by Bobbi Brinker



Clipping a bird's wings is done mainly for their own safety. Birds can fly into windows, doors, ceiling fans, hot cooking foods and any number of places in the home where they can injure themselves.

Wing clipping is also a protection against birds escaping into the out-of-doors. Once outside, an indoor flightless bird can easily take flight with the help of a gust of wind. Unfortunately, escaped birds have little chance of survival outdoors. They face death from a predator or starvation, while at home their owners grieve for their lost pet.

When clipping a bird's wings, it is VERY IMPORTANT that the clip be done properly and that the first wing clip is done only after a baby bird has learned to fly with precision and control.

An agile, confident, sure-footed Grey is the product of being allowed to fledge.

Allowing a baby bird to learn to fly enables him to develop coordination and control. He learns to land where he intends to land, learns how to flutter to the floor safely and learns how to control his body. After he is clipped, this knowledge and confidence stays with him. A bird who knows how to control his body is much less likely to be injured.

If a Grey is clipped before he learns to fly with competence and control, he may not become a confident out-going bird. He may be fearful and insecure because he has not discovered his body's natural grace. This grace is learned through flight proficiency.

A baby Grey should be allowed to fully fledge. If the birds and the babies are clipped on an individual basis - taking into account their confidence level, strength, determination and power - this learned control and flying skill has become ingrained in the birds. As a consequence, they are much less likely to land awkwardly when fluttering to the floor.

I let my babies fly until I can't stand it anymore, but I have a high tolerance for inconvenience.

There are two major areas of concern when doing a proper wing clipping; how many feathers to cut and where to cut the feathers. When done properly, a bird will be able to fly a short distance, control his flight and be able to make a safe landing.

When a bird's wings are clipped incorrectly after he learns to fly, he may lose his confidence and the capability of controlling his body. He discovers, through pain and even injury, that what he previously learned about flying is no longer possible.

The primary flight feathers are the only feathers which should be clipped. Many people clip birds' flight feathers at, or slightly below, the level of the upperwing coverts. With this method, the birds will be after the exposed ends of the shafts all the time and the shafts will become splintered from the constant grooming. The sharp, splintered ends seem to irritate their body and bother them psychologically. They are never satisfied with the ends of the shaft. How could they be? They can't groom the cut shortened feather into submission and order.

There is a physiological component as well as a psychological component when one considers how important flight feathers are to a bird's safety and life. A damaged feather reduces flight efficiency and interferes with escape. Birds appear to be quite concerned about these "half" feathers.

I recommend that the shaft be cut so that the cut end is sandwiched between the underwing coverts and the upperwing coverts. The flight is clipped just above the feather barbules - none of the barbules should be present on the cut shaft. These are a few reasons why:

  • The cut edge isn't exposed to wear and doesn't get splintered and frayed. Since flight feathers are so important, the bird is concerned about the frayed end and will constantly try to smooth and groom it. The cut end is cushioned and doesn't dig into the bird's flank and irritate either the body or the mind.

  • With a longer length of flight shaft, the bird is brought up short when he reaches the end of a long, sweeping grooming stroke. He is left with a feeling of incompleteness. He also can't "zip" up the half feather properly. This cut eliminates the problem.

  • An additional benefit, albeit an unimportant one, is the clip reveals the lovely scallops of the upperwing coverts. The scalloped edge presents a very neat and pleasant appearance. No frayed, splintered shaft is showing - no frazzled, ragged feather barbules are showing. It is a very attractive clip.

When I clip the babies and the birds, they do "search" for the flights for a while, but this soon passes. It's almost like out of sight, out of mind. They don't get into the rhythm of the long sweeping grooming stroke only to be brought up short by an incomplete feather with a cut splintered end.

The cut end is protected, as it is between the upperwing covert and the underwing covert. I have never seen a splintered feather shaft with this clip, so I know the birds aren't chewing, grooming or paying attention to the end as they did when I clipped the flight longer.

This clip is not a guarantee that a bird will never pluck. However, I believe a bird will be less inclined to pluck if he isn't constantly reminded that he is helpless to escape danger. I believe several half feathers and the resulting irritation - both mental and physical - produced by the cut and splintered ends will cause him to pay much more attention to his feathers and increase his feeling of helplessness. He can't know he is safe from predators - it's in the genes.

The flights of an African Grey should be clipped so that the cut end of the flight is sandwiched between the upper wing coverts (the short overlapping feathers that cover the base of the flights on the top of the wing) and the underwing coverts on the underside of the wing. If the cut edge is between these matching coverts, it won't poke into the bird's flank and possibly irritate him.

Towel the bird and place him on his back. Open the wing. Carefully clip the flight from the underside of the wing so that the cut end is above the level of the coverts. Gently lift each flight feather and push away the coverts so that the coverts aren't accidentally clipped. Clip the flight at the point where the feather barbules begin on the shaft of the flight feather. There should be no barbules on the shaft of the cut flight feather.

Watch carefully for blood feathers. Fortunately these are very obvious. A blood feather will be encased in a spongy sheath and will have black, brown or red coloring in the sheath. Mature sheaths are hollow and quite hard.

Greys need to be custom cut. Each bird is different in strength and determination. I suggest that four feathers be clipped initially. Watch the bird to see how far he can fly or flutter with four flights clipped. If he is able to fly or flutter more than 15 feet, clip one more feather from each wing. Observe him again for distance and altitude. If he can flutter more than 15 feet, clip one more feather on each wing. Observe him again for distance and altitude. The 15 foot downward flight path will enable the bird to flutter safely to the floor with control and adequate power.

When a Grey has molted for the first time, don't clip the same number of flights that were clipped when he was a baby. The babies are strong from exercise and determined because flight is so important for survival. They don't know they are safe but are driven to learn to fly by ancient instincts. A bird who has been clipped for months has not gotten the exercise and is not as driven to fly as the babies are. Consequently, fewer flights may be clipped for his safety indoors. Begin at the beginning - with four flights and custom clip for a 15 foot downward glide path. You will find that fewer flights need to be clipped for an older Grey than for a baby Grey.

Do not clip only one wing as this will result in a significant loss of control and interfere with landing accuracy and balance. Do not leave the last flight feathers (at the leading edge of the wing) uncut for appearances sake. The flights usually left unclipped with this "convict" clip are numbers 9 and 10. This clip is called the "convict" clip because it allows a bird to escape. These unclipped leading edge flights are also vulnerable to injury and breaking, as they have no support from adjacent feathers.

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