Wing Clipping Guide for Bird Owners
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, is a dangerous thing. 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 a pet puts your bird in danger.
Indoor Dangers for Flighted Birds
When birds fly indoors, they run the risk of flying into a wall, a window, or a mirror and causing themselves injury or even death. 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. It actually doesn't hurt any more than it hurts to clip your fingernails or cut your hair when it is done correctly. 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 their breastbone.
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. 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 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. 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.
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.