Step up, or up, or hop up, are all commands to get your pet cockatiel to hop up on to your finger.
Birds have an inbuilt safety mechanism which stops them being knocked out of trees. When they sit in trees with moving branches, particularly in the wind, they could easily be knocked off their perch by a nearby moving branch or twig but this doesn’t happen because of a natural reflex in the bird.
The reflex sees the bird naturally reach with one foot for the branch or twig that has knocked it, and as soon as they’ve established a grip with the first foot, they immediately bring the other up to join it. It is this mechanism that you take advantage of when you teach your pet bird to hop onto your finger.
Do not try to get your bird to do this unless they are already comfortable with your hands close by them, otherwise you will send them into a flap and you will never be able to position your finger near enough for them to hop onto it.
If your bird is nervous of hands, start by putting your hand in the cage every day without going anywhere near the bird. Just rest it on a perch and do nothing else for a couple of minutes a day. Your hands need to be in the cage also to change food and water as well, so make sure that you use the opportunity to show your cockatiel that your hands are harmless. Keep them strictly to the task at hand.
It helps a great deal if you avoid eye contact with your bird when you do this because then he doesn’t feel singled out and a target. Just go about your business in the cage without eyeballing the bird and keeping studiously clear of him. Don’t eye your pet birdie either when you’re resting your hand in the cage. The bird needs to get the idea that your hand is in the cage completely independent of any interest in him. Eventually it will feel safe if you do this regularly in a gentle and quiet fashion, meaning at least once a day and not more than three times.
Once your pet cockatiel is comfortable with your hand, extend your fore-finger in front of the bird just below its breast and push it back and up. Do this quite sharply but not roughly. The idea is to unbalance the bird enough to force it to establish a new balance, and he will automatically use your finger to do that. At the same time as you do this, give the command, hop up.
At first he may hop on your finger and clamber right off over the other side, but if you persist gently, eventually he will stay on it. By persist gently, I mean that you should try several times. If he gets on your finger several times in one session and clambers right over the top and off, I would consider that good enough for a session. Just repeat this for a few days or even a couple of weeks.
If by the end of a couple of weeks your cockatiel is still not remaining on your finger, then you have to get a bit tricky. One way to do this is to use a spare perch. A bird which is hand shy will normally sit happily on a perch. Do exactly the same with the perch as you do with your finger and remember to always give the command, hop up. After a while, you will not need to nudge the bird’s breast to get it to hop up, you’ll just need to give the command.
Keep the bird getting on to the perch every session, but slowly over several days give him a shorter and shorter portion of perch and keep your finger extended along it so that eventually he will hop onto your finger.
Sometimes when you have him on your finger, he will want to hop off before you are ready to allow him. You are the one in command and the bird must not hop off until you allow it. One way to curb this behaviour is to cup your other hand around the front of the bird’s face (without touching his face but blocking his vision). When he can’t see, he stays where he is. He will dodge and do what he can to clear his vision but you only need to stop him long enough to be in the position to allow him to get off when you say so.