Q: Is teaching my budgie tricks just a waste of time?
A: In short, no! Even “cute” or “silly” tricks can bolster your relationship with your bird.
Lots of budgie owners overlook small tricks because they think they’re “just for show.” However, teaching your bird to recognize cues for a few basic movements can help strengthen your bond, build their confidence, and improve your communication.
In The Budgie Academy flock, the vast majority of the things my birds use as “tricks” are behaviors they already perform on their own. I simply put them on cue, forming a communication system where the bird and I both understand and agree that offering this behavior will result in something good, like a food reward. “Chirp” or “speak” is almost always the first cue I teach, since it’s an incredibly instinctual behavior and easy to train. “Shake” and “spin” are also simple to teach and learn.
There’s no exact set of tricks your bird has to know! For the reasons below, teaching your budgie even a few simple behaviors can be deeply rewarding.
1.) Tricks can help shape essential behaviors
Tricks can be used as intermediary steps to help smooth the transition to a final behavior.
For example, Budgie Academy flock member Gandalf had a hard time learning how to step up onto a hand. Teaching him to shake helped him get comfortable with the idea of using one leg at a time to step up onto a hand. So, instead of awkwardly hopping all at once, the trick helped him discover an easier intermediate and allowed him to more comfortably perform the target behavior.
2.) Tricks can build bonds
Tricks can be something easy and enjoyable for you and your bird to do together.
I teach my birds very simple tricks to start with, usually by putting something they naturally do (like chirping!) on cue and rewarding them for the behavior. They quickly learn that by just doing something they already know and are comfortable with, they may be rewarded. This is a positive learning experience and helps them come to see us as someone who can be included in their activities and behaviors.
3.) Tricks can bolster confidence
By teaching the tricks the right way, you can build a bird's confidence both in you and themselves.
It doesn’t take long for budgies to realize they can earn rewards for their actions. Once they figure this out, they become more sure of themselves and their ability to act. They also learn that they can control your behavior to some degree and may feel more comfortable interacting with you via this system of cues, actions, and rewards.
4.) Tricks as a consent system
Once your budgie knows a trick or two, you can use this as a means of asking consent.
When starting a training session, I can try warming my birds up with just a few easy tricks to see if they’re in the mood. If they eagerly offer up the behavior, I can see they’re probably interested in playing the training game. If they won’t offer me this simple trick, I can assume they’re not in the mood and would probably like to be left alone. This can help streamline communication and prevent frustration.
5.) Tricks as a health indicator
Having a few easy tricks that your bird knows well can help you monitor their health.
If your bird is able to consistently do a certain trick but starts struggling, it’s an early sign that something might be wrong. If they’re usually eager for some training in exchange for treats but suddenly won’t do it, that could mean they feel lethargic or have a low appetite becuase they don’t feel well.
If your bird has an accident, some simple tricks can help you evaluate afterwards. For example, if you feel he might have banged his leg a bit, you can ask him to shake and see if he’s comfortable. If he’s struggling, that could mean there’s pain in that leg. If your bird that is usually a skilled and reliable flier suddenly doesn’t want to do a simple recall a foot or two away, that could indicate an underlying health issue and can prompt you to schedule a vet visit.
6.) Tricks as a request system
Trained budgies can choose to offer behaviors in order to request interaction.
Rather than being forced to do training only when we happen to offer it, performing a simple behavior can allow your bird to control and request interaction from us on their own terms. For example, when flock member FitC comes and sits on her training perch, I know she is requesting interaction.
Teaching your bird a few simple tricks comes with a whole host of benefits. But what should you do if your bird is new and scared of even basic interactions? Check out our article on things to do with scared budgies to get the basics on building a healthy, happy relationship with your pet.