Parrots Forever
Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation
   Home      CLIPPING A PARROTS WINGS? February 25, 2014
I have to admit that I find this myth to be the oddest and possibly the most detrimental for companion parrots that I have ever heard.
How many companion parrots escape and fly away every year in Canada? I don’t know the exact number, but there are way to many. The saddest thing about losing a companion parrot to the great outdoors is that the result is certain death if the parrot is not found and rescued within a few days. There are the odd times that you hear about a parrot that was found a few weeks or a few months after the fact, or that flew great distances from Edmonton to Calgary, but those are rare occurrences. Of all the parrots that are lost, most will never be found. They may succumb to harsh weather, starve because the have no skill in finding food and water, or become the victims of predators, including hawks, crows, and ravens. It is a fact of nature that birds eat other birds.
There is no romanticizing the situation when a companion parrot flies away from their caregiver. It’s not fun or beautiful. The situation is stressful and frightening for the parrot and very often lethal.
Myth: You should never clip your companion parrots wings. 
The reasons are many. Clipping their wings may start them plucking and/or chewing their feathers. Clipping their wings will make them depressed. Clipping the wings will cripple the parrot.  The parrot does not want to fly so why bother. A parrot’s wings cannot be clipped without hurting the parrot. This last one was probably the most ridiculous one I’ve every heard, and I heard it from someone who has cared and re-homed companion parrots for over 20 years. 
Fact: Most companion parrots that have the ability to fly, need to have their wings clipped FOR THEIR OWN SAFEY. Certainly not every companion parrot needs to have their wings clipped. It is, however, possible to safely clip a parrot’s wings enough that they cannot fly without hurting them. I have yet to see or hear of a companion parrot that has started chewing and/or plucking their feathers DUE to clipping, and if this should happen, it would be the exception, not the rule. Even unclipped parrots, including some that are allowed free flight, develop feather destructive behavior. Just because a companion parrot does not actively fly on their own, does not mean for certain that they cannot or will not fly if startled. There is no doubt that any companion parrot would prefer to not have their wings clipped. However, if you compare the small risk of a parrot becoming depressed because of clipped wings with the certain depression caused by being locked up alone in a cage for their entire lives, then clipped wings are the lesser evil. A clipped parrot that is allowed out of the cage and that has regular interaction with the caregiver will be much happier than a parrot with full flight feathers sitting alone and ignored in the cage. The very act of keeping a companion parrot in a cage, in a house, is an unnatural and stressful situation for the parrot. We need to focus on ensuring that our companion parrots are as happy and fulfilled as possible while living in a less than ideal environment. 
The main reason I clip the wings of the parrots I care for is for the safety of the parrots, as well as the safety of everyone else in the home, other parrots, other pets, and all of the people who live in the home, especially younger children and babies.
There are a few acceptable reasons why not to clip your companion parrot’s wings. The decision to clip or not to clip should be made on a parrot-by-parrot basis, with the home environment and the caregiver's experience level taken into account. 
Some companion parrots really can not fly. How do you know if that is indeed the case with your companion parrot? He or she has to be fully feathered, and you must witness at least two real attempts at flying in the home. I’ll give you an example. My Moluccan Cockatoo, Lionel, has on at least two occasions tried to fly across the living room, and he went almost straight down to the floor (he didn’t try this until I had him for a year or longer). His wings were not clipped at all and he was, and still is, fully feathered with all his flight feathers intact. Lionel never has learned how to fly. He does not have the muscle strength to fly and, even on the rare occasions when he's frightened, he does not attempt to fly. I know for certain that if I took him outside into our backyard he would not fly away. In the seven years that he has lived with me, he has tried to fly maybe four times in total, and all attempts ended with him hitting the ground within five to six feet from his launching pad.  Should I clip Lionel’s wings? Of course not. He won’t fly out the door and get away, he won’t fly away when I take him outside for fresh air and sunshine, he won’t land on the stove when it’s on, or fly towards anyone and land on their face and hang on with his talons and beak. If a fully feathered companion parrot truly cannot fly then no clipping is necessary.
There is one other situation where you would not clip a companion parrot’s wings. If the parrot is trained for free flight and allowed to fly in a very controlled environment with a caregiver who truly understands the risks that are involved. 
If a parrot is allowed to fly in the home, then a safe and controlled environment must be created. All access to outdoors must be blocked. The doors need to be LOCKED and windows shut. Yes, widows can have screens on them and no parrot can open a door to the outside (unless trained) on their own. But the point is there maybe other people involved, people who live in the home and forget that the parrot is out of the cage, visitors and children who do not realize that the parrot is out or who do not realize the danger. Doors and windows can be left open by mistake. If the parrot’s cage is located near a window or door, or if the parrot is flying around the house, it can be easy for the parrot to fly out of the open door or window. This happens all too often. One careless mistake is all it takes. In addition, all bathroom doors should be kept closed, and access to furnaces, fireplaces, laundry rooms, workshops, etc., should be blocked. If the parrot has access to the kitchen, then the parrot should remain in the cage while any cooking activity is happening. Flying parrots can accidently land in the toilet or a sink full of water and drown, or into a hot frying pan or pot of boiling water, onto a hot stove, or into a running mixer. They can get locked in cupboards or in the dishwasher, or can fly into an open oven or refrigerator. Parrots that are allowed to fly in the home may also land on furniture or on the floor, where they could be sat on or stepped on. The dangers are many. 
Although being allowed to fly may be good for the physical and mental wellbeing of a companion parrot, there are many risks that must be considered. As well as dangers to the parrot, there are also risks of the parrot hurting small children or babies, or of attacking other pets or visitors.
Why should you clip your companion parrot’s wings? The dangers of not clipping your companion parrots wings are clear. Because of theses dangers, many companion parrot caregivers keep the parrots locked in the cage for their own safety. This means that the parrot has very limited physical interaction with the caregiver and very little or no freedom. They have flight feathers and live in boredom and isolation. Clipping the wing feathers would allow the parrot to be let out of the cage without the caregiver worrying about what the parrot might get into. The parrot loses flight, but gains freedom and the potential for more positive interaction with family members. The absolute positive benefits to the quality of life for the parrot as a result of clipping the wings outweigh the possible negative side effects. 
I’ll give you one example of a real life situation. A couple took a companion parrot into their home with the intention to give him a good life. About 18 months later they had a baby. Their companion parrot was not aggressive, but could fly and had been allowed to. The couple quickly realized that the parrot could accidentally land on them when they had the baby in their arms or even land directly onto the baby. The parrot was not being aggressive in any way, but could potentially hurt the baby badly. As a result, they kept the parrot locked up more and more, often due to the risk and the fact that allowing the parrot out of the cage would require them to be very diligent. Basically, it was far easier and safer to just keep the parrot locked up than to worry, watch, and stress-out about the risks involved. Even when the baby was put to bed, it was easer to just leave the parrot in his cage so they wouldn't have to try and put him back in before they went to bed. They really loved this parrot and wanted to keep him, but the situation was quickly deteriorating. I asked them why they didn’t just clip his wings. They responded that “we didn’t want to cripple him and not allow him to fly”. But up to that point the parrot was not allowed out of the cage and had no opportunity to fly anyway. They were already clipping their parrot’s wings metaphorically. This was far worse and had a much, much more severe impact on the parrot’s mental heath than just clipping his wings and letting him out everyday so that he could have safe and regular interaction with the family.
I have read that, occasionally, clipping a parrots wings can cause the parrots to pluck or chew it’s feathers. The reason is that the cut feathers can be irritating. Personally I have yet to see this and I have not talked to anyone that has witnessed this. I’m sure that this may have indeed happen with very poorly executed clipping jobs, with some companion parrot, somewhere. But, is this really that common? And if so, how common? If you have a companion parrot whose wings are clipped and they DO start to chew and/or pluck their feathers because of this and you are certain that the chipping indeed IS the cause, then I would refrain from clipping their wings in the future. BUT, then it would be up to you to make sure that your companion parrot is still allowed out of their cage as much as possible and that it’s safe for everyone in the home, including the parrot to coexist in a happy, healthy and controlled environment. If this is impossible, then maybe you should look at re-homing your companion parrot to a home that can give him a healthy and well-rounded home environment. 
Just because the parrot is not putting up with a fuss about not being let-out of their cage immediately, does not mean they are happy about the situation. And over time, that situation will get worse and worse for the parrot: mentally, emotionally, and physically. In my personal opinion, the number one cause for companion parrots plucking and chewing feathers is not being let out of their cage enough. 
One of the most troubling issues with clipping a parrot’s wings is that they have  to be clipped enough that the parrot can not fly. The whole purpose of clipping wings is to ensure that the parrot can not get any lift and can only glide a maximum distance of five to ten feet to the ground. I have seen too many companion parrots that have had their wings clipped by a vet, an animal groomer, or the caregiver themselves, and they are still able to fly considerable distances. They had sufficient flight feathers left that they could fly away if they were frightened or they escaped from the house. 
As an example, I take all of my companion parrots outside throughout the summer when the weather permits. Friends were going on a five-day trip and phoned to ask me if I would care for their little Conure while they were away. I agreed, but asked right away if the Conure’s wings were clipped. They answered that they had just taken him to a pet store groomer to have his wings clipped. I was a bit skeptical because they had taken the groomers word that the Conure was not able to fly, but they were absolutely sure that the parrot was sufficiently clipped and could not fly. I had the Conure in the kitchen with his cage about four feet off the floor. He fluttered down to the floor and a minute later my cat came in and startled him.  He flew straight up to the top of his cage in a nearly vertical line six feet off the floor, right in font of me. That little parrot could fly very well with his supposedly clipped wings. Whenever I took him outside with the other parrots, I was forced to keep him locked up in his cage the whole time. 
When my friends came back, I told them what had happened and that I had been unable to have him out of his cage much due to the fact that he could fly quite well. They became quite upset and told me that they had taken the parrot with them camping just a couple of weeks earlier and that he was sitting on their shoulders outside. If something had startled him, his fright-to-flight response would have kicked-in and he could have flown up into the trees very easily. When this happens, the parrot is extremely scared and can be very difficult to coax back down out of the tree. Even if you happen to have a very tall ladder or are good at climbing trees, the parrot may become even more frightened and fly further away. I offered to clip the Conure’s wings for my friends. When we opened up his wings we found that only two or three flight feathers had been clipped off each wing. For a small parrot with strong flight muscles, this would barely slow him down. My friends had trusted and paid a professional groomer to ensure their parrot’s safety and had put themselves in the position of potentially losing their parrot. 
Having your companion parrot’s wings clipped, does not ensure that your parrot will not still be able to fly well enough to fly away and get lost, especially outside if the parrot catches a gust of wind. 
There is a danger of cutting a blood feather when clipping wings, especially if they are to be clipped enough that the parrot cannot fly. Flight feathers are large and cutting a blood feather could cause the parrot to bleed to death. Great care must be taken. If you do not recognize what a blood feather looks like, ask your vet.
Smaller companion parrots are much more able to fly with their wings clipped than larger parrots. They are much lighter and more agile. However, any parrot that has had practice flying and has built strong flight muscles can overcome an insufficient clip job. If they get outside and catch the right gust of wind, they can get up very high and go a very long distance.
Here is the best illustration I found on YouTube of how a companion parrot’s wings should be clipped 6min Proper Wing Clipping
Here is another way that I do NOT recommend 7min Improper Wing Clipping. The problem with this way of clipping is that they only clip 6-10 feathers off each wing. If you want to clip your companion parrot with this technique, then I would suggest that you clip an additional 2-4 feathers in addition to the 6-10 that they recommend. Clip 10-12 feathers off each wing, especially with the medium and smaller parrots. 
If you do not feel comfortable clipping your parrot’s wings and want your vet or animal groomer to do it, then I would highly recommend that you be present through the procedure to ensure that they are clipping enough feathers so that you are sure that your parrot is unable to fly. Do not take their word for it. You know your parrot. You need to be realistic about how capable and strong your companion parrot is when it comes to flying and do what it takes to keep that parrot safe. Observe the clipped parrot in a safe environment and make sure that the parrot cannot fly up or go more than five to ten feet along the ground. Do not just assume that the parrot cannot fly because the wings are clipped. Be absolutely certain. Losing a parrot because of mistaken assumptions can be heartbreaking for the owner, and deadly for the parrot.


        Wesley J Savoy Parrots Forever Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation, February 25, 2014

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