Thursday 3 March 2016

6. Budgie bonding and taming - Step Up

The most common question I get asked is - how did you get your birds so tame? 

I am incredibly lucky to have two fantastic birds (edit: 3 fantastic birds!) who are brave and happy. BUT I'm not going to give them all the credit - I worked really hard with them! It was not a chore, it was not even that difficult, but I still had to put a lot of effort into their taming and thankfully all my hard work has paid off. 

I did have a bit of a head start compared to lots of people (one of the benefits of getting from a breeder!) because Reggie and Buster were already hand tame and used to hands when I got them. My task was build on the good work the breeder had done and get them to trust me and my hands. To do this I flooded them with love, attention and lots of treats so that we became friends. Oscar was a different kettle of fish, he was 9 months old and aviary bred and reared. He had little to no contact with the breeder and so he was shy and wary of hands. I used the below steps with all 3 budgies. 

When I got them home I didn't let either Reggie or Buster settle in properly like I should have, (see: Budgie bonding and taming - The first few daysand I rushed to get them on my hands because I was excited. They both cooperated and that was great, but then I remembered I needed to let them chill out a little and so I tried to back off (hard when you have a new 'toy').

From then on I worked at a slightly slower pace. I went back to the beginning and followed the 'rules' for hand taming: 

  1. Cage location: Put your birds cage in a room where you live and spend most of your time so that they can become a part of the daily activity. For us this was our living room, on a table in the corner that looked over us when we watched TV and also somewhere that we walked past all the time.
  2. Talk to them: Tell them what you are doing when you change their water and seed. Tell them where you are going when you go out, or where you have been when you get home. Walk past them and look into their cage and tell them they are a beautiful clever bird and that you love them. Just chat to them about your life, and tell them with enthusiasm. This is where the mad bird lady/man starts to rear its head but that's good, be proud of your craziness!
  3. Don't do too much too soon: For the first few days only put your hand in their cage to change their water and seeds. Your bird might panic and flap about, but it needs to be done and they will see that you are doing something positive for them. Try to do this at the same time each day so there is some sort of schedule that they can predict and prepare for.
  4. Enter the cage: After a few days of just performing general car tasks and talking, place your hand just inside the cage door and leave it there for 5-10 minutes then slowly take your hand out. Repeat this pattern 3 times (10 minutes x 3) and try to do it at least 3 times throughout the day whilst talking in a soothing voice. He might panic, and if he does stay calm and wait for him to calm down whilst keeping your hand there. Obviously if he doesn't calm down within a minute or so take your hand out and back off. Take your time.
    Great titles for these two 'step's' aren't they? lol
  5. Enter the cage slightly more: Once your bird is happy with you placing your hand at the entrance to his cage, progress to placing your hand just inside the cage. This can be flat on the floor or if that's not comfortable, flopped over the entrance. THIS MIGHT BE A GOOD MOMENT TO WARN YOU THAT YOU WILL PROBABLY GET BRUISES UP YOUR ARM FROM RESTING IT ON THE SIDE OF THE CAGE - USE THESE AS A SIGN THAT YOU ARE DOING A GOOD JOB!!
  6. Touch the perch: Slowly move your resting hand closer to your bird by placing it at the end of the perch he is on. If he freaks out move your hand away to a distance where he is calmer and then try moving your hand back again after a few minutes. By moving your hand away when he shows distress, you are demonstrating to him that you respect his boundaries and that you are happy to give him space. However, you do need to make progress so you need to move your hand back again and repeat until he is comfortable. Don't worry if you have to back track up and a few steps, that's OK, you are not in a hurry.
  7. Offer some food: Make your hand a happy place. Offer some millet to your birdy, butter him up a bit and win him over. Using a long piece of millet is great because you can hold it at a distance and slowly move your hand along the stalk closer to the bird. This is an important step because you will want to offer a nice tasty reward for the next step.
  8. Stepping up: If he is happy to have your hand near him on the perch, and he will take food from you, then you can start the step up process. Hurray! It might have taken you a day to get here, it might have taken you well over a week. All birds are different with different backgrounds and personalities. Hopefully by now you are starting to learn about your birds characters and you can understand happy from sad etc.
    Following on from Step 6, when you move closer to him on the perch,
    extend your finger so that it looks like a perch. He might understand and hop up straight away, he might back off, he might just sit there thinking WTF? You can gently press your finger upwards against his lower belly and say the word 'up'. This should encourage him to step up on to your finger. This isn't meant to be forceful, you are not meant to push him so he is falling off the perch backwards, it is just a slight nudge to let him know a perch is there to get on. Remember, if he seems uncomfortable go back a step. If he is scared of your finger you can use a real perch and as he gets better at stepping up you can shorten the perch by moving your hand closer to the bird. You have to remember this can be a very slow process and it is all about trust. Don't forget to reward him when he is on your finger, offer a treat, tell him what a good baby boy he is! 

Please be patient but persistent. I will keep saying this, be patient! Don't expect miracles over night, I have many messages from people saying they have been working at it for months and can only just touch their bird. You could have a very brave confident bird who learns quickly, or you could have a shy nervous bird who needs a bit more love and time to come out of his shell. If you push too hard he might go backwards so look for the warning signs and back off for a bit.  

This is Doug doing some lunchtime training with Reggie
Bribery is a nasty word but for budgies it is the magic weapon to help your budgie associate your hand with a happy place. Millet comes on a very handy long stalk which you can hold at a distance while he is getting used to your hand being in his cage. As he gets more comfortable you can place the millet in the palm of your hand, or you can use it as encouragement to step up but making it so that he has to step up to reach the goods. A bit like leading a donkey with a carrot! 

Place your hand in his cage and wait. BE PATIENT! You might get uncomfortable, you might get cramp and bruised from sitting in an uncomfortable position. Tough, this is what you have to do. If your arm is constantly going in and out of his cage in the early stages he will get annoyed, but if you can sit still and provide a perch that looks safe and inviting then your bird will want to sit on it. Something I read was that birds might actually prefer sitting on our hands and fingers as they are soft and squishy compared to the perches. 

If you have more than one bird
Bird's are flock animals and it is sometimes a case of monkey see, monkey do. It definitely is with my boys which can be great for getting them to eat new foods or try out new toys. It can also hinder your training as they might ignore your requests and be more interested in their mate/mates. To combat this, you can separate your birds for training to avoid them being distracted by each other. If you are able, take one of your birds into a different room for say half an hour, and work at the step up and bonding. Shower them with love, praise and treats and your one on one time will hopefully be enjoyable for your bird. I've only done this with the boys a few times and Reggie was fine but Buster was quite keen to find Reggie again, so keep working at it and prove to them that you are worthy of their time too.

Once you have nailed the step up, its onwards and upwards! You have a reasonably obedient bird who has enough confidence to trust your hand and so now you can start to have fun with your bird. It is lovely to watch them in their cage and listen to them chirping, but I find that its the interaction between Reggie Buster and I that is the real fun. You now need to think about letting your bird out for his first flight!  

A bird that bites is not a happy bird. It it warning you to back off, and if you get bitten I would confidently say it was probably your fault. I've been bitten loads! I know when I'm going to get bitten but sometimes I have to suffer because I need to move one of them. 
Whats beaking? Beaking is when a bird will use it's beak because it doesn't have a hand to touch anything with. He might want to test that your finger is a suitable perch to step on to and so he may gently touch your finger. Beaking doesn't hurt, a bite does. You will learn to know the difference. Budgies are hoppy and so I don't get beaked much, mainly it is Buster who does this but Reggie will hop on and off very quickly if he isn't happy. 

Be careful touching a budgie
Budgies generally do not enjoy being touched, they are not cuddly animals, they are not a hamster. Please be careful with how much you try to cuddle your budgie especially in the early days, you really don't want them to get annoyed with your hands. I am not saying budgies don't enjoy human contact, many do and love it and will allow their owner to preen them or stroke them, I am very jealous of this! My boys do not enjoy that. Reggie is beyond comfortable with my hand but as soon as I go to touch him he is off! Nope Nope Nope, no scratches for me! The other two are the same but that's OK, that is their personalities and what they don't give me with cuddles they give me with buckets of laughter. 

When people ask me on Instragram about how to tame a bird I always send them to YouTube to watch ''Best Bird Taming Video EVER Part 1'' It's a really great visual demonstration using a bird in real time, not a retrospective video about bird taming. I can highly recommended that you go and take a look! 

I feel like I need to write this at the end of each post......I am not an expert! This is all information I have learnt and it might not always work out accurately for your birds. I have confidence in what I write but read with caution!


  1. This website is awesome. I actually found you on Instagram, and while trying to tame my Tofu, found this! Thank you so much.

  2. Such great advice ty so much for all the great tips now I kinda feel bad just grabbing him! But will work with him daily!

  3. We have had two parakeets for almost a year. Today, we discovered one was sick and unfortunately before noon was dead. We are very worry for his parther. I believe it's the female that was left.
    Can I tame her or does she need a new male for companion?