Taming your Budgie
The purpose of this article is to give you general taming tips. These tips come from various members of the BBC forum based on their experiences in taming their budgies. They are also from my own personal experience taming my budgies, Pretty (who was store bought) and Merlin (who came from a private home).
Before you decide you want to tame your budgie you need to think about a couple different factors.
Hand raised baby budgies are easier to tame
Pet store budgies will need more patience and time, possibly due to errors in correctly assessing their age group
Older budgies will need more patience and time
Abused or rescued budgies that have been untamed for several years may never become fully tame but with patience you can build a trusting relationship
Think about this and decide what you want out of taming your budgie? There are different degrees of tame budgies.
Do you want a budgie that is “glued” to you and that no matter where you go you are always giving kisses and giving him 100% attention.
Do you want a budgie that talks?
Or are you looking for companions that will step-up when need be and is not fearful of you when you come to the cage doors
Do you want a budgie that you can let out who can entertain himself without wanting to be on you or with you all the time?
When you are working on taming a budgie there is no time limit on when each milestone should be met. All budgies are different. For example, you may rescue a budgie that is already tame and is the perfect companion or you may adopt a budgie out of a pet store that hasn’t had any human interaction except for people peering in on them. A hand raised baby budgie in a pet store might soon become "wilder" if left for too long before a sale happens.
When you first bring your budgie home let your new pet settle in before you start the taming process. This is what I personally did when I purchased Pretty, a pet store bought budgie. Before he arrived I made sure his cage was set up with all the essentials. When I put him in the cage I kept him in a quiet room with not too much action for the first couple of days. I also kept his cage covered on all three sides with a sheet so that he felt secure. It is very common for your new budgie to retreat into the back of the cage as this is where he will feel the safest. After 2 days I slowly started to bring the cover off the cage until it was completely uncovered. This took about a week. Some birds might already have a trusting relationship with humans, for others it could take months. Watch your budgie’s behavior as he becomes more comfortable with his surroundings. You can remove the cage cover a little everyday. We suggest that you keep your budgie in the cage and do not take him out of the cage until he is comfortable in his own cage first (this could be a couple weeks) and it is best to wait until he has learnt how to step-up. It is also suggested that you keep your hands out of the cage unless you are working on taming procedures or changing their food and water because your big hand is very scary for them. Remember they see you as a predator they don’t know whether to trust you or not and your hand is very big to them.
One common mistake people make is that they feel that if they put their hand in straight way and the bird lets you stroke him that he likes it, that is farthest from the truth. If your budgie backs up, freezes or starts to pant, your budgies is scared. Many people believe because they don’t move this is acceptance of you touching them, this is untrue. Only after your bird begins to trust you will he let you scratch his head or throat area and he will usually move it around just as preening birds that preen each other do so you can get the perfect spot. Stroking their back and stomach areas are not areas that budgies like to be touched and if you can stroke their belly or back on a healthy bird and they don’t move they are most likely just frozen scared.
How long will it take to tame my budgie? Understand that taming your bird can take weeks, months and even years; it really depends on the bird and its background. If you adopt an older scared bird you may find, sadly, that you may never be able to tame your bird. So before you purchase or adopt a rescued budgie know this before you make your decision. This should not deter you way from adopting but in the end when you commit to owning a pet it is your responsibility to give your pet a secure, caring home. The good news is that even very wildest budgie, with patience and understanding, can become tame if you are consistent on a daily basis; though the degree of tameness differs between birds.
Should I clip or not clip to tame my budgie? This is a personal decision and you can read To clip or not to clip? about the pros and cons. I can tell you from personal experience and reading up on wing clipping that taming your budgie with clipped wings is much easier than a budgie with unclipped wings. Both my birds were clipped when I adopted them and then I let them grow out. The difference in the attitude of a bird that is clipped vs not clipped is like night and day at times. Once your bird is tamed you can choose to let them grow out although many people keep their birds clipped for safety reasons. It is your choice but for taming purposes you will find it is easier to tame a bird that is clipped, not only for you but for the bird as well. Chasing a flighted bird around a room or the house is very stressful for the bird and you and, in all reality, is not safe for the bird. He can overheat, fly into a window or a wall and may get injured.
First Steps of Training:
Building Trust: This is the first step when you are working on taming. Your budgie needs to know that you will not hurt it in any way. The best way to gain trust is to work with your budgie daily. Many articles say 15 minutes a day is all you need I have found that to be untrue. I always advise members to spend as much time as you can on a daily basis with your budgie. The more you work with your budgie, on a daily basis, the faster you will build trust with your new friend. This time can be spent all in one go, or better still, separated into shorter periods throughout the day. When your budgie trusts you it is a wonderful feeling.
There are many different ways you can form a trusting relationship with your budgie. Talk to them all the time when they are in and out of their cage. In fact when Pretty was in a smaller cage and I could move it I would take him from room to room with me, so he was always by us. Do not push training if you find they are fearful of a certain action - stop immediately. They are simply not ready.
Food as a Training Tool: Food is a huge motivator, and by using their favorite snack such as millet sprays it speeds up the bond. If your budgie at first doesn’t eat from you that is OK, they don’t know if you are giving them poison. You will notice the more you talk with them, and are around them, the more they will relax and before you know it they may take a nibble. It takes time! Don’t expect them to automatically eat, they are not like dogs that snatch food, they must trust you first. Always feed your budgie from your fingers. Many times you will see pictures of people feeding budgies from their mouth; this is actually harmful for the bird. Human saliva has bacteria that can make your budgie sick.
Learning to Step Up: The step-up command is the most important command you can teach your budgie. Teaching your bird to step-up will help to avoid chasing them around the room when it is time to go back in their cage, or if you want to take them out of danger, or for doing a visual examination of your bird etc…
Remember your hand is huge compared to a budgie so do expect your budgie to be scared at first. The majority of budgies love millet this is a wonderful motivator for training. I only use millet as a training treat in the beginning. You may find your budgie will not eat from your hand initially. If your budgie is really scared of your hand then you can offer the millet between the cage bars. Your budgie will feel safer and come up to the cage bars to eat the millet. Once your budgie feels comfortable eating the millet from your hand through the bars you can then open up the door and slowly offer it to your budgie. Keep your hand lower than the perch and hold a small piece of millet very still. At first he may not accept it, but, with patience, you will find that he will eat from your hand. Once he is comfortable eating from your hand and he is trusting of your hand you can gently press against his belly (right above his feet) and say the command “step-up” or “up”. Your budgie may hop off at first that is OK, try again and keep your training sessions no longer then 10-15 minutes 2-3 times a day. This is meant to be a positive experience and we don’t want you or your budgie stressed out. When he feels comfortable on your hand and doesn’t hop off you can move your hand around very slowly at first, he may jump off again that is OK. These are all steps. Some budgies do get this right away, others are more timid, and that is OK. Remember be patient. Once your budgie is comfortable with you moving your hand around with him perched on it you can then proceed to the next step which is out of the cage time.
I recommend that you have your budgie step up daily for you so they remember this command. Some budgies as they become more tame will be selective on stepping up and when you want them to they don’t because they get “stinky”, so always take the time to have them step-up 3 times a day either in or out of the cage.
Outside of the cage: We recommend that you use a small room such as your bathroom (make sure the toilet seat is down and there is no standing water in the bath or sink) to introduce your budgie to out of the cage time. If your budgie is NOT clipped except him to fly around and find the highest spot to perch on, this will make him feel safe. This is the reason why it is recommended to use a small room, if you let your budgie out in a larger room such as your living room and your budgie is not clipped he will fly aimlessly, may head for the window and even hit a wall. This is very dangerous and a budgie can break his neck and could be killed. If your budgie is clipped (highly recommended) you will find it much easier to introduce out of the cage time without having to chase your budgie around and keep removing them from high places.
Once you have decided on a room, if you have a small cage, you can bring him into the room with his cage and then open the door, ask him to ‘step up’ and bring him out. It is recommended that you teach your budgie to step up to go in and out of his cage so you have more control when you want to get him back into his cage. You can put him on top of his cage and again work on stepping up, talk to him softly etc… You may find your budgie is scared when outside of the cage. He may not step-up at first that is normal. Have your budgies favorite treat with you during this training session and as he settles down and realizes he is OK have him step-up and then reward him with a nibble of his favorite treat. Remember keep all training sessions 10-15 minutes 2-3 x a day if all possible. If you find your budgie is panting, trying to bite out of fear or his wings are twitching nervously end the session. You want to leave every training session with positive experience. You can put him back in his cage, if possible keep him on your finger then give him a reward then let him hop off on his favorite perch. When I put Merlin back in his cage I always put him back on his swing “his favorite spot” it makes him feel secure and he relaxes immediately.
Once you have taught your budgie to remain on your finger when you are not moving you will want to start to train him to stay there when you start to walk. This was one of my biggest challenges because when I started to walk with him he would fly off. It is the motion of the body that puts them into flight. So first stay in 1 spot (have a treat on hand), and move your hand around up and down, around in circles slowly if they stay on reward them. Once you find that they are gripping on to your fingers (not in fear) but because they want to stay on your finger you can slow start walking around and when they stay reward. Each budgie will train different some may get this concept right away and be ok with you walking around others may be more flighty and you will need patience.
A good technique I used was when Pretty would fly back to his cage I would come to him and then hold my finger about 4 inches from the cage and have the millet there for him. He learned that if he flew to my finger he would be rewarded and then I would move around when he was eating. Messy it was, but that is why I have a vacuum cleaner. This technique of flying from an object to your finger is excellent training tool so you can teach them the fly to you on command. Especially if you decide to keep them unclipped you can work on this command so when they are up on your curtains you are not always chasing them down. Just like the step-up command the fly to you command should be done daily even if your bird does it all the time. Budgies do get “stinky” and “ornery” and may decide to stop listening so working with this everyday is an excellent way to reinforce positive behavior. A separate command word should be used, such as “come”.
Training my budgie to sit on my shoulder: Many budgies find their owners shoulders a great place to be. They are close to you, it is comfortable and they can travel around the house with you. Before you teach your budgies to sit on your shoulder you need to make sure they are comfortable stepping-up and also being walked around the room with you. Once you get them to sit on your shoulder you will find this is their favorite spot. First have your budgie step-up and then simply put your finger level with your shoulder and your budgie will do 1 of 3 things. One he will hop on, two he will fly away or 3 he will remain on your finger. If he jumps on your shoulder reward him, if he doesn’t budge put millet in front of him and then when he reaches for it gently help him up on your shoulder, if he flies away try again. I found once I taught both my birds to sit on my shoulder once they stepped up they automatically jumped up on my shoulder. Once he will sit on your shoulder and you can talk to him without him being fearful or showing signs of getting ready to fly then you can start moving around the room slowly and of course reward him for good behavior. If he flies off, try again. Remember sessions should only be between 10-15 minutes long and if you find he is stressing out try again the next day. Your patience will pay off. A word of caution that you make sure doors and windows with no screens are closed and that you remember your bird is on your shoulder before you decide to head off outside. There has been many a bird that has escaped by being on their owner’s shoulder and they forgot and walked outside.
Training my budgie to sit on my head: It is recommended that parrots should not be perched higher then eye level to their owners. This gives them the upper hand and they feel dominant. Dominancy in a bird can create bad habits. Even when you place their cage their highest perch should be eye level to you. It is your own personal decision if you would like your bird to sit on your head. Word of precaution though, some birds will fly onto their owner’s heads and their owner doesn’t realize they are there (don’t ask me how) and they walk outside and off goes the bird. So if you decide to train your bird to sit on your head just remember he is there.
Training my budgie to talk: You will find a lot of different books, training aides and more that claim that they will teach your bird how to talk. You can take it or leave it. I personally left it and Pretty did talk. All I did was talk to him daily and repeat the same phrase over and over first thing in the morning, whenever I stopped at his cage, and when he was out. I simply talked to him all the time. I found that first they will start to mimic your whistles and then if they are meant to talk they will start garbling words where it sounds like they are trying to talk but you are not sure if they are talking or trying out a new song. Once they start talking they will pick up more and more at a faster rate. Before I adopted Merlin Pretty was saying “pretty bird”, “pretty pooty”, “stinky poo” “stinky pink”. Yes I used a lot of different rhymes that were silly but he picked them up quickly. Now to address if I get another bird will my bird stop talking? My experience “yes” Pretty stopped talking and never started back up. He would still mimic the whistles but he never spoke again. On a rare occasion if your bird has a strong bond with you, talks a lot you may find that they will not stop talking and even teach the other budgies to talk.
Will my budgie ever talk and do males talk better? Males are known to be better mimickers and will pick up talking better, but because you adopt a male budgie does not mean that he will talk. If you are getting a budgie because you want a talking bird then don’t adopt a bird because there is more to a bird than talking. On occasion female budgies have been known to talk. In the wild male budgies are the most vocal, singing most of the songs, whistling etc…females are known to be quieter. Either way, talking or not, a budgie is a wonderful companion.
Working with a older or more skittish budgie: When you do a search on the internet you may find many articles that state that birds over the age of 1 years old plus or very skittish budgies are impossible to tame. This is untrue to a certain aspect. Building trust with any bird is first and far most the most important relationship you can work on. Once you have gained the birds trust the rest will come into place for you. An older bird will be scared, may strike back and bite out of fear, run from you but remember this is all about trust first. Use the steps above to gain your bird’s trust and it may take several months or more but with patience and time you will find that you can gain a wonderful relationship with your bird. One thing to keep in mind is that all birds will tame down to a certain point so if you are looking for the super tame budgie adopting a baby budgie is most likely for you but in a rare occasion you may find that extra special relationship with an older budgie.
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