Trimming your bird’s wings

The idea of trimming the wing feathers of your pet bird may seem scary and cruel but there are ways of making it safe and painless. A person limits a bird’s ability to fly upwards by trimming their wings, but it doesn’t stop them completely. It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of wing trimming. There are many different views on how it should be done so there cannot be one particular trim that is right for everyone. The wing trims described here are methods that I personally use so it is up to you to decide if they’re right for your bird.

Wing clippingFor those that have young handraised birds as pets it would be very wise to consider trimming your bird’s wings. In many cases your pet bird is loved by the whole family and would be heartbreaking if someone accidently left a door open a few centimetres and the bird flew out. Trimming your bird’s wings prevents them from flying away. It also prevents them from flying frantically into objects such as your ceiling fan, your bathroom mirror or into a sliding glass door.

Handraised birds do not cope well in the wild if they escape. They haven’t learnt necessary life skills to find food, water and shelter and also to protect themselves from predators. They are easy targets for predators like hawks and cats. It is safer for the bird to have its wings trimmed and be looked after by a loving family.

The freedom of flight is an amazing ability that sets birds apart from humans. To some people, trimming wings is cruel and we all understand why. For an aviary or wild caught bird, the trimming of their wings is not recommended. Suddenly not being able to fly for a bird can be extremely stressful. Stress can lead to sickness and can sometimes be fatal.

From above there are 4 main types of feathers on a bird’s wing that you need to be aware of before trimming. The primary flight feathers and their primary coverts are situated on the outer parts of their wings. The primary flight feathers are long with a sharp point on the ends. The coverts are much shorter and rounder. They lay over the quills of the primary flight feathers making a cover. The secondary flight feathers with their secondary coverts come from their forearm covering the wing closer to the bird’s body. The secondary flight feathers are very rounded long feathers while their coverts are smaller and rounder much like the primary coverts. Primary flight feathers and primary coverts bend slightly outwards from the wing. The start of the secondary feathers can be distinguished when the feathers start curving in towards the body. Each section of feathers can be clearly identified by their different lengths and shapes in this photo of a young African Grey’s wing.

African grey wing sections

A typical trim involves using scissors to cut only the primary feathers of both wings. The cut should follow the line made by the ends of the primary coverts and stops when it changes to the secondary coverts which you can see on the photo of the Green-cheeked Conure. Both wings must be cut to allow a smooth and controllable glide to the ground. By cutting only one wing, you are causing the bird to swerve when trying to fly. It gives one wing the power of upwards flight and the other no power at all. There is a higher risk of injury from crash landing for a bird with only one wing trimmed. In terms of appearance the even cut of both wings is much more attractive.

Another trim I use particularly on larger birds is to cut only 3-4 primary flight feathers along the primary edge line of both wings. 3 main primary feathers are left on the end of the wing while the next 3-4 are cut, also leaving a few extra primaries next the secondary flight feathers. This gives a bit more lift for the heavier bird to land softly. My Scarlet Macaw goes well with this trim.

No secondary feathers or coverts should be cut with these trims. Using the coverts edge gives you a safe distance from the vein that lies in the quill or stem of each primary flight feather. This means that the bird is not hurt during the process of these trims at any time.It is not a question of ‘do I like a bird’s wings trimmed?’, but rather the question ‘is my bird safer with its wings trimmed?’, and ‘what is the best trim to use if yes?’ There are other trims to choose from but these are the simplest. You can find someone at your local pet store to help you with your decision. If you change your mind about trimming your bird’s wings you can let them grow back and within 3 months you will see them again.

By Krystal Sowter   B. Zool

** Article provided thanks to Just For Pets