Will my cockatiel talk?

One of the most appealing aspects of cockatiel ownership is the possibility that your bird will become a talented talker. Although many cockatiels learn to talk, none of them is guaranteed to talk. The tips here will help you teach your cockatiel to talk, but please don’t be disappointed if your bird never utters a word.

Remember that language, whether it’s cockatiel or human, helps members of a species or group communicate. Most baby birds learn the language of their parents because it helps them communicate within their family and their flock.

A pet cockatiel raised with people may learn to imitate the sounds she hears her human family make, but if you have more than one cockatiel the birds may find communicating with each other easier and more enjoyable than trying to learn your language.

Most experts say that the best time to teach a cockatiel to talk is between the time she leaves the nest and her first birthday. If you have an adult cockatiel, the chances of her learning to talk are less than if you start with a young bird. Male birds may be more likely to talk, but I have heard of some talkative females, too.

Talking Tips

You will be more successful in training a cockatiel to talk if you keep a single pet bird, rather than a pair. Birds kept in pairs or groups are more likely to bond with other birds than with people. By the same token, don’t give your bird any toys with mirrors on them if you want the bird to learn to talk, since your bird will think the bird in the mirror is a potential cagemate with whom she can bond. Start with a young bird, because the younger the bird is, the more likely she is to want to mimic human speech.

Many experts recommend not teaching your cockatiel to whistle if you want her to learn to talk. Whistling is often easier for a bird to learn than talking, and once your bird learns to whistle, she probably won’t learn to talk. If you do want your cockatiel to whistle, make sure to have someone who whistles well train your bird so that you’ll be pleased with the end result, rather than being stuck listening to your cockatiel imitate a tone-deaf whistler over and over again. Pick one phrase to start with. Keep it short and simple, such as the bird’s name. Say the phrase slowly so the bird learns it clearly. Some people teach their cockatiels to talk by rattling off words and phrases quickly, only to be disappointed when the bird repeats them in a blurred jumble that cannot be understood.

Be sure to say the chosen phrase with emphasis and enthusiasm. Birds like drama, and seem to learn words that are said emphatically—which may be why some of them pick up bad language so quickly!

Try to use phrases that make sense in context. For instance, say “good morning” or “hello” when you uncover the bird’s cage each day. Say “good-bye” when you leave the room, or ask “want a treat?” when you offer your cockatiel her meals. Phrases that make sense are also more likely to be used by you and other members of your family when conversing with your bird. The more your bird hears an interesting word or phrase, the more likely she is to say that phrase some day.

Don’t change the phrase around. If you’re teaching your bird to say “hello,” for example, don’t say “hello” one day, then “hi” the next, followed by “hi, Petey!” (or whatever your bird’s name is) another day.

Keep training sessions short. Cockatiel breeders recommend ten- to fifteen-minute
sessions.

Train your bird in a quiet area. Think of how distracting it is when someone is trying to talk to you with a radio or television blaring in the background. It’s hard to hear what the other person is saying under those conditions, isn’t it?

Your cockatiel won’t be able to hear you any better or understand what you are trying to accomplish if you try to train her in the midst of noisy distractions. Be sure to keep your cockatiel involved in your family’s routine, though, because isolating her completely won’t help her feel comfortable and part of the family.

Remember that a bird needs to feel comfortable in her environment before she
will draw attention to herself by talking.

Be patient with your pet. Stop the sessions if you find you are getting frustrated. Your cockatiel will sense that something is bothering you and will react by becoming bothered herself. This is not an ideal situation for you or your bird. Try to keep your mood upbeat. Smile a lot and praise your pet when she does well! Graduate to more difficult phrases as your bird masters simple words.

Consider keeping a log of the words your bird knows. (This is especially helpful
if more than one person will be working with the cockatiel.)

When you aren’t talking to your cockatiel, try listening to her. Cockatiels and other birds sometimes mumble to themselves to practice talking as they drift off to sleep. Because a cockatiel has a very small voice, you’ll have to listen carefully to hear if your pet is making progress.

You’re probably wondering if the talking tapes and CDs sold in pet supply stores and through advertisements in bird magazines work. The most realistic answer I can give is “sometimes.” Some birds learn from the repetition of the tapes and CDs that, fortunately, have gotten livelier and more interesting in recent years. Other birds benefit from having their owners make tapes of the phrases the bird is currently learning and hearing those tapes when their owners aren’t around. I recommend against playing a constant barrage of taped phrases during the day, because the bird is likely to get bored hearing the same thing for hours on end. If she’s bored, the bird will be more likely to tune out the tape and the training.

Finally, if your patient, consistent training seems to be going nowhere, you may have to accept the fact that your cockatiel isn’t going to talk. Don’t be too disappointed if your pet doesn’t learn to talk. Most birds don’t, and talking ability should never be the primary reason for owning a bird. If you end up with a nontalking pet, continue to love her for the unique creature she is.

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