We let a couple of our larger birds fly freely around the house for over a year. Slightly chewed curtains were acceptable collateral damage but when our beloved African Grey flew out of the front door never to be seen again and towards an uncertain fate, our innate fear of clipping the remaining bird’s wings had to be overcome.
Making the task even more daunting was the fact that the subject of our intended clipping was an untamed bird. Ray is an Alexandrine parakeet who we’ve had for about three years but he’s never been able to trust us completely. He will instinctively lunge at your hand if it gets near but he’s never actually drawn blood or been actively aggressive. It’s just a defensive measure, but quite scary when it happens nonetheless.
Taking the plunge, we prepared the necessary tools. Only two, a towel and a pair of scissors. Towels are one of the birdkeeper’s best friends. Better even than wearing gloves, using towels to catch and hold birds that don’t want to be caught and held can ensure that the birds are not injured during the process and also can pacify them as they struggle less if they cannot see their surroundings, again preventing injury.
Once everything was prepared we got a hold of Ray using the towel and placed it on the floor. The most difficult part of the whole operation was gently maneuvering the bird inside the towel whilst not being able to see it into a position where the edge of the towel ran down the side of the bird so that we could keep his head covered but his wing exposed enough to be able to pull it out. It took a few tries, but moving slowly and gently whilst talking softly to the bird all helped to get there in the end with the minimum of fuss.
When the bird was in position with the wing exposed, I picked up the scissors and extended the wing out with my free hand. At this stage, I could see the longest (flight) feathers along the bottom edge of the wing. Looking up the length of these feathers, there was a second, shorter, row of feathers. I knew NEVER to cut higher than the lowest point of this second row of feathers. In other words, never cut through any part of the second row of feathers.
Swallowing hard, I cut as high up the longest flight feathers as possible without touching the second row. Cutting slowly and in a straight line. Depending on the size and type of bird, you need to cut around 5-7 feathers on each side. I was aiming to cut six, but when I counted the pieces on the ground there were 7. Not too bad. It is important at this stage to count the number of feathers you’ve actually cut off so that you can cut the exact same number from the opposite wing.
Then it was just a case of turning Ray around to clip the other wing and we were done. Overall it took less than ten minutes and was far less stressful than we had feared.
I understand the arguments against wing clipping but in our case the following factors led us to it:
- we didn’t want to lose any more birds
- lost birds may not survive long outside through starvation and other threats
- we wanted to develop a closer relationship with the bird and build trust
- less ruined furniture and poop around the house
In the end, it was well worth doing. I would just suggest that if you are trying to clip your bird’s wings for the first time, read up on it first, plan out each step and then execute the plan slowly and carefully.
One final note – watch out for blood feathers. These are feathers whose shafts are a dark red or blackish color. Don’t cut these. These feathers are currently growing and because of this they have a working blood supply in the shaft. If one of these is cut things will get messy, your bird may be hurt and it can be dangerous. Only cut feathers that look fully formed and have white or translucent shafts.
Good luck and happy clipping!