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Question:

June 2, 2021

Separation Anxiety & Reflections


Hi, about a year and a half ago I adopted a 2 year old cockatiel named Tango (male) from a busy family that didn’t have the time to care for him. He was bonded to another cockatiel (male, in a separate cage due to territorial behaviours on Tango’s side) who had passed away prior to me taking him in. They enjoyed out-of-cage time together from what I’ve been told.
Tango has been obsessed with mirrors and anything reflective enough to reflect his appearance on, to an unhealthy level. He would become aggressive and “protect” it, going so far as to swoop and attack anyone nearby. He draws blood 100% of the time. His previous owners had to keep his wings clipped for this reason. At first I did my best to keep him away from any such reflective surfaces, hoping that it was just part of the grieving process, mixed with adolescence. But it’s still an issue today. I don’t feel like I can allow him any type of freedom without him finding his reflection somewhere and fixating on it, which makes it impossible to separate him without using a towel.
On another note, when I first got him, I made the mistake of spending too much time with him and he has since bonded to me, not as a mate, but at an unhealthy level. He has terrible separation anxiety and will scream his head off when I leave the room or even if I go to the other side of the room. I’ve tried reinforcing quiet behavior using treats over the course of several months, but have seen very very little improvement if at all.
I’ve thought about getting another bird to keep him company, but I’m afraid his bad habits might just rub off onto the new bird, not to mention the cost of purchasing another bird and cage.


Answer:

Hi Maria,

Please see update at the end of this response.

This type behavior is challenging to work with. You have to be consistent. I would continue to keep reflective items away from him. You should also work on avoiding hormone triggers. Trimming his wings is probably a good idea, at least as a starting point. The feathers will molt and grown back. But it may help get him out of this hormonal and territorial cycle he is in. Too much freedom is not good for a bird like this. He needs structure and boundaries. Each time you give into him, you lose all ground you had gained. He needs to only come out of the cage on your hand or on a stick. Allowing him to come and go, and to remain out most of the time, is a big hormone trigger for a lot of birds. He should come out to interact with you, on your hand or on a play stand. Allowing him to hang out on top of his cage is making it one big nest for him. Some captive male cockatiels can get obsessed with their nest to the point of barring the female from going inside of it! In some cases, he turns on the female after they already have eggs or chicks and has to be removed from the breeding cage. This seems to be that type male, and it would likely be a disaster to ever give him a mate. He may or may not accept another male in an adjacent cage. I would work with him in other ways since getting another bird is a big gamble.

As for the screaming and separation issues, Chris Davis will be covering this in her webinar this Friday. I’ll post the link below. It is free to register, or you can wait and watch the video later. She is addressing a similar issue that involves a cockatoo, and cockatiels are basically small cockatoos with the same big personalities and issues. LOL You are right to ignore the screaming and reward him for being quiet. But I think you can benefit from watching the webinar Friday if you are available, and asking her about your bird. I can share this question with her ahead of time, since we are focusing on screaming issues this time. You can also learn a lot about communicating with your bird by watching her past webinars. It’s important to talk to your bird, as if he can understand everything you say. They understand more than we think, and they definitely understand tone. I hope you can join us or watch the webinars later.

UPDATE – Chris replied to your question during the first part of the webinar – you can view below:

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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