(In the context of this article, "clipping" or "trimming" refers to the selective cutting of a bird's outermost wing feathers to minimize it's ability to fly for long distances or to great heights, while maintaining as much flight control, navigation, and ability to land safely as possible. Mickaboo does not condone or recommend "docking" or "pinioning," which is the surgical removal of the outermost section of a bird's wing and which is more commonly done on waterfowl. Some sources use the terms "clipping" and "docking" interchangeably, which is why we are making this distinction.)
The first time you have your bird's wings trimmed it should be done by a professional who can show you exactly wha to do. It is NOT recommended that you do this without an in-person demonstration the first time because doing it wrong could lead to a significant bleeding and possible death.
Bird owners are often advised to clip the wings of their birds. A common first reaction is that it is a cruel thing to do. After all, birds are meant to fly. However, there are valid reasons for clipping. First and foremost is the bird's safety, but there are other reasons as well.
For most of us, losing our bird would be a very painful thing. It would be even worse if the loss could have been prevented. An open door or window is an invitation to an unclipped bird. No matter how tame, birds will fly out and may be lost forever. Some of us take our birds out in the sun or transport them to the vet or take them with us on a trip. In all these situations, no matter how careful we are, an opportunity to fly away may present itself. Clipping a bird's wings is an easy way to reduce the possibility of such a loss.
Unclipped birds can easily panic and fly into windows, glass doors, or mirrors, injuring themselves. They can fly into kitchens and land on hot stoves, burners, and pans. They can fly into overhead ceiling fans or dangerous electrical appliances. Small birds, able to get into smaller spaces, have flown into open cupboards and drawers and been locked in or have gotten trapped behind refrigerators. Others have drowned in open toilet bowls.
We have all heard that 'Curiosity killed the cat'. This old adage applies to your birds too. There are many things around our homes that are toxic or dangerous to birds, lead paint, household cleaners, etc. A flighted bird can reach such items more easily. There is no end to the number of dangerous and lethal items that your bird may find attractive, edible and/or perchable.
Birds, like children, must be taught where they are allowed and where they are not allowed. They should be trained to stay, when placed on a gym or other permissible area. A bird with clipped wings will be more likely to stay where you place him.
Some birds are more aggressive and difficult to train. Many people find that clipping a bird's wings diminishes aggressiveness and makes a bird easier to work and play with. Our wild caught cockatoo used to fly up to the beams in our cathedral ceiling when scared by a flock of birds outside our den window. Since his wings have been clipped, he has become accustomed to outside activity and now screeches back at the "intruders".
When to Clip
Birds should be clipped when their feathers have grown back enough so that they can fly more than a few feet. This is usually after a molt and for most birds about once a year. If clipping is done during a molt, then some of the clipped feathers may still continue to grow out. New feathers may also grow in as well. If you wait until the molt is complete there should be a need for only one clipping. However, if your bird is flying, you may not be able to wait and can do multiple clippings.
Weren't birds meant to fly free?
This criticism is often still brought up in parrot circles. Here's how one of our volunteers responds to this:
As parrot owners, we have taken responsibility already for restricting the freedom of our birds. They live in cages rather than trees, and are fed healthy pelleted food, fruits and veggies instead of being left to the wild to scrounge. This restriction is necessary because just as wild birds were meant to fly, they were also not meant to understand that a hot stove will burn them, or that crashing into the knife rack will kill them. They instinctively avoid predators, not bottles of Pine Sol, because that is their nature.
Any parrot owner who is concerned with the welfare of their bird understands that parrots also need play time and exercise out of the cage - the freedom to move around unrestricted! In our opinion, the only way to provide out of the cage play time in a safe manner is to ensure that the flight feathers are safely clipped, so we can properly supervise the safety of play time.
Sadly, "domestic" parrots are already not free regardless of whether their flight feathers are clipped. Since their freedom is already restricted in the name of safety, security and companionship it is imperative that we provide all three of those, including safety; Otherwise our bargain with our birds has been broken.