One of the biggest drawbacks to living with a bird is that they are generally much less conscious of where they defecate than a dog or cat might be. When they need to go, they go. This can make hanging out with your bird a bit frustrating, especially when your favorite shirt or couch cover takes a hit.
Many bird owners will, at some point, begin to wonder. Despite their natural negligence regarding this issue, is it possible to potty train a bird? If so, what is the best way to go about it? Are there any risks involved in potty training a bird?
Can birds be potty trained?
Yes, like so many other pets, birds can be potty trained, and an intelligent parrot may even figure it out within a few days or less.
However, birds need to go fairly often and will develop health issues if they try to hold it too long. The biggest hurdle is often training yourself to note the signs that your bird needs to go and remember to give him the opportunity at regular intervals.
Can you potty train a parrot, cockatiel, conure, or even parakeet?
Yes! Species and size have little to do with whether or not a parrot can be potty trained. Bigger birds need to go less frequently, which may make potty training easier for them. Their messes also tend to be a lot messier, so some potty training can be especially helpful.
See also our article “Why is my bird’s poop watery?”
Can you train a bird to poop in one place?
This is a great place to start. Birds regularly eliminate before taking off to fly somewhere and often after eating. Knowing where your bird will be hanging out at these times can allow you to put down paper or plastic to make a “poop-friendly” area.
Some bird owners train their birds to go over a toilet or trashcan. Teaching them to go when placed on a regular perch, in their cage, or over a piece of wastepaper may be a better option as it’s less restrictive (due to the risks discussed below).
Can you train a bird not to poop?
If you see your bird about to go to an inappropriate place, you may be able to interrupt her long enough to move her. However, you really can’t and shouldn’t train your bird to poop only on command. Unlike people and many mammals, birds don’t have bladders.
They aren’t really designed to “hold it.” If a bird does not defecate when she needs to, she can suffer serious health issues such as prolapsed cloaca. Never punish a bird for pooping. Not only is this impossible for them to understand, but it can also cause long-term damage if they start trying to hold their poop to please you.
What birds can be potty trained?
Theoretically, any bird can be potty trained, and parrot species are easiest due to their intelligence and attachment to their human companions.
However, keep in mind that because of their physical makeup and natural habits, every bird will have accidents now and then. Be prepared to deal with them patiently and with good humor. Once again, never punish a bird for this natural function.
How to potty train a bird
Now that a bird’s ability to be potty trained has been established, it’s time to get into the details. Because of their physiological needs and the risks of teaching them (intentionally or accidentally) to “hold it” until you say they can go, the process of potty training a bird differs from teaching tricks.
Step 1—Don’t make a big deal about it
Gasping or shouting whenever your bird makes a mess where he shouldn’t be will not discourage this behavior. In fact, your bird may start using it to get your attention. When your bird makes a mess in an unapproved place, simply clean it up and move on to step two of the training process.
You should understand from the beginning that potty training your bird does not mean there will be no more bird poop to clean up. As long as you have a bird, there will be bird poop to clean up. It’s just the way birds are. This is something you should be clear about before deciding to bring a bird into your home.
Step 2—Train yourself
This is basically what it boils down to. The success of your training will depend on your attention and consistency, and this will remain true throughout your bird’s lifetime. Your bird will need to be placed over a poop-safe area whenever he needs to go.
- Know when your bird will naturally go. Before taking your bird from the cage or moving him from one perch to another is a great time to ask him to go.
- Most birds will need to go about every twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes more frequently. This is especially for smaller birds or a bird that has recently eaten. Figure out how often your bird usually goes (yes, even time it if necessary) so that you can move on to steps three and four.
- Watch for signs your bird is about to go. Birds will usually squat and shake their rear end or raise their tail feathers a bit. It’s not difficult to catch the signs once you know what they are, and if you move quickly enough, you may be able to get your bird to a poop-safe place in time.
Step 3—Decide on a cue phrase and stick with it
For your bird to understand what you’re requesting, you will need to be consistent. Something short and clear like “Go potty” or “Do it now” is often best.
This will give your bird an idea of what you’re asking and speed up the process of step four. However, don’t turn going potty into a trick by cueing and rewarding. As mentioned before, this can cause a bird to start holding it too long (waiting for a command), damage its digestive system, and cause other health issues.
Step 4—Interrupt playtime as necessary
Once you know approximately how often your bird needs to go, keep it in mind when you have your bird on the furniture or out playing with you.
When she is likely to go soon, place her on a perch (or over a piece of paper or trashcan, if you decide to go this way), say your cue phrase, and wait for her to go. Once she has gone, she can return to playing with you.
Step 5—Return to playtime if desired
Parrots will usually pick up on what is happening amazingly fast, and the time you spend waiting will disappear. Returning to whatever activity you interrupted is rewarding enough without turning this necessary function into something they’ll try to do only on command.
5 Helpful tips for potty training a bird
While accidents will still happen, here are five tips for making them as seldom and inconsequential as possible.
Tip 1—Have plenty of potty-safe spots
Your bird’s cage should always be one of them. Never try to train a bird not to poop in or on his cage.
It’s also a great idea to have multiple perches or play stands about the house where you can place your bird when he needs to go without having to rush to another room. Always have one handy if you choose to teach your bird to go over a trashcan or piece of paper.
Tip 2—Use similar potty-safe materials
Once your bird knows she can go over a napkin or newspaper, for instance, try not to confuse her by suddenly switching to rags or cardboard, etc.
Tip 3—Aim for easy clean-up
Some play stands will come with a tray meant to catch the mess. Lining the tray and any other areas under perches or play stands with paper, plastic, or some other type of pet-safe bedding will make for easy clean-up.
If your bird has an accident elsewhere, it’s best to clean it up immediately before it dries or stains set in.
Tip 4—Make it f*un
While you don’t want to make a big deal about your bird’s defecation (for reasons covered above), there’s no reason not to be a little silly once she knows what’s going on.
For example, if you’re right in the middle of watching a movie together, and you know she’ll need to go soon, you can make a little game of hurrying to her cage or perch, giving her a moment to do her business, and then hurrying back to enjoy the rest of the movie.
Tip 5—Never assume a potty-trained bird
As was mentioned before, accidents are bound to happen. Maybe your bird NEVER messes on your clothes anymore, but he’s just had more fruit than he’s used to.
If you have an item of clothing or piece of furniture that your bird absolutely must not poop on, it’s best to keep him off of that item entirely and let him enjoy all of the areas where he can play and poop freely.