Flighted or Not: Should I Clip My Parrot’s Wings?

We here at Students with Birds Blog are firmly against clipping a parrot’s wings unless in a medical situation (for instance, if you need to keep your bird from flying because he or she has an injury), and feel that clipping is very harmful. I linked the video above because it shows my fully flighted parrots choosing to be with me, even when they have the option of leaving. It’s this freedom of choice that does them the most good. Clipping to control hormones, to encourage bonding, or to prevent bites will end up hurting your efforts.

Some people recommend what they think is a less drastic solution: trimming the flight feathers of only one wing. And from the way it sounds, it should be. Clipping a single wing, however, is even worse than clipping both because of how lopsided it leaves them. They can’t save themselves in a fall.

In truth, the result of clipping is often serious injury, despite the fact that this is what owners seek to prevent by having it done. I have heard stories of devastated people whose clipped birds fell and couldn’t save themselves, breaking multiple bones and needing expensive vet trips and treatment (if it ended that well). It doesn’t have to be a severe clip; even a light one can hinder a bird enough to cause injury.

I had to teach my birds to fly. None of them knew how. And that’s funny – a human teaching a bird to do what it’s made to do. But I took it in baby steps – we started with little hops, and graduated to greater and greater distances until wing flaps were required. Once they mastered that, we moved around the room until our birds could ascend and descend with ease. There were spills and crashes throughout this, sure, but the end result is a flock of parrots who get a lot of joy from their ability, and a feeling of security from it, too.

For those who wish their birds to experience the outdoors, it is safe to bring them out in their carriers, cages, aviaries, or harnesses (not leg restraints, though, because a parrot’s leg is too frail). Clipped birds can fly, and all it takes is one slight breeze or one good spook for them to soar for miles. I’ve heard endless heartbreaking stories about birds who were lost this way. You may think your parrot will stick to your shoulder, but all it takes is one sad incident.

IMG_4127

Cockatoo in a harness, enjoying the beach.

Moving on, here are the pros and cons of clipping your parrot…

Reasons for (pros) of clipping:

  • You don’t want your bird to fly away from you.
  • You want him to be dependent on you for literally everything.
  • You don’t want him to escape.
  • You don’t want him to fly into something and get hurt (aka for safety reasons).
  • You don’t want him to bite you.
  • You want to keep him in, or away from, one place.
  • You want to control hormones.

Cons of clipping:

  • A clipped bird can’t exercise and may have severe health issues due to this.
  • Insecurity often arises from being clipped, resulting in more bites.
  • Clipping a parrot before it fledges causes coordination issues in adulthood, possibly resulting in injury later.
  • Clipping a previously flighted parrot may result in depression, increased aggression, and anxiety.
  • Birds that are clipped have poor balance and can hurt themselves in a fall.
  • A clipped bird can still get away from you if he finds an open window: all he needs is one draft from outside and he’s gone, maybe for miles.
  • It’s unnatural.

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Flying parrot 2

Fully flighted cockatiel.

Pros of fully flighted:

  • Flight is a bird’s main source of exercise.
  • Flight also prevents obesity and other health issues.
  • It allows a bird to fly burns off energy that could otherwise result in a bite for you.
  • Flighted birds are generally happier.
  • Birds feel more confident about interacting with you if they think they can get away when they feel intimidated. Their instinct boils down to fight or flight, and if you take away ‘flight,’ you’re left with bite.

Cons of flighted:

  • A flighted parrot can potentially injure himself.
  • He can move around on his own and potentially get into things.
  • Taming has to move at the bird’s pace.
  • He can potentially escape from the house.

 

IMG_3136

Flight is important to the emotional well-being of any pet parrot.

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Debunking common arguments for clipping a parrot’s wings:

1. Argument: A parrot is less likely to step-up nicely if fully flighted. He can just zip off and do whatever he likes.

  • Counter Argument: There are two parts to this, 1) the idea being that you want him to do what YOU want, when you want it, and 2) that’s why we train our birds. A well-trained but fully flighted parrot steps up because he feels that he gets something out of it. Offering praise and a treat is the best way to reinforce this behaviour. Generally, a parrot wants to be with you. If not, you have to teach him being near or with you has a desirable outcome… for him.
  • Verdict on Argument No. One: Clipping is not needed, but training and a certain amount of patience are.

2. Argument: Clipping is said to be a must for safety’s sake. A flighted parrot can break its neck if it crashes into a mirror or wall or ceiling fan; it can drown in a waiting cup of water or open toilet bowl; it can zoom out an unattended window or into a kitchen with a hot hob.

  • Counter Argument: All this is true, to a degree. However, bird owners give up certain luxuries – like open toilet lids and windows – bird-proof their homes, and set rules to help maintain their pets’ safety. It should be noted that even a clipped bird can take off and crack a bone or beak on a wall, if startled. There is also a certain amount of training to be done, again, in introducing your bird to all areas of a room, setting boundaries, and teaching your bird the danger of mirrors and windows. You can teach them by touching their sides and beaks to the material and letting them see that it is impassable. Clipped birds can fly if startled enough, and doing so is not a guarantee that your bird can’t escape the house.
  • Verdict: Clipped does not mean unable to escape – and bird-proofing the house is important. The solution is not simply to stop clipping a parrot’s wings – you will need to teach it how to fly, how to descend and ascend to different heights (important in case of escape), how to recall to you, and how to stay in one place.

 

Sleeping Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaws napping in their aviary.

3. Argument: My parrot runs away from me!

  • Counter Argument: Your parrot is a free-thinking creature with amazing intelligence. He likes to do what he wants, when he wants to, and definitely doesn’t like the idea of you forcing him to do anything. Giving your bird choice – or at least the illusion of it via training – makes him happy. Happy birds bite less.
  • Verditct: Clipping your bird’s wings because you don’t want him to move around without your permission is done for human convenience. In all seriousness, try adopting a hamster, fish, cat, or dog if a the idea of an autonomous pet alarms you.

4. Argument: Clipping a parrot’s wings needs to be done for taming purposes. He needs to be completely dependent on you.

  • Counter Argument: Absolutely not. To tame your parrot, you need to move slowly and give things time – and do the training, yes. YOU want the bird tame, and YOU have to move at his pace. Clipping means your bird can’t get away – he is, therefore, left with one option. To bite. And bite he will. As to being completely dependent on you, giving your bird his food, treats, and a clean place to live is enough. You don’t want to create helplessness in your birds; instead, for the healthiest and happiest animal possible, you need to teach independence. A well-trained parrot can self-amuse and does not need you 24/7. If he does, you’re in for behavioural problems later, when you’re suddenly not able to provide for that need. Biting, screaming, plucking. You name it.
  • Verdict: Clipping for taming purposes is done for you, not your bird. If you want your bird to bite less, give him the option of getting away if he is scared. Choice is important for a happy bird.

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Too often, people would rather clip their birds’ wings than train them to get along in a human home. Others are simply misinformed, thinking that a clip will help a parrot more than it will hinder. I want to point out that these animals are designed in every way to fly. They have an amazing respiratory system that pumps oxygen to their organs with super efficiency; they have hollow bones and feathers that are engineered to keep them aloft when they should be land bound.

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Parrotlet’s flight feathers.

Parrots also are built to burn a lot of fat through flight, and thus have a lot of energy. When you clip a bird, you take away both its ability to exercise and maintain a healthy weight, and a beautiful source of enrichment. Parrots who fly are a lot less likely to bite.

The attitude needs to be ‘if you’re not willing to try life with a flighted bird, and attempt the training that comes with that, consider a different kind of pet that doesn’t have wings.’

Parrots are autonomous, intelligent, beautiful creatures who need a huge amount of time and training. It’s true that our pet parrots are not wild and never have been, but they’re certainly not domesticated, either, and we owners must accommodate for that fact.

In summary, living with a flighted bird requires more vigilance, more training, and more work over all – but the end result of a confident, happy, healthy pet is more than worth it.

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4 thoughts on “Flighted or Not: Should I Clip My Parrot’s Wings?

  1. Pingback: To clip, or not to clip? | Students and Birds

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Basic Parrot and Finch Care. | Students and Birds

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