I frequently see people struggling with getting their bird back in its cage. I adapted one of my recent BirdBoard responses into a blog post.

How do you get your bird to go in its cage? My parrot always puts up a fuss and runs/flies away when it’s time for him to go back in.

Look at the situation from your bird’s point of view.

You really have to make it worth it to them if you want them to go inside without a fuss. Imagine it was you being locked up… wouldn’t you fight to stay out if being inside your cage meant no more attention, no more playtime, no more fun?

Mika Playing in Her Cage

Mika Playing in Her Cage

A quick digression: The most important thing you need to do (regardless of whether you have trouble getting your bird to go back inside) is to make sure the cage is a fun and safe place.

The cage is your parrot’s home and probably where he spends a good part of his day — it should go without saying that your pet parrot should have as much out-of-cage time as possible (at least a few hours a day), but inside the cage is the safest place for him when he can’t be supervised (when you’re at work) or it’s not safe for him to be out (for example, when you’re cooking). In addition to food and fresh water, the cage should have plenty of space to move around in, plus a variety of toys, perches and enrichment activities.

Your bird’s cage should be situated near where the family activity is, but in a location where he can feel safe (e.g., against a wall, not directly in front of a window). Being inside the cage should never feel like punishment.

But even if your parrot’s cage is the birdie equivalent of Disneyland, being outside — with YOU — is still going to be much more appealing to most pet birds.

So, there are a couple things I do to ensure I don’t have to fight with my birds to get them to go inside:

1) Reinforce random step-ups. I give them a treat for stepping up and then put them back down. I do this repeatedly throughout the day. The purpose is to pair step-ups with treats (reward) and show them that a step-up doesn’t necessarily interrupt whatever they were doing before. If they get to step right back off, it costs them nothing and they even get a treat. Only rarely does “step up” equal going inside the cage.

2) Have them go inside and then let them come back out a few seconds later. This teaches them that going inside doesn’t mean that the fun ends right away. Neither does going in the cage mean that I’m leaving. I think a lot of birds don’t like going inside because they know it means their person is leaving them for the next few hours, so I make sure they get a bit of inside the cage time when I’m sitting right there next to them, still paying attention to them. That way inside-time doesn’t equal me being gone or them not getting any attention.

3) Put a very special treat inside their cage that they ONLY get when it’s time to go inside. Sometimes they can come back out when they’re done, but they only get to eat it inside their cage. Nutriberries work like magic in our house. In fact, 99% of the time, I put the treat in their cage and they run inside by themselves. I don’t even have to put them inside; I only have to close the door behind them. Being inside the cage might not be the best thing ever, but neither is it a terrible thing since they get to associate it with a very special treat.

Magic ———->

The important thing, as far as my approach, is that they get to choose to go inside. Having the choice makes it much more palatable for them. Also, I make sure that for them doing what I want isn’t always followed by something not nice. Otherwise I know they’d stop cooperating. (Think about it this way: if every time your boss said “can you come in here?” you got yelled at, wouldn’t you be much more reluctant to go over there? But if going into his office usually meant something nice, you’d be much more eager, right?)

FWIW, they didn’t start off being this cooperative. It took some training, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work right away. You might also want to try target training to help the process along.

p.s. Mika doesn’t realize that she’s constantly taking part in training, and that’s part of the trick: she thinks it’s all her idea. Shhhh 😉

p.p.s. Slightly off topic, but not really: Below a great video of someone using clicker training to introduce their  African Grey to a new travel carrier. Notice how the trainer doesn’t rush the CAG and lets her explore the cage on her own terms. They also do a great job “treating for position” (You always want to click for the behavior, but place the treat in a position that reinforces continuation of that behavior.)

Want detailed instructions on how to train your parrot to get in his travel cage? I recommend Barbara Heidenreich’s short training video for details on how to teach your parrot to enter and exit a carrier.