Should I Clip My Parrot's Wings?
The third rail of companion parrot care. Ask the question and the answers become emotional, and the debates become even more so. The question should make us emotional. In fact, it should hurt just a little to think about it. Should I stop my parrot from being his full self? Same question, better context.
Clipping your bird's wings is personal. I won't step into that debate. I will turn on the lights to thoughts that should be part of the decision. Let's pro and con this idea.
The Pros of Clipping your Parrot's Wings
- Control over their choices. This is the context of clipping wings to hand tame a parrot by removing their choice to leave.
- Better control over their flight patterns. This is the context for keeping a parrot in and on locations.
- Better control over their choices to fly. This is the context of keeping a bird safe from opening doors and windows.
- Better control over a specific parrot who does not like someone or other birds in a home. (I live this with Snickers, our Scarlet Macaw. He is not interested me as a relationship when dad is here. Dad's working from home sealed that deal. He takes a sharp flight at me daily. Some more aggressive than others. I will never ask for his wings to be clipped. Ever. This is my responsibility to his choices made. That is parrot lifestyle in my personal opinion. A parrot in a house has given up a massive amount of what they could be already. This is a very personal decision. I'm a bit zealous about birds.)
- Better control over the bird if it should get out. This is the context of being able to retrieve your parrot if she gets out.
- Better control for step up and training.
Control. Outside of a parrot who medically needs to be kept safe through grounding, this is the epicenter of the clipping motivation. A flying pet is inconvenient, tricky, hard to deal with, and requires more work than one that can't fly away. Which should be the first question in bringing a parrot home as a companion. Do I want a flying being in my life?
Cons of Clipping your Parrot's Wings
- Detriment to cardiovascular, musculature, and respiratory health. Flying is the cog to the wheel that is parrot health.
- Mental frustration. A clipped wing becomes a wing that requires their attention. Some parrots become frustrated with their wings, looking for the missing feathers that were supposed to be there. Conservative clipping or more aggressive makes no difference. Their parts no longer work like they did before.
- Physical frustration. Balance changes. Conservative, aggressive, symmetrical clips affect a parrot's awareness to self. Whiskers on a cat, if you will. You wouldn't trim those.
- Loss of self. We've clipped wings here. Conservative professional at the vets, and simple flight tips removed to curb a three-year old's attitude. I've regretted every single time. Butters, our blue and gold became sad. Literally. Snickers, our scarlet, became frustrated and depressed. Kirby acquiesced to his inability. He was not KirbyKirby. When a vet or groomer tells you they'll get over it, that they'll be just fine and the new abilities will be accepted like nothing happened, this isn't possible. Tell a runner they are confined to crutches or walking only. Ask them if they miss running.
- Loss of control for the human. We'll have to change our environment to allow this skill of flight. We'll have to accept messes at times. We'll need to invest in time and patience to build trust and a relationship that creates a parrot that naturally wants to be part of a healthy flock. Here's the thing; a parrot's instinct is to function inside a flock. If a relationship is built through time and empathy, a parrot will choose to do what makes the routines and flock health happen. You will be able to tell your bird to stop a certain action with little fanfare. Oh, you'll get the Eye of Annoyance or possibly the Eye of Disdain, but they'll stop. Because the flock laws support it. Granted, clipping wings stops it faster. But then you aren't building a relationship of flock understanding. You'll be clipping every time feathers start to grow back.
- If your parrot scoots out the door to explore the world, he can't evade wild things. Or feral cats who see fair game. Or hawks who see lunch. A grounded parrot out in the world is in grave danger.
- Clipping wings has triggered plucking in a percentage of birds.
- Done wrong, damage can be irreparable and dangerous to your bird. A bird that can't "float" safely to the floor is in danger of breaking bones.
Should you clip your bird's wings? That's your decision to make and it's not mine to judge. Your parrot will judge it.
Ways to make clipping less impacting to your parrot.
- Pay a professional groomer or veterinarian to clip your bird's wings. This isn't a DIY project. A pro clip allows feathers to grow in healthy. Lessens the impact of parrot fussing with the missing feathers. Allows a prescribed level of safe flight to floor for safety.
- Be mindful of your parrot's new ambulation. If they can't fly how will they move about the room, aviary, cage? What can you add to replace the loss? More foraging, preening, and chewing toys to be sure. Hanging and placing them in areas that do not require flight to get there.
- It's up to you to be aware of their need to move to other locations. Your parrot will still want access to his favorite moments that he chose to go to, but no longer can. It's up to you to create a new Choice Allowance. Parrots NEED choices.
- If you've other parrots that won't be clipped for some reason, keep an eye on them and your clipped bird. Attitudes change between birds when habits and changes of abilities change.
- Your parrot may become quiet for a day or two. Opting out of normal play or scrambling. This is to be expected. It's helpful to include her in things you are doing, or simply visit and share food more frequently. Lifting spirits may be required.
The most important aspects of wing clipping is awareness to the abrupt impact you are making to a creature that was built to fly. If you've never been taught how to hold and clip your bird safely, DO NOT CLIP YOURSELF. Finally, choose the wing clip that is the least intrusive. There are levels of 'control' inside this task. Choose the least first. You can always take more. Finally a parrot's clipped wings will molt and grow back into place, if the clip was done right.
All our clipped parrots have their flight feathers back. The day they realized they worked was a very good day. I watched their joy to be back at it. Clipping wings is a very personal decision. Every lifestyle is different. As with all decisions we are required to make with our parrots, this particular one needs a few more solid minutes of thought. We all love our birds.
We have a rescue cockatoo over the age of 10 who wings were irreparably damaged when young. He will never know the joy of flight. We do not cage him unless we can’t supervise. We encourage him to behave like a cockatoo in every other way. He digs he destroys he is loud. We encourage the wild cockatoos to come and play with him so he can socialise. He can’t go to them so we use feeding stations to bring them to him. I think he is happy. I hope he is happy.
Pandora ‘clipped’ her own wings (eg self harm) when I left her for a few weeks on a business trip – I’d got her as a baby and only had her for about 5 months. When I got home, suddenly she could no longer fly! I was beside myself and took her to the vet who told me she had effectively pulled out her finger nails (to use a human analogy)through sadness because I’d been away. It took 8 months for her to fly again – but in those 8 months I was able to train her and grow her trust by sitting with her every night and persuading her onto my arm and knee etc. I rejoiced when one day she flew again, and we have never looked back. She is free range most days to fly around our very spacious kitchen (doors and windows locked!) She is able to keep away from our dogs (who love to chase her) and express herself through flight and happy chat. So in many ways those accidental flightless 8 months were a blessing because it brought us closer and allowed me to train her, but I am fervently against wing clipping in the long term.