Pros and Cons of Wing Clipping
If you have been doing your research on the internet, I am sure that you have come across some controversial opinions on the subject of clipping the wings of parrots. There are those that believe that it causes psychological damage, inhibits the development of confidence, and reduces balance. Although, clipping wings could be a contributing factor to any or all of these, it would certainly not be the only cause or the primary reason for these problems.
In the wild, flying is necessary to the survival of a bird. It is a means of travel, escaping enemies, and finding food. For domestic pet birds, these reasons for flight are no longer valid. In fact, the ability to fly can be detrimental to the safety and well being of a pet bird. An unclipped parrot that has accidentally escaped outdoors will become disoriented in his freedom. He has not been conditioned and trained by his parents to survive. He will not be able to find his way back to his home, will not be able to hunt for food, and will not even have the instincts to warn him of the threats of other animals.
In addition to the risks, of your pet getting lost outdoors, an unclipped bird may injure itself by flying indoors. To an inexperienced parrot, a mirror or large window may appear to be an opening to another area. A head-on flight into one of these could cause a serious injury, a broken neck, and death. Although, parrots can learn that these are not exits, they may not survive the necessary lessons.
In a young parrot, unclipped wings can cause difficulty in training for a new parrot owner. Since parrots have the intelligence of a young child, it doesn't take them long to learn that they can fly from their owner to avoid having to obey. Clipping the wings of a young bird will help to maintain control for training.
As a breeder and experienced handler, I normally don't clip young parrots until they are weaned and ready to go to their new homes. I believe that the only benefit of unclipped wings is the additional resistance that helps to build chest muscles while exercising the wings. Confidence is built with positive re-enforcement, affection, and encouragement. Development of self-confidence can only be inhibited by the development of fears. When the baby is clipped, it should be done so that his balance is not compromised. He should not able to fly, but will have enough lift to break a fall. Proper clipping will insure his safety and help in his training and adjustment in his new family.
Proper Method of Wing Clipping
Proper wing clipping is necessary to the safety of your parrot, and cosmetically it looks better than improper clipping. Parrots use their wings for flying and for balance. If they are improperly clipped, they may have difficulty balancing on your arm or a perch.
Clipping is not difficult, and it doesn't hurt any more than a haircut. If your parrot is very tame and trusting, the easiest way is to sit him on a counter and hold his wing out to clip it, using a sharp scissors. If he isn't too fond of the idea, you may have to towel him. You can wrap him totally in the towel, and pull one wing at a time out from the towel to clip it.
In either case, the wing should be clipped from the underside of the wing. Make sure that you don't clip a blood feather. If you aren't sure what a blood feather is, or what it looks like, I have explained and pictured this on the Injuries Page. This page also explains what to do if you cut a blood feather or if the bird breaks one. Press the back button on your browser to come back to this page.
The first 6 feathers on each wing are the flight feathers. These are the feathers needed to get the lift for flight. In the larger parrots, only these feathers need to be cut. In smaller, lighter bodied, parrots, a couple of the secondary feathers may have to be cut to prevent flight. From the underside of the wing, there are short, covert, feathers (arrow 4, Illus.1) that cover the tops of the longer flight and secondary feathers. If these feathers are pushed aside(Illustration 1), the shafts (arrow 2) at the top of the flight feathers are visible. The feathers should be cut at the point that the arrow 2 indicates. Illustration 2 shows the shafts of the feathers after the wing has been clipped. When the tertiary feathers go back in place, they will cover the end of the cut feather shafts(Illustration 3). Some people clip all of the secondary feathers. This exposes the back and reduces the bird's ability to balance. By clipping only the primary flight feathers, the parrot can still maintain balance and the appearance is much nicer (Illustration 4).