How To Develop a Close Relationship with Your Pet Bird

Anyone who thinks owning a bird is like owning a fish is fooling themselves. There is more spark and personality in a bird than in any floppy old fish.

Side note: I am so sorry to any fish owners I am currently offending.

I got my cockatiel, Froley, because I wanted a pet that I could show affection to and who would show that affection back. And by golly, that’s what ended up happening. I have never had a pet who I love more than Froley. He is the cutest widdle bird in the whole wide world, and he’s more affectionate than I had originally hoped for.

However, getting to that point in your relationship with your pet bird can be difficult. It’s a long process, and it’s easy to feel disheartened about it. You don’t buy birds that automatically love you, especially if you’re buying it from a pet store.

Side note: Most bird help books recommend you purchase your new pet bird from a breeder, but given where you live, that isn’t always feasible. It sure wasn’t for me.

Despite that, it is possible to develop a close bond with your bird, and here are a few tips to get you started.

Side note: I have only ever owned one pet bird, and it is a cockatiel. Am I an authority? Kinda, maybe, sorta, not really.

Set up the cage before bringing them home.

It can be tempting to go on a spending splurge the day you get your new bird, buying them a cage, toys, food containers, cuttle bones etc., but you should definitely buy those things and set them up before you actually buy the bird. Your new pet is going to be super stressed as it is, arriving in this alien house that it isn’t used to. It doesn’t need to see or hear the clanging and banging of its cage being constructed. That’s like the opposite of a welcome mat.

Give your bird its space.

This was a tough one for me. As soon as I got Froley, I immediately wanted to start working on interacting with him. But you’ve got to give your birdie time to acclimate to its new surroundings. Let him or her have some space in those early days. It’s a simple piece of advice that can really help with getting your bird comfortable.

Make sure they watch you bringing food.

Birds are not dumb creatures, and they are really good at picking up visual and audio cues. As such, if you consistently bring them food in a certain manner at a certain time of day, they will learn to associate you with their yummy-yum time. And you want them to associate you with something they like. For a long time, that’s the only reason Froley really liked me. I brought him his pellets. He now knows the sound of the bag when I open it and the exact location of the tub I keep it in.

Hang out by their cage.

While you don’t want to immediately pressure your bird when you get it, you don’t want to just ignore it. If you just ignore it, it will become accustomed to being left alone. If you ever find yourself with some down time, whether you’re reading, chilling on your phone, or watching some Netflix, do it by your bird’s cage. Let them see you doing a quiet activity nearby. I used to read to Froley from my Cockatiels for Dummies book all the time. I don’t know if he appreciated it, but he did eventually learn to not be afraid of books.

Only buy a single bird.

If your bird has the option to turn to another bird for company, it will usually pick the bird over you. That’s why some pet owners purposefully purchase two birds. They want their birds to have each other for company. However, if your end objective is to share an incredibly close bond with your bird, it helps if you’re the only one they can turn to for a cuddle. I hate to sound like a cruel monster that kept Froley from other bird companions, but I know for a fact that he and I are only so close because I was the one creature who spent any amount of time with him.

Try using a treat for your first moment of physical contact.

When both you and your birdie are ready for the next step in closeness, have one of their favorite treats nearby to facilitate the contact. Froley and I started becoming closer when I tried hand-feeding him his seeds. He really seemed to like that, and it built up trust levels like you wouldn’t believe. Eventually, I used treats to coax him up onto my finger, and after that, the real treat became just hanging out with me.

Attempt to pet your bird shortly after it has molted.

When birds molt, their new feathers come out in these thin, white sheaths. These sheaths then crumble into dust revealing the new feather lying within. Normally, a bird can nibble away at their own sheaths in order to free them. However, they have a hard time reaching the ones on their head. That’s where other birds come in. Bird buddies will preen the sheaths off of their fellows’ heads for them. Without a bird buddy, that job is left undone. These sheaths are incredibly itchy for your bird, so if you want to ingratiate yourself to him or her while simultaneously worming your way into his or her affection, giving your bird scritches during this time period is ideal.

Be patient.

This is the most important bit of advice I can give. I’m not gonna lie, I sometimes cried at the thought that Froley didn’t seem to care much for me in those first few weeks. I had read so much about bird affection before getting him that I felt really let down when things didn’t immediately turn out that way for me. But see, birds aren’t like cats or dogs. Both cats and dogs are predator animals, bred to work alongside humans as partners. Birds are prey animals, and fearfulness keeps them alive in the wild. Trust has to be earned with them so that they can learn to rely on you for their safety.

So give your bird the time required to build that trust. It took me over a month to get close to Froley. But the wait is well worth it. When you’re cuddling with a bird, and you can actually feel its tiny skull underneath your fingertips as you give it some little scritches, there is no other feeling like it in the world. It is a tiny life form that has entirely entrusted its well-being in the palm of your hand. It’s not even a tenth of your size, but it will hop onto your shoulder without a care once you have established that bond.

Side note: I feel incredibly lucky to have Froley in my life every day, and not a morning goes by where I don’t appreciate the magnitude of how implicitly he trusts me.

Froley’s Bird Buddies: Cheese and Mochi

Froley is a grumpy bird, and he doesn’t get along with anybody but me.

So, when you read the title of this post, and you see the word “buddies,” you might be a bit puzzled.

Just know that I’m speaking relatively.

After witnessing how awesome my relationship with Froley is, my sister decided to get some pet birds of her own. (I’m sorry, but you know it’s true, Alya.) Enter Cheese and Mochi.

Cheese is a Green-cheeked conure, and he’s a feisty little fella. He’s more curious than Froley is, to the point of putting himself in danger. He also likes to dip his beak into anything my sister is consuming, be it orange juice, a salad, a beer, or a pizza. He absolutely adores Alya. He flutters to her head when given the opportunity to be out of his cage. He doesn’t like me much, and I have no idea why. Alya thinks it’s because he can sense our closeness, and it makes him jealous.

Mochi is a different beast altogether.

Side note: Yes, my sister has a penchant for naming her pets after food…for some disturbing reason.

Mochi is an African grey parrot, and her intelligence is undeniable. She is the queen of wanton destruction and vocal exclamations. She was given to Alya secondhand, so she doesn’t exhibit such a large sense of closeness to my sister the way Cheese does. Mochi can perfectly mimic human language, and she puts this ability to frequent, if inopportune, use. She’s learned to say, “Okay, Google,” which is a bit of a problem since her cage is near the Google Home Speaker.

To be honest, Froley is not particularly close to either of these two birds. He doesn’t seek them out for company, and they don’t seem overly fond of him either.

But I like to think there’s a mutual content shared by the three of them when they’re stuck in their respective cages, side by side.

If Froley Was In A Movie

If Froley, my pet cockatiel, was a character in a movie or TV show, he’d have to be a strange mix of roles.

He’s like Carl Fredricksen from Up. He’s got the ornery soul of an old man who needs to learn to love other people aside from his significant other.

He’s like Drogon from Game of Thrones. He’s got the heart and fire of a massive dragon even though someone could accidentally sit on him.

He’s like Sonny Corleone from The Godfather. He’s a hotheaded, territorial bird who occasionally flies himself into trouble.

He’s like Raymond Babbitt from Rain Man. He’s got a touch of bird OCD; he doesn’t like it when things are out of order or patterns are not adhered to.

He’s like Pikachu from Pokemon. He’s got those little red cheek things. Come on.

He’s like Dufayel from Amelie. He likes to stare out the window at the lives of our neighborhood birds.

He’s like Romeo from Romeo and Juliet. He has no real, healthy concept of time.

He’s like Michael Scott from The Office. You can’t have him alone unsupervised or else he’ll make a mess of things.

He’s like Baymax from Big Hero Six. When you see him, you immediately want to cuddle with him.

He’s like the Xenomorph from Alien. No matter where I go, he’ll always try to find me.

He’s like the T. Rex from Jurassic Park. He has very distinct-sounding footsteps.

He’s like Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. His loyalty to his one person knows no bounds.

So you see, Froley is like so many characters, it’d be hard to have him be just one.

Froley’s Miraculous Poop Story

My sister swears up and down that this is a true story.

I was asleep, so I can say nothing as to its veracity.

It was early morning, and Alya and I were sleeping in the same room, different beds. I had placed Froley’s bedtime cage next to my bed so he could sleep next to me. (We enjoy each other’s company that much.)

Anyway, the faintest of light was coming through the windows. I woke up briefly to take Froley out of his cage for a bit. This is a little ritual we do every time Froley sleeps in my bedroom. It’s like a second nap.

So I opened his cage door, got him on my finger, then deposited him on the roof of his bedtime cage. Then I went back to sleep.

Sometimes, Froley will stay on the roof and sleep like the fluffy flufferton he is. Other times, he’ll amble over to my bed, hop onto my pillow, then climb on my head/neck/shoulder. When he naps there, I can hear his content beak grinding right next to my ear.

So…

apparently, on this particular morning, Froley elected to sleep on my shoulder. Alya woke up and saw this, thinking it was the cutest thing ever. She tried taking a picture with her cell, but before she could, Froley stepped off of my shoulder and back onto the cage.

Disappointed, she put her cell phone away and cursed her bad luck.

However, to her utter astonishment, Froley did a little poop once he was on his bedtime cage, his messiness landing squarely on the poop-sheets below. Once done with his business, he waddled back onto my shoulder.

Alya thinks Froley is a secret genius now, thanks to his good judgment, consideration, and miraculous poop skills.

Life Update #6: A Mouse Can Make A Big Difference

Let me set the record straight. I’m not about to go off on some philosophical, metaphorical tangent about how small things can impact your life in massive ways.

I’m being much more literal here.

I got a computer mouse.

Now, some of you guys are probably wondering what the big effin’ deal is. It’s just a computer mouse, right?

I own a laptop, have owned it for about six years now. Ever since I got it, I have used the touchpad below the keyboard to navigate. Sure, my hands got cramped more often than not and my fingers awkwardly hovered over the keys, but I managed.

But I recently got another freelance job editing, so I figured I’d be a big spender for once. I went to Best Buy and got myself the cheapest-ish mouse available, called it Jerry, and then took it home. With a job like editing, I wanted a little more finesse than a touchpad. Know what I mean, jelly bean?

You guys, it’s like I forgot how to breathe. Having a mouse is addictively pleasurable. I can’t stop using it. I know material things shouldn’t amount to happiness, but I’m goddamn ecstatic.

To make a good thing even better, my boyfriend bought me a mouse pad with an image of Froley on it to celebrate.

This mouse is the best purchase EVER.

Huh.

You know, now that I think about it, this is a post about how a little thing can have a massive impact on your life.

Froley Molting

Spring is here, and with it, some Froley nuisances as well.

Firstly, spring makes Froley more amorous than usual. All he seems to want to do is masturbate.

“Oh, ha ha, that’s so funny and adorable,” you might say.

I’m telling you right now, it’s not.

I have work to do, and having Froley waddle over to my hand every five seconds looking for some lovin’ is NOT conducive to that work.

As readers of this blog already know, Froley likes to masturbate on an open palm. When I am typing on the computer, he takes my outstretched fingers for an invitation.

Have you ever tried typing up an article while a little male cockatiel is pumping away on your knuckles?

It’s distracting, to say the least.

Springtime is also when Froley starts molting.

Molting is a natural process for birds to go through. Old feathers fall out to be replaced with new ones.

Froley’s a funny ole bird though. He freaks out when he sees one of his feathers is coming loose. First he gets all skinny with fright, then he starts flapping around the living room shrieking as if it’s the end times.

And that’s only the half of it.

When his feathers grow back, they come out in these thin keratin sheaths that eventually disintegrate into powder and allow the new feathers to settle into place. While these sheaths are coming out, Froley starts feeling really itchy. He can preen and scratch himself everywhere on his body except for his head.

Which means he expects lots of head scratches from me.

So not only do I have a horny Froley trying to get himself off on my hands, I have an irritable Froley who pecks at my face if I don’t cuddle with him.

And since he’s preening so much, I have dust all over my keyboard.

Ugh.

Spring.

A Sick Cockatiel: Froley Under the Weather

About two days ago (more by the time you read this post), Froley got really sick.

I first noticed he wasn’t feeling well close to noon. He had spent the morning with me acting completely normal. This was not a case of me not paying any attention to my darling. Since I work from home, I get to spend a lot of time with Froley nearby, so I am accustomed to all of his behaviors based purely on how much uninterrupted time I spend with him.

Plus, I’ll have you know that birds have a tendency to hide their symptoms when they’re sick. As prey animals, birds that look unwell are basically serving themselves up on a silver platter to predators. Domesticated birds have yet to evolutionarily realize that their owners kind of need to know when they feel sickie.

Side note: Sorry if I’m coming across as defensive. I guess I feel guilty for Froley getting sick in the first place, and I’m taking it out on you, my dear readers.

Anyways, after he accompanied me during my mid-morning shower, I noticed he was sitting abnormally on his shower perch. He wasn’t fluffed up and comfortable like he would normally be while waiting for me to step out of the bath. His eyes were bleary, he was swaying, and his feathers were too close to his body.

I worriedly offered him my finger when I was done, and when he stepped up, I could immediately tell that his feet were warm. Too warm.

I placed him back in his cage and observed his behavior for a bit. He continued to stay perched with a wobble, clearly fatigued. That’s when I decided to keep an eye on his poops.

For those of you who don’t own pet birds, you might not be aware of how important their poops are when it comes to gauging their health. Consistency and color are what it’s all about.

A healthy cockatiel’s poop should be brown-ish or green-ish, depending on his or her diet. The more seeds in a cockatiel’s diet, the greener the poops will be. The more pellets in their diet, the browner.

The consistency of a cockatiel’s poop should be like a paste, with some added liquid to boot. Their poop is made up of three things: the feces, the urine, and the uric acid.

Birds poop and pee at the same time, so it makes sense that their feces, the colored portion of their poop, comes out with a bit of liquid. The white stuff that you usually see all over your car’s roof when you park in a bad spot is the uric acid. Uric acid is nitrogenous waste birdies get rid of.

On that day, Froley was hardly pooping, and when he did, it was nothing but liquid.

No feces. No uric acid.

I felt incredibly anxious. Froley is normally such a rambunctious, particular little fella. His lethargic behavior was totally out of character. He seemed so weak. And the worst part was that even though he was clearly ill, he still desperately wanted to be near me. If given the option to sleep in his cage or with me, he’d flap over to my computer desk (where I was halfheartedly attempting to do some work) and sleep next to my keyboard.

Now, Froley has gotten sick before, twice so far in the ten years I’ve had him. Both times I took him to the local vet to get checked out, and both times, the vet told me that he was looking okay and that I should bring him back if he got any worse.

I know, not exactly $140 worth of advice.

So given my past experience, I decided to keep Froley at home and give him what care I could myself.

Side note: This goes against what every cockatiel forum I Googled told me to do.

Sick birds should try to avoid stress, and, the way I figured it, going to the vet would stress Froley out more than it would actually help him.

The first thing I did was replace all of his food. If something in his food had made him sick, it would be best not to continue to expose him to it.

The second thing I did was transform his bedtime cage into a hospital cage. I lowered his perches so that he would not have to climb too much to reach them. I moved his food and water bowls to this smaller cage. I also covered the floor of his cage with towels. These make for soft, comforting surfaces for Froley to step on. As an added bonus, I could better keep an eye on his poops since they stand out so much better on the towels.

After that, it was just watching and waiting. I gave him water, tried hand-feeding him his favorite foods. At around 5:45 p.m., he started throwing up.

When a bird vomits, one of two things can happen. If it comes out as a pasty mess, that means the food got digested a bit before coming back out through your poor bird’s beak. That is definitely not good. If you get whole chunks of food, like seeds and stuff, that means the food only got so far as the bird’s crop. That is not as bad.

Froley was regurgitating whole seeds.

Almost immediately after, I noticed the temperature of his feet went down, and he started behaving a bit more actively than he had been.

We still weren’t out of the woods though.

Froley began pooping goopy poops, with a booger-like consistency. I knew that meant he might be a bit dehydrated, so I offered him more water and leafy greens that were damp. Honestly, I was so glad there was some color to his poops, meaning he was getting some nutrition into his body.

At the end of the day, I put him into his room to sleep.

I have to admit, I had a restless night that night. I fretted about the coming morning. I had fears that I would wake up, greet Froley, only to hear no happy chirp in reply. Instead, I’d find one dead little birdie at the bottom of the cage.

Morbid, I know.

Thank the ever-loving gods that he was as chirpy and as awake as ever. He was clearly doing better, but I kept him in his hospital cage for the whole day to make sure. His poops slowly came back to their usual state, and I breathed a little easier.

As of this writing, Froley is doing much better. He seems normal. However I’m eyeing him like a hawk for a while. (I mean, not as a source of food, but just really closely.)

Never thought I’d be so happy to be smearing bird poop around.