How To Train Your Bird

Author: Patricia Larson, LVT
Published: June 14, 2023

Birds are incredibly intelligent and are easy to train to perform all sorts of wonderful commands or tricks. From teaching your bird to talk and dance to teaching your bird to wave, their repertoire is vast. Training is a wonderful way to keep your pet engaged and mentally active. Plus, it is a fun way for you to spend time and bond with your bird.

In this article, we’ll cover the following important topics that will help make bird training successful and enjoyable for you and your feathered friend:

  • List of tricks and actions you can teach birds
  • When to train your bird
  • Top bird training tips
  • How to deal with unwanted bird behaviors
Pretty blue pet bird

What Can Birds Be Trained To Do?

Before embarking on your new training adventure, you’ll need to decide what your goals are. While some complex skills like learning and mimicking human speech are unique to parrots and songbirds, there are other commands that can be learned more broadly.

Depending on the type of bird you have, here are a few skills that birds can be trained to perform:

  • Train your bird to step (step up command)
  • Train your bird to dance or wave
  • Train your bird to talk (parrots and songbirds)

When To Train Your Bird

Successful bird training is all about timing. Training takes patience and attention, so it’s important to target training times when you aren’t feeling rushed or pressured. If you aren’t feeling relaxed, you might become frustrated with your bird which can create a negative training experience. Remember that birds are incredibly sensitive to your emotions and subtle physical cues.

Also, pick a time when your bird is attentive. Just like you, your feathered friend can be preoccupied. Make sure you do your training in a place that is quiet and free from external distractions.

Don’t start training if you find that your bird is eating, preening, or sleeping. They are likely to be less interested in learning at these times. This can lead to frustrations for both of you.

Yellow cockatiel perched on owner's finger

Bird Training Tips

Timing Is Everything

There is an abundance of information out there when it comes to training birds. With so many different ideas and opinions on how to do it best, it can feel overwhelming but don’t lose heart. The most important idea is to keep it positive and upbeat!

When training your bird, offering positive reinforcement will always be more effective than attempting to modify your bird’s bad behavior. Very simply, if they do something good, reward them and if they do something undesirable, ignore them.

Don’t Punish Your Bird

Avoid the urge to punish your bird during training activities. Birds are very sensitive so a bad training session can do more harm than good. Birds are also intelligent, so it’s easy for them to learn that an undesirable behavior will get attention. Even negative attention is better than no attention after all.

It may be obvious to bird lovers, but you should never hit a bird. They are fragile and easily injured. Even a light tap could cause accidental harm.

Keep Bird Training Sessions Short

Don’t spend more than 15 minutes during a training period, particularly if your bird is having difficulty grasping the behavior. Consistency is key, so keep your sessions short but frequent. Build trust through repetition and patience.

Remember To Reward Your Bird

Make sure to choose a desirable reward (treat, toy, praise, attention) for your feathered friend to receive. Some parents prefer to use clicker training which has become popular in the canine training world.

A clicker can help cut down training time by pinpointing the exact moment your pet bird performs the desired behavior. if you don’t want to worry about extra equipment, use a command word like “yes” or “good” in place of a click.

When your bird catches on and starts performing the behavior on command, scale back on the treats and encourage your bird with praise or attention instead. This will keep them from learning to only do the action when you have treats handy.

Be Positive With Your Bird

Always end each training session on a positive note, even if your bird is having difficulty grasping the action you are asking for. Give them a simpler task or reward them for getting close to what you want them to do. That way they end the training with a treat or praise and will be looking forward to the next session!

Bird Training Tips in Review:

  • Keep your training session positive and upbeat.
  • Avoid punishment and focus on positive reinforcement.
  • Keep your training sessions short but frequent.
  • Choose a desirable reward for your bird.
  • Always end on a positive note!
Grey and yellow cockatiel biting bracelet

How To Dealing With Unwanted Bird Behavior

There will be times during training when you are forced to deal with unwanted behavior from your bird. Maybe your bird has learned to scream for attention or perhaps they bite. Don’t ignore these behaviors; this may lead to them being repeated in the future.

Just as you would praise your bird for his desired behaviors, it’s equally important to communicate that undesired behaviors are not okay during the training process.

Your first instinct might be to yell at your bird, but shouting is actually quite counterproductive. Birds are vocal and may perceive that you are joining into their vocalizing rather than see it as a negative. Yelling at them when they are screaming will not stop the behavior for example but may accentuate it.

Instead, use your facial expressions (e.g. a frown or “mom glare”) to show your displeasure. Birds are attuned to body language and have been shown to be able to read human facial expressions quite well. Your feathered friend will quickly learn what your face looks like when you are happy, sad, or displeased.

Make sure to speak softly and firmly but never shout. A frown and stern “no” is enough but the next step is also incredibly important.

Put your bird in a time-out by placing him back on his perch or in his cage for a few minutes of reflection. If they are already in their cage, cover it like you would at bedtime. They need to understand that this behavior is displeasing and means that they no longer get attention when they do it. You are setting a boundary with them.

After a few minutes, go back and be playful with them again, so they know that you are no longer upset and have forgiven the negative behavior.

As with training for tricks, you need to be patient and consistent. Don’t tell them not to do the unwanted behavior one time and then ignore it another. This will only cause confusion. Keep your boundaries clear and don’t forget to lavish praise when they are being good!

Training takes some effort and patience, but it is a wonderful way to bond with your bird. Use the techniques we’ve covered to get started with simple tasks like stepping up onto your hand or stepping off onto the perch. You can then move on to more difficult tricks and tasks. Birds are so fun and intelligent, there is no limit to what they can do!

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