I’ve just started training a fully flighted, untame cockatiel that a neighbor found last week. I’m using methods I learned from the Bird-click group and Barbara Heidenriech’s workshop. Here’s a description of the first steps I’ve done. He did not like hands at all, and did not want to sit next to people. Each of these steps was done using very small increments, clicking and treating, and only moving on when he was very at ease with the previous step.
I began by starting in his cage with the front door down (outside the cage he would not stay put in one place). I had to actually have a food cup in my hand to get the initial steps because he was not used to hands and would run to the back of the cage. In the beginning I let him eat for a bit once he was at the cup. Once I got him coming to my fingers around the cup, I started holding the cup with my other hand so he had to step onto my empty hand first. Then when he would do that I started keeping the cup out of sight until he stepped on my hand. All this was done from his perch inside the cage. Then I went to the cage door where he could step outside the cage (it’s a drop-down door) and repeated the same steps.
After a few days he would sit on his cage beside me calmly. I’ve been letting him out in our screened in balcony now, and we do “come here” from various perches. He will do flighted recalls even more readily than step-ups, probably because there is no hand near him. After a week he was doing flighted recalls and going back to perch on cue really well. He is still a tad skittish, and will get flighty if the environment isn’t calm, but he’s improving in big leaps every day.
Now that he’ll sit on my hand a fair length of time, we’re doing carrier training (being inside carrier, and allowing himself to be carried and placed inside).
For treats I’m using millet seeds and an ordinary cockatiel seed mix. We started with 1/4 to half a teaspoon or so in his cup while he got used to sitting on my hand, then have worked down to just a pinch in the palm of my hand. For the carrier training I’m also giving him a bowl with half a tsp or so of seed in the carrier.
For a good how-to on crate/carrier training, see Sid Price’s blog: Bird Training Blog » Crate training outline.
This could also be used for training to go in and out of a cage with a bird who is not tame or reluctant to go in. I used a similar approach to get the little tiel to go into a cage when we first got him, and that took less than a day.
He looks like this, only with a prettier, deeper grey: