near the cage. Say its name, keep whistling the same short tunes, or repeat the same short sentences. Don't be frightened if the bird pecks at you; it doesn't have enough courage yet to really bite. A cockatiel that feels afraid hisses. If you hear this sound, stop what you are doing and try again later. Try to do the routine chores at the same time every day.
What a bird finds frightening
As long as your cockatiel is still shy, you should not change anything in or near its cage. Don't, for instance, move the food cups to a new place, and don't put unfamiliar objects down near the bird. You should also avoid making drastic changes in your own appearance; now is not the time to introduce aviator sunglasses or a large, floppy hat.
How to help your bird to get used to new things
You would, of course, like to feed your cockatiel as varied a diet as possible. But it may refuse to touch a piece of unfamiliar fruit or vegetable for days because it is afraid of it. There is only one thing to do: keep on offering the unfamiliar item. You can try eating a piece yourself in the bird's presence; perhaps that will stir your cockatiel's curiosity. It will also take quite a long time for the bird to get used to your hand. At first the hand is seen as a threat, but if it is experienced day after day as a source of food, the bird will begin to accept it. Try offering a few seeds on the back of your hand every day after refilling the dishes. Many cockatiels enjoy being sprayed with lukewarm water from a plant mister. They raise their wings and twist and turn to expose all parts of the body to the water.
Making the Bird Hand-tame
As soon as your cockatiel dares take a few seeds from your hand, it is time to ask more of it. The first step: Use your finger to scratch the bird's abdomen very gently. If the bird moves away, follow it cautiously with your hand.
The second step: After the daily scratching, hand the cockatiel an unpainted wooden curtain ring. When the ring drops to the cage floor after the bird is through working on it with its beak, pick it up and remove it so it will continue to hold interest for the bird.
The third step: At some point, following the daily scratching, press your finger gently but firmly against the bird's abdominal feathers, quite Iow down. Hold the finger horizontally. Perhaps the bird will climb up on it.
If it does, give it the wooden ring to gnaw on. After a few days you will be able to lift your cockatiel out of its cage on your finger and let it have its first experience of flying free—but more about that later.
Tip: Always offer the bird your finger or the back of your hand to perch on. Most birds are frightened by
an open, upturned hand.
Avoid at all cost: Never try to grasp the bird, let alone catch it in midair. There is no worse thing for a bird than to be grasped. This would severely shake the trust in your hand that you have patiently built up.
Getting Used to Bathing
Offer your bird a chance to bathe about every three days. Many pet cockatiels enjoy baths even though cockatiels don't bathe in the wild; the most they do is to let their plumage get moistened by the rain. In the dry air of heated rooms, however, many cockatiels welcome an opportunity for bathing. A full bath: Some cockatiels readily take advantage of an opportunity to take a full bath when it presents itself. Fill a large, shallow dish with lukewarm water, and place it in front of the cage. Cockatiels that take baths like to dip their outstretched wings in the water and get their heads wet. A dew bath: This makes sense if your cockatiel is reluctant to take a full bath. Place some wet leaves, such as dandelion greens, chickweed, spinach, or young leaves from trees, in a large, shallow dish. Your bird will delight in playing around in the damp greens because cockatiels are used to dew baths in nature, where they forage for food in grass wet with morning dew.
Tip: Don't use lettuce for these baths unless well washed because most lettuce is sprayed with chemicals. These dissolve in the water and are harmful to birds.
Showers: Many cockatiels are fond of showers, for which you can use a plant mister. If the bird is enjoying this lukewarm shower bath, it will expose all parts of its body to the water. If, however, it
responds fearfully by trying to avoid the spray, don't persist at this particular time. Even if your cockatiel shows no initial enthusiasm for a full bath, a dew bath, or a shower, you should continue to offer one or another of these opportunities for bathing. Important: Make very sure that the plant mister has never been used with plant pesticides.