Member Login



Auto-login for future visits

Join or Renew Today!

Membership Benefits:

Close Button

Budgie Training

Expert Question

I own a two month old budgie, called Pepito. He is very affectionate, when I approach his cage he moves towards the door, and as soon as I open it he steps on my finger, he flies on my shoulder, he loves being cuddled, and eating from my hand (he also likes to eat some hand rearing formula now and then).

I would like to teach him something, maybe some ability tricks, but I have no idea of what to teach to such a small bird and which method to use. I know that punishment should not be used, but only rewards when he acts as requested. Could you please advise me? Obviously, I don’t have unreasonable expectations and I don’t intend to force him to learn, buy I must say that I would be very happy if I could teach him something.

Thank you very much in advance.

Expert Answer

Hello Mary! My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Senior Avian Trainers at Natural Encounters, Inc.  I recently received your question about training your budgie, and I’d be happy to help make some suggestions.

First off, I’d like to commend you for seeking to further your knowledge of training and to continue to grow your relationship with your bird.  It sounds like the two of you already have a great relationship, and it’s great that you want to try to find a way to make it even better.  At Natural Encounters, Inc., we strive to train all of our animals through a system of positive reinforcement—put simply, whenever an animal does something that we like, we make sure that animal gets a reward (or, as you put it, giving the animal “rewards when he acts as requested”).  If the animal does something else or chooses not to do the desired behavior, we simply ignore it and try again later.  Too many people attempt to teach their animals to do things using punishment, and, while it can be effective in some situations and can produce results, it can be confusing, frustrating, and (in its worst form) painful for the animal, and produces a wide variety of unwanted side affects.  That you understand the importance of positive reinforcement puts you one step ahead of many pet owners, and should provide the backbone of all the training that you do with Pepito.

Here at Natural Encounters, Inc., we like to think of “training” as something that occurs each and every time we interact with an animal.  Training, in its most basic form, occurs when an animal learns to direct its behavior in such a way as to receive a desired consequence.  Without really realizing it, you’ve been training your bird since the day it came into your home!  All of the things that you’ve listed above—approaching you as you move near the cage, stepping on your hand, flying to you—are all behaviors that your bird has learned to perform.  Many of the questions that we receive from companion bird owners are requests about how to get their birds to do the things your bird is already doing—give yourself a pat on the back, because you’ve already taught your bird more than many companion birds learn to do in their lifetimes!

What it sounds like you are looking for is where to start with a more formal system of training, where you are setting goals for a behavior you want and then trying to figure out how best to go about the process of teaching those behaviors.  I can give you insight into how we do this with our animals, and I think you’ll find that the same system can be highly effective for you as well. 

When we set out to train a behavior, we first have to define what the final behavior will look like.  Behavior, by definition, is anything that can be observed, so we try to be as specific as possible—for example, “I want the bird to walk over and grab a string and shake it with its beak to make it ring a bell.”  The better we can define the behavior itself, the easier it will be for us to break the behavior down into smaller approximations, the “baby steps” that the bird will take until it is performing the final behavior from start to finish. 

In any training, it’s important to be able to tell your bird when it is doing something right.  Depending on the behavior that is being performed, it may be difficult for you to give Pepito a treat at the exact moment that he is doing what you want him to be rewarded for.  In order to let our birds know when they have done something right, we at Natural Encounters, Inc., use what we call a “bridge,” normally a quick verbal “good!”  The use of the bridge tells the bird that what they have done at that exact moment was good, and that a treat is on its way. It is called a bridge because it “bridges” the gap in time between when the desired behavior has occurred and when the animal actually gets its reward for doing it.  When we say “good!” to our birds, it is the same as when a dog trainer makes a clicking noise with a clicker, or when a marine mammal trainer blows their high-pitched whistle.

As far as what to use as a reward during your training, only your bird can tell you what it likes.  Many parakeet owners I have talked to say that their birds like millet above all other treats, while others prefer small seed treats you can find at most pet stores.  It should be noted, however, that some birds seem to ignore food treats altogether and instead prefer the presence of their favorite person or toy as a reward.  Since your bird eats from your hand it should be no problem getting him to take treats from you during training, although if your bird likes being handled, then a small scratch may be an equally effective reward as well. 

As for what to train your bird, the possibilities are only limited by what your bird is physically capable of doing, and by your own imagination!  If there is a particular activity that your bird enjoys doing, using that as a starting point may be a great way to get things started.  For example, if there’s a particular toy or object that your bird likes to play with, you might start out by bridging and reinforcing Pepito every time he touches his beak to that object.  This is what is known as target training.  When an animal learns that it gets a treat when it touches a particular object with a particular part of its body, you can start to move this object (or “target”) around, and the bird will likely move to where the object is in order to be able to touch it and earn a treat.  Target training can be the basis of a wide variety of behaviors - going from point A to point B, maneuvering through a maze or obstacle course, or turning around in a circle can all be taught by using target training.  The key is to think about what small steps need to be performed in order for the whole behavior to occur, and then training these smaller steps one at a time, only moving ahead when the animal is performing the current step each time without hesitation.  One of the nice things about breaking behaviors into steps is that if for some reason during your training you find that Pepito gets lost, confused, or frustrated, all you need to do is go back a step or two until he’s back on track again.

Another method of training is what is known as capturing.  Instead of teaching an animal to perform a behavior by teaching it in small steps, capturing consists of taking a behavior that the animal is already doing on its own, and then trying to put that behavior on cue so it can be performed when you request it.  For example, there may be a particular sound or whistle that you’ve heard Pepito make in the past.  In order to get this behavior on cue, any time you hear him make that sound, immediately bridge the behavior (that is, say “good!”), and then give him a treat.  From doing this over and over, the bird will likely figure out the connection between this behavior and the treats that you’re giving, and will likely begin to offer it more often.  You may notice that every time Pepito makes the desired noise, beforehand he flaps his wings or does some sort of behavior just before the noise is about to occur. This is a good time to present whatever cue you want him to learn, maybe a certain gesture of the hand or you saying the word “sing”.  When you see this first behavior, you can give your cue, bridge after the noise is presented, and then walk over and provide the reinforcement.  It sounds like a lot, but with practice it becomes very second nature—the basic order is 1) present cue, 2) behavior is performed, 3) present the bridge (“good!”), 4) present the reward.  This will, of course, take some practice for both of you, but sticking with it and just doing it over and over again is the best way to cement in your bird’s mind exactly what it is that you’re looking for.

Another behavior that a lot of people like to train is to teach the bird to wave.  While the behavior itself seems fairly simple, training it can be a fairly detailed process.  There are many ways to do this, and I’ll share with you how we do it with our birds.  You mentioned that your bird steps on your finger.  This is the where we start with our birds.  When we present a hand for a bird to step on, the first thing they will do is lift a foot up.  As soon as we see this, we gently pull our hand away, say “good!” and then give them a treat.  This behavior of picking up the foot is the start of a very crude wave, and a great beginning.  We then repeat this process again and again (present hand, watch foot go up, pull away hand, bridge and reinforce; present hand, watch foot go up and then maybe down a little, bridge and reinforce; etc, etc) until we are getting what looks to us like a wave.  Budgies are very small and very quick, so you’ll have to be equally quick and accurate in the timing of your bridging while you do this, otherwise your bird may think that it’s simply supposed to jump to your finger.  At the same time, we want to make sure that in training this new behavior we do not end up simply punishing the behavior of actually stepping up, as this is something we still want the bird to do when we ask for it.  Because of this, as soon as you are confident that the bird understands the concept of putting the foot up to gain reinforcement, you’ll then want to start changing the cue to something other than just bringing your hand in (we often do this by introducing a small “wiggle” of the finger on the hand we are presenting, and then with each repetition making the wiggle bigger while at the same time fading out the original cue by not bringing the hand itself in as close anymore).  By presenting this new cue from a slightly farther distance, we help clarify our communication to the bird about what it is that we are asking for (i.e.—a stable finger close up means “step up”, while a wiggling finger further away means “wave”). 

Once the bird learns that your new cue means “foot up”, you might be able to get a bigger wave by only bridging and reinforcing Pepito for waves that are at least as big as a larger criteria than what you were accepting before.  This process takes advantage of what is known as an “extinction burst.”  The extinction burst happens when an animal, in seeing that it’s no longer getting reinforcement for performing a behavior at a level at which it used to get reinforced for, will make a larger, more robust attempt at the behavior before giving up.  An example of this phenomenon in the human world might be raising your voice to get someone’s attention: you first say “Hey…” and get no response, so then you offer a slightly louder “HEY…” and still get no response, so you then holler “HEEEYYY!!!”  If you don’t get a response after that, you might simply give up.  In Pepito’s case, he might make a small wave once and not get a response, then another small wave and not get a response, and then try a slightly bigger wave to see if that works.  If he then gets bridged and reinforced for this larger wave, it’s likely that he’ll stick to bigger waves from then on.  The trick here, though, is to keep your criteria reasonable—if you try to wait too long for a bigger wave, Pepito will likely just stop waving altogether.  Rest assured, this process will take time.  We’ve found in our experience that it’s better to work with our birds in frequent, short training sessions than in longer ones that occur with larger gaps of time between them.  One of our mantras at Natural Encounters, Inc., is “Repetition builds confidence”, not only for the bird doing the behavior but also for the person presenting the cues, so practice and clear communication will be your greatest assets as you attempt to train this (or any other) behavior. 

The final thing that I can offer you in your training adventure is a simple piece of advice: remember to be patient.  Even the smallest, simplest behaviors may not be so small and simple in the mind of your bird, but what we have found time and time again is that repetition is the best way for you and your bird to build confidence in one and other.  Just as the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!  Another saying that we have at Natural Encounters, Inc., is that “The animal is never wrong.”  If our birds are falling short of our expectations in their behaviors, we take responsibility for it and say that it is probably a breakdown in our own communication to them that is causing the problem.  Two-way communication—that is, communication where we are being clear in our cues, criteria, bridges, and reinforcements, and where we are always paying attention to the body language and behavior of the animal in front of us as this is how they communicate back to us their understanding of what we are asking—is the single most important tool we have as animal trainers.  If an animal is not interested in participating with us in training at a certain time, we simply walk away and try again later.  Giving our animals the power to tell us when they are and aren’t interested in playing “the training game” is a way to give them power over their environment, and an animal that is empowered is one that will be happier, healthier, and more confident, three goals that we should strive to achieve each and every day with our birds. 

I hope that what I’ve written above gives you some idea of the many possibilities that lie ahead for you and Pepito where training is concerned, and gives you an idea of where you might get started to begin to make some of these ideas become a reality.  If you would like to learn more, I suggest you begin by checking out our website,, where you can find a variety of articles on bird training, enrichment, and behavior that may be helpful in your efforts to continue to learn about Pepito and how to continue to build and improve your relationship with him.

Thank you again for writing to us, Mary.  Best of luck in your training endeavors, and we look forward to hearing about your future successes!


Chris Jenkins
Senior Avian Trainer
Natural Encounters, Inc.

Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., ( a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization.