by Jo-Anne Watts (Brisbane Cockatiels)
Wing clipping is a much debated topic and one of personal choice. Whether or not we decide to clip our birds wings and the reasons for doing so are secondary to the wellbeing of our birds.
I personally strongly advocate clipping wings of pet birds and do clip all my handraised babies wings before they leave my premises to go to new pet homes. Whether the new owner decides to continue with this procedure once the flights grow back is entirely their own choice. I believe that until new owners are used to having a bird in their home and the new bird is used to its new surroundings, clipping the wings can make the difference between a safe live bird and distraught owners whose new pet has flown skywards or even worse met a fateful end. It only takes a moment for a bird to escape through an open door or window or fly into a ceiling fan.
Please remember A bird that has clipped wings may not be able to fly indoors but once outside in the breeze with air currents it may still be able to fly enough to get away!
If the choice is made to clip the wings then the most important factor to consider is the wellbeing of the bird. You don’t want your bird to jump off your shoulder and crash to the floor, possible injuring itself in the process. The aim is to allow the bird a safe landing without allowing it to gain lift yet ultimately still be able to control its descent.
I will endeavour to explain the method I use and the reasons I use this type of wing clipping procedure
What feathers to cut
The only feathers that need cutting are the outermost long flight feathers or ‘primary’ flights. These are the ones that give the bird lift when flying and the main goal is to stop them gaining height. If the 2 longest flight feathers are left on each wing as some people do then these are prone to breakage because they lack the support provided by the inner flights. It is also important to remember that they get lift from both wings so by cutting only the feathers on one wing the bird can still get lift with the other. This leaves them with the ability to gain height with on only one side of their body and you basically end up with a bird that is like an aeroplane with only 1 wing. It has no control!!. To maintain balance both wings need to be clipped the same. The aim of clipping is to prevent injury and escape, not cause injury through uncontrollable flight or broken feathers.
Where to cut
Cut and broken feathers can leave a bird frustrated as they are unable to groom themselves to their satisfaction. You also need to keep the bird looking as natural as possible. I am sure everyone has seen at some stage the straight line cut across the wing that gives a horrible look. This also can lead to frustration in the bird as they cannot fully groom any of the cut feathers. The long ‘zip’ type effect they would normally use to clean their feathers is stopped short and the feathers become ragged and untidy.
I cut each feather individually at a point along the shaft a few centimeters from the skin and thus it does not affect the future growth of other feathers. You can easily see too if there is still blood in the shaft before cutting. Blood indicates a growing feather and should not be cut.
They also have less tendency to chew at the cut ends. It is almost like out of sight out of mind. The bird feels comfortable too because there are no cut ends digging into its side or catching on other feathers.
I only cut 4 feathers on each wing to begin with and then do a test flight. If the bird still gets lift then I cut one more on each side. The number that needs cutting depends on the strength and flight ability of the bird.
Do not cut off all the flights! Usually 4 to 6 on each wing is all that is needed.
When to cut
I always allow my babies to learn to fly and get ‘flight fit’ before I even consider clipping. It is a natural process in the birds development and weaning process and should be left available to them. A few weeks of daily flight practice for a newly fledged baby bird will allow them to learn control and develop the flight muscles. Clipping as soon as they leave the box deprives them of this natural process and can leave them unable to fly properly as adults.
The bird in the picture is 10 weeks old and was clipped a few days prior. As you can see his wings still have the normal shape and contour. The outer 4 flight feathers were clipped on each wing and the bird showed no signs of distress following the procedure. He can still glide to the ground under complete control so there are no safety issues with him falling from shoulders or chair backs.
One thing to
remember is that a full length feather that gets cut does not ‘grow back’.
Once it is cut then that is it. It will eventually fall out when the bird
moults and will be replaced with a new feather. It is better not to cut a
growing or ‘blood feather’ as it will continue to grow and may end up allowing
the bird flight that you were not expecting. You also risk making the feather
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