Written by Kalvin
Whether or not to clip a birds wing feathers is often a subject that results in debate, because of the strong feelings of parties on both sides of the debate, we at Tailfeathers felt it would be beneficial for owners new and old to be able to refer to opinions of both sides and form their own, educated decision based on their personal circumstances and their own birds.
The aim of feather clipping is not to remove the ability to fly, flying is an important exercise that all birds should be allowed to do for both physical and mental health. Feather clipping should merely limit the birds ability to fly so it doesn't reach full height or speed when flying, so the owner will have increased control over it. To achieve this the clip should be carried out by an experienced person who understands the importance of flight and how to clip correctly.
A correct clip will not mean that the bird will fall like a stone, but should allow it to glide and control its flight enabling it to land safely. Only the primary feathers should be clipped, each feather should be clipped individually rather than just cutting all the way along, the number of feathers to be clipped will depend on the species and the birds own limitations (more for stronger fliers, less for weaker). The feathers should never be clipped too short, without the support of the partial feathers any new blood feathers are at greater risk of being knocked or broken resulting in injury to the bird and possible permanent damage. Both wings should have the same number of feathers clipped and to the same length, not doing so would mean the bird is unable to balance itself properly and risks injury to its keel bone, beak and wings from crashing because of the loss of control.
All birds need to learn how to fly, maneuver, balance and land whether you intend for them to be clipped or not, therefore it would be unwise to clip a young birds feathers before it has had a chance to develop these flying skills and its flight muscles. Many breeders will automatically clip the feathers without regard to how well the bird can do these things therefore you should always request that the young bird should be left fully flighted to enable you to assess it practicing these skills.
One of the most common reasons for clipping wings feathers is to assist in taming and training a new bird, because the bird has limitations on its flight and therefore movement it becomes more reliant on its owner, often meaning the bird becomes more able to be handled quicker. Some people feel this is forcing the bird to be with the owner rather than building up a trust and so prefer to leave their birds flighted so they are able to get away should they wish to and gradually build a bond over time, even the most timid of birds can become quite confiding with time, patience and understanding.
Birds left flighted can often develop behavioral problems usually in the form of dominance and aggression, because the bird has more confidence in itself and its abilities it feels it can challenge its owners place as head of the flock. With correct and consistent training these problems can be overcome, simple commands like "step up", "no" and "good bird" can often help teach a bird what is and isn't allowed to do, they are intelligent creatures and can learn them very quickly. Flight commands are another great help, asking your bird to fly to or from you when it hears a certain call or whistle, you can also introduce commands to ask them to fly from one perching place to another or to prevent them landing on you if it is not appropriate at that time. It is often agreed that clipping for taming and training alone is unnecessary, flighted birds can be tamed just the same as clipped ones, behavioral problems can arise with clipped and flighted birds and should be addressed accordingly. Feather clipping a bird to enforce your dominance over it and to curb behavioral problems should be avoided, as it is simply a quick fix and not a long-term cure. If a clip is to be carried out for taming, repeated clipping should not be necessary once the goal has been achieved.
Feather clipping is also carried out for many safety reasons; windows, doors, cookers, toilets and many more things present possible danger to birds kept in a household, however the danger is always there whether the bird is clipped or not, vigilance is always need on your part. Clipping the wing feathers will reduce the speed at which a bird can fly as well as distance so it is easier for the owner to supervise it. A startled clipped bird will not fly into a window, mirror or wall with as much force as a flighted bird so the risk of injury is reduced, you can however introduce your bird to these dangers and teach then that they're there, take your bird up to the windows and gently touch its beak on the glass so they know it's there, repeating this each time the bird comes out. Alternatively curtains or blinds could cover windows and blankets or towels could cover mirrors while your bird is out.
Closing doors to kitchens or toilets while your bird is out will reduce the risk of it landing on hot surfaces, in boiling water, down toilets, dangers that are possible for both clipped and flighted birds. If doors can not be closed then toilet seats should be down, cookers cooled, fish tanks covered, windows closed and any other immediate dangers should be eliminated before your bird is let out of its cage. Clipped birds allowed to walk around on the floor can easily be trodden on, hit by opening doors or sat on if they are on the sofa. Supervision is always needed when a bird is out, there is always something around that could possibly hurt your bird in some way, keeping an eye on your bird as it plays will mean you can remove them from the situation as soon as possible.
A fear that all bird owners share is that of escape, again this is possible with either clipped or flighted birds if the opportunity were to arise. Each room they have access to should be checked to make sure the windows are closed and inform other people in the house that your bird is out before letting it out the cage. With just a slight gust even a clipped bird can gain height and distance, a correct feather clip will only restrict a birds flight indoors where there is no wind to give the bird extra lift. It would be impossible to watch your bird at all times whilst it is out of the cage, especially with children around doors and windows may be opened forgetting your bird is out. A flighted bird will have no restriction on its flight so could fly far without stopping, depending on the severity of the clip and the size of the bird, a clipped bird could do the same or end up on the ground or in a tree where it would be open to predators with little chance of escape.
With a clipped or flighted bird there are the same risks of behavioral problems and dangers within a household, it is up to us as bird owners to keep our birds safe and happy using the methods we feel will work most efficiently and by taking the necessary precautions to remove any possible dangers that our birds may face in our homes.