Is clipping a bird's wings — i.e., trimming the flight feathers to minimize (but not completely take away) the bird's ability to fly — a good idea? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Some people believe that birds are safer and less likely to get into trouble if their wings are clipped. Others believe that clipped wings can give the bird's person a false sense of security and that wing clipping is harmful for the bird both physically and psychologically.
It is up to you to decide what is best for your bird in your situation. Clipped wings are temporary, as the flight feathers will grow back, so your choice might change based on new situations. Here's what you need to know about clipping bird wings.
Pros and cons of clipping bird wings
The decision of whether to clip a bird's wings should be made on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the individual bird, the household environment and potential dangers, 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 less than in other seasons.
At Best Friends' Parrot Garden, the birds in the flight aviaries and the birds who don’t like to go outside are fully flighted. But the birds who are carried to the outdoor enclosures have clipped wings to help protect them.
You will need to evaluate your home, your setup, and your birds to make an informed decision about wing clipping. To help you decide whether to trim your bird’s wings, here are some of the pros and cons.
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 are less likely to get into dangerous items or destroy household furnishings or woodwork.
- There are some potential handling benefits, such as when teaching a bird to step up.
- It encourages some birds to interact with different people.
Cons of clipped wings
- People might be less vigilant about their bird's safety because they assume there's no chance that the bird can reach something hazardous.
- Birds lose the ability to exercise and forage via flying.
- Birds might be more inclined to pluck their feathers or scream for attention because they don't have as much control over their environment and movement.
- Birds who are clipped improperly can fall (rather than use their remaining wing feathers to gently glide to the ground), which can result in broken bones or internal injuries.
- Wing trimming does not eliminate the chance of a bird flying away when outside; birds with clipped wings still can be carried away with a strong wind. Flight harnesses are an option to ensure birds' safety while they're outside.
- Wing trimming requires ongoing maintenance as feathers molt.
How to keep flighted birds safe
If you decide not to trim your birds' wings, you'll need to take steps to keep them safe. Here are some ways to do that:
- Never take flighted birds outside unless they are in a carrier or a bird harness.
- Teach recall to your birds (train 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 can be difficult to master. One excellent method is to encourage your bird to jump from a stand onto your arm and then slowly increase the distance you are asking the bird to travel.
Finally, be open to changing your mind about wing trimming if the circumstances change.
How do you clip a bird's wings?
Veterinarians with avian experience can take care of routine grooming needs, including wing clipping. And some people learn how to safely do it themselves, too.
At Best Friends’ Parrot Garden, we clip about halfway up the first five primary feathers, making sure there are no ragged edges that could rub against the skin and irritate it. Primary feathers naturally molt faster than other feathers because they would sustain frequent damage in the wild. If feathers other than the primary ones are trimmed, those feathers could only molt once or twice a year.
Be mindful that trimming wings correctly should reduce the surface area that allows a bird to catch lift, but it should not eliminate it altogether. So a bird with properly clipped wings should still safely glide to the ground rather than have a dangerous fall.
Also, make sure that you are not clipping a blood feather. These are new feathers that 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 should you do wing trims?
How often you trim your bird's wings depends on when the bird 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 trim can be good for a couple of months, or it could need to be repeated in just a few weeks.
The best method is to routinely check your bird's wings to see if the feathers need trimming. At Parrot Garden, we check each bird at least once a month.