I have LOTS of pets! I love animals, art, coffee, and video games.
So, What Is Wing Clipping?
If you're new to bird ownership or are thinking about getting your first bird, you may have also thought about wing clipping. Many people new to avian care believe this is the permanent (and painful) trimming of wing flesh to prevent flight feathers from regrowing. Nothing can be further from the truth!
A wing clip is like trimming your own nails or getting a haircut. It involves trimming three to six long flight feathers at the tips of your bird's wings. This trim prevents her from gaining altitude but still allows your bird the ability to descend to the floor in a controlled, gentle manner, should she need to.
Why Would I Have My Bird's Wings Clipped?
Here are a few of the reasons why bird owners might clip their pet's wings.
To Keep the Bird Safe
Having a bird's flight restricted allows for some level of control over their safety. Both large parrots and smaller parakeets and lovebirds have unending curiosity. The old saying "curiosity killed the cat" is not nearly as accurate as it is to say it killed the bird. Birds love to chew, consume, destroy, drink, and play with anything they can get their beaks onto.
Plants, electrical cords and cables, the dishwater in your sink, medications, books and paper, furniture, and other pets are subject to a bird's interest and investigation. If left to fly around without check, your bird can get herself into some sticky spots around the house before you're able to rescue her (or your other pets.)
To Establish a Good Relationship With You
Having a bird's wings trimmed before you bring her home also creates an immediate dependency on you, which can assist in building trust and a good relationship. Although you can certainly achieve this kind of relationship without a trim, it is greatly helpful to new bird owners who aren't all that familiar yet with their bird's behavior or what kind of trouble she might get into. This is especially helpful in small birds who have been parent-raised as opposed to hand-fed by humans during their young lives.
You may choose to have your bird's wings trimmed at the store or by the breeder you purchase her from, then let her feathers grow out and not ever have them clipped again.
To Prevent Larger Birds From Causing Trouble
It is uncommon for medium and large parrots to remain flighted (having un-clipped wings) because of their size and the amount of destruction and trouble they can cause outside their cages. Some species can also develop nasty attitudes when left with this freedom. You will want to have this bird's wings clipped on a regular basis along with nail and beak grindings.
Can I Do It Myself?
Smaller birds may have their wings trimmed at home by their owners; however, you risk upsetting your bird's trust in you. Have your vet, breeder, or local exotic bird shop show you how to do it if you insist on doing this at home. It's really not difficult, but you should have a bit of guidance.
It's best to trust a large bird to a professional entirely. This isn't to say that it can't be done—even professionals begin somewhere—but take your time and do some learning.
Why Might I Want to Leave My Bird Flighted?
The following are a few reasons why bird owners may decide against wing clipping.
To Preserve Natural Behavior
You may desire to give your bird the freedom of flight because it's a natural bird behavior that you feel she should be allowed to engage in. This is entirely up to you. It is an excellent way for her to get daily exercise, provided you can give her a spacious and safe enough place to do so.
To Protect Them From Other Pets
If you have other pets, you might want to leave your bird flighted as a way of escape or to help them stay out of reach, just in case. Never leave these pets unsupervised with your bird, and if there is any question of safety, lock these pets in another room while your bird is out of her cage.
Many bird lovers have a "bird room" where two or three birds and cages are housed. The door can be shut while the dog or cat are allowed to roam the house. However, if you own a single bird, locking her in a room alone may not be acceptable for her social and emotional well being.
It's Your Choice
The decision to either clip your bird's wings or leave her flighted can both be justified and "correct." The choice you make should reflect consideration for your bird's safety and well-being over any personal preference. Think about your situation and home. What risks are there, and how can they be avoided otherwise? You will find the decision easy with this perspective.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can a clipped bird still get sufficient exercise?
Answer: Oh yes. Birds will still flap hard on their perch and climb all over the cage, play tops, and around the house. A good pellet maintenance diet that includes fresh fruits and veggies is also important for a healthy weight. As long as you spend time with her, she'll get enough activity for a happy life.
Question: My bird's previous owners clipped his wings before I had him. I've noticed that one side is growing while the other hasn't. Is it possible that they clipped it too short?
Answer: They will all grow back at different times. If birds dropped and regrew all flight feathers at once, it would leave a wild bird flightless and extremely vulnerable. Not a very good survival mechanism.
Question: How can birds in a cage eat and drink if it cannot fly due to wings being clipped?
Answer: Well, normally you provide them something to perch on in front of their dishes, and stagger perches around the cage that they can hop or climb too. Perch size and cage bar spacing is extra important for flightless birds because they need to be able to grip things properly for adequate mobility and sense of security/safety. Bar orientation should also be horizontal on at least two sides of the cage, for ease of climbing. That feature is not easy to find in small birdcages found locally without visiting a bird specialty store, catering only to birds.
Penny Leigh Sebring from Fort Collins on January 29, 2019:
Nice article! The pros and cons can be so individual to both the bird and the person. It's worth noting that there are multiple levels of clipping that can be done as well, and that clipping does not always prevent the bird from flying.
Green Cheek Conure
Q: Should I clip my birds wings or not? I want to so that I can take him everywhere with me. On the other hand, I like the fact that he can fly to me when he is free in the house. What is your opinion on this?
Answer: I say again! To clip, or not to clip, that is the eternal question. There are excellent reasons for both sides & it really comes down to your own decision.
I’d recommend trimming a new birds flight feathers, until they become friendly with you. They feel far more independent when they can fly.Also, it gives them time to accustom themselves to a new place. Sometimes they get spooked & if they are unfamiliar with their environment they might crash into something.
Some people dont agree, but I like to keep there wings clipped, they are calmer and easier to tame then.
I let my birds fly also, they have their own room & aren’t caged more thyan an hour or so a month. But with a new bird I always clip wings, just until they get used to me , the other birds, & the environment. They also must learn to step up before they free fly, otherwise it can be impossible to put them into their cage. Their feathers grow back pretty quick, & they don’t have to be clipped so short the bird can’t fly at all, just enough to make flying fast impossible.
Under certain circumstances, clipping can be necessary. Sometimes, especially with rescues, its needed. I just try not to use it as a solution to a behavioral problem, as clipping wings can also cause behavior problems such as excessive nippy-ness.
Can A Clipped Green Cheek Conure Go Outdoors?
Clip for safety in the home if that’s relevant, but don’t assume you can go outside with a clipped bird on your shoulder. Clipping doesn’t eliminate flight, it restricts it, and with a good breeze you can lose your bird anyway. A harness or bird backpack is a better way to go anywhere and everywhere.
If you want to travel outside, just buy a flight suit and don’t open any windows or doors when birdy is out having flight time.
Pros And Cons Of Clipping Your BirdвЂ™s Wings
So you might’ve been considering getting your bird’s wings clipped but you’re not really sure where you stand on it. Here are some of the pros and cons of making that important decision:
Your bird will be safer from certain things because clipping limits vertical and horizontal flight. Clipping can limit his chances for flying into ceiling fans, windows, walls and doorways. On top of that, your bird also will be limited from flying out of windows or doors. If he does manage to escape, he wouldn’t be able to go very far, increasing the chances that you could get to him.
Sometimes clipped birds form a very good relationship with their owner because they are more dependent on them. That’s not to say that training can’t be achieved with a bird that can fly as well.
If you have predatory animals like cats living in your house, you may want to go a different route than clipping. Birds that are clipped would have a much harder time getting away from a cat when they are not able to fly like their instincts dictate. Your cat could definitely take advantage of that.
When your bird is clipped, it also limits his exercise because that’s his primary mode of travel. Birds are also very curious and fly around to discover different things. You will have to give your bird a lot of interesting things to play with or he’ll get bored quickly without the ability to fly.
If you are even considering clipping your bird’s wings, consult a veterinarian first. They will know what the best solution is in your particular case. Adding to that note, never have someone that is inexperienced at clipping wings do the procedure. If it is done incorrectly, a bird can be severely injured.
Wing clipping is usually performed by avian veterinarians, pet store employees, breeders, or the birds' owners themselves. It is generally carried out on pet birds, particularly parrots. If performed correctly, it is a painless procedure  and is quite distinct from pinioning, which is carried out by amputation of the wing at the carpal joint. It is, however, not harmless as it can lead to indirect injury from falls, and is known to cause psychological distress.
Techniques for clipping the wings vary primarily in the number of feathers cut and the amount of each feather left behind. A mild clip on one wing only can impair a bird's flight greatly, as it renders the bird unbalanced in the air. This can cause injury or death to the bird if it strikes a hard surface during a fall. In most cases, only the primary flight feathers are cut, and an equal number of feathers are trimmed on each wing to avoid causing the bird to become unbalanced in flight. The most common clip involves trimming the primary flight feathers below the level of the primary coverts (usually removing about half to a third of the length of the flight feather). This clip is quick and simple to do, but leaves exposed cut ends that occasionally may cause a bird to chew on the cut feathers. Another method of clipping involves cutting the flight feather above the level of the coverts, so almost the entire feather is removed. This clip does not leave any exposed cut ends, but as more of each feather is removed, fewer feathers should be cut. However, these cut feather stumps are still present and may irritate the bird, causing significant discomfort.
Where parrots have clipped primary feathers, the moulting sequence of these birds renders them vulnerable to damage of their growing blood feathers. Most parrots have 10 primary feathers, numbered 1 (innermost) to 10 (outermost). The moult starts by the bird shedding and replacing a central primary feather, usually number 6.  The sequence continues in both directions along the primaries, so the last primary feathers to be replaced are the innermost and the outermost ones numbered 1 and 10, respectively. Clipped birds, therefore, have their first blood feathers growing down without the normal protection of full-length feathers lying next to them. These unprotected blood feathers are vulnerable to being broken and profuse bleeding can occur.  Regardless of their size, most parrots replace their feathers by a daily growth rate of 3 to 4 mm (Glendell 2007) Thus, large species such as macaws may take over a year to complete a moult, but smaller species such as cockatiels will moult within a few weeks. So, larger birds, and those with a higher wing-loading, remain vulnerable to blood feather damage for a longer period, since they are moulting almost continually.
A 'light' symmetrical wing-clip allows a bird to fly down and land safely while indoors. However, such a clip may not prevent the bird from flying when outdoors, since lift is generated in proportion to wind speed. Many escaped birds that are recovered are found to have been clipped. So, while a light clip allows downward flight indoors, it does not prevent a bird gaining lift if it should escape outdoors. Conversely, a more severe clip certainly renders a bird flightless, but it increases the risk of injury if the bird falls and hits a hard surface. In addition to the physical effects of wing-clipping, adverse behavioural effects can occur. Birds use flight as an instinctive reflex action and as their first means of escaping any threat they take to the air to fly upwards and away from the source of the threat their fear then dissipates. Where this behaviour is prevented by wing-clipping, this innate reflex action is denied the bird, and its fear does not subside. This may cause behavioural problems for the afflicted bird.  When a bird needs to reduce its speed during flight, it employs a 'reverse thrust' action by extending its wing at the wrist joint and using the drag of its primaries as air brakes.  While the reduced function of the clipped bird's primaries prevent propulsion and therefore lift, this also reduces braking abilities, so clipped birds may crash-land at higher speeds than full-winged birds. Clipped birds should not be taken outdoors unrestrained, as even clipped birds have been known to fly away when spooked outdoors.
It is generally considered very important for a young bird to be allowed to fledge (learn to fly) properly, prior to any wing clipping. Breeders and owners usually find that a fledged bird, even after being clipped, will remain more confident and active than an unfledged bird. Learning to fly also helps a bird learn how to land safely, an important skill even in clipped birds.
While clipping is endorsed by some avian veterinarians, others oppose it. 
By restricting flight, wing clipping may help prevent indoor birds from risking injury from ceiling fans or flying into large windows, but no evidence shows that clipped birds are safer than full-winged ones, only that clipped birds are subject to different kinds of accidents from full-winged birds.  Social pet birds (such as parrots) may also be clipped both to restrict independence and in attempts to make them tamer and easier to manage to encourage them to socialize with their owners some parrots that show aggression to certain people or other birds may be clipped to prevent attack. However, birds can be trained to accept flight requests or commands, and this removes the need for wing-clipping.  Some people feel wing clipping is a cruel or unhealthy practice, as it denies a bird its most natural way of getting around, obtaining exercise, and avoiding fearful situations. Although clipped birds can and should be encouraged to do wing-flapping exercises, this does not provide the same exercise as flight. Others feel that for birds that can climb well, wing clipping is a necessary safety practice for birds in many situations. The practice seems more prevalent in American bird care books   than in similar British publications.  
Once you are done clipping your bird's wings, place the bird back inside of its cage and allow it to rest for a couple of hours. Wing trims can be very stressful for pet birds, so allowing them time to relax and recoup their strength before any further interaction is imperative. After several sessions, however, your bird should become more used to wing trims, and become more agreeable during and after the procedure.
You can re-trim your bird's wings anytime it becomes necessary and you see your bird regaining full flight. In general, this occurs every six to ten weeks as old feathers are molted away and new ones grow in. Each time, even as you become more confident in your wing-clipping prowess, keep safety as your top priority. Doing so will ensure that you and your bird will have many more happy times together.
The Cons of Clipping
Those on the other side of the fence contend that depriving a bird of its ability to fly can cause physical and psychological damage. Many people argue that the benefits of flying—exercise and mental stimulation—far outweigh the risks of injury to a pet bird, provided they are properly supervised.
Others have different reasons for not trimming their birds. Show birds, for example, have the best chance of winning when they are fully feathered. Some people also feel that since birds were intended to fly, clipping takes away their freedom and primary source of natural movement.
Additionally, clipping may not be a good choice for every bird or household. A bird can become overweight if it's not allowed the proper amount of exercise offered by flying. You'll also want to think about your other pets. Cats and dogs may view the bird as prey, in which case you'll want your bird to use its natural defense mechanism of flight to escape harm.