Guide to Buying and Owning a Cockatiel

STOP! Read this now, before continuing on to the actual guide!

This guide will assist you in the purchase, training, and general ownership of a little feathered 4 inch tall bird, that will be heretoforth a member of YOUR household for as long as it lives. If you don't believe it will become a member, I suggest you wait a few months after purchasing the animal and then see what you think.

If you cannot deal with the following:

You need to think about your purchase before you make it and decide that it's not worth the hassle. Getting rid of a domesticated bird is more difficult than you think, it's not a matter of just throwing it out the window. Have you ever seen a parakeet or cockatiel flying around outside? No, I can bet you haven't, and that's because they don't know what to do when they get out, and inevitably meet a grisly fate at the hands of a car tire or a hungry cat.

This guide will have a major downfall in that it draws primarily from my own personal experience, I've spent hours alone in my room noding on E2 with this little feathered creature on my shoulder, flying around, and squawking/chirping loudly. I know I can't have experienced everything, I'm lucky in that I have not had to perform any medical procedures, even the most rudimentary ones. The bird hasn't even gotten a cold. So, needless to say, this isn't near the ultimate guide to bird ownership. However, I know some of you noders out there have to have little feathered companions just like myself, and I welcome more writeups and /msgs to tell me where I've failed and add to this guide.

Part I - Purchasing of Supplies and Cage

You're going to want to purchase all of your supplies, including cage and related paraphanelia, and get it all set up prior to purchasing and transporting the animal home, because you are going to be most likely transporting the bird home in a very small rectangular shaped box with 6 air holes in it. I wouldn't want to be trapped in a small box about as wide as my body while someone I have never seen and don't trust assembles my cage.

A word about the cage: you're going to want a fairly large cage; double the wingspan of the bird in width, and height about 2 ft. to 6 ft. The bars need to be wide enough for a cockatiel's feet to be able to fit without getting stuck, and be narrow enough so birdy doesn't get his head stuck. Also, they need to be either bare wire, or coated and not prone to chipping of paint. Perches made of plastic are prominent, but perches made of cement can keep nails dulled. Make sure that if you have a tall cage that perches are distributed evenly throughout, and within jumping distance of one another.

The bird's cage and surrounding area will need to be fairly permanent, so the bird has a place it knows and feels safe in. It's advantageous to make said surroundings the middle of a wall, nowhere in a corner, so the bird feels like there are escape routes, and is not stifled in terms of airflow. Hanging the cage from the ceiling near a wall is a decent spot.

Food and water are to be kept in the cage at all times. No excuses, you're not dependent on others for sustenance, at least in terms of servings. I've found that self serving water dispensers are best, and I use a large tray of food in the cage that my bird can eat from. If you forget to feed/water your bird, you'll know. If you eat near the bird, and you let it fly out of it's cage often, you'll find that when your bird is out of water/food it will be desperate to drink out of your cup, and eat your food at dinner.

Cockatiel food ranges from simple seed to a veritable produce section of sunflower seeds mixed with all kinds of dried fruit and seed. Your bird will almost certainly pick out what it likes and snub the extra, so buy a few bags of the good stuff, and keep them in one place. Water is to be provided in the cage at all times, it's imperative to the bird's survival, obviously, but even the kind out of your tap may have chemicals in it that are dangerous to the bird. You may consider buying a filtering pitcher and putting the bird's water through it, or if your water is really bad, keep a supply of bottled water for the bird. Just make sure the water stays clean. That's why I prefer the dispensers, because water dishes in my experience become perches, which leads to the bird shitting in his water. This is not a good thing, and the dispenser cannot become a perch.

Once you have the cage and food/water dispensers and dishes set up, you'll probably find it nice to have a few birdy toys set at various places in the cage. In the store, you'll find an abundance of rope toys, plastic birds, jungle gyms, and various hanging toys. You'll also find mirrors. Mirrors are not a good thing to have in a bird cage if you want to have a bond with your bird. Birds are vain, but more than that, birds bond with other birds, and your bird will find the mirror and think that the birdy in the mirror is another bird. Therefore, s/he will bond with it, and not with you. If you have a prior strong bond with your bird, it may just be aggressive to you until you take away/cover the mirror, but it's the kiss of death to bonding with a baby bird. Rope toys, especially the kind that double as a perch, are good for birds, it makes for a good chew toy, and a soft place to rest on. Cuttlefish bones make good chewing apparatus as well. Hanging bells are some birds' favorite toys, and are good stimulus for training.

Set the toys at their obvious strategic places in the cage, but go easy on the toys until the bird gets used to the cage. You don't want the bird to be overexcited, and a car ride in a small closed box will be exciting (read: traumatic) enough.

Part II: Choosing A Bird

The establishment you buy your bird from will almost certainly dictate what kind of experience you're going to have with your bird. If you buy from an experienced breeder, or aviary, you're going to be more assured of the bird's health and bloodline. Unfortunately, places like Meijer's and Wal-Mart sell small animals, and though most of them are healthy, this makes it easy for anyone and his pet abusing mother to come in and buy a bird on a whim. Take a look around before you buy. Buy a book on the animal, learn about it. Then go to pet stores and aviarys. Don't be afraid to spend more money. If you're a penny pincher, you're not going to get a good deal, you're going to get a bird with a bum leg, and your experience with the animal will most assuredly be a horrid one. Not to say that a Meijer's bird can't turn out to be a decent bird, my bird was purchased there, but it's recommended that you take a look around.

Once you choose your vendor, take a look at the selection. Ask the attendant to open the glass doors or unlock the cage, and stick your hand in. Most of the birds inside will likely shy away from your hand, and be very afraid. You're looking for the curious one, the brave one. One with personality. The one there in the corner with it's eyes closed may look cute, but more than likely it's sick or hurt. The healthy birds are ones that are jumping from perch to perch, maybe roughhousing with it's neighbors and chirping. Colour is also a consideration. A cockatiel book may help you find a type of coluration you prefer. Remember, the colour will change as the bird gets older.

Sex may be a consideration as well. Unfortunately, as youngsters, cockatiels in terms of gender are not easy to sort. You may be better off going to an experienced breeder or aviary if you want a certain sex. There are advantages to having a certain sex of bird. Females are more aggressive, and most can't learn to talk well. Males are easier to train, and learn to talk more easily. The more flamboyant birds may be males, and the more reserved ones may be females, but it's never sure. Do some research, and you'll be more prepared to choose.

Before you go to actually buy the bird, make some observations. Is your car clean? Can you put the carrier somewhere where it can't fall or move around? You may want to bring someone along to carry the bird's transporter, or have someone else drive. Is the weather bad? Is it raining/snowing? Is it stifling hot? Do you have to stop for gas on the way home? How long of a drive is it from the store to your house? Is it rush hour? All of these things can have an effect on time, and time is of the essence when you're transporting a bird. If temperature is a concern, especially in cold conditions, you may want to have someone else drive, so they can have the car warmed up and ready to go while you purchase the animal. It's not going to kill your bird if you delay, but it does have effects on trust and health.

Part III: The First Day Home

Make sure your house is quiet and calm. Bringing a bird home on the night of a big dinner party is not a good idea. Similarly, placing a new bird in the centre of a household, especially with young children, is not a good idea. Rather, when your bird's home in the house is chosen, make sure that place is quiet for at least the first few days of your bird's time home.

The first day and night will be the best for the bird if it is spent alone in it's new surroundings. If you're going to be the bird's companion, leave it alone for the first night, and let it get used to the surroundings. Make sure you have a towel or blanket to cover the cage with, to keep light out, and to maximise the amount of rest the bird initially gets. Then, the second day, spend some time talking soothingly to it. It's not a bad idea to stick your hand, palm down, in the most non-threatening manner possible, into the bird's cage, and leave it there for a minute. See how the bird reacts. If the bird flies away immediately, slowly remove your hand and close the cage door. You're going to want to keep your movements slow and steady, no jerking or quick movements, better not to scare the bird.

If you're going to be the bird's companion and caretaker, it's recommended you spend time with the bird the first day. Talk to it, say it's name (you did name it, didn't you?), if you can put your hand in the cage without it getting scared, maybe offer it your finger. Make sure to offer it a sunflower seed. If it takes a seed out of your hand, or eats out of your palm, you've earned an amount of trust. Feel good about it!

The second night needs to be just as quiet as the first. Towel over the cage and maybe soothing music playing. Before you leave the room, talk to the bird as you put the towel over the cage. Say it's name many times, and coo at it, talk as you would to a baby human.

The first week or two home will be the proving ground of your relationship with the animal. You need to be yourself, but do everything slowly and carefully, always talking to your bird and saying it's name. Earning this animal's trust is a hard part of ownership, but once you do it, the rest of the hurdles will be easier and quicker to jump.

Part IV: Taming and Training

Taming and Training are two different things, but are very dependent on one another. Taming entails that you can handle your bird without it biting or getting too scared. Training is a part of taming, but is altogether a different idea. Training a bird to fly to your finger, or make a certain sound, or even say words!

Taming is what you're working on even the first night you have the little bugger home. You're getting the animal used to your presence, earning it's trust. My bird will fly to my shoulder, my finger, will eat out of my hand, will nuzzle my face and gladly lets me rub it's neck, and makes little happy squeaks when I do. That's what taming enables you to do. The first few nights and days home will help this process enormously. Depending on how much time you spend with your bird, taming can be a long or short process. It is, however, never done. I am still in the process of teaching my bird to sit in certain places without working up a fit.

Taming may be a little easier if the bird's wings are trimmed. That is, the cutting of the feathers that enable the bird to fly, not cutting the wings off. If you are able to do so without hurting or traumatizing the bird, take hold of the top of one of it's wings, and gently open the wing. You will see a line of feathers that are either grown or they are pre-cut. Make sure to research proper methods of trimming, as I don't know if I can properly explain it in this node. It can be a dangerous procedure, and some bird experts don't recommend it anyway. I have never needed to do it myself.

Training is never complete. I don't train my bird nearly as much as I should. I could train him not to shit on my shoulder, I could train him to talk. I don't have time or patience for these things, though. Most training is a matter of repetition, and abundant patience. Cockatiels have the attention span of a fly, unless they are hungry or thirsty, and if you don't keep it busy, it will not stay with you.

Training a bird to do something, whether it is rolling a ball or not pooping in certain places, is a tough thing to do. It's a matter of trust and discipline, not that you need to spank the bird if it does wrong, but you need to make sure to keep it focused as best you can. Seeds, sunflower seeds are the best for this, or whatever your bird prefers, really. If the bird does well, give it a treat, and praise it with your voice. It will slowly learn to connect the action with your praise and if you've got a good bond with it, it will want to make you happy.

Some precautions: Once you are to the point where your bird is tame and is allowed to fly free, you will want to make sure he is kept away from mirrors, to keep your bond from being stolen by a reflection, and keep him away from ceiling fans! Open doors are also a hazard to birds, for obvious reasons, and the loss of a bird in this manner is tragic, the bird is in 99.5% of cases irretrievable. The only way you might be able to retrieve a lost bird is if it's wings are trimmed, and that's only if it has a license on it's leg, and someone finds it and reports it.

Basically what you've become when you are a companion to a bird is a mate. My bird is attatched to me, so that when I leave a room, I can hear him squawking from the kitchen (I live in the basement, and the kitchen floor is right above the drop ceiling.). If you make the effort to be with your bird, and have plenty of time to dedicate to the bird, like I do, you're going to find that your bird is a very interesting and fun companion to have around. It will fly to your shoulder and sit with you, and want to be involved with whatever you're doing. A bird can also be a huge nuisance. You have to deal with constant noise, especially if you teach your bird to talk. You have to get used to things falling, because if you let your bird fly around in one room all the time, like I do, and you have things on high shelves accessible to birds, like I do, things will fall from those shelves, and sometimes on your head. Be prepared to deal with a large amount of bird shit. It will be everywhere, and it will not always be solid. Once you tame the bird and it bonds with you, you will reach a point where you will want to put kleenex on your shoulder because you're sick of the bird sitting there and wetting your shoulder. They don't pee, but they poop a lot, little green turds with a white centre, and it will become like crumbly clay. Nothing like finding birdie turds in your bed at 4:00 in the morning, you will get used to making your bed before you let your bird out.

Bird ownership can be a hassle, but there are multiple and abundant times where you will wonder what you did before you got a bird. You can break up with your girlfriend, feel like total shit, and come home, and your bird will fly to your shoulder, and somehow make you feel better. When your bird first speaks it's name, you'll feel like you've really accomplished something. When your bird nuzzles up to your ear as you're noding, you'll feel less alone.

But when your bird dies, you'll feel like you've lost a friend.

Many thanks go out to Lometa for the reminder about ceiling fans! Don't know how I forgot that one myself.

Other info on water and sexing gained by

Satirical counterpart of this node: Guide to purchasing and owning a cockatrice by Certified Geek. Yeah, I feel important now, one of my nodes has been parodied!

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