Once your budgie is finger-trained and has mastered the art of the ‘step up’, you can teach him some more complicated moves. It must be emphasised that there is no compunction to do this, and failing to teach a budgie clever tricks is in no way detrimental to his mental and physical health or the relationship he has with you.
Simple ‘tricks’ can help reinforce the bond between you and your pet bird. Training sessions for these feats should be short, as anything vaguely stressful for the bird will not count as a lesson. Each of the following activities should be practiced for no more than two or three minutes per session. You cannot teach budgies to do things they don’t want to do – they take part in these activities because they enjoy the playing involved.
Training tends to work better in a space with a minimum of distractions. Trying to train a budgie in the room where his cage is, with all its familiar distractions and favourite places, can make things trickier.
The best way of getting your budgie used to the idea of learning new things is to start with something very simple (such as the stick trick, below). Only start teaching a new trick when he has mastered what you have taught him so far.
Budgie Stick Trick
Choose a moment when the budgie is perched comfortably outside the cage – on the cage top or on your finger, for example. Take a twig, stick or piece of dowelling (the sort of thing you use for a budgie perch) and show it to him at close range. It will not take him long to realise that it poses no threat. Once he is happy with its proximity, gently tap him on the beak with the end of the stick and use a chosen ‘command’. This should be something unique to the trick (“peck the stick”, for example). His instinct will be to open his beak and nibble. This might take one or two goes; but as soon as he bites the stick, offer a treat. In no time at all he will bite the stick as soon as you present it and say the ‘magic word’, and will wait expectantly for his treat.
A budgie with a simple stick toy
This manoeuvre is never going to wow the crowds at parties, but it does get the budgie used to the idea that interacting with you on a new action brings rewards. Taking that concept forward, you can begin to make the tricks more complicated.
Budgie Ladder Trick
Rig up a budgie-sized ladder outside the cage. Get the budgie to perch on your finger, and then place him at the foot of the ladder. Dangle some millet from the top to coax him up, and say the word or phrase you have chosen for this particular trick (“up the ladder” is a good one). Climbing up is a natural instinct in budgies, so this feat will be accomplished in a very short time. The key thing is to establish the link between your spoken command and the action. Once he’s cracked it, start putting him further and further from the ladder, up to about one metre eventually. Say the magic words, and he’ll scamper to the ladder in a crowd-pleasing way and climb up.
The Slide Trick
The ladder trick can be extended. By putting further gentle challenges at the top of the ladder, you can train your budgie to do a whole routine. For example, you could have a stick or a plastic slide running back down to ground level. Use the millet again to make the budgie descend, and say something like “down the slide” when he pecks at this latest obstacle/challenge. If he tries to bypass the slide and fly down to the treat, remove it without any further words. Place him at the foot of the ladder again, and start over. It won’t take him long to twig what’s going on. Say “down the slide” as he descends for the treat. When he’s done it once, he'll do it every time. You can then lengthen the stick or slide (a length of toy car track is perfect for a long, smooth descent).
Budgies enjoy climbing ladders
The ladder and slide tricks can be elaborated on by rigging up your own DIY climbing frames. The same principles apply – use commands to prompt the budgie up and down. Once at the top of the obstacle course, you can finish off the routine by calling him to your hand or shoulder, as outlined above.
Budgie Ball Tricks
Budgies love pushing balls along the ground with their beaks. You can build on this instinct by training him to push a ping pong ball up and down a pair of ramps (again, toy car track works well).
Budgie Football Trick
This is a very simple one to master. Your budgie will instinctively try to head-off a plastic ball that rolls towards him. Place him in front of a miniature goalmouth (use table football goalposts, or make your own), and flick the ball towards him. He will save the ball with his beak. Each time he does so, say “Good save!”, or something equally appropriate.
You can combine this goalkeeping with your budgie’s instinct for ball-rolling. During one of his floor-based ball-rolling sessions, place the goal in front of him and say “goal!” if he rolls the ball into the net, offering some millet as a reward. Using two sets of goal posts, you will then be able to have him goalkeeping at one end, and scoring goals at the other.
Budgie Tennis Ball Trick
Initially, your budgie may assume a tennis ball is too big to move, and he won’t automatically try to push it along as he would a smaller one. Place him on the ground near the ball, and gently roll it so that it taps his beak, controlling its motion with your hand. Once the budgie pecks back at the ball, use your command word (“push”, or something similar). When he’s mastered this, introduce phase two of the trick. Get the bird to step up onto your finger, and then place him on top of the stationary ball, with a command such as “on top”. Use millet to reinforce the move. Once he’s happy with this, you can combine the two parts – let him push for a few seconds, and then use the “on top” command to tempt him to flap onto the ball.
Mastering the tennis ball trick
Budgie Tunnel Trick
The endgame here is to have your budgie happily negotiating a short tunnel. A toilet roll or kitchen paper tube will do the job, or the type of tubing used in hamster runs. Tunnelling is not something the birds would do in the wild; although the trick does appeal to their curiosity in exploring potential nesting holes.
For this activity you have to start small. Use a plastic ring, or a piece of paper with a hole cut in it. Start with wide diameters, and reduce them as the bird grows comfortable with the manoeuvre, until you have something with the diameter of a kitchen roll tube. Lure him through using millet and a unique word or phrase. Once he’s done this a few times, lengthen the tunnel – use small sections of the kitchen roll tube, increasing the length gradually. You’ll know when he’s ready for a longer tunnel by his eagerness to crawl through the shorter version. The moment has come – put the millet at the end of the tunnel, and speak the magic words. If he doesn’t go for the long crawl immediately, shorten the tunnel length again.
Toilet roll holders make good tunnels
Once your budgie has found his confidence, you can even introduce gentle bends. Never make him squeeze through anything too narrow, or he will feel the constriction and start to panic. The idea is to get him walking through a tunnel, not pot-holing.
Budgie Fetch Trick
This is a great bonding game, but takes a little time to piece together. The idea is that your budgie will react when you say “fetch!” by picking up an object, bringing it to you and dropping it in your hand. There are three stages.
- Choose a small, budgie-beak-friendly object, such as a bright button. Hold it out to your bird until he takes it in his beak. When he does so, say “fetch”. Let him play with the object; and as soon as he drops it say “drop it!” and reward him with millet or some other favourite treat. Now put the button on the floor and let him pick it up himself, saying “fetch” when he does so and “drop it” when he drops it.
- Next, put your hand, palm up, close to the budgie when he plays with the button and try to catch it when it drops. He will soon come to associate the dropping of the button into your hand with the treat that follows. Alternatively, you can catch the button in a small bowl, and this will then become the budgie’s target for dropping.
- You now need to introduce distance into the game. Toss the button a metre or so away from the budgie, and as soon as you see him moving towards it say “fetch”. By now he will have realised that dropping it in your hand (or in the bowl) is a sure way to get a treat, and will scuttle back and deposit it in your general vicinity.
Playing fetch with a budgie
Budgie Skateboard Trick
First find your budgie-sized skateboard… if you can’t find one in a pet shop, have a look online, or rig something up from Lego. Budgies enjoy the sensation of motion – you can see this when they use their cage swing. The instinct stems from their habitat in the wild, clinging to waving twigs or thick grass stems. But it still takes a little time for a budgie to get the hang of a skateboard.
Start off by moving the bird from your finger to the skateboard, and then gently pushing it along the floor. Once he’s used to the motion, try positioning him with one foot on the board and the other on the floor. His natural walking instinct will propel the skateboard. The trick will take time, but persevere and you’ll both get there.
Budgie Waving Trick
This is simpler than it sounds. The budgie will be ‘waving’ with his foot rather than his wing, and the trick is based on the step-up training. Offer your finger to the bird as if inviting a normal step-up, but withdraw the finger and leave the budgie with his leg lifted. Give him a treat and say “wave!” Repeat this as many times as your budgie will allow before he loses interest. He will eventually come to associate the word with the lifting of his foot and the treat that follows.