Should You Clip Your Bird's Wings?
I argued with myself for 3 months before clipping Butters' wings. She was young yet, fully fledged under our roof and at the ripe age of almost 2, a total handful. Not two hands full like Snickers, but nevertheless a hand full. Our vet strongly and kindly suggested a "conservative" clip. No one has the right to use words carelessly. Honestly, yes. Strongly, yes. With opinion, yes. But carelessly? No. Since when is cutting wings to remove flight abilities from a flying companion a conservative choice? A "conservative clip" does not exist.
Why did I choose to clip wings?
The issue wasn't Butters at all. The real issue was my attitude and my control issues. She was being a fully flighted joyous and confident macaw. I was being impatient and wanting the quick fix. And that quick fix is quick to remind me of my own selfish nature. So, I took our joyous and confident ButterBean in for grooming, blood work, and that "conservative clip".
I brought home an intimidated, confused, and sad parrot. And I ached for her next molt to come in quickly. I cried for 2 days for what I had done to our girl. She was not our ButterBean until her next molt. I watched her confused heart and mind for a week. Her balance was off, her confidence removed. She knew who brought this on her. Around the 9th day she found her way around her disability. I watched her for months after, fuss with the missing feather locations on both her wings. It was as though she were conjuring her body to create those feathers again.
I tell you about my experience for a parrot's perspective. I tell you this story because it is imperative, no matter the reasons, we understand that clipping wings is not to be taken lightly. It has a palpable impact on a parrot, no matter how they react and overcome their newly acquired disability. And make no mistake, this is a chosen disability we have brought on them. With big emotional impacts.
There is no such thing as a conservative clip any more than there is a pet parrot. There are real consequences for them physically and mentally. They are quite adept at making do and merging into their new normal. And yes, there are real reasons to do such a thing to a companion parrot. There are times and lifestyles that require it for their own health and safety. I make no argument against those points. I make an argument against the idea that it is no big deal and that it somehow magically keeps them safe and easily found if they are lost outside.
What happens when we remove flight, or partial flight feathers from our parrots via a clipping?
- Balance is affected. And balance creates confidence. Confidence creates trust. And trust builds our relationships with our companion. Clipping wings is not a way to "bond with your parrot". It's a way to control our parrot so that it's easier to get them to do what we perceive as bonding. Which is simply obedience via no choice. There's no bond there.
- If our companion isn't flying, our companion isn't using the main element of mobility that their biology and physiology evolved to utilize. Muscle atrophy, affected metabolism, less demand on the respiratory system as it was built for, comes into play. We hamstrung a flying being whose body was structured to fly. They will become weaker mentally and physically.
- There are discussions on both sides of the science fence on whether fully flighted parrots are healthier and have stronger immune systems. I tend to the example of humans and exercise. Humans who use their bodies as fully intended by their structure are healthier than humans who do not use their bodies as intended. It's 2022, sitting is the new smoking. Fully flighted parrots are healthier, stronger, and have a stronger immune system than those who cannot fly. I absolutely believe this idea inside the context of young parrots being allowed to fledge and fly for a few weeks before being clipped for the first time. Much like a baby being allowed to cry, to strengthen their diaphragm and respiratory system as a whole.
All this being said, if clipped wings are in your bird's lifestyle, then it is important to compensate that lost mobility and exercise with more nutrition, more ways for physical activity through deeper enrichment. I am not writing an indictment of wing clipping and those that choose the practice. I am writing a reminder to all that clipping wings is not a small agenda item. This is to be approached with a seriousness toward our companion's nature, personality, and life quality.
Clipped wings do not mean your companion cannot fly. They will find a way to gain airspace. But clipped wings on a companion that has "gotten out" and is now lost leaves a defenseless parrot. Some wing clips will cause a parrot to look injured in flight. A predator will pick up the idea that there is an easy meal. A companion with clipped wings lost outside will do their best to fly, and they will be vulnerable doing it.
A fully flighted parrot lost to the outside has mobility and escape on their side and are no longer on a certain rung of the food chain. I've experienced one of my fully flighted parrots getting outside, three times. Kirby flew down from his tree with some coaxing and command work, and a banana. I know the terror. But I am glad he was fully flighted. Had he not been, the local cats would have had lunch, I have no doubt.
Clipping wings is a control choice. No more no less. It is rarely a choice for the benefit of a parrot. Our relationship with our companion requires we be honest about the clipping wings choice, and at the very least see it for what it is and compensate to the best of our abilities for doing it to them. We are literally removing their very nature by doing it. Respect that impact. We know round cages are horrible. We know sunflower seed only diets are a death sentence. We know peanuts can cause illness. We know parrots are self-aware. We know parrots are not pets. We know so much and are learning more every day through the sciences. It's time our words and actions stay updated as well.
I support the safety and lifestyle security found through clipping wings. I support not clipping and delivering safety and lifestyle security through other avenues, as we do here in our home with our seven companions. This is a very personal issue, and at times a point of contention. I choose to speak for the voice of the companions and set the humans point aside. After all, it's they who lose their natural freedoms. And they've already done that by going into a cage.
Bravo…lost my first 2 yr old red laured full flighted made me very sad. Now have adopted a 30 yr old red laured…I believe he has been over clipped wings lay down and he is kind of hunched. Moving slow as he has trust issues but when he lets me we will see the avairy doc and yes I hope to let him gain flight again.