To Clip or Not To Clip?
Copyright © 1998 by Mary Beth Voelker
NCS Member and Online Pet Consultant
All Rights Reserved
To clip or not to clip? A question to take seriously.
This tends to be a hot issue between those who clip wings for safety, taming, and to reduce the escape risk and those who feel that a bird has a right to fly. I’m on the clipping side myself but I admit that flight is a marvelous thing and a bird should not be deprived of flight lightly.
To clip or not to clip is a decision that each bird owner needs to make for him or herself based on his or her individual situation with his or her individual birds. It is not a decision that should be made lightly and is certainly not one to make on the basis of knee jerk emotionalism. It should be an informed decision and each owner has the right to make it without being criticized by the intolerant on either side of the issue. Those of us who offer advice can do just that — advise, but we cannot dictate.
Here is my collection of reasons for and against clipping:
First, you may clip for safety. An ordinary human household is an unnatural environment for cockatiels and their natural instincts are not equipped to deal with it. The list of hazards is extensive and the following only brushes the surface. There are open containers of water including toilets and flower vases, beak tempting electric cords, undraped windows with their illusion of non-existence and the chance of concussion or broken necks when birds find out otherwise, ceiling fans that can deliver a killing blow, small tight spaces to get lost in, hot pots, stove burners, woodstoves, and the increasingly popular halogen lights which get very hot.
Second, you may clip for taming. A clipped bird is more dependent on its owner and thus can be more easily taught to trust him or her. Many times flighted birds develop attitude problems as they challenge their owner for the position of flock leader and become unhandlable. Some even begin biting.
Third, you may clip to prevent escapes. This is not foolproof but it can help. Cockatiels are light-bodied birds who fly with great ease. For either Dandi or Rocky it only takes 2 flights on each wing half grown out to be able to fly. Pearl, a particularly large and athletic hen, can fly with all primary flight feathers clipped and isn’t grounded until she has 2 secondaries clipped as well. This is why I consider the popular method of clipping but leaving the outer 2 flights intact a waste of time and effort for a cockatiel. You can consider it a nearly sure thing that if you leave the bird unclipped and escape is possible it will occur.
Why not clip?
There are some good reasons not to clip under certain circumstances. Some people believe as a point of philosophy that birds are inherently entitled to fly. I don’t agree with this reason but I respect it. Show birds are not clipped. It is necessary to leave all the flights intact so that the judges can tell if the bird has a fault such as crossed wing tips. Many breeders keep their birds in large flight cages and do not clip so that the birds can fly about and get healthy exercise and have the wings available to balance with during mating. Owners of crippled birds often find that such birds do better with the flights intact.
In general I strongly recommend that the majority of pet birds in ordinary circumstances in ordinary households should have their wings carefully and correctly clipped for their own safety and as an aid in maintaining the human’s position as flock leader, this being critical for establishing a rewarding relationship with a well behaved pet. I am perfectly willing to admit that there are times when this isn’t appropriate though. As I said at the beginning this is your decision to make.
I would be quite interested in hearing an eloquent and respectful expression of the philosophic point of view that birds have a right to fly. New owners ought to hear this side of the issue as well since it is just as mindless to clip a bird “because the breeder said to” as it is to leave a bird unclipped “because birds fly naturally” without considering safety issues in an unnatural environment. In my opinion mindlessness is always to be avoided. I can’t write this side of the argument because I don’t believe it but I hope that someone will write it and make it readily available.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you are interested in clipping your birds wings and would like to see diagrams on how to do this, follow this link: Wing Clipping article with Diagrams.