Clipping Bird Wings

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 21:30
Posted in:
Colonel Potter the macaw parrot with his wings spread out

Is trimming a bird’s flight feathers a good idea?

Should you clip your bird’s wings? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. People who are for wing trimming believe that birds are safer and less likely to get into trouble if their wings are trimmed. Anti-clippers, on the other hand, believe that clipping or cutting the flight feathers gives the bird’s person a false sense of security, and is harmful for the bird both physically and psychologically.

Is wing clipping right for your pet bird?

The decision about whether or not to clip the wings of a bird such as a cockatiel or parakeet should be made on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the individual bird, his or her personality, the environment, the dangers in the household, and even the season. During the winter, for example, some people leave their birds fully flighted because windows and doors are not left open in that season, so the risk of escape is lessened, and birds need the flying exercise, since they can get fat and lazy when they don’t go outside. At Best Friends’ Parrot Garden, we leave the birds in the flights and birds who don’t like to go outside fully flighted, but the birds who are carried to the outdoor enclosures are always wing-clipped to help protect them.

To help you make a decision about whether to clip your bird’s wings, here are some of the pros and cons of wing trimming.

Pros of clipped wings

  • Birds are safer and won’t fly into walls, windows, open toilets or ceiling fans.
  • Accidental fly-away risk is greatly reduced.
  • Birds can’t get into dangerous items or destroy household furnishings or woodwork.
  • Birds become dependent on their people for everything.
  • It’s easier to teach a bird to step up when he can’t fly away.
  • If a bird can’t fly away, it allows the caregiver to handle the bird more easily and they bond more quickly.
  • Wing clipping can make an aggressive bird docile or keep a bird from attacking people.

Cons of clipped wings

  • People stop being as vigilant, since they believe that clipping the wings means the bird cannot fly.
  • Parrots are inclined to excess weight, and flying is great exercise.
  • Parrots who can fly have less depression and other problem behaviors, such as feather picking.
  • Birds are meant to fly and their physical health depends on this activity.
  • A bird who is clipped improperly can fall, which may result in broken bones or internal injuries.
  • A flighted bird chooses to interact with a person and is more happy and confident.

You will need to evaluate your own home, your setup and your birds, and then make an informed decision about wing clipping. If you decide to allow your birds to fly, you need to take steps to keep them safe. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Never take them outside unless they are in a carrier or on a bird tether.
  • Teach your birds recall training, which means that you teach them to come when you call. This is a critical skill for flighted birds to have, so they are comfortable flying to you if they accidentally escape.
  • Help them become proficient flyers and, even more important, accomplished landers. Flying is instinctive, but landing is learned, and it can be difficult to master. One way to help your bird learn how to land safely is to gently toss him onto a bed from a short distance away. As your bird becomes more confident, you can move farther away from the bed. Another excellent method is to encourage him to jump from a stand onto your arm and then slowly increase the distance you are asking him to travel.

Finally, be open to changing your mind if the situation changes, since a loving, respectful relationship between you and your bird is the most important thing.

How do you clip a bird’s flight feathers?

Different species of birds need different types of wing clips. A heavy-bodied bird like an African grey parrot only needs one or two feathers clipped from the front of each wing. Any more than that and you risk injury, as African greys fall like a rock when they are over-clipped. Light-bodied birds like conures need five or six feathers clipped to keep them safe.

There are different schools of thought regarding how far up to clip your bird’s feathers. Some groomers clip high on the feather; some clip just the last little bit of each feather. At Best Friends’ Parrot Garden, we clip about halfway up the primaries, making sure there are no ragged edges that could rub against the skin and irritate it.

Make sure that you are not clipping a “blood feather.” These are new feathers, which have a blood supply running through the shaft. It’s easy to identify these feathers when you are looking at the bird’s wings. Only clip feathers with clear shafts; otherwise you run the risk of extreme bleeding, which can be difficult to stop.

If you do accidentally clip a blood feather, don’t panic. Crush the shaft between your thumb and index finger and hold it tightly for two minutes, allowing the blood to clot. Don’t let up on the pressure until a full two minutes has passed. You can also add a little cornstarch to the end of the shaft to help encourage clotting.

How often do you need to clip a bird’s wings?

How often a bird needs to be clipped depends on how often and when he molts. After a clipped feather has molted, a new feather will grow in and will need clipping once the blood supply has dried up. A wing clip can be good for a couple of months, or it could need to be repeated in just a few weeks. The best policy is to routinely check your bird’s wings to see if his feathers need grooming. At the Parrot Garden at Best Friends, we check each bird at least once a month.


What to do when your parrot is lost: “Get Your Bird Back” DVD (scroll down, right side)

Information on how to properly and safely trim wings: See the “To Fly or Not to Fly” section of The Bird Owner’s Manual