It is difficult to make a decision about clipping your bird's wings with conflicting advice from both sides of the argument. In North America, most pet birds of the parrot species are clipped, but in other parts of the world, wing clipping is considered to be barbaric.
Birds that were never allowed to fly before having their wings clipped are often very nervous birds. Learning to fly gives a baby bird confidence and security as well as good muscle development. If they are clipped after mastering flight they seem to retain these qualities. If you are going to clip the wings, please make sure that the bird has had a lot of practice and can fly well first.
It is a beautiful sight to see a parrot turn in flight or make a perfect landing. People who are opposed to wing clipping state the facts of the pleasure that their birds derive from flying through the house.
Properly clipped birds are able to gently glide to the ground over a distance of several feet, but can not fly back up again. They often learn to call their person over to lift them up & take them where they want to go (which may just be their person's shoulder).
As well as the danger of flying outside and getting lost, there are also dangers in the house for a flighted bird. In the kitchen, there is the stove where an element may be turned on or an open pot of water may be boiling. The bathroom has the toilet, which is very difficult to get out of once a bird falls into it. There are also cleaning products in the bathroom that are poisonous to our birds.
These accidents to your bird can be prevented if you are always on guard and always prepared for the unexpected. If you have a child and you are always prepared and make sure that your child is safe, and you can do the same with your bird.
An unclipped bird must usually spend more time locked in a cage due to the direct supervision required whereas a clipped bird may be left on a playstand or on top of the cage for a few minutes while their person runs down to do the laundry or some other chore. A bird should never be left unsupervised while outside the cage, but a clipped bird can be allowed short times for quick errands within the house.
If your bird is clipped, you still have to be very careful when opening a door. When one or two of the feathers grow back, your bird will be able to fly much better than you suspect and one day he could still fly out. A gust of wind catches those wings and the last you see of your bird is just as he goes over the neighbour's roof.
A clipped bird is more dependent on his person because he knows he can't fly off to go to the top of the window where there are fun (but maybe not safe) things to play with.
If you decide to clip your bird's wings, please have them clipped properly. There are several methods, which in my opinion are not proper. Do not let anyone convince you that it is best to just clip one wing. With one wing clipped, your bird can not control the way he glides to the ground and will spiral down uncontrolled instead. Clipping the flights except for the last two may make it look as if your bird has not been clipped while he is sitting on a perch. Those two unprotected feathers at the end of the wing are more apt to be broken or with some birds, they will be able to use those two feathers to get more lift than you would like. Another method I have heard of, but do not agree with is clipping every second flight feather. This again leaves each feather on its own & not protected by the next one and could result in feathers being broken. Also, many birds can fly much too well with a clip of this sort.
The best way to clip the flights is to cut from 3 to 6 (depending on your bird) of the flight feathers. These should be cut up near the base of the feather & just under the covert feathers (small feathers covering the base of the flight feathers). Each feather should be cut one at a time, checking for blood feathers as you go. A blood feather looks different from a feather that has fully grown in and if you look, you will notice. You will find some pictures at Bobbi Brinker's article Wingclipping 101 that shows a blood feather as well as this method of clipping.
The decision of whether to clip your bird or not, is yours to make. The choice must also be for the bird and that includes safety. The safety issues within the home can be looked after the same as you would look after the safety of a child - but a child can't fly if they get outside, so that has to be taken into consideration. Clipped feathers do grow back, so you can make this decision several times over the years and your decision one year may not be the same as your decision another year.
Of course, a bird that is clipped can still fly somewhat when outside, but not as well as a bird that is not clipped. The ability to fly well just might save him if he does escape and lands in front of a dog (or a car).
Under no circumstances should the wings of canaries or finches be clipped. These birds do not use their beaks for climbing and must have the ability to fly even within their own cage.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop by the Bird Forum anytime (see the most recent topics below).