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Go Back   Talk Budgies Forums > Budgie Talk > Taming and Bonding

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Old 11-03-2013, 09:57 PM
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Lightbulb How to tame a budgie who is afraid of people

So I thought it would be nice to write up a detailed post about how I would tame a budgie who has never been comfortable with people before, or to re establish a bond with a budgie who has grown apart from you. The philosophy behind my taming process is that birds are very sensitive wild animals with many instincts that make them naturally fear people. If you teach them that you are trustworthy in an environment that doesn't trigger their instincts, you set a foundation upon which you can build a genuine bond and your budgie will actually value human companionship.

I made a video of my budgie Johnny when I started taming him. It is a 30 minute long taming session. I show how I would act while explaining a lot of important things about taming budgies. It was a way for me to show what it looks like while also explaining everything so it wouldn't be a boring video of me just sitting there for a half hour. For the first 7 minutes or so, Johnny is on my head. This is just to get him used to me. You can wear a bandana if you are worried about getting pooped on. I took a shower after so it wasn't a big deal. Normally during this time, I would have been looking at my computer and probably talking about budgies on the internet, lol. Just find something to do so that you can sit there for a while without getting bored or scaring the bird.
http://youtu.be/y_JsZ4QntEg
After he seems comfortable, in this case he had been sitting on my head for a long time without trying to get away, then I start getting him used to my hands and being on my shoulder. The time you spend acclimating them to you on your head or wherever they are comfortable depends on the bird. You have to learn to be the judge and read their body language, get familiar with their usual patterns, etc.

I know the video seems long and I talk an awful lot, but it is all important. But I also know that people don't always want to sit through something like that so I am making a blog post to go along with it and explain the main points:

  • Using food to establish trust and not to use it as a lure.
  • Understanding a budgie's natural instincts and applying that to how you interact with them.
  • Using an appropriate space for taming sessions.
  • Reading body language. Approaching them based on their individual needs; proper training techniques are tailored to fit your bird.

Food should only be used as a measure of good faith for taming. It is just a way to show them that they can eat from your hand and nothing bad will happen. You can do this in the cage so they know they are safe with your hand in the cage, but its only a way to prove yourself and teach them that you are okay. They are extremely vulnerable when they are eating in the wild. They are alerted to predators while eating because another budgie will give the signal. So if they actually make the choice to eat from your hand while NOT being motivated by extreme hunger, it does a lot to show them how safe they are with you. You must not take advantage of this by doing something unexpected while they are eating. It will take you backwards instead of forwards. It is also an okay way for them to be distracted while with you. It gives them something else to focus on so they are less focused on how intimidating you are. So something that distracts from fear while also building trust is really a win-win.

I use food as a short term way to show that I can be trusted. Using it as a lure means that you get them to follow a food source until they reach a destination that they would normally feel threatened by or not go to on their own. I feel like that is a trick and not a good way to teach them that YOU are trustworthy. A lure might teach them to toss a little basketball in a hoop or do another funny trick. But to an untame budgie, if a lure leads them to something they perceive as dangerous then it is not useful in the taming process.

Budgies have fast metabolisms, so they are always more or less willing to eat. Use a treat that they really love but don't usually get everyday, like millet. You should absolutely never deprive your budgie of food and use that as a way to get him to come to you. The biggest reason is because their metabolisms are so fast that we can not be the judge of how hungry they are after a few hours. People starve to death in weeks to more than a month depending on how in shape we are. We can literally go months without eating food before dying of starvation. For budgies it is 2 to 3 DAYS. Several hours without food to them can feel like days to us. Hunger as a motivator is just not effective for taming. I know people use it. I think it is better for bigger birds who already trust you and are being trained to do obscure tricks they would otherwise never do.



Understanding a budgie's natural instincts and applying that to how you interact with them. You need to know what their natural predators are and how their environment would be in the wild. The reason there are 5 million wild budgies in Australia is because it in coded in their DNA to act a certain way in various situations. Snakes and birds of prey are their main predators. Movements that resemble these predators will naturally scare the heck out of a budgie. Snakes move slow and then strike. If you do this with your hand to try and catch a budgie around the house or in its cage, it will seriously ruin a lot of trust it may have started to feel towards you. Think of how predator animals and birds of prey look: Their eyes are big and wide and they lock in on their prey. This is why I feel nervous around cats. I hate that feeling of being stared at by an animal or person, and budgies are no different. They might stay completely still like a deer in headlights until you break focus and they have an opportunity to possibly get away. It is very stressful but sometimes it can happen by accident. If I am really focused and determined to do something, my eyes can focus in like that without me realizing it. I definitely notice my birds respond to it with a nervous yet subtle disposition. I just have to be aware of it. Budgies chat with each other all the time. A human voice isn't the same, but it will help them feel assured if you remember to talk to it. Predators try to be as quiet as possible, so even being too quiet can make them a little nervous. If he is nervous when you speak or make noise, take it down a notch. You have to read their body language to know for sure and adjust your volume/tone accordingly.
Budgies live in big flocks. When one sees some kind of danger, it will take off and the rest will instinctively follow. Your budgie might take off when sitting with you, and you need to not chase it. Let him chill for a minute and approach him casually, scoop him on your hand instead of grabbing, and calmly place him back on your shoulder. If you can't do this, its because the space is inappropriate and you need to change the way you interact with them. Another thing is that they live in a desert climate. They don't enjoy taking a bath like my South American rain forest parrot does. Baby budgies in the wild drown because they hatch during the wet season and they aren't built very well for surviving around water all year. Water is something that triggers breeding instincts as well if you mist them for a shower. Let them take a bath in their water on their own if they want to, but don't try to get them really wet thinking they will like it. They usually kind of hate that.

You must adapt your environment to the budgie because there is not a good way to get around natural instincts if you want them to really trust you. Chasing a budgie only assures them that you are a danger. Same with cornering them in a cage with your hand to get them out. There are however methods of getting them out, etc that avoid triggering their instincts.

Using an appropriate space for taming sessions. This allows two main things: Getting them in and out of the cage without destroying their trust, and having no opportunity for an event that would trigger their prey instincts.
You can bring the cage into the space and take the top off so they come out on their own, and put the cage right outside the door. This way, the bird won't be traumatized by your hand cornering it in a space. Other ways of bringing them from the cage to the space would be to use something like a critter carrier if they will come out on their own. The key is to not grab them or spend time chasing them around. You will not have to do this long if you follow my guide, because the budgie will start to look at you and your hand as fun and they will want to come out easily. If you can't open the cage, put your hand to the bird, have him step up willingly and take him out without him trying to get away then your bird is not tame with you yet. Don't try to do this until it is as easy as I just explained. Do it right and soon enough the budgie will be waiting eagerly at the door for you to open it and let him out! Just like this video:
http://youtu.be/FVzvzFQ2W_s
The space you do the taming in should be free of danger. An empty closet is very useful. There shouldn't be something that they will fly to and stay on in order to be away from you. This is only short term; soon they will not feel the need to get away. But if they have the opportunity, it will hinder progress because they won't be able to learn that you are safe without lots of distraction. The more they can get away, the more you have to come after them and it really makes the process take longer or not even work at all.
Most people have a hard time clearing out a closet for this use or don't even have a big closet like the one I have. So I suggested they try something like a fort with a sheet over a table or a tent. I bought a tent at walmart for $22 and it works perfectly. It is also easy to fold up and get out of the way.


This is also a really great way to work with several budgies at the same time. You can see Johnny here on my head with the other budgies with me. Some of them are completely untame but they will feel more comfortable with me when they see the tame ones interacting with me. These pictures were taken inside of my tent. Sometimes I just put them in the tent to hang out together without me. They can fly around without getting hurt and it gives them good social time with each other.

Reading body language and tailoring the process accordingly: This is harder for me to explain because they do so many different things at once to portray how they are feeling. If they aren't tame yet, it is different than when they are tame. Lets start with a budgie who is afraid to come out of the cage and hang out with you. In the cage, they will hop all around in effort to avoid your hand. If they are out on your hand and you just stand still, they will start looking all around for a place to get away from you. They will stand tall, body sleek and straight up while standing elevated on their feet. They might sway in different direction they are looking at. This means that they are as ready as possible to take flight once they see the opportunity. When you are in the small space for taming, they might be doing this a lot at first. They might launch away from you a couple times. But since you are sitting on the floor and the highest place for them to be is on your head, they will go there to perch. They may even perch on your shoulder or in your lap. Just don't do anything, stay relaxed and don't react to them. It shows them that if they stay perched on you, nothing weird or unexpected is going to happen. Soon they will stay on you. If you move around and they aren't trusting enough yet, they will do the ready for flight body posture. Go back to what you were doing when they stayed perched. Let them stay on you for a while before trying to make a new move again.

You can feel them relax. You can tell by the way their feet feel on your body. This will help you judge how they feel without having to look at them. As they relax, their posture isn't as stiff and elevated so you feel their body come down and rest on you. It is subtle but you will learn to notice it with practice. They will sit there relaxed as long as you don't do anything new. Then they will feel even more comfortable and start to explore. You will feel them checking out your shirt or hair with their beak and you will feel a little pitter-patter of their feet as they walk around to scope you out. At this point, the best move you can make to help them feel comfortable with your hand and movements is to bring a millet to your shoulder and hold it there. This shows that you are not scary when you move. You only need to do this in the beginning to teach them you are safe.

An even more relaxed budgie will fluff up and start to blink its eyes closed. Don't do anything sneaky when they are like this, such as trying to touch them. Most budgies generally don't like being pet. They are so small that your fingers are a bit big and awkward to give them a petting that they feel comfortable with. If you try to pet one and it nibbles at your finger, please respect that as a "no". They are politely telling you that they trust you but would prefer not to be touched in that way. Interrupting them when they settle down and blink their eyes can be very jarring in the beginning. They do this blink and fluff thing to each other as a way to call a peace treaty. If you watch them together, you might see one budgie being a jerk and not leaving another one alone. The other budgie will give warnings, they may bicker, and as a way to say "I'm done fighting, please lets get along" they fluff up and close their eyes, blinking them. The other budgie accepts this by doing it back so they can get along. When they do this to you, it could mean "I am comfortable and I would like for you to stop pushing me out of my comfort zone" or it could mean they are tired and about to rest. Either way, interrupting them abruptly when they do that will make them regret letting their guard down. You can get them to open their eyes without startling them by talking softly, and if they stay pretty relaxed and settle in right after with their eyes open then you can try to bring your finger to their chest and see if they will step up. Their whole body will probably get sleek and they will stand up straight again. If they start looking all over for a place to fly to, take your hand away and let them relax again. You know it is okay if they just sit there and look at your finger. Touch it to their chest and they might step up. If not, try again in a few minutes. If they do, then keep it there and allow them to step back down. You want to show them that stepping up the first time will not have any unexpected consequences. Once they will step up and not step back down right away, you can try moving them to your other shoulder and letting them step down there. If at any point they look like they are going to fly away, just put them back where they were and go back to what you were doing when they were relaxed. The more you are in tune with what they want, the quicker you can move on to bigger steps.
Here is Johnny after doing this for maybe a week or two and then bringing him to my bedroom to relax with me:
http://youtu.be/tBa2kHhhTL0

When they will be totally relaxed with you in the appropriate taming space, then you can bring them out in your bedroom, etc and do the same in a big open space. When you and your budgie are ready for this, you will be able to have him out in regular areas of the home and he will be totally okay with you picking him up if he flies off. You can then teach him where is appropriate for him to fly, and he will naturally fly back to you without any problems. I can explain this in more detail but for now I have spent a lot of time talking about how you get to this point.

The end result of this process when done correctly:
  • Your budgie will happily ride around on your shoulder throughout the house.
  • You won't have to clip their wings to keep them manageable.
  • They will be happy and excited to come out of the cage with you.
  • You will not have to do anything special to keep them perched on you or your hand.
  • It will be easy for another person to open the cage and bring them out without hassle.
  • You don't have to use food or anything special to interact with your budgie.
  • And last, but definitely not least:
  • In case of an emergency where your bird gets outside, they will fly back to you instead of flying away.

That is the criteria for what I would consider to be a tame budgie.

Trying to rush something will not achieve a close bond. They may sit there, they may stay perched or it might seem like they are okay with you. This can be very exciting but it requires more investigation because the context could be anything. By "context" I mean the real reason they are staying with you. I could get a budgie to stay perched on my finger if I turned all the lights out and put a strobe light on. They might sit still and stay on you if they are stunned. It doesn't necessarily mean they are tame or that it is progress. It's hard for me to explain because I don't want to hurt someone's feelings or disappoint them by saying "your bird isn't tame". My goal is only to describe what to do and how to know if your bird truly and innately trusts you because it makes life more meaningful for the both of you. It is healthier for the bird to have a low stress level, which comes from being tame. I hope you can stick with me and consider what I have said because the end result is very much worth it.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I have adapted this to the formatting available on TalkBudgies. If you would like to see the original post I made on my blog, go to this link: http://littlebudgiebuddies.blogspot....ning-bond.html

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