Q: I have two male cockatiels of the ages 2 and 4, and we have a problem. We got a second cockatiel two years after our first cockatiel, and the younger bird doesn’t seem to be bonding with us. They also can’t be separated or they’ll start to screech. We had no problem bonding with the older cockatiel, but the younger cockatiel seems to hate us. Sometimes he gets angry at us and bites us and then the older one (which has bonded to us) starts to fight him. We think it’s because he doesn’t like the younger one biting us. Should I move them to separate rooms and take them out one at a time until the younger one bonds with us?
A: Your letter states the problem clearly in the beginning; your two cockatiels “can’t be separated or they’ll screech,” indicates that your cockatiels are now bonded with one another. Your letter also reads that the younger cockatiel is now two years old and that you obtained him two years ago assumedly when he was a baby. Although two years have now passed and your bird has bonded with another cockatiel instead of you, it is not too late to tame your bird.
The younger, 2-year-old cockatiel is now at full adulthood but, because he is biting, it would suggest that his hormone levels are rising and with it a desire to pair bond and breed. The biological urge to reproduce at this age is very strong and even the tamest of companion cockatiels can become agitated biters, or nippy with their owners. While untamed cockatiels that have never bonded with their owners may be more fearful compared to tame birds, they are also more challenging to work with, especially when they are in ready to breed.
Although we tend to anthropomorphize our own feelings onto our birds, the reason your older bird may fight with the younger cockatiel that bites you may be due to transferred aggression. This style of breeding agitation is actually displaced aggression directed toward a mate or chicks, and is brought on by stress. For example, the stimulus of your presence and the reactive behavior of the younger cockatiel biting you causes your older cockatiel to react aggressively toward the younger bird. This is a plausible explanation if you are convinced your older cockatiel is also pair bonded to the younger cockatiel. Pair bonding between male cockatiels — even in the presence of a female cockatiel — is not altogether uncommon and is sometimes preferred.
I do not recommend separating your cockatiels, which can add to their daily stress, especially if they are within earshot of one another, as it will only cause them to call to each other repeatedly. Keep them together; however, when you are ready to work with the younger cockatiel, take it to a different environment during limited training sessions.
The daily move to the training environment will work in your favor by putting your cockatiel at a temporary disadvantage by transferring it to unfamiliar surroundings for a short period once or twice a day. First, have an avian veterinarian or professional handler to trim the wing feathers to prevent your bird from flying into a wall or solid object at breakneck speed. To begin training, choose a small room with closed doors and windows and mirrors covered. If your birds call out to each other, cover the older cockatiel’s cage to quiet it during these short training sessions while you work with the younger cockatiel.
Start with basic techniques to allow your cockatiel to become used to associating your hand and fingers with his favorite foods, and move extremely slowly (as if you were in a slow-motion movie) whenever you approach the cage, open the cage door or allow your hand and special treats to come within reach of your cockatiel. Keep training sessions short — 10 to 15 minutes — once or twice a day and gradually increase the training over time. My suggestion is to wait until your cockatiel is not quite so nippy and its hormone levels have decreased before you begin training. Although your younger cockatiel is a full adult, never allow anyone to tell you that an older cockatiel can’t be tamed. Patience has its reward, and there are many stories of even elderly cockatiels that have tamed down with a commitment to training over time.