I have LOTS of pets! I love animals, art, coffee, and video games.
So, What Is Wing Clipping?
If you're new to bird ownership or are thinking about getting your first bird, you may have also thought about wing clipping. Many people new to avian care believe this is the permanent (and painful) trimming of wing flesh to prevent flight feathers from regrowing. Nothing can be further from the truth!
A wing clip is like trimming your own nails or getting a haircut. It involves trimming three to six long flight feathers at the tips of your bird's wings. This trim prevents her from gaining altitude but still allows your bird the ability to descend to the floor in a controlled, gentle manner, should she need to.
Why Would I Have My Bird's Wings Clipped?
Here are a few of the reasons why bird owners might clip their pet's wings.
To Keep the Bird Safe
Having a bird's flight restricted allows for some level of control over their safety. Both large parrots and smaller parakeets and lovebirds have unending curiosity. The old saying "curiosity killed the cat" is not nearly as accurate as it is to say it killed the bird. Birds love to chew, consume, destroy, drink, and play with anything they can get their beaks onto.
Plants, electrical cords and cables, the dishwater in your sink, medications, books and paper, furniture, and other pets are subject to a bird's interest and investigation. If left to fly around without check, your bird can get herself into some sticky spots around the house before you're able to rescue her (or your other pets.)
To Establish a Good Relationship With You
Having a bird's wings trimmed before you bring her home also creates an immediate dependency on you, which can assist in building trust and a good relationship. Although you can certainly achieve this kind of relationship without a trim, it is greatly helpful to new bird owners who aren't all that familiar yet with their bird's behavior or what kind of trouble she might get into. This is especially helpful in small birds who have been parent-raised as opposed to hand-fed by humans during their young lives.
You may choose to have your bird's wings trimmed at the store or by the breeder you purchase her from, then let her feathers grow out and not ever have them clipped again.
To Prevent Larger Birds From Causing Trouble
It is uncommon for medium and large parrots to remain flighted (having un-clipped wings) because of their size and the amount of destruction and trouble they can cause outside their cages. Some species can also develop nasty attitudes when left with this freedom. You will want to have this bird's wings clipped on a regular basis along with nail and beak grindings.
Can I Do It Myself?
Smaller birds may have their wings trimmed at home by their owners; however, you risk upsetting your bird's trust in you. Have your vet, breeder, or local exotic bird shop show you how to do it if you insist on doing this at home. It's really not difficult, but you should have a bit of guidance.
It's best to trust a large bird to a professional entirely. This isn't to say that it can't be done—even professionals begin somewhere—but take your time and do some learning.
Why Might I Want to Leave My Bird Flighted?
The following are a few reasons why bird owners may decide against wing clipping.
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To Preserve Natural Behavior
You may desire to give your bird the freedom of flight because it's a natural bird behavior that you feel she should be allowed to engage in. This is entirely up to you. It is an excellent way for her to get daily exercise, provided you can give her a spacious and safe enough place to do so.
To Protect Them From Other Pets
If you have other pets, you might want to leave your bird flighted as a way of escape or to help them stay out of reach, just in case. Never leave these pets unsupervised with your bird, and if there is any question of safety, lock these pets in another room while your bird is out of her cage.
Many bird lovers have a "bird room" where two or three birds and cages are housed. The door can be shut while the dog or cat are allowed to roam the house. However, if you own a single bird, locking her in a room alone may not be acceptable for her social and emotional well being.
It's Your Choice
The decision to either clip your bird's wings or leave her flighted can both be justified and "correct." The choice you make should reflect consideration for your bird's safety and well-being over any personal preference. Think about your situation and home. What risks are there, and how can they be avoided otherwise? You will find the decision easy with this perspective.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can a clipped bird still get sufficient exercise?
Answer: Oh yes. Birds will still flap hard on their perch and climb all over the cage, play tops, and around the house. A good pellet maintenance diet that includes fresh fruits and veggies is also important for a healthy weight. As long as you spend time with her, she'll get enough activity for a happy life.
Question: My bird's previous owners clipped his wings before I had him. I've noticed that one side is growing while the other hasn't. Is it possible that they clipped it too short?
Answer: They will all grow back at different times. If birds dropped and regrew all flight feathers at once, it would leave a wild bird flightless and extremely vulnerable. Not a very good survival mechanism.
Question: How can birds in a cage eat and drink if it cannot fly due to wings being clipped?
Answer: Well, normally you provide them something to perch on in front of their dishes, and stagger perches around the cage that they can hop or climb too. Perch size and cage bar spacing is extra important for flightless birds because they need to be able to grip things properly for adequate mobility and sense of security/safety. Bar orientation should also be horizontal on at least two sides of the cage, for ease of climbing. That feature is not easy to find in small birdcages found locally without visiting a bird specialty store, catering only to birds.
Penny Leigh Sebring from Fort Collins on January 29, 2019:
Nice article! The pros and cons can be so individual to both the bird and the person. It's worth noting that there are multiple levels of clipping that can be done as well, and that clipping does not always prevent the bird from flying.