by R.J.McMillan, Wales, UK
Wing Clipping Techniques have been developed by a wide number of individuals around the world, this article is a summary of the better points which should be taken into consideration prior to clipping.
I have personally seen birds which look mutilated, birds with one wing clipped which disorientates the poor bird, and in one extreme case a bird which had its wing joint cut through in effect cutting off the end of the wing .
A Psittacine which has been correctly clipped should sustain no damage or ill effect from the process, and should glide gracefully to the ground and have enough feathers to break its fall. If too many feathers are clipped or even cut too short, the result can be injuries to the keel bone, leg fractures or even worse.
Veterinarians worldwide have long since realized that the very different environments and lifestyles in which parrot species are kept in captivity, can contribute to stress related disorders such as feather plucking and self mutilation, lack of exercise can cause obesity and fatty liver syndrome, so the reason for clipping a birds wings must be a balance between safety, breeding considerations and most of all the health of the bird.
It has been shown that if baby parrots are wing clipped before learning to fly , they may never develop takeoff and landing skills, which help the young birds develop balance and an overall grace and agility that is often lacking in birds that never fly prior to clipping.
The main purpose of wing clipping is not to render a bird flightless but to prevent upward and rapid flight, (i.e. a cock bird in breeding condition chasing and in some cases killing the hen, or a pet bird given free flight in the home with its many dangers to birds in full powered flight) It would also assist with the re-capture of any escaped birds, which in turn would stop non-indigenous species adapting and breeding in the countryside, which is against the law in most countries.
Wing clipping is safe when performed properly. Larger parrots typically require fewer feathers to be clipped than smaller birds, whose lift is more easily generated due to their size .
How do you clip your Parrot's wings? Assuming that your parrot is an adult and already knows how to fly, your best option is to find a Vet., who is experienced in the art of wing clipping.
However should you decide to carry out the clipping yourself, which is not recommended, some preparatory work is required.
Start by obtaining a competent assistant, who as well as yourself understands the wing shape and terminology of its feathers . The primary coverts, secondary feathers and secondary coverts on both wings should never be clipped.
When the wings are clipped, proper restraint should be applied. The bird's chest must not be restricted, because it cannot breathe. The head , both feet, and opposite wing should be well restrained for the bird's safety. This is best performed by your assistant who can gently wrap the bird in a towel and hold it by the neck, stomach down. Carefully extricate one wing so you are looking down on the top, this wing should be held at the base of the humerus, and not by the feathers, as injury could occur if the bird should flap this held wing.
Scissors of any description are not recommended for wing clipping for several reasons. If the bird flaps its wing while the feathers are being clipped, the point of the scissors can cause injury. It is also more difficult to obtain an accurate cut with scissors, as they can slide up and down the feather shaft, and also do not make a fast and clean cut. It has been found that using proper specialist animal claw clippers results in a fast, effective and accurate cut .
Improperly clipped parrots, especially African Greys and Cockatoos, appear to become irritated by half-clipped feather shafts poking them when their wings are at rest, this could lead to feather-plucking problems. Each feather should be clipped below the level of the first vein and barb, and well below the level of the primary coverts over them.
Some owners prefer that the last three primary feathers (P10, P9, P8) on each wing are left intact for aesthetic reasons. If these feather are left it gives the appearance of the wing being intact when the wings are at rest. However some parrots who are strong fliers may gain enough lift to still retain the ability to fly. Also, these primaries if left are likely to sustain damage or even break.
If you intend leaving the last three primary feathers, then clip the next four primary feathers ( P7, P6, P5, P4.), if not remove the first four primary feathers (P7, P8, P9, & P10.), carry out the identical process on the other wing.
Each feather shaft should be individually isolated and identified, then grasped by the clippers and swiftly cut, at the same time ensuring you do not cut the overlaying primary covert feathers.
After this initial clipping, the bird should be tested, to see if more primary feathers need to be removed. This is best carried out indoors over a carpeted area, start by holding bird on a perch or your hand, then quickly drop the perch or hand downwards, causing the bird to flap its wings and try to fly. Additional clipping should be based on the birds ability to gain lift or fly horizontally. It is essential to clip conservatively and remove additional feathers as needed, once removed they can only be replaced at the next moult.
If on the initial inspection of the wing prior to clipping , any blood feathers are found then clipping should not take place until these blood feathers have matured, usually several weeks. You will recognize these blood feathers from others as they contain a dark purple or black shaft which is blood.
Wing clipping is not for the inexperienced, and is best carried out by a trained avian veterinarian, many will be prepared to give hands on experience.