Dear Parrots magazine,

Wing clipping – another view

As always, the latest issue of Parrots magazine carries some excellent, well-presented, and thought-provoking articles.

You have asked for comments on the controversial subject of wing-clipping, so here goes!

Sophie Piper’s current article does - as you say – provide a comprehensive and well-researched overview. Her text contains many references to other sources, but (and this is a serious omission) these references are not printed at the end of the article, so readers cannot take this further and read more details for themselves! Also, several of the photographs are clearly intended to demonstrate factors relating to clipping, but are not annotated to describe their point.

I will admit that when I first started out in avian medicine to clipping parrots’ wings on a regular basis. It was ‘the done thing’, and most breeders and pet shops would clip young parrots’ wings before sale, to “make it easier to train the bird”. Having seen so many poorly clipped birds, from severe hacking, through removing secondary flight feathers and not primaries, to cutting alternate feathers or removing the feather vanes longitudinally up the quill, I actually presented a paper on “Wing clipping in pet parrots” to an early Association of Avian Veterinarians’ meeting in the USA. The necessary ‘degree’ of clip would also vary with the species, with strong-flying birds like Cockatiels and Parakeets requiring more feather removal than heavy-bodied species like Amazon parrots.

Over the years, as we have come to better understand the welfare and psychological needs of captive parrots, it is clear that wing-clipping affords little, if any, benefit to the bird, and is carried out for the misguided ‘convenience’ of the carer. The suggestion that clipping a parrot’s wings gives it ‘more freedom’ as it allows it to come out of its cage safely is really a nonsense. What do clipped birds do if they do come out? They sit stationary on top of the cage, which is no better than sitting on a perch inside!

There is no doubt that clipped birds are vulnerable to injury as well as psychological damage. This is especially so if they are clipped young, before they have properly developed pectoral muscles nor learned to control their flight. I have seen many chest injuries after crash landings, as well as broken blood feathers once the cut feathers moult out and start to be replaced. Heavily cut quills will irritate the bird, and lead to plucking and self-mutilation. I am inclined to agree that clipped birds tend to be more nervous than those that are fully-flighted.

Now I am much older and a little bit wiser, I would far rather see parrots remain fully-flighted and be allowed to have the freedom in a safe environment. This requires that carers supervise the bird’s ‘out’ times, and ensure that all potential for harm to the environment or the bird is removed. Alternatively, parrots can be harness-trained and given freedom and enrichment by walking around safely with their carers, as we have seen at Think Parrots Show.

When I think back on some of the things that were accepted as normal just a few short years ago - importation and quarantine of parrots, sunflower seed diets, surgical sexing at public shows, small cages in dark corners - I shudder in guilt and horror. As I said earlier, we now have a far better understanding of the physical and mental needs of parrots, and our attitudes have modified and improved in response. The short answer is better understanding by humans of the psychological needs of captive parrots, and better provision for their care and husbandry, both of which are, of course, promoted to readers of this magazine!

With best wishes,
Alan K Jones BvetMed MRCVS
Chairman, PSUK


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