Replacement Cockatiel


Letter

I have handfed 2 cockatiels at different times. My first (the better bird by FAR) was a male grey, and died after we moved. I learned a lot from the experience, and had much guilt over it.... (long, sad story) Anyhow, to try to "right" the guilt I felt at not being more attentive to his illness (I didn't realize he was sick - they hide it - and by the time I recognized it, he was dead within the hour) I bought another tiny bird. I specifically requested a male, and was assured that this was a male bird, but it is not. I have read that they are more stand-off-ish, and I have found this to be true in her. She was always demanding, from the start. I got her at about 2 weeks of age, and fed her well, no problems, but she would squawk at me for the slightest infraction (or what SHE viewed as an offense). Now I own this bird who is not as friendly as I had hoped, and I consequently don't take the time with her that I should.

She is usually just a quiet bird, doing that little sound "twee-oop" whistle that 'tiels do. I love that sound. But there are times that she will (more when I leave the room, although not consistently) make this horrid "PEEP" sound. Like a distress call, and it is SO un-nerving and angers me greatly. It is a 'HELP ME!" type sound, and produces the appropriate response in me: OH my!, or I am needed! that a mother bird would have when she hears her chick's cry for help. I KNOW she is in no distress, and that is what is so angering to me. I tell her to hush it up, and sometimes she will obey, other times she keeps it up, and I have taken to covering her cage for 10 - 20 minutes as a negative signal to her that this is undesirable behavior. To positively reinforce the "twee-oop" sound, I repeat it back to her when she makes the pleasant sound. But she still persists in making the horrid sound as well. I just hate that noise.

Is this her call for her "flock", and she will keep it up until I devote time that I don't have to her? It is what I am afraid you will say.... I truly am not a good flock-mate to this bird, and in truth, resent the fact that I got a female. There. I've said it. My male was just a much better bird, by virtue of his gender, and I am afraid this bird may never measure up in my opinion, by virtue of HER gender. I am sorry to sound like such a terrible mother, I just wanted you to have the full picture, so you could give me accurate advice, for my specific situation. I have debated getting another bird for her, but am afraid that I will only end up with TWO birds who are an annoyance, and she will teach the new one these dreadful noises.

Reply

There are several issues that need to addressed with your situation so bear with me.

First of all you need to learn that no animal can ever be expected to replace a lost pet. All animals are individuals and it's much more important to buy a new bird that you like, rather than just picking out one and expecting it to act just like your old one. My aunt recently lost her mare. She was grieving terribly and thought about getting a new horse, something she'd be able to ride right away and use during the summer. After mulling it over a while she decided that this would be a bad choice because all she'd be thinking while riding is "this is not my mare." Instead she found a nice yearling (too young to ride) who had a nice temperment and who she truly liked. You need to stop viewing your bird as the "one who isn't like him." Does she even have a name? The first step to having a healthy relationship is to face the facts. She is not your male and never will be. Try to love her for who she is and stop expecting the impossible. Try to focus on her good traits. I have owned many birds throughout the years, both genders, and lost many pets. No two ever act the same and I never expect them to. Each one has a special place in my heart though.

The main difference between male and female cockatiels is the vocalizations. Males tend to show off more and whistle while females are usually quiet but more cuddly. All cockatiels make the call you described. It means "where are you?" or "come back here I want to be with you!" I've never met a bird who did it to excess unless they were lonely. You may be reinforcing this behavior by not paying enough attention to her ("she's not my mare" syndrome). Most well cared for birds quickly learn the patterns in which you come and go and pay attention to them. Covering a cage sometimes works for screamers but this is not the case here. The sound you are hearing is normal and if she's doing it too much you may just need to spend more time with her.

One thing that really concerns me is that you handfed the bird yourself. This is never something an inexperienced person should try. Trust me, feeding is the easy part. Health complications are always a risk but in your case psychological problems may have occurred due to your attitude. Baby birds can develop all kinds of problems if not socialized properly. This is probably why she is not as friendly as you'd hoped. All well-socialized tiels will come to and cuddle with anyone. They are very friendly and live to be with people. I suggest consulting a bird behavioralist in your area (the Pet Bird Report is a good way to find a qualified one) to help you work out any psychological problems you may have caused while raising this baby.

Even without a behavioralist consultant there are still things you can do. Birds don't need to walked or played with in the sense that dogs and cats do. Tiels are very content to perch on their favorite person and just cuddle. You say you don't have any time, I say you do. Whenever you watch TV, do simple chores, work on the comp or read she should be on your shoulder. Her cage should also be in an area of the house that is close to all the activity, like the living room. You can also teach her to stay on a playstand while you're working in the same room but for whatever reason can't hold her.

Please let me know how things work out. Remember, the first thing that has to change is your attitude toward her. Birds can sense our feelings. If you find you really can't change your view of her then I suggest giving her to a loving home and searching for a new bird, one that you pick out because you like it, not as a replacement.

Reply and Reply again

OK, I will try to do better. She DOES have a name. She was actually pretty good all day after I wrote the letter. I wrote it while she was making the noise, so my frustration must've come through LOUDLY in the letter.

Your frustration did come loudly through the letter. So loudly that it's hard for me to believe you've already had her for two years. Most of the "not my mare" problems occur in the beginning.

I knew when I got her that she would not be a clone of my old bird. I, too, have lost pets over the years, and the new one is never the same, and it DOES take some getting used to. I think most people DO have the "not my mare syndrome", and that this is something that is hard to overcome. I realize that I have the same problem with this bird, and after nearly 2 years have come to know that this bird will probably never talk, but still hope that she will whistle SOMETHING. I think I heard her wolf-whistle the other day, but I am not sure. She never has repeated it, no matter how many times I whistle it. (I got cramps in my cheeks the day she did it, trying to get her to do it again.) Oh well, the "twee-oop" is good enough.

Most male tiels can only say one or two phrases. Tiels are much better at whistling but hens usually don't do this.

Her cage IS in the living room, and there is never any shortage of activity there. In fact, it is right next to my reading chair. I talk to her often, I just don't like being pooped on, and to have her right there next to me seemed like a happy medium.

Do you have a poopie shirt? A poopie shirt is just some old shirt you wear over your other clothes that you can just peel off as soon as you stop holding your bird. It keeps your regular stuff clean and also protects against chewing. I have several of these shirts and I rotate them. Tiels in particular like to cuddle so it's important that you hold them at least some of the time.

I think what you said about psychological damage is difficult, but perhaps true, even though I hate to look at it. She was, in human terms, a strong-willed, difficult child. Very demanding and short-tempered. I spent a lot of time with her in the beginning weeks of her hand-rearing, but began to get a little sick of the high-demand nature of the bird. I fed her on schedule, and she was well-fed, but the nurturing was strained. Whew, it feels good to just get that off my chest. Just a totally different bird than my first. Not as easy to get lovey-dovey with.

That may have been part of the problem. Raising babies should never be seen as a chore. I'm a hobbiest breeder and no matter how many chicks I raise or how tiring the late night feedings get I still make sure each and every chick knows it's loved. Babies are by nature very demanding which is why breeding and handfeeding are not for everyone.

My parents have owned 2 Silky Terriers, since our beloved Pekingese died over 20 years ago. One was a wonderful family dog, and everyone that met her, loved her (even strangers). When she died, the folks decided to buy a Silky terrier. Her name originally was Lady, but quickly changed to Cujo. A real devil, that one. Purebred, papered, and quite expensive, but we soon saw that she was just a nasty dog. She was well-loved by us, you just made allowances for her terrible temperment. When she died, after 15 years, they got another Silky. (NOT the same breeder.) This one is now 5 and she really IS a lady. Perfectly sweet, a wonderful little dog. Did I mention NOT the same breeder? My point/question is: could the "line" of birds from which my new tiel comes have some undesirable traits that tend to make her a little more like a Cujo than a Lady? I have heard terrible things (from reputable breeders in the area) about the breeder from where she was purchased. Horrid things, about disease and bad conditions, and inbreeding. Anyhow, I was wondering if that would have any bearing on her temperment. That would almost be easier to accomodate, knowing that this is something over which she has little control, than thinking that this is a behavior that she CHOOSES. Does that make sense?

The fact that the breeder was willing to sell you an unweaned chick says something about their character. I have never met a bird that was genetically pre-disposed to act a certain way. Species each have their traits and birds are all individuals but the main thing influencing behavior is upbringing. None of the baby birds of any of the species I breed has turned out to be stand-offish. This is not because I have nice stock it is simply because I know how to raise chicks. There are many breeders who feed lots of chicks and never pay any attention to them; consequently these babies will end up stand-offish or even wild. This has nothing to do with the lines, which may be perfectly alright. The problems you'd see with birds from the breeder you described are mostly health-related.

And one last question: Would perhaps getting her a little friend help at all? I have heard that it will make them less sociable towards the humans, but that is of little concern. Bill Cosby said once (concerning parents) that "parents aren't interested in FAIR, they just want peace." We had a parakeet for awhile, we got it from that same pet store (a bad place) and she died within the week. No replacement was offered, and I wasn't interested in watching another die. I had them help all along the way with that one, and they were worthless. I knew the day we got it home, that it wasn't well. It had a bad leg, or something. A deformity that I missed as we picked it out. Anyhow, my tiel hated that bird. That's normal. Cats'll do the same thing with a new addition; "we cannot possibly accept her - she's not one of us!" Would she eventually learn to have a buddy? I wonder if she wouldn't be happier?

Do me a favor and boycott that place. Some birds are friendly to additions (budgies usually are) but this is unusual. It doesn't, however, mean that the two will not get along. I decided to get my second pet tiel a little girlfriend. The first thing he did was give me this look that said "Who is THAT? What is that THING doing on MY cage?" They became my best breeders. I prefer owning more than one pet at a time because they keep each other company while I'm gone during the day. Getting a little male or even another hen might be a good idea but I doubt it would change her temperment. If you decide to get one search for a handfed weaned bird that YOU like because it will end up being a pet. Contrary to what most people believe, tame birds remain the same as they always did even when provided with a playmate. The problem with two birds bonding and shunning the owner only occurs with untamed birds who don't like people anyway.

Contrary to what you may believe, I really DO like the bird, I just really really really HATE that squawk noise. That's the only thing about her that bothers me, and you can tell that it really bothers me. I DO miss my male, probably always will, but the new bird is OK, too.

I hate my ringneck's noise too. She actually screams whenever I leave the room for two seconds. My conure is smart enough to realize that I come and go at times. Every bird has little annoying traits we can't stand. My conure is very flighty and my duck and kak don't like to be cuddled.

I will try to spend some quality time with her these next few weeks, and see if that won't help. It would be worth taking the time to spend 20 minutes daily, or twice a day, to be rid of the squawk. I had my male for 7 years, and he never once did that noise. I spent little time with him, too, and he was just a happier bird. Probably from infancy, huh? I got him when he was 4 weeks old, I think. He had a lot of feathers. She was totally naked, except for a few 'encased' (not un-furled yet) pin-feathers on her wing-tips and rump. She looked like a reptar. Very cute. It was harder to feed the younger bird. I had wished they had given her to me when she was a bit older, but that's just the way it was. I asked to hand-feed, and that's what they gave me. It worked beautifully with my male, I was taught how, and it went without a hitch.

Usually younger chicks are much easier to feed. He may have been easier since he had probably been pulled and taught to handfeed earlier, while she may have been pulled just that day for all you know.

Anyhow, thank you for taking the time to make me look at things I'd rather not. I think you are right, I was a lousy mother, and am now paying for it. It isn't so terrible, I have heard of birds who do NOTHING but make that dreadful noise. All day long. I would never tolerate that - I wouldn't even try. So, she AND I are lucky in some respects, huh?

You're not a bad mother. That fact that you're seeking out help for the problem says that you're not. A bad mother would sit there and do nothing, shove the bird off in a corner somewhere or just give up and sell it, not caring where it ends up. It's very easy to unknowingly cause behavior problems in our birds since every little thing we do can affect them. As owners we have to keep aware of our actions to prevent problems. A book I'd really recommend is Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot.

Feisty Feathers
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