Potty-training Your Bird
Tired of bird poop on your shoulder? Love your bird but wish that,
aside from installing a volume control, that you could install a poop
control too? But you CAN potty train your bird.
Our lovebird, for example, practically potty-trained himself --- he
"goes" automatically when picked up and held over a trash can or piece
of tissue paper set down for that purpose. Our cockatiel Torque acted
"antsy" as a sign it's time to "poop" him (Tcsh, alas, is far more
subtle about it, and in fact seems to deliberately poop on his
less-favorite-human - while he seems to avoid pooping on his most
favored human subject).
It helps to realize that most parrots (cockatiels, lovebirds,
larger birds) have some sort of instinctive desire not to poop on
their favorite human perch. I don't know how this evolved, but it's
there. So, how does this training process work?
It's actually very similar to potty-training a dog. Dog books will
tell you to learn and anticipate when the dog will go to the bathroom:
right after waking up, right after eating, etc etc (though it depends
on the dog); you're supposed to take the dog to the right spot every
time you think he's likely to go, wait til he does his stuff
(repeating a key phrase all the while, even if you feel like an idiot
for it), and then praise him profusely. Birds are a lot like that,
with one really BIG difference: they go as often as once every few
So the trick is to get in the habit of picking up the bird every few
minutes --- you really have to learn to watch your bird to figure out
the timing --- and then hold it over the appropriate object
(newspaper, trash can, cage, whatever), repeat a simple phrase, and
wait for the "plop." Then, praise the bird profusely and give it back
its previous perch.
Here are some tips:
In any case, those are the basics! Remember, take it easy ... birds
aren't THAT instinctively into the potty-training business. There
will always be mistakes --- usually caused by an inattentive human who
didn't read his bird's body language, or who forgot how long it had
been since the last birdie potty session. But still, in good cases,
the mistakes can go down by nearly 90% or more ... and wouldn't that
- Birds usually get antsy just before they want to go. A cockatiel
on your shoulder might start climbing down, for example. (Unless
your cockatiel is like Tcsh, who just does it.)
- RIGHT before going, most birds do an odd little squatting or
backing-up motion. You can sometimes (not always) interrupt the bird
long enough to pick him up and get him over something more appropriate
than your table or your shirt.
- Don't use a key phrase common to daily language. One article in
BIRD TALK mentioned how this can cause social embarrassments....
- Be consistent.
- It may be hard to keep the bird over the trash can ... they often
really don't want to stay there. Be patient, and don't force the bird
to sit there longer than seems reasonable (certainly don't hurt him!).
Try again in a minute or so, though. Also check your shirt or the floor
to see if the bird went while you weren't watching.
- Some birds have a stronger instinct than others. Lovebirds, for
example, seem to have have more of a "don't poop on the human" sense
than cockatiels. Ours practically taught himself. But remember all
birds are still individuals.
- One idea: some birds might possibly cue off a particular object
beneath them. In other words, you MIGHT be able to teach your bird to
poop over a bit of kleenex (for example) like our lovebird -- but that
means anything that looks like that will probably become fair game.
- When uncovering the bird cage in the morning, try waiting until the bird
poops before letting him out (though in the morning, there may be
multiple large "presents" waiting to come out of the bird).
Make sure to open the door very soon after the act, or else
the bird has no reason to associate the action with the result.
- Likewise, you may try waiting until the bird poops to let him
out of his cage at other times of the day. The bird may start
associating the cage with pooping, especially if you use a key
phrase, and also if...
- ...You try putting the bird periodically on/in his cage and refuse
to pick him up again until he poops (it helps to
wait til you know he's due to poop to do this, and use that
same silly key phrase). Again, this must be
done cause-and-effect style, and the hope is that
the bird realizes that pooping in/on the cage is a Good Thing(TM).
- BIRD TALK warns against getting a parrot so well trained he
doesn't poop without a command -- that's just bad for his health.
Expect a few messy shirts, tables, chairs, etc. -- don't expect
- It might take only a few days for some birds ... or it might take
weeks! In the long run, it usually is up to the instructor's patience
- If potty training is too frustrating for you and the bird,
it may be just best to live with the occasional mess rather than get everyone