How to Socialize Your Parakeet
My favorite part of having a parakeet is socializing with her! Parakeets can be very fun and friendly creatures, but they don't always start out that way. Since interacting with humans isn't a skill they are born with, they must acquire it over time. Of course, your parakeet needs to be shown that he or she can trust you before he will want to interact with you. Here is what you can do to ensure that you raise a parakeet that is comfortable socializing with humans.
1. Consider the Bird's Past
When you buy your parakeet, know what you are getting into. Ask the pet store what kind of interaction the bird has already had with humans. Some pet stores and private breeders are good at making sure their birds are well-acquainted with humans before they are sold. This makes the adoption process much easier for both the bird and the human!
However, many large pet stores just don't have the time to interact with their birds. If this is the case, then you will have to start from scratch. Don't worry, though. It can be done.
2. Start as Soon as Possible!
As with any living creature, the sooner they learn a trick, the better. A young parakeet will be much easier to teach than an older one, so it's better if you start right away.
Start out by putting the bird cage in an area of the home that gets a lot of human traffic, and make sure he is exposed to lots of activity. This will help ensure that he is accustomed to humans being around, and he will be much less likely to be freaked out if there is frequent human movement just outside of his cage.
3. Be the Hand That Feeds
If the parakeet is quite young, start feeding him by hand. It's a great way to get your parakeet to interact with you in a positive way. It will teach him that you are the source of something good, and it will speed up the bonding process. Have others in the home feed him, as well.
If your parakeet is older and isn't very social with people, he isn't likely to accept food from you right away. It will take time; just keep at it. A good trick is to make sure he watches you refill his food and water bowl every morning. Rather than removing them from the cage and taking them out of sight, do it right there where he can see. It's a trick I used with a parakeet of mine, and it helped speed up the socialization process.
Please note: Parakeets should have access to food at all times. While it's great to feed them by hand, this shouldn't be the only time they are given food. Try keeping a bowl full of seed in the cage at all times, and offer special treats (like millet or shredded lettuce) by hand.
4. Be Persistent
Persistence is a huge factor in teaching a parakeet to be social with humans. Fiddle around in the cage daily. Clean the perches, change the food. The more present you are around the parakeet, the more comfortable he will feel with you.
Please do keep in mind that this isn't something you can just teach the parakeet and then move on. What I mean by this is that you must keep these habits up for the rest of the parakeet's life. Once you bond with him and teach him to socialize with people, you must continue to be persistent about socialization. Otherwise, he may eventually revert back to the way he was before you did all this work!
Make the Commitment to Your Pet
Just like with any of your other pets, adopting them is a commitment for the life of the pet. Unfortunately, I've seen people buy a parakeet and do really well with it for a few months. But then once they are done training it to be social with people, the novelty of having a bird wears off. This results in the poor thing spending its days all alone in the cage, with no one paying any attention to it anymore. This leads to it forgetting everything you taught it! So it's important to remember that it's an ongoing process, not a one-time deal.
5. Invite Him Out!
Inviting your parakeet out of the cage is a great way to get him to bond with you. Once you gain enough of his trust, bring him out and set him on your shoulder. Let him hang out with you while you're doing household chores, watching TV, or doing other activities. The more time your parakeet spends outside of his cage, the more he'll bond with you, and the more social he'll want to be.
If he spends all of his time in his cage, he may start to get too comfortable in there and never want to come out. I once had a parakeet develop severe anxiety when anything changed in the little comfort zone that was his cage. He refused to leave, and he refused to let anyone in. Just cleaning his cage was a huge hassle. I hadn't properly socialized this parakeet, and he wasn't comfortable with human interaction. Please learn from my mistake and don't let this happen to your parakeet!
Make sure your house is safe for your parakeet before bringing him out of his cage!
6. Be Cautious With Mirrors
A big lesson I learned very early on is to avoid mirrors. If you put a mirror in the cage with your parakeet, he will think it's another bird and will likely bond very closely with it. Parakeets are very social and loving creatures, but you can pretty much forget about bonding with your parakeet if he has another "bird" to bond with. He will pick the mirror over you any day. On the other hand, if you don't really have a lot of time for your parakeet, a mirror will be great for him, and it will keep him from getting lonely. Just consider yourself warned.
Do you have advice of your own for socializing parakeets? Please share!