Is It Better To Cut Your Parrot’s Wings Or Not?

Mitch Rezman
Aug 7, 2018 · 8 min read

Why is humankind so focused on lopping off body parts?

We “bob” dog’s ears and tails.

We castrate bulls.

We lop off the foreskin of infant males.

And now we wanna lop off the wings of animals that have been flying for 99 million years.

“Earn the right to fly”? Preposterous.

Flight is what birds are all about.

Flight was granted to birds long before, way long before humans could cook food with fire.

Let’s jump into the original question here.

Let’s stop for a moment and talk about wing clipping.

Everyone says you have to learn how to do it right.

It’s not about how to use a scissors and where to make the cuts.

Even a veterinarian who looks at say a Congo African grey and says “I’m going to take three inches off the birds wings” then doesn’t test for lift is not doing it right.

Birds have to be able to turn and slow down, “stall” like an aircraft, so they don’t fly in the things head first

Wing clipping is all about providing controlled flight for the bird.

Here is a diagram of a typical bird’s wing feathers.

We want to stick with the “Primary regime” feathers.

Start by clipping perhaps an inch or so off in a neat straight line, perpendicular to the birds body.

Some purists will leave the outer feather in tact which in fact does help bird navigate better is very dangerous because a single feather can get caught between the birdcage bars.

With a smaller bird like a cockatiel you can then toss the bird to someone else in your home.

A larger bird like a blue front amazon would be held a two to four feet above the ground then pushing you hand forward urging it to fly.

If the bird gains lift, trim off some more feathers.

Repeat this process until the bird can gently glide from 4 feet above the ground (typical bird cage height) to the ground without injuring itself.

Besides landing which we will talk about in a moment think about feather pluckers.

A large parrot like an Eclectus parrot can have as many as 8000 feathers.

When you clip a bird’s flight feathers you are clipping 11 or 12 of the largest and most important feathers on their body.

When the bird preens, which they do about a third of their day, their beak and tongue will encounter roughness of the trimmed feathers (regardless of scissor quality).

This is one of many feather plucking triggers.

It’s another wing clipping issue having nothing to do with flight.

There were many comments in this Quora thread about teaching birds how to fly.

Judging from the six answers (so far) here on Quora I can see that nowhere near enough thought is put into this question as to should we or should we not clip a bird’s wings?

Somehow everybody pigeon holes (good one, mitch) wing clipping to just the activity of flight.

Let’s consider more negative implications for wing clipping.

We already know that wing clipping can trigger feather plucking.

Birds and parrots use wings not only for flight but for balance when standing.

Clip your birds wings and they lose a good part of their sense of balance while losing the partial ability to counter balance.

Trim their toenails, (which most humans have done while clipping their wings), put them back in a cage with a newfangled perch, cover them up at night, and one loud sound of fireworks or a gunshot (writing to you from Chicago) and the bird freaks out, flaps uncontrollably and breaks a wing falling to the bottom of their cage.

Another answer to the question “does wing clipping make a bird any safer”?

Nope.

Wing clipping puts your bird at risk.

Birds get hormonal.

I hear both mortal human beings as well as veterinarians say “let’s teach your bird a lesson and clip their wings”.

I know that when I get a haircut I don’t necessarily want to choke the life out of another human being any less.

No one has yet explained to me the correlation between wing trimming and hormonal behavior.

There’s no nerves in a bird’s wing (except where attached to the body) nor any blood vessels which is why the birds don’t feel their wings getting cut and mature feather shafts do not bleed.

What is the message physically/physiologically being sent to the birds brain that would calm them down?

If your bird is hormonal, its circadian rhythms probably confused and need to be reset with light therapy simple and benign but that’s part of another conversation

If anything, wing trimming will make your bird act even more hormonal

Parrots are prey animals. They have a bite or flight mentality.

I’ve gotten thousands of inquiries over the years about biting birds.

The first question I ask is “are the birds wings clipped”?

If the bird knows it can’t fly away, it’s more likely to bite YOU.

If there are other prey animals in the house (cats and dogs) it is much easier for a bird to escape via flight.

Floor walking birds are more likely stepped on or crushed in doorways than flighted birds that can escape harm.

Birds don’t need our help to fly — THEY ARE BIRDS!

If we are to keep them flighted in our home we need to teach them how to land and follow some simple “best practices”, which we will get to in a moment.

Addressing safety issues like keeping your bird flying into a mirror or a window is common sense.

Make sure there are no mirrors in the room the bird is in.

We keep our apartment windows (that go up to 9½ feet) covered with stained glass, lots of pretty but fake orchids and actually one very large mother-in-laws plant.

Window shades or shutters are over the tops of double hung window sashes

No glass tables with sharp corner should be in the room either (or put something on the sharp corners to keep both birds and humans safe)

I never liked glass tables — its an ex-wife thing.

The people who decry “I don’t want my bird to fly into a wall”.

Birds can see walls better than you and I.

I always go back to the first time you got behind the wheel of an automobile.

How did that go for you?

Was the experience flawless with proper acceleration and deceleration?

Changing lanes came naturally, right?

Of course not.

The easiest place to start with a flighted bird in your home is teaching where and how to land.

Flying into the side or the front of a birdcage chest first is a bad plan.

Make sure your bird has landing areas on top of its cages which it considers its own.

In our 62 foot long apartment in Chicago we have various landing areas for Peaches.

Re: Apparently there is a time window of development at which a bird is able to pick up flight easily and if this is not done at an early age, then flight may be impossible to learn as an older bird. I’ve had a few birds like this where there is no apparent physical deficit, yet the bird cannot fly nor learn to fly.

Our nine-year-old female Senegal came to us after being told by the veterinarian that she would never fly because she never fledged and spent seven years of her life in a rescue with clipped wings,while in her cage 22 hours a day.

Peaches apparently did not understand she could not fly because after about nine months, the time it took for her flight feathers to grow back in, (birds and rescues are a whole different paradigm than birds in someone’s home) she started to fly, with my gentle urging.

Do we really even know how bird’s wings work?

I always begin by taking the bird and holding it 1 foot away from it’s “home” bird cage then kind of flipping my hand forward it so it knows it’s time to take off.

A bird that leaves your hand will instinctively flap its wings so it doesn’t fall to the ground.

We keep an arched Booda soft rope perch on her cage at home and her bird cage in our travel trailer.

She knows that her returning to her cage on the top perch from anywhere else, she has safe and comfortable place land.

Rope perches add additional “gripability”.

At home I spend a lot of time at my desk which is in the middle of the dining room (long story) and she likes to fly to the top of my office chair.

Every week I use “binder clips” to fasten a new black towel over the head rest.

It gets soiled, placed in the laundry and replaced anew, every Friday.

She has a couple play stands in the living room and designated landing areas in the bedroom, kitchen and bath.

Teach your bird where these areas are.

Practice — practice — practice — where and how to land.

Lots of birds like to land on top of doors.

Ensure that these doors are not open and closed a lot.

In a home with a flighted bird you may spend a lot of time “looking up” for the bird.

Popcorn our albino cockteil love the high crown molding.

It took a week to scrub the molding tops, sanitizing and making them safe a suitable for a white bird.

If you have a flighted bird in your home, learn how to walk through closed doors which you’ll now be opening, backwards, to see that a bird is not following you at 10 to 30 miles an hour

We’ve timed Peaches.

She flies at 6 to 8 miles an hour

On the flipside cockatiels can achieve speeds of 30 miles an hour with a few flaps of their wings.

Of course you should be concerned about birds not flying out of open doors.

We don’t lob dogs legs off because they escape,

We shouldn’t punish our birds the name of keeping them safe.

If you have a bird in your home you need certain rules.

If there’s an exterior door open there should be a secondary door or even curtains closed preventing escape prior to the exterior door (think vestibule).

That’s what birds want to do, escape.

Birds and parrots can be trained to return.

Birds have been returning to their handlers from the time the Genghis Khan had 100,000 falcons.

Homing pigeons return organically

What is your bird’s training program?

Do you offer clicker training on a regular basis?

Do you work to train your bird for flight recall, where he or she returns to you will upon command?

There are hundreds of videos on YouTube illustrating free flight parrots that return after they have all the fun.

If you walk outside with a bird on your shoulder without thinking and the bird escapes, you’re dumbass.

I’ve said it time and again that the proper size for bird cages at least 30 acres.

In conclusion, if you bring a feathered velociraptor into your home and lop off its wings so it’s easier to keep as a pet, I would ask why do you really want a bird?

Because you really enjoy vacuuming?

You’ll vacuum a lot.

Because you enjoy scraping food particulate as hard as concrete off bumpy metal and walls?

I do minor bird cage cleaning every day so the task doesn’t get too daunting Saturday morning.

Come on, really, birds have enjoyed flight for 99 million years, we made them captive starting in the 16th century (Alex T Great — name sake to alexandrine parakeet) by stealing their freedom, let’s allow them to keep their dignity by letting them fly.


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