The Journey of Taming our Cockatiel.

This post could be called many things: Understanding neurotic birds and their behavioural issues; Day in the Life of a Terror Bird; How to use shameless bribery to tame your parrot.

I’ve written about Mishka, our cockatiel, a couple times before. She is truly an enigma – there are a thousand things we don’t understand about her.

To begin with, she has many, many issues that we’re slowly overcoming. She’s even earned the nickname Terror Bird… not because she’s like the terror birds of prehistory (well, she is sometimes, heh), but more because she’s terrified of just about everything. For instance, yesterday she was a bit of both. She was being a complete pain, biting and being agressive around my face, and yet still very much wanting to be involved in our activities. We would move or breathe, she would be afraid and then get angry. It was a terror-bird cycle.

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When she’s in a bad mood, this is exactly how it feels to have Mishka sitting on you near your face.

Today, our tiny cockatiel is utterly involved in what I’m doing in a good-natured way. She wants to be with or beside me – preferably on a shoulder – but she is also interacting with the other birds by flying to their cages and strutting on the tops, singing to them. She’s even clambered down the side of Pip’s cage and is trying to reach Pip’s broccoli. Pip is displeased.

Most importantly, she’s moving about all one her own. It’s happened several times now: she’s flown to and from me and various points of the room. I’ve never seen her so animated before. It began right from the moment I let her out this afternoon. I fed everyone, then opened Mishka’s door as usual. She ate a little, and as I was taking my breakfast into the living room, she jumped onto my shoulder and wouldn’t be removed.

After that, she was involved in demanding some of my breakfast; she climbed all over me  and then down to waddle around on the couch seeking millet (and jumped onto the coffee table when she noticed some there); she insisted on sitting on my laptop screen; she went to Charlie’s cage, chirped, and pulled his swing off, dropping it into the cage with delight; she even flew to the floor to nosey around briefly.

Such a turnaround.

I have to confess, our cockatiel’s previous lack of liveliness scared us. Most birds by nature are inquisitive, bright, energetic creatures. But Mishka was in a stupor. You’d have described her as uninvolved or depressed. It was worst when we first got her. We couldn’t even bring her out of her cage. She had toys and things, but wasn’t interested, and spent all day on the same perch. We couldn’t teach her how to enjoy toys (or anything else) because she was so afraid of us. Simply being near her cage caused her to tremble visibly, and progress was impossible because of her state.

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Mishka, the first day we brought her home (in her old cage). That is where she stayed for two days.

Those days were hard on all of us. We worried for her and despaired of ever helping her.  She was, of course, anxious and depressed – and it had a negative impact on her health. I think she was missing the company of her pet shop cage mate (a theory furthered by the way Ptak has impacted her life). The poor thing was unwilling to accept humans into her flock, in spite of our efforts.

And then I went on holiday. I joked with O. as I left that I’d come home and he’d have Mishka tamed. Little did I know, I was right – or at least that he’d get her firmly on the path to being tame.

Besides our usual texts, I’d receive daily WhatsApp updates on Mishka’s training. In the time I was away, he got her stepping up, to sit on his shoulder, and to expect time out of her cage. Perhaps what she needed was fewer people around. Perhaps he is simply more brave or firm than I am. Or maybe she’s just truly O.’s bird. (She certainly waits all day for him to come home so she can sit on poop on his work shirts.)

There seems to have been a certain ‘recipe for success’ in our situation… We had to get Mishka to trust us (even if just a little), and that took some six months. All it involved was simply existing nearby, feeding and taking care of her, and talking lots to her. A bigger cage definitely helped, too. At some point, we put a perch on the front of this cage and started opening her door, offering her the chance to come out. Once she did on a regular basis, the next step was shameless bribery. We got her trying new foods, and then every time we approached her cage, we offered her something tasty.

That’s the reason why Mishka has tasted things like chips. Ptak will never eat chips. But Mishka – she got to taste anything she would because food is one of the few things that used to excite her in a positive way. Making her life a little brighter, in other words.

And it worked!

Mishka does so much more now than she used to. She steps up (kind of) onto hands, although she still prefers an arm. She flies to us. She sits with us. She even plays! At the moment, she is busy with her latest game of dropping Charlie’s swing, a new favourite as it involves something mum doesn’t want her to do, and something that makes a satisfying thump when it hits the ground. In a little bit, she’ll probably fly over to me for some millet – it’s a begging behaviour I’m happy to reward – and then climb up my arm to preen for a bit. If she continues as she has this afternoon, she’ll investigate some more of the couch, get distracted by the other birds eating in their cages, and fly over to ‘supervise.’ (Cockatiels are natural-born supervisors. They’re so helpful.)

It’s almost hard to believe. To top everything off, Mishka even lets me kiss her now. I’m only allowed to kiss the side of her wing… But considering that I’d have lost a lip/eye if I tried that previously, it’s impressive. She’s unimaginably soft.

I try not to worry too much that she’ll revert to her old state soon. She’s gradually coming out of that state for longer and longer – days at a time, now, instead of merely minutes or hours. It’s so rewarding to watch this progress, however slow it may be. To have Mishka where she is now – on my shoulder, asleep, I think – is even more rewarding than if I’d bought a hand raised ‘tiel. Our bond is hard-earned, but I’d like to think even stronger for it.

That being said, she just nipped me for moving. I love you, too, Mishka bird. -_-

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‘I’ll guard your pillow forevers.’
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