By Sally Blanchard
Years ago I had a wonderful cockatiel named Rosie. He was a clever little fellow, and he learned several fun behaviors because we played a lot. Teaching new behaviors is one of the most enjoyable ways to interact with any pet bird.
1. Talking Cockatiels
Many cockatiels, particularly the males, can learn to talk. Not all of cockatiels are good talkers, but the ones that are usually have a caregiver who spends time teaching their pet birds new words and expressions. The more time a pet bird owner spends teaching the pet bird to talk, the more conversational the cockatiel will be. The best way to teach a cockatiel to talk is to give word labels to just about everything that you do in regard to the bird. When I fed Rosie, I labeled the food by saying, “Want an apple?” or “Want a carrot?” Within a few months of living with me, Rosie could ask for several types food but tended to request his favorite foods first. I tried to be equally enthusiastic about labels for the healthy foods as I was for the treats. He learned, “Wanna come out,” and he would ask for a kiss, “Gimme a kiss” and then make a smacking sound. He always greeted me with a cheery, “Good to see you” when I came home and he told me “bye bye” when I left. Like many clever parrots, Rosie liked to come up with his own word combinations, and sometimes they were very funny. His favorite expression was, “I love you; you’re pretty.” If he was on a talking jag, he would add another expression to this. One of his favorites was, “I love you, you’re pretty, don’t bite me, ouch!”
2. Dancing Cockatiels
Like their larger cockatoo cousins, cockatiels have rhythm and can learn to dance. I would hold Rosie on my finger and sing, hum or whistle to him. I would gently move my hand to the rhythm of the song. It didn’t take long for Rosie to learn to dance to the song. Whenever he came out of his cage, he would start to dance to get me to sing a song to him. I also kept the radio on for Rosie and as far as dancing was concerned, his favorite music was Bach and other Baroque composers.
3. Whistling Cockatiels
While Rosie became an excellent dancer, I also taught him to whistle. Once he learned to provide his own music by whistling, he spent a lot of time dancing in his cage. If I was not busy with something else and I heard him whistling, I would walk up to his cage and whistle with him. He learned parts to more than a dozen songs and sometimes danced a different dance to each one of them. Rosie also learned the whistle that I used to call the dogs in from the backyard, and after a while it became apparent to me that he used that whistle to call me over to his cage when he wanted attention.
4. Music And Cockatiels
One of the songs that I taught Rosie was the William Tell overture. He didn’t whistle it but sort of sang it. Instead of real words, Rosie’s creative take on the tune sounded like, “Deedle dee, deedle dee, deedle dee dee dee.” He always danced when he sang the song. I bought a flute-like recorder and learned to play some very simple tunes. Rosie loved to hear me play and tried to imitate the sound, but it came out sounding more like a whistle than a flute. I had an extra room in my finished basement, and one summer a woman who played for the local symphony stayed with me. She played the bassoon and Rosie loved to listen to her practice. One day, the woman was practicing and Rosie started dancing and doing his version of the William Tell Overture. So the musician began to play along with Rosie and I had the pleasure of listening to a delightful Bassoon/cockatiel duet of the William Tell Overture.
5. Toys And Cockatiels
When I bought Rosie he was a semi-tame bird that I purchased out of an aviary that housed several cockatiels. I had lived with a few budgies before so Rosie seemed like a big bird to me, and he was a bit nippy. I took a clean wash rag, turned it into strips and knotted them together. When I tried to get him out of the cage and he started to bite me, I presented the knotted cloth to him and he would bite at that instead of my hand, and then he would step on my hand. Once he was on my hand, I took him into the guestroom and put him on the bed. I would then take the knotted washcloth and tie it to a string or a leather strip. I would pull it along the bed just like I would play with a kitten. It didn’t take long for Rosie to chase after and this quickly became our favorite game to play together.