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Wing Clipping Guide for Bird Owners

Neelix getting his wings clipped.

Neelix getting his wings clipped.

Is Wing Clipping Mean?

As a bird owner, I understand the mindset of wanting to let your bird fly. It's a beautiful thing. Letting your bird fly indoors, however, can be dangerous. All it takes is one accident, and your bird's life can be changed in an instant. While wing clipping may appear mean, not clipping can put your bird in danger.

Indoor Dangers for Flighted Birds

When birds fly indoors, they run the risk of flying into a wall, a window, a ceiling fan, or a mirror and injuring or even killing themselves. Other risks include drowning in the toilet, the sink, or other standing water, or landing on a hot stove.

Birds are also at risk of slipping out of an open door or window and getting lost. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about beloved pets flying out of the door and being lost for good. In fact, my first cockatiel was found outdoors on the roof, and the owner was not located.

Does Wing Clipping Hurt?

Some bird owners don't want to clip wings because they think it hurts the bird. When it is done correctly, it actually doesn't hurt any more than it hurts to clip your fingernails or cut your hair.

It is, however, important not to over-clip your bird's wings. Clipped wings should allow your bird to glide to the floor when they try to fly. In other words, they can still fly, but they can't fly upwards. If wings are clipped too much, it can cause your bird to fall like a rock and result in an injury to its breastbone.

Be Aware of Blood Feathers

Along with not cutting too many feathers, you should pay close attention to blood feathers. These feathers are still growing and, if cut, will bleed. Before you clip your bird's wings, check the shafts to be sure you're not clipping a blood feather. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the following markers should help you identify blood feathers:

"The base, where the feather is developing and being nourished by blood, is a dark blue color. On smaller feathers such as those around the head, the base may be a red or pink color. Some pin feathers may be sensitive, and birds may not enjoy being handled while moulting."

If you do clip a blood feather, you will have to treat it or possibly pluck it to stop blood loss. If you run into this problem and don't know what to do, call your vet.

How to Clip a Bird's Wings

Clipping Your Bird's Wings

To clip your bird's wings, fan out the wing. You'll see longer and shorter feathers. The longer feathers are called flight feathers or primary feathers. These are the feathers you'll want to make shorter. The rule of thumb I follow is to cut the flight feathers back to be even with the shorter feathers (also known as secondary feathers).

There are a number of ways or styles when it comes to clipping wings. Some owners leave the first two flight feathers and clip the rest. I recommend this for a first clipping to see whether or not your bird can still fly safely or not. When my birds have a couple of flight feathers, they can still fly from room to room, so I choose to clip the first five or so flight feathers. As a rule of thumb, heavier birds need fewer feathers cut than lighter birds. For my cockatiels, I often have to clip more because they are light and strong flyers.

Important Reminders

  • Do not over-clip your bird's wings.
  • Do not clip any blood feathers.

If you feel uncomfortable clipping your bird's wings, contact an avian vet or breeder in your area for help.

Clipping Baby Birds

When I have a clutch of cockatiel babies, I let them learn to fly before they are clipped. During the first clipping, I only cut two flight feathers, and I continue to let them fly with less lift or distance. As they grow stronger, I cut another feather, and so on until I find the right balance. Give them a chance to stretch their wings, learn to fly, and then clip them so they can fly safely without injury.

Should You Clip Your Bird's Wings?

Learning to clip wings is easy. Whether or not you should clip is subjective. Yes, birds are created to fly, but they were also created to live outdoors. If you choose to keep a bird indoors as a companion and pet, I do recommend clipping them enough that they can still fly and glide to the floor so they can't harm themselves. Not everyone believes in clipping wings. In my experience, I've seen pet birds injured or lost because they can fly. It's not fair to them to put them at risk.

Further Help

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Calvin Rhodes on September 01, 2019:

Can two male budgies be kept together. Will they preen each other?

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on January 20, 2019:

Hi Lynniebee,

I understand your feelings. I know people whose birds have been injured flying into a mirror or window. Others have lost their pets once they fly out the door. Clipping wings properly still allows them to fly but not enough to get lost if they should make their way out the door.

lynniebee on January 20, 2019:

Disgusting practice. Can't believe instructions are being given. You are taking away the very thing a bird was born to do. Would you chop your legs off in case you fall over? Ridiculous argument. I have had budgies, as did my auntie. They were given free reign to fly around the house. Never an issue. Birds' eyesight is better then humans; I think they can see where they are going

bookpaw on June 18, 2018:

thanks i will try it

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on June 18, 2018:

Hi bookpaw,

I suggest you get a friend to help hold the bird. Sometimes wrapping them in a small towel so they don't see what you're doing helps calm them and gives their feet something to hold on to while you clip them.

bookpaw on June 18, 2018:

i am trying to clip my parakeet's wings but she won't let me she will fly away

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on January 28, 2018:

Sam if your bird is bleeding any amount you need to take him to an avian vet. If you don't know of a vet nearby you can try applying styptic powder or another cauterizing agent like cornstarch, flour by packing it onto the bleeding area but be very careful not to get it in the nostrils. I would recommend you still seek out a veterinarian for help.

Sam on January 28, 2018:

Please help me.

My one bird has got hurt when the other one was hurting him.

He got hurt near his nose above his beak and it's bleeding.

So please fast help me out!!!

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on November 30, 2011:

Hi Kids, That's another good question and I plan to write a hub on this subject as well. A healthy length for your birds nails will allow them to perch properly. How long they should be will depend on the size of the bird of course. To trim them, you clip off the very tip and have to be careful not to cut too much or you may hit the quick...the blood source. It can be scary to the bird, so I recommend wrapping them in a towel and letting them hold the towel with one foot while you work on the other. Let me know if that answers your question.

kids-toy-box on November 29, 2011:

Thanks for the more question I have not clipped our budgies nails! He is now one year old! how often should the nails be clipped and how short should they be?

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on November 29, 2011:

Thanks roc6. My blue-front Amazon, Neelix, doesn't like to get his wings clipped. He hates getting his nails clipped even more, but as soon as it is over he's a happy camper asking to "step up." If he sees a bug or some "unknown" thing it scares him, so it is best not to take the chance. Birds reared indoors can get frightened if they get outside and fly for a couple of miles before they settle down. By that time, they are lost.

Rosemary Cole from Cape Town, South Africa on November 29, 2011:

I have my Senegals wings cut every 6 months, it is quite traumatic for me the visit to the vet, never mind him. I do it religiously, once he got a fright and ended up outside calling me to "come on", he is quite jumpy so I prefer to have his wings clipped.

Donna Sundblad (author) from Georgia on November 29, 2011:

Good question, but not a simple answer. First let me say I knew someone whose budgie lost a leg to a ceiling fan. Their bird lived but often used a seed dish to help prop himself up. As to how often, it will depend on the molting process. The rule of thumb is to watch for the flight feathers to come back in. Often when two or three grow back in they should be clipped. Thanks so much for asking.

kids-toy-box on November 29, 2011:

Good advice on a sensitive topic...for bird owners:)I am too afraid to clip our budgies wings. We usually let our budgies fly around in the apartment-they seem to do very well they often fly around then sit on a plant before flying back into their cage so I don't feel the need to clip them. I am however curious as to how often would birds need their feathers clipped?