WING CLIPPING MYTHS AND FACTS
By Dani Clevenger
Myth: A clipped bird cannot fly away, therefore my bird is only safe if he is clipped.
Truth: Clipping limits the flight abilities of a bird, which does make it harder for them to fly away. However, when startled a bird can experience panic giving them extra strength. When combined with even the slightest breeze or conveniently located tree, this can lift a bird up, up and away out of the reach of its owners. A clipped bird, lacking the full capabilities of flight, will then likely be unable to perform one of the most difficult flying tasks: flying downward. Being unable to fly down may mean that the bird is not able to figure out how to return to his family, even if he is trying to. This scenario is particularly likely in small birds such as Conures, Quakers, IRNs, etc.
Myth: My bird may fly into windows, frying pans, toilets, or other dangers, therefore my bird is only safe if he is clipped.
Truth: A skilled flier rarely runs into things. It may take a while for your bird to learn these skills, but they are designed to navigate situations much more complex than your living room. They may fly into things as they learn, but would you keep a baby from learning to walk and run in order to keep him from falling? As loving parronts we all cringe and worry when our birdies take a tumble, but there are things we can do to minimize the danger.
>Hang window clings or sheer curtains across windows and mirrors until the bird learns where they are (Or if you want, just go smear finger prints all over them and refuse to wash them!).
>Only allow the bird out to fly when the potential to get spooked and fly into something by accident is at the lowest, such as when your house is calmest, other pets are put away, and you are able to focus on the bird.
>Never ever have your bird out, flighted or not, when you are cooking or have other hazards out such as a sink full of dishwater or open toilet. See the “The Safe Birdy Game” for tips on insuring a safe environment for your bird.
Myth: A bird needs to be able to fly in order to be happy
Truth: Flying is a huge part of what makes a bird a bird, and is deeply connected to how they react to everyday situations. However, there are certain situations in which a clip is called for and this does not doom a bird to a life of unhappiness but simply requires more effort on the part of the owner. A clipped bird needs to get as much exercise as possible, so play gyms with plenty of space to climb and extra interesting toys, outings, training, and quality time are in order to keep that huge parrot mind interested. A clipped parrot is also at higher risk for things like obesity and Fatty Liver Disease, so special care should be taken to insure the diet is fresh food based and suitable for the bird’s specific species and that the bird sees an Avian vet for regular check ups.
Myth: My bird needs his wings trimmed every 6 weeks
Truth: Feathers are not hair or fingernails which grow continually. They grow in, stay for a while, and then fall out. Clipping more often than a bird molts will simply make his wings shorter and shorter, thus he will hit the floor harder and harder each time you clip him. Please be sure to clip only when there are new feathers or when the bird needs their mobility altered. Be sure to educate yourself on Blood Feathers and do not clip a feather that is still growing.
Myth: The timing of my bird’s first clip doesn’t matter
Truth: Clipping a bird before he has fully fledged, meaning he has mastered every aspect of the art of flying including landings, downward flights, sharp turns, and last second direction changes can permanently damage your bird’s ability to process the world around him. All creatures have a “fight or flight” response, and that of the bird is always “flight.” By taking away the flight option, we force our birds to turn and bite rather than removing themselves to a safe location as they would in the wild. By doing this while they are still developing their life skills and “default reactions,” we can rob them of the mental skills they need to quickly process information and make decisions about whether or not a bite is really necessary. In other situations, the bird can become convinced that because of their inability to escape and perceive everything unfamiliar is a threat. This leads to a highly phobic unstable bird. Please see the article on this written by Dr. Steve Hartman of The Parrot University; I have shamelessly used his information here because he explains it so well.
Myth: Birds need flight in order to be safe
Truth: While flight does allow a bird to learn skills like downward flying, threat avoidance, etc, it does not guarantee the safety of the bird. Some people believe that in order to be safe from predators and accidents, a bird needs the ability to quickly evade these situations, thus they need their flight feathers. While flying does help in these areas, a flighted bird is more difficult to catch in an emergency, and has more mobility with which to get into trouble, such as getting out the front door. This can be especially true in houses with small children. Also, a flighted bird living in a home with ceiling fans can be struck by the blades and killed if caution is not exercised in making sure the fans stay off while the bird is out. That said, in a home shared with predators such as dogs and cats, the ability to fly away in an emergency can easily be the difference between eating dinner and being eaten for dinner.
Myth: Birds need to be clipped in order to be good pets, or in order to build trust.
Truth: Some believe that in order for a bird to enjoy your company or be well behaved you must cut off its feathers and deprive it of flight. This is absolutely untrue, however there are times when a particular bird may develop an attitude problem that is difficult to correct while the bird has the power of flight. In these cases a trim may be in order but remember that if training is not conducted while the bird is clipped the problem will return with the flight feathers. In most cases this does not mean the bird should never be allowed to fly, simply that the owner needs to determine what method of training will eliminate the behavior, and follow this course of action. Similarly, cutting the feathers doesn't lead to a bird trusting you more, it simply makes the bird easier to control. This CAN have a positive effect be removing the need for "chasing" if the bird is loose, but clipping can also have a very negative effect on the ability of some species to trust at all, This is particularly true of Indian Ringnecks and some other Asiatic species.
In the end, each family must scrutinize their own home and determine which is the safest option for their feathered friends. As someone who has lost precious pets who would not have died if they were flighted, it is easy for me to lean toward leaving birds flighted. However, I have also suffered the death of a bird who would most likely have survived if his wings had not been clipped. Ultimately neither option is “the thing” that will keep a bird safe and healthy; constant diligence is necessary on our parts to insure our fids live in the safest, healthiest environment possible whether that means flying around the room or climbing across furniture. As a final note, I urge those who own parrots, particularly those who choose to keep their birds flighted, to make “recall training” a top priority.