To clip or, not to clip?
Birds are designed for flight, with advanced body systems - their respiratory system takes in far more oxygen than mammals, their feathers are designed individually to serve a purpose on their bodies, they have hollow bones and a unique muscular structure.
As a highly debatable subject i will say; this post is my opinion for keeping FLIGHTED companion birds.
I will underline why people do clip and how, in theory (as i can’t vouch for every single pet bird case there is in regards to illness or certain situations) i like to work my way around these opinions.
Learning how to fly is basic for a birds mental health.
If a bird has never had any experience in taking the first important leap into flying, how is it supposed to know what reaching boundaries are all about?
A flegling learns what life is about through learning how to fly.
What surfaces are safe to land on through trial and error, confidence building, and puzzle solving.
“Fledgling parrots have to learn how to fly, they aren’t given those skills instinctually and just like humans, learning how to run and walk, baby birds need time to practice and learn these skills. Parrots are FULLY capable of learning how to avoid glass doors and windows. Even in new environments they can see glass even better then we can. Most baby birds don’t know how to slow down and or turn around in time before they reach the glass, therefore smashing into it. It is very important before you take a bird into a room with glass, let it learn to fly, properly! First off, in a small, secure room so they cannot gain a lot of speed, and they can learn these necessary skills. Then taking your bird in a small room with a glass door or window. Taking your bird up to a glass door or win. Just like humans learning how to walk - baby birds need time to practice and learn these skills” (Lauren Hinds, bird enthusiast and free flight trainer)
Birds need to understand limitations, especially in a household environment to avoid any chance of injury.
“If flighted territorial/aggressive birds are allowed free range through the house they’ll bite every one that isn’t their bonded human.” I hear this statement quite often as an excuse for clipping.
This isn’t a behaviour that can be solved through taking away a birds ability to fly, this where teaching your bird limits and training comes into play - before this behaviour escalates to become a problem and harder to solve. This is especially important when teaching the bird which rooms are safe and which rooms they can’t go in, etc.
Keeping your bird stimulated and showing them where they can and can’t be without supervision through various ways such as having playstands with toys, shredding materials, flight paths and recall training, socialisation, training equipment, diet enrichment when outside (and in) their cage.
Birds are prey animals, therefore they have a strong instinct to avoid situations by flying away if they feel uncomfortable, especially when it is relying soley on people to get around. Taking that if you’d like, independance away from them, and forcing them to be with you can cause behavioural problems with confidence, fear and/or agression.
Having a bird that is entertained and learning should give no reason to bite the first person that comes in the room. Not to mention fussy eaters who haven’t had the freedom of flight will increase appetite once they regain their power to fly and in return, will likely try new foods.
Another reason people clip (and a good reason) is because their birds crash into walls, windows, mirrors.
When i first let Av out of her cage for a fly she done just that. Same with Lou but it only happen one time until he got his barings.
How i helped her learn to overcome that situation swiftly was pre training in her cage with target training.
Taking her out straight onto a hand held perch was a safe place and really helped with getting her to land safely and get back in her cage.
Whenever she made a mistake with hitting a wall, the best way to get over it is take the perch over to her, get her on it and place her back into the cage with no fuss and a soft quiet calming voice to lower stress.
Straight away i encourage a flight route around the room to and forth her cage. This helped her navigate safely and get a handle on where she could and couldn’t go.
Even though she wouldn’t let me touch her she knew it was safe to be around me and how to navigate through a human environment.
So what I’m trying to say is this reason for clipping CAN be helped and i deeply encourage owners to try this.
Muscle atrophy is another issue that concerns me with clipped birds. Basically when a bird flies they strengthen their chest/breast muscles which in turn provide fitness and optimal oxygen and blood flow through their body. Birds need to use these areas of their body to stay healthy and a clipped bird getting ‘wing exercise’ via staying perched and flapping is not a way to do so as this does not use those muscles as they’re supposed to. Therefore ceased use of muscles turn into muscle wastage and they then break down if not used.
“Clipped birds won’t escape through open windows or doors, and there is a higher chance of flighted birds flying away thorugh open doors windows.“
This is a total myth. I can’t express this enough.
I feel like in some instances this can create a false sense of security with having a clipped bird, unless you have a heavily clipped bird (not reccomened as they can’t glide or get any lift) lightly trimmed wings will still get lift in windy situations.
This means they can still make it out side through opened doors and windows.
Now, in my opinion having a bird that is grounded and can’t gain lift to take off from predators, cats and dogs, wild birds and more susceptible to injury through being on the ground.
Flighted birds however can escape these sitations and have the option to fly back to you or a nearby person or secure place.
This is also another reason why i encourage taking your bird securely outside on a harness or in a travel cage so they get used to being outdoors. Also be familiar with recall training and descent landing, so they can likely land on you from flying down out of a tree with confidence. Even clipped birds should be taught this technique as they should still be able to glide their way down to you.
Like I said before, illness or situations where perhaps clipping could be necessary when trying to get a hold on solving certain behavioural issues such as repeated self injury is the only time i’d get a birds wings clipped.
Keeping in mind, after a fully flighted bird has been suddenly grounded from flying - their main form of movement - this can cause insecurities, lethargy, depression and just general decreased happiness.
Whether you clip your birds wings or keep them flighted is up to the indivdual owner.
I haven’t outlined every aspect of pros and cons here and this is a purely opinionated post but, i just hope you can think of the bigger picture here that is the wellbeing of your birds.
Keeping parrots as companion animals does wonders for our lives, but would you really want to take away the thing that makes a bird, a bird - A happy balanced individual.