Your bird is never going to fly up to you and say, “let me out to go to the bathroom, please,” but you can potty-train him with a little time, some effort and a few treats. Here's how:
Recognize His Natural Behavior
When a bird is getting ready to relieve himself, he'll squat just slightly and flick his tail in an upward motion. Observe him in his cage so you can begin to recognize the movement he makes when getting ready to “go.” (Note: Before a bird can be “potty-trained,” he should be familiar with the “step-up” command, in which he steps on to a perch outside his cage. If your bird doesn't consider time out of the cage with you to be a treat - as opposed to a scary experience - training your bird to eliminate on command will be a much greater challenge.)
Keep track of the frequency at which your bird needs to do his business, so you can approximate how long it will be before he needs to be taken to an appropriate “relief station” - a corner where a garbage can or folded newspaper is placed. Remember that younger and smaller birds have to go more frequently. Birds who've just taken a shower or who have just consumed foods with a high water content also have to go more frequently. Birds, after all, excrete “urine” (known as urates) and feces together.
Once you've familiarized yourself with his habits, pull a chair up to your bird's cage and get ready for the next step.
Reward Behavior While Using a Command
Just as the bird begins to defecate, give a verbal command - something like: “good bird,” delivered in a quiet, pleasant voice. (Any command is fine, just so long as you use the same word(s) consistently in the same tone of voice. When your bird relieves himself - with luck, timed perfectly with your command phrase - say “good bird,” open the cage and take him out for some quality time and maybe a treat.
After about 10 to 15 minutes, place your bird back in his cage and wait again. When he begins to “go,” say the command, praise him and take him out of his cage for more playtime and another reward. After a few of these sessions your bird will begin to catch on.
From this point on, never remove your bird from his cage until he relieves himself. This takes patience and you may have to wait a half an hour or more, but persistence pays off. Your bird will begin to recognize the command in a matter of days and will associate going potty with being able to come out and play. He may even begin to go potty when you step in the room, in anticipation of playtime.
The Go Potty Command
Once you find that your feathered friend is going to the bathroom consistently in his cage with your verbal cue, you may try it at other locations. If you're watching television, keep a garbage can near the couch. When it's about time for your bird to relieve himself, hold him over the garbage can and give the command. Give him some time and be patient. This new situation may scare him a bit; but with patience, you can eventually hold him over a toilet or, if you have a smaller bird, over a paper towel. If you're consistent, this training can take as little as three days.
- Your bird can go all night without going to the bathroom, but birds wake up with the sunrise, and he'll need to go with the first light of day.
- When your bird is very stressed, he'll go to the bathroom much more frequently and is less likely to obey your command. Be patient.
- There are stories of birds being trained so well that they'll not go to the bathroom without receiving their command. (One woman had to give the command over the phone because after three days he still hadn't eliminated when she was away on vacation.)
- Try to use verbal praise and attention as the reward for this command. Birds are vain creatures and if you tell them they're good and wonderful and beautiful in a gushing, praising voice they'll respond to you. Keep food rewards small, such as 1/4 of a Cheerio or 1/2 of a sunflower seed.
- PUNISHING DOESN'T WORK WHEN HOUSEBREAKING BIRDS. It's your responsibility to get him to an appropriate place to relieve himself. He won't understand “bad potty.”
- If you have a flighted bird, you may be able to become really advanced and teach the command “go to your cage” or “go to your perch.” Then, once your bird arrives at the appropriate location of his own accord, you may give the command “go potty.”