how to clip love birds wings

There’s a great line from the movie Jurassic Park when they’re discussing the miracle of manipulating dinosaur DNA and Ian Malcolm says “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think about whether or not they SHOULD”. Now, there are many good reasons to have your bird’s wings clipped. Escape; You don’t want a fully flighted bird to fly out a window where the screen fell out. Or when you’re having a family gathering and the nieces & nephews leave the door open. Join some bird groups on Facebook and about once a week you’ll see a post about a bird flying away. Hell, when I was a kid, my best friends mom had a giant bird feeder and there was a period for about 2 months were a pet bird would come and get those seeds. From memory I think it was probably a sun conure but it came from somewhere. Safety; Birds, especially baby birds, that are clipped can injure themselves by not having enough control to avoid running into things or worse, hit the ground at full speed. Granted, a baby bird learning to fly indoors will hit the wall or ceiling almost guaranteed so there are arguments on both sides but you can always clip. You can’t wave a wand and grow back. Speaking of that, there are also stories online where a bird has hit the wall and died. There was one story where a lovebird fractured its skull and its beak. From that point on it had to be hand fed every day. Luckily the owner was loving and willing enough to do that for her bird but there are many people who would just as soon let it fly free and succumb to nature. Bonding; A bird will bond with you more and faster if it can’t get away from you and is forced to collude with the scary biped that feeds it. So clipping a pet bird can certainly be an adventageous thing.

However, there are negative aspects to clipping. Aside from the fact that you can clip too close, injure the bird while you’re trying to clip it, clipping your bird is the equivalent of putting shackles on your legs. Birds are meant to fly. Flying takes an incredible amount of energy. Because of flying, birds have their efficient lungs in order to process the same amount of oxygen percentage that we do in order to get airborne. This is why birds are so adversely affected by things like aerosols that have absolutely no effect on us. So taking away a birds main mode of transpiration and movement is a stark contrast to what nature designed them for. This can lead to a variety of negative and often unintended consequences. Ladies, is your husband a couch potato? Don’t you just love that spare tire he’s attained? Well, a bird without wings is almost destined for this. Now take away his ability to expend that energy while flying and couple that with taking away his natural born instinct to forage for his food. Then couple (or would it be triple by this point?) that with the fact that he gets pellets designed to have all the nutrition he needs (and calories) AND add that to all the treats and seeds he gets from you which are like sugar cubes and bacon to a bird. Take all those things into account and not only will your bird gain weight but it will lead to things like heart conditions, fatty liver and a whole plethora of problems that await Father Time.

One big problem that you see with birds is plucking. Birds are sensitive creatures. Sudden changes in environment can cause them to get PTSD like symptoms but the other thing that can cause a bird to pluck is that it has all this energy and not only is it in a cage, not only is it eating seeds that can raise its energy level like sugar in kids, not only is it not foraging to keep it occupied, it can’t even fly. Not only to get from A to B but to get rid of all that normal AND excess energy that birds have. So now, with all this energy and being stuck in a cage…. ALONE… (which is why its good to have another fid companion if you can manage that) the bird sits there by itself and just waits and waits and waits for its only companion… YOU… to get home from work just so it can have a buddy to play with AND release some of that energy. But then when you get home you have to do things. Get your work clothes off, go to the bathroom, check your email, throw in some laundry, cook dinner, then when that’s done you probably want to relax and watch TV. Where is birdie in all of this? Hopefully you get to take him out but then when you do… does he just pace back and forth on the stick at the top of the cage?Add all these factors together and instead of walking around the streets of a big city, collecting cans, smelling like pee and mumbling about the end of the world…. birds?…. they pluck. So when you see a bird who plucks, even though it could be from a bad situations, most of the time its just pent up energy and no way to spend it. Breeding time issues is the other biggie for mutilation issues but not being able to fly is probably top of the list. So keep that in mind when you are considering how you’re going to maintain your bird’s wings.

One of the negative aspects about birds is that…. you can’t readily take them outside like a dog or even some cats. The fear of flying away is obvious and prevalent. You can take them out while clipped but what if they fall? What if you or they get into a dangerous situation? They make harnesses and such which some birds absolutely love and to others that harness is Satan incarnate. We tried to put a harness on both of our boys and right afterwards they began plucking. They both coincidentally coincided with their younger cage partners (females) finally coming into breeding age AND our work schedules changing but ever since we tried to put the harness on them they have acted different. If you do plan on using a harness either start them out as a baby and I mean BABY. Before they even learn to fly. This way they’ll think its something normal and done as a matter of recourse. Otherwise, you can watch videos on harness training your bird but since we failed twice I’m not going any farther on that subject because I’ll be the first to admit that we suck golf balls through 20 ft. hoses on that subject. I will say though, a harness for a small bird is nowhere near as easy to put on as it is for a big bird. Its like working on a car vs. working on a watch. Your big human fingers can’t maneuver those nearly as well as large bird harnesses. Larger birds also have simple velcro vests that slide easily over the wings and then you just attach the carabiner to the loop on the front of the vest and your large bird stands there rocking back and forth for you to take him outside. Smaller birds… nope… not so much. They don’t make those types of things that work that small. So if you have lovebirds, trying to maneuver that leash harness onto that small bird is difficult and probably why ours freaked out so badly. We also didn’t remove our stupid hats when we didn’t even give them time to fully acclimate to the harness before trying to shove them into it. So whatever you do, make sure the bird is comfortable with the unit first before you even try to put it on. Now to counter that, good training can solve almost anything. There are videos online where people have their birds fully flighted and they still go out sometimes without a harness. I think Bubba Cyan’s owner has her so well trained that he takes her out without a harness and he can voice command her to fly to him from a perch many feet away. Point is, there are ways to get around clipping your birds wings as a matter of automatic recourse so please consider these things before you make your bird slave to pacing back and forth on the stick on the top of their cage.

So although clipping is damn near automatic and absolute when you first get your bird, if possible, use clipping only when necessary. That’s my personal opinion but when you take away the one thing that makes birds unique, you’re kind of taking their spirit away. Obviously we want our fids to be safe but let them be as free as they can too. Birds are (if you’ve read this far and haven’t figured it out by now) a lot of responsibility. Take the time to plan out your bird’s early life. Take the time to train it and modify its behavior when they’re young or if you’re rehoming and they’re new to your house. Go through all the routines that you want them to know whilst they meander their life cycle in your abode so that by the time the feathers grow back you’ll have most of the desired behaviors in place. Where they can go, what they can chew on, when they come out, what’s yours and what’s theirs, etc. (even though to a bird, EVERYTHING is theirs) But just like a dog, or a kid or a husband, the more the bird knows what to expect from you and what you expect from it, the happier your bird will be. Guys, when do our wives get pissed? When we do something stupid (which is all the time I realize but still) but for the most part can be prevented. If we pick up our freaking socks we don’t get yelled at, right? If we don’t pee on the toilet seat, we don’t get yelled at, right? If we don’t put the fork in the spoon slot of the utensil drawer (after having been REPEATEDLY warned) we don’t get yelled at, right? So when a bird knows what it can and can’t do, it will do the things it can and avoid the things it can’t. That way everyone is happier for it. So I would recommend clipping wings when the bird is first in your house and then only do so again if behavior still needs to be modified. If you are really concerned about your bird flying away, its your responsibility to either train your bird or clip its wings to the point where it can fly but not fly away for any length of time.

There are many videos out there to show you how to clip a bird’s wings. You can clip wings by yourself but if you have the opportunity, I prefer to use 2 people. One to hold the bird, the other to cut the wings. We only clip our birds’ wings when they’re babies and they still have that natural fear of us. Clipping their wings pretty much forces them to give in to the fact that we’re not there to eat them. Once they realize that and we have most of the desired behaviors on the way to being rote, we let their wings grow back we let them be fully flighted. By then they pretty much know where they can land, like our shoulders and the play pen and where they’re banned from, like the TV and the curtain rod.

We still want the birds to be able to fly, we just clip them enough to make them easy to catch. Most breeders and vets will clip to the point where a bird can (hopefully) safely flap enough to not injure itself in a free fall. A bird’s primary or first feathers are the ones that really give them lift and maneuverability. The key to any wing clipping is to make sure that the clips are even on both sides. Otherwise the bird can fly off balance and hurt itself by falling or running into things and it can also drastically and disproportionately alter the muscles on each side of the bird. Having one side built up and the other not, can actually tear muscle tissue and possibly even break bones.

I do want to point out, again, that when it comes to behavior issues and/or training, I do recommend having your bird’s wings clipped until you are done doing your training or behavior modification. Generally, and all birds and all breeds are different, but generally birds will start to grow their wings back after a few months. After a year your bird should have all of its feathers back and regrown. You should be able to modify your birds behavior in that time frame, especially if the bird is a baby. I wouldn’t recommend clipping the bird’s wings on an “I’ll get around to it” mentality. If you want the bird’s wings clipped, fine but have that planned out. The one good thing about larger birds is that they have less room to maneuver in the average home so if they do have flying capabilities, they are much easier to catch than a fully flighted feathered MIG fighter that smaller birds become.

As an example of using wing clippings with behavior modifications. On all 3 generations we’ve raised (and this is almost exclusive to females at least from our experience due to territoriality and breeding cycles) we’ve had to do a second clip to our female birds in order for them to stop their undesired behavior. For Holly, our original female and grandma to the rest of the flock, it was to get her to stop biting and going under things and into nooks and crevasses looking for a breeding spot to lay eggs. Larri (whom we thought was Larry and we kept as a buddy to Hank who would sit in a cage all alone and CONSTANTLY crave that attention of mom & dad who had booted him out of the nest) was to stop her from being afraid of us. Even though her parents and cage mate were fully tamed and would come by us and step up on command, she never got the hint and would always freak out and bolt when it came time for actual contact. As soon as we clipped her again, we taught step up in a matter of days and now she does it on command as well, just like the rest of them. Lastly, our 2 girls that we decided to keep, after a few months they just got a real attitude about going back in their cage when playtime was over. We’d have the other dozen in the cage and they’d be flying in circles between the clock and the hanging rod like it was a game. As of this writing, 3 days ago we gave them a clip that was barely to the orange line in the picture below and pretty much instantaneously, they stopped trying to fight the inevitable. They now fly right into the cage when we say “cage time”. The good part about clipping the way we do is that they can still fly up onto the wooden rods we put up that are equal height as the curtain rods but it takes them a bit more effort to do so. But having that tiny bit of feathers cut off basically had them saying “hey, we can’t fly anymore so we know we’re going to get caught so… we’ll just obey now I guess”. Sometimes when the wings grow back and enough time passes they may get an attitude again but when enough time goes by, most birds will be content to follow the rules. Like when we humans get old. We get the “eh, can’t fight City Hall” mentality and go with the flow. We’re like the boy in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree; “I’m too old for any of that now. I’d just like to sit down and rest”. Our oldest birds will come out and forage for seeds and fly around a bit but after a while they just climb up onto our shoulders and grind away as the kids and grand kids run around. Like a birdie version of a wedding or a pool party.

When clipping wings, at least for a lovebird, you can basically leave about ¾” to 1” from where the cover feathers end. I usually cut it straight across to where the ling feathers end. The orange & pink lines are mine, the other lines are other peoples’ recommendation. Mine are the straight lines. Start at the Orange line and work towards the Pink line until their flight curtailing is at your desired level. This way, like a bad haircut, you don’t have to wait for months for them to slowly grow back their feathers while you regret how much you’ve hindered their ability to simply get around and enjoy their environment. Its easier to cut straight and its easier to even out if you need to make minor adjustments in order to make sure the wings are even and it still allows them to fly up to the ceiling and anywhere else, it just takes a bit more effort to do it. At first, they might have to make 2 or 3 short burst flights to get from one room to the other room and on the high perch near the ceiling but they can still do it and are not forced to walk around everywhere. They can still have their freedom, they still have the ability to fly which keeps them active and healthy but if you need to catch them to trim nails or put them away for the night, you’re not chasing them around until they tire out.

The light blue line is where breeders and pet stores usually cut. This will basically make your bird flightless. This will usually allow them to fall off of a high area and create enough lift to keep them from hitting the ground hard and hurting themselves but unless your bird has some real behavior problems, if you are planning to use a harness and take them outside or if you have another absolute need to make them flightless, to me this is unnecessary

Always use a nice new sharp pair of scissors that you ONLY use for clipping the birds’ wings. Using it strictly for the bird keeps the risk of germ transfer. It eliminates scissor blade dents which make for uneven cuts. Its like shaving with a dull blade. Don’t do it. Its not worth the extra $5 for you to have a dedicated pair of scissors to cut your bird’s wings. Having a dedicated pair also eliminates gunk that builds up on scissor blades that’s used for everything from opening packages to cutting open that package of salmonella laden chicken. That gunk can be dirty and downright deadly. That nastiness can hinder cutting and transfer gunk to the bird’s wings. And what do birds do to dirty feathers? They clean them. So anything nasty on those blades will be ingested by your bird. Wanna guess on how great birds’ immune systems are at handling stuff like that? Also, cleaning the blades with a bit of rubbing alcohol after every use helps keep the blade clean and germ free. Keep the scissors in a small plastic storage container to keep dust and debris off the scissors and make sure that both the container and the scissors themselves are properly labeled so that anyone in the house would know to not use those scissors for anything other than the birds’ wings. Even take a fine point magic marker and write “birds only” on the outside of one of the blades or get an etcher/engraver pen for $7 at the hardware store. Have you ever purchased a set of fabric shears only to have someone in the house, use them to cut cardboard or wire, basically rendering them useless for cutting fabric because they’re so damaged? Yeah, it sucks AND its a waste of money. Plus, it always seems to happen on a Sunday afternoon when the fabric stores are all closed and you need the fabric cut by Monday. This way, you never have to worry about cutting your bird’s wings with any adverse effects from the scissors. Not to mention the irony if a bird died from a pair of nasty scissors when the scissors are used to clip wings to keep them safe so they don’t… die.

Avoid cutting too many flight feathers. It should be able to coast to the ground without making a loud sound. Overtrimming the wings is too limiting for the bird’s activity. However, because it will grow out quickly and the bird may be able to get lifts in as little as 4 weeks, the type of trim I recommend needs to be maintained on a regular basis.

Recall that the flight feathers of young birds, like the ones in this photo (9 weeks old), will regrow quickly. Therefore, pay attention to how your bird is flying and whether it is receiving any “lift.” The bird can travel a considerable distance outside, particularly in the presence of wind, if it can “lift”—that is, fly upward rather than coast down to land.

Initially, you should only trim the first five or six primary flight feathers. Avoid cutting into the tiny feathers that rest on top of these long feathers by never cutting so high up on them. If you examine the image on the right closely, you can see that the longer flight feathers are layered with two layers of shorter feathers. DO NOT CUT those short feathers. You should only cut the primaries when trimming, about a quarter of an inch below them. To ensure that the clipped wings rest comfortably against the body and do not irritate the bird by prodding into its skin, follow the angle of the upper, overlaying feathers.

Your bird’s wings should be trimmed by a professional the first time so they can show you exactly what to do. It is NOT advised that you attempt this without first seeing an in-person demonstration. Additionally, it is NOT advised that you try this with larger parrots. While larger parrots usually require two people—one to hold the bird and the other to trim—this wing trim is simple to perform on budgies, lovebirds, and cockatiels.

These two images demonstrate how to make an angled cut along the main flight feathers. Initially, you should only trim five (5) feathers. Then, observe how far the bird can fly. It’s ideal if it gently coasts to the ground without gaining lift. Your bird should be able to fly, but not be able to get “lifted.” For birds like African Greys, who are frequently overtrimmed and break their keel when they fall too hard to the ground, this kind of modified wing trim works best.

When cutting the birds’ wings, always use a brand-new, sharp pair of scissors and keep them to yourself. By using it exclusively for the bird, the risk of germ transfer is reduced. It eliminates scissor blade dents which make for uneven cuts. Its like shaving with a dull blade. Don’t do it. Investing an additional $5 on a specialized pair of scissors to trim your bird’s wings is not worth it. Having a dedicated pair also removes gunk that accumulates on scissor blades, which are used for everything from cutting open that package of salmonella-contaminated chicken to opening packages. That gunk can be dirty and downright deadly. That disgustingness can obstruct cutting and spread debris to the bird’s wings. And what happens to soiled feathers in birds? They get cleaned. This means that your bird will consume anything unpleasant on those blades. Remarkably resilient are birds’ immune systems to such things? Additionally, wiping down the blades with a little rubbing alcohol after each use keeps them sanitized and free of microorganisms. To prevent dust and debris from getting on the scissors, store them in a small plastic storage container. Label the container and the scissors clearly so that anyone who enters the house knows they are meant only for cutting bird wings. Even write “birds only” with a fine-point magic marker on the exterior of one of the blades, or purchase an etcher/engraver pen at the hardware store for $7. Have you ever bought a pair of fabric shears only to have someone in the house use them to cut wire or cardboard, so they are so damaged that you can’t use them to cut fabric? That’s awful and a waste of money. Furthermore, it usually seems to occur on a Sunday afternoon when you need the fabric cut by Monday and the fabric stores are all closed. In this manner, you won’t ever have to be concerned about the scissors having any negative effects when cutting your bird’s wings. In addition, it is ironic that a pair of sharp scissors could have killed a bird, even though the scissors are meant to clip a bird’s wings to keep them safe and prevent death.

One big problem that you see with birds is plucking. Birds are sensitive creatures. They may experience PTSD-like symptoms in response to abrupt changes in their surroundings, but another factor that may lead a bird to pluck is that it is extremely energetic and, in addition to being in a cage and eating seeds that can boost their energy levels like sugar in children, it is unable to fly. Not just to get from point A to point B, but also to burn off all of the normal AND extra energy that birds possess. Thus, now that I’m trapped in a cage and have all this energy… The bird sits there by itself and waits and waits for its only companion—you—to get home from work so it can have a friend to play with and let off some of that energy. ALONE (which is why it’s good to have another faithful companion if you can manage that). However, there are things you have to do when you get home. After taking off your work clothes, using the restroom, checking your email, doing some laundry, and preparing dinner, you probably want to unwind and watch TV. All of these things combined mean that instead of walking around the streets of a big city, collecting cans, smelling like pee, and mumbling about the end of the world, where is Birdie in all of this? Hopefully you get to take him out, but then when you do… does he just pace back and forth on the stick at the top of the cage? birds?…. they pluck. Therefore, even though a plucking bird may be the result of a difficult situation, most plucking birds are simply releasing pent-up energy that they have no other way to use. The other major problem with mutilation is breeding time, but being unable to fly is probably the most important one. Therefore, bear that in mind as you plan how to care for your bird’s wings.

We just clip the birds enough to make them easy to catch, but we still want them to be able to fly. The majority of veterinarians and breeders will trim a bird until it can, hopefully, flap safely enough to avoid hurting itself in a free fall. The feathers on a bird’s primary or first plumage are what actually allow for lift and movement. When clipping wings, it’s important to ensure that the clips are evenly spaced on both sides. If not, the bird may become unbalanced and injure itself by colliding with objects or falling, causing a significant and uneven change in the muscles on both sides of the bird. It is possible to actually tear muscle tissue and possibly break bones if one side is not developed while the other is.

Therefore, even though clipping is almost automatic and mandatory when you first get your bird, try to avoid doing so unless absolutely necessary. That’s just my opinion, but if you remove the one thing that sets birds apart, you’re essentially removing their spirit. Naturally, we want our fids to be safe, but we also want to give them as much freedom as possible. If you’ve read this far and haven’t guessed it already, birds carry a great deal of responsibility. Take the time to plan out your bird’s early life. When they’re young or if you’re rehoming and they’re unfamiliar with your home, take the time to train and adjust its behavior. As they meander through their life cycle in your home, go over all the routines you want them to know so that most of the desired behaviors will be established by the time the feathers grow back. What’s yours and what’s theirs, where they can go, what they can chew on, when they come out, etc. (Even though a bird believes that everything belongs to them.) However, your bird will be happier if it understands what is expected of it by you and vice versa, just like a dog, child, or spouse. Guys, what makes our wives angry? Usually when we do something dumb, which is something we realize we do all the time, but it’s still avoidable. When a bird knows what it can and cannot do, it will do what it can and avoid what it cannot. For example, if we pick up our freaking socks, we won’t get yelled at. If we don’t urinate on the toilet seat, we won’t get yelled at. If we don’t put the fork in the spoon slot of the utensil drawer (after being repeatedly warned), we won’t get yelled at. That way everyone is happier for it. Therefore, I would advise trimming the bird’s wings when it first arrives at your home and only doing so again if the behavior still needs to be changed. It is your duty to train your bird or clip its wings so that it can fly but not fly away for an extended period of time if you are truly worried about it taking off.

As an example of using wing clippings with behavior modifications. Due to territoriality and breeding cycles, we have had to perform a second clip on all three generations of birds we have raised—and, based on our observations, this is almost exclusively a female behavior.—to get our female birds to cease their undesirable behavior. It was to get Holly, our original female and the flock’s grandmother, to quit biting and to stop hiding in nooks and crevices in search of a place to breed and lay eggs. Larri, whom we mistakenly believed to be Larry and kept as a friend, would sit in a cage by himself and would constantly yearn for his mother’s attention. She never got the hint and would always freak out and run when it came time for actual contact, even though her parents and cagemate were completely tamed and would come by and step up on command. After we clipped her once more, we trained her to step up in a few days, and she can now do it on command like the others. Finally, after a few months, our two girls, whom we chose to keep, developed a strong aversion to returning to their cage after playtime. The remaining twelve would be in the cage with us, and they would be flying in circles between the hanging rod and the clock as if it were a game. As of this writing, three days ago, we gave them a clip that, in the image below, was just barely past the orange line. Almost immediately, they stopped attempting to resist the inevitable. Now, when we say “cage time,” they fly straight into the cage. The benefit of clipping the way we do is that, although it requires a little more work on their part, they can still soar up onto the wooden rods we install that are the same height as the curtain rods. However, when that little bit of feathers was removed, it was as though they were saying, “Hey, we can’t fly anymore, so we know we’re going to get caught, so I guess we’ll just obey now.” Most birds will be happy to abide by the rules after enough time has passed, though occasionally when the wings grow back and enough time has passed, they may develop an attitude once more. Like when we humans get old. We adopt a passive attitude of “well, we can’t fight City Hall” and follow the crowd. We resemble the young child in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree who says, “I’m too old for that right now.” I’d just like to sit down and rest”. Our older birds will occasionally venture outside to hunt for seeds and flit about, but eventually they just perch on our shoulders and eat while the children and grandchildren play. Similar to a birdie take on a pool party or wedding

FAQ

Should you clip a lovebirds wings?

You should only cut five (5) feathers at first, then see how far your bird can fly. If it gently coasts to the ground but does not get lift, that’s perfect.

Can you clip a bird’s wings at home?

Yes, but care must be taken. Before attempting to trim wings yourself, have your veterinarian show you exactly how to clip and which feathers to cut. Ideally, have an assistant hold the bird while you do the clipping. If you do not hold your bird properly, it can hurt itself during the process.

What age can you clip a bird’s wings?

Parrots, Senegals, other poicephalids, large Amazons
4 – 5
Blue-fronts and other Amazons, Timneh Grey parrots, most macaws, pionus parrots, English budgerigars, lovebirds
5 – 7
Cockatiels, American budgerigars
6 – 8

Can a bird with clipped wings ever fly again?

Fortunately, most birds in this situation can learn to fly, but they need to be rehabilitated, much like a person who has not walked for an extended period of time.