How To Clip Birds Wings

Updated November 29, 2020

how clip wings

There are two ways to clip wings. The lazy way and the right way. Vets have known this for a very long time. Why is it then that I rarely see a bird’s wing clipped properly? I keep seeing birds’ wings I can only describe as butchered, and injuries as a result. It’s time bird handlers and breeders got on board.

Why Clip Wings At All?

It seems like a cruel irony that if an animal has the incredible gift of flight, we take it away. However, even I as a bird lover can understand why it’s necessary at times. I would much rather see birds able to fly but sometimes it just isn’t safe.

If birds are kept in a secure aviary, there’s no need. In fact, I believe that a minimum length should be at least two wing beats just so flight can happen. Find minimum sizes for budgie, cockatiel and parrot cages here.

However, if a bird is free-flying, and especially if a shoulder-sitter, it’s just too easy for something to go wrong. A stovetop can be left on and a bird can land on it inadvertently. A door can be left open and a bird can be spooked and fly away. Once out, they will surely starve.

How To Clip Wings

incorrect wing clipping

Wing clipping is really feather clipping: even the wrong way shouldn’t cut into living tissues. That’s in contrast to pinioning where the wingtip is amputated. This is only appropriate for breeding & conservation programs.

Anyone doing either form of wing clipping needs to be able to recognise a blood quill. Many times I have sent birds away who have these immature feathers with instructions to return when they have matured.

The Wrong Way

bad wing clip

I call this the asymmetric clip. What you do is you hold out one wing, grab a big pair of shears and make one cut across the base of all the primary and secondary flight feathers. It creates an ugly clip like the one pictured.

It’s not the ugliness I object to, it’s the asymmetry. When the poor bird tries to fly, one wing generates lift and the other doesn’t, tipping the body and causing uncontrolled descent.

cockatiel chest wound

Birds with this wing clip crash heavily and frequently. The pictures show the typical chronic wing and keel wounds seen in most pet birds who have been cut this way. What’s more, as new blood quills grow, they have no protection from other feathers and are easily broken. Blood loss can be fatal.

The only good thing to say about this style of clipping is that it’s very effective and long-lasting at preventing flight.

The Right Way

This is the symmetric clip. It requires removal of the primary flight feathers equally from both wings until flight at full power is no more than a controlled descent. A successful trim usually ends up with either two or three outer primary flight feathers. The coverts and secondaries don’t usually need cutting.

The trick is to test-fly the bird and keep removing feathers until the desired result is achieved. That should be a soft landing on the feet. The disadvantage of this clip is that flight can be regained earlier. However, it’s still often only necessary to do once a year after each moult.

The symmetric clip takes patience and finesse, like most things done well. I can’t show it to you well enough here, but a vet will be more than happy to teach you in person.

Though my advice is: leave it to a vet. It’s not that expensive, we can handle birds without injury and with it comes a good excuse for an annual checkup.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

7 Replies to “How To Clip Birds Wings”

  1. God decided it is okay to let your bird land on a stove or to fly off into the wild and starve … but what God really wants is for your beloved pet to fly off and be killed and eaten by a hawk, cat , or squashed by a car.
    Back off with your bible …. Think with a practical insight for once.

  2. In my opinion, if wing clipping was cruel, God would not have created them with identification colours, there’s a clear distinctive style between the 1st and 2nd flight feathers.
    I let my birds sit on my finger and I snip the the primary lot as is. They still fly, they go outside to the trees and come back to the house, they don’t fly high enough to get over our wall but they have fun and were created by God for our companionship and entertainment.
    There are just very few open minded people in the world. They should read the Bible book of Genesis and learn that God gave to man subjection of all animals

    1. Let’s just hope that there are passages in the bible about environmental stewardship and animal welfare as well. Sticking to the facts, there are no consistent colour distinctions that can guide wing clipping.

  3. Never clip a bird’s wings. In fact this is illegal in Germany. And this is illegal for good reason. Don’t get a bird if you won’t let him fly. There are even birds who live on the ground, get these.
    Also everybody who says it’s so that the bird will get tame more easily is just making excuses up for being a bad bird owner

  4. DON’T TRIM THE BIRD WING FEATHER! They’re not toys! It’s their vital need!!! Trimming their feathers may cause other vital problems i.d. liver enlargement, heart disease, respiratory problems, etc.
    People cause a lot of troubles with this malpractice!!!

    1. Hi O. I certainly agree that it’s best we don’t clip wings although I’m not sure I agree that it causes internal organ problems. The aim here is to get people who are going to do it anyway to at least do it the better way to avoid injury.

    2. I understand you feel passionate about this, but please at least read the article before commenting.

      The point, as stated, is not to remove a birds ability to fly, but to prevent full flying in an environment not suitable for them. To keep them from flying full speed into a wall or window, and killing them. The bird should still be able to fly, but short amounts as a glide.

      I personally do not think people should do it unless they are in extremely specific circumstances; I think if people are not going to take the time to properly train their bird, then they should not get one; however I can respect the decision to do it, because our households are incredibly hazardous and their intent is to prevent them from harming themselves.
      It is only harmful to the bird if done improperly; which is the point of this post; to make sure people DONT do it improperly.

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