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How To Trim a Bird’s Wing Feathers

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How to Trim Wing Feathers

Should you trim your bird’s wings? The pros & cons

These days trimming your bird's wings so that it cannot fly around the house is a personal choice.  There are definitely pros and cons as to whether or not to trim your bird's wings.

The biggest reason that most people trim their birds wings is to prevent a fly off.  It just takes one time of accidentally leaving the door open for a bird to fly away.

Safety is a second reason that people choose to trim their birds wings. Every year thousands of pet birds are accidentally killed when they fly off of their play stand and into a dangerous situation.

Some of the most common accidental bird deaths are from other household pets like cats or dogs, flying into standing water, and flying into a ceiling fan.

Is trimming bird wings cruel?

The opponents of trimming a bird's wings feel that it is cruel. The cons for trimming a bird's wings are just as emotional.  A bird's entire anatomy is geared toward flight.  Allowing your bird to fly is one of the most enriching activities that you can do for it. Flight is also one of the best forms of exercise for your pet.  We now know that allowing baby birds to fledge, or learn to fly, prevents a lot of problems as they reach maturity.

There are numerous avian flight schools around the country where people can take their bird for intensive training on flight and recall.  Also, you can buy affordable bird flight harnesses to safely take your bird on outings.

Do birds feel pain when their wings are clipped?

Trimming a bird's wings is not painful if you know what you're doing. 

When your bird is growing a new feather, the feather is said to be "alive."  

What this means is that new feathers have a large blood vein down the center of them. This vein carries blood to nourish the new feather.  This is called a blood feather. 

blood feather

You can tell a blood feather by the pink colored vein that is visible through the center shaft of the new feather. Once the new feather is fully developed the vein dies off and the actual feather is "dead" like your hair.  

If you trim into a growing blood feather it is very painful.  You could liken it to trimming into your fingernail quick.  The difference is that blood literally pours out of the blood feather making for a potentially deadly situation if you can't get the bleeding to stop.

Is always critical to examine each feather that you plan to trim prior to cutting into it. 

What feathers do you trim when trimming wings on a bird?

If you choose to trim your bird's wing feathers it is important to know which feathers to clip. The photo at the top of this blog post is an image of a bad wing trim.  Way too many feathers were trimmed.  

Trimming too many feathers makes your bird unbalanced so that it is likely to fall off the perch at night.  But, worse if your bird gets startled and attempts to fly, it will hit the ground with a harsh, painful thud that can break bones and cause internal organ damage.

Keep in mind that you only need to trim 3 - 5 wing feathers to prevent your bird from gaining lift when it attempts to fly. Leaving most of the feathers intact allows your bird to glide safely to the ground and avoid injury should it get startled and attempt to fly away.

Bird Wing Trim

How do you cut a bird's wing feathers?

Trimming back  3 - 5 wing feathers Is much easier than filing your bird's toenails. 

Training for Wing Trims

Use  Clicker Training to teach your bird to allow having their wings to be trimmed without restraint. It is much easier to carefully examine where to trim each feather when you are not worried about your bird getting loose.

Training for grooming and vet visits will reduce stress during important procedures that your bird needs such as restraint for a veterinary exam, nail trims, beak trims and wing trims. 

Needed Supplies for Trimming Wing Feathers: 

  • Round tipped scissors with sharp cutting blades
  • Bird First Aid Kit with Styptic Powder
  • Clean Towel 
 
   

How to trim a bird’s flight feathers

Please refer to this blog post regarding how to safely towel a bird without damaging it’s air sacs.

  1. Using a clean towel, drape the towel over the bird's back and with one hand gently grasp the back of the head while restraining the legs and supporting the body with the other hand. Make sure to hold your bird gently enough around it's rib cage so as to not impair breathing.

  2. Using round tip scissors carefully extend the wing by grasping the front of the wing at the joint. Cut the first 3-5  the primary flight feathers a safe distance from the coverts. If the feather shaft is pink, it is still growing and immature.  Never trim immature feathers. 

  3. Repeat for the opposite wing if needed. Trimming just one wing will work for many birds and owners, while others want both wings trimmed. Be calm and gentle with your parrot as birds can get stressed easily.

  4. Carefully observe your parrot for 10 - 15 minutes following all wing trims just to make sure that you’ve not accidentally cut through a blood feather.  If you notice bleeding, apply styptic powder until the blood has clotted.  Place your bird in a hospital cage and keep it quiet for at least 30 minutes.  If the bleeding continues, apply pressure and more styptic powder.  If bleeding still does not stop, take your bird to an avian veterinarian or an emergency animal clinic.

  5. Following wing trims, keep your parrot in a safe location until he learns that he cannot fly. Trim the wings as needed when the feathers get long enough for flight or before any evacuation.

For more bird grooming guidelines, Learn how to trim a bird's nails.


Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians.

With over 30 years experience, in a range of settings, she’s created thousands of successful behavior plans to help turn around challenging behavior.

Diane got parrot fever in the ‘90’s and founded BirdSupplies.com in 1998. Nowadays, BirdSupplies.com focuses solely on Science-backed Parrot Wellness with bird collars for feather plucking birds, nutritional supplements to support avian wellness, and a range of educational materials to support challenging bird behavior. Diane’s authored a number of books on supporting challenging behavior in birds.

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