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The false security of clipped wings

Wing clipping, to clip or not to clip? That is the question many new parrot owners ask themselves, along with trying to find answers on avian forums and through the many Facebook groups that are now so readily available.

If you are to look at an anatomy drawing or picture of a flying bird (I’m talking about birds that naturally fly in the wild, no penguins or emus here) many will see that there are so many adaptations that enable them to gain lift and actually get off the ground. These adaptations have been millions of years in the making and flying is a massive part of a bird’s anatomy, from their specialised light bone structure, to their air sac reliant respiratory system. Birds were built to fly. Period.

Does that mean that pet birds are meant to fly? Many years ago when I first brought home my new feathered creature I immediately took the clipping path. My boy Angel has been clipped almost his entire life. It has only been within the past two years, he has been able to experience what he was built to do, fly. I was so concerned he would fly away and I would lose him all together that I took the ability of flight away from him. I’ll admit life was a lot easier, he would frolic on the grass while we would have breakfast on the lawn and he would join us for trips to the park and for short trips down the street. In hind sight I’m sure I was compensating for the effort it would take to own a flighted bird. I was also told that was the normal thing to do.

Upon starting an internship with Parrot Life I began to appreciate what it meant to own a bird, and ways in which we can keep them safe, while letting them maintain their normal biological functions. From that point my birds were all kept fully flighted.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, arrived home to find three of my treasured birds had gotten out of their aviary. Two of them I was not overly worried about as I could hear and see them up in a very tall gum tree. The other lost bird had been involved in a hawk scare (attacked through the aviary wire by a goshawk - poor little guy!) a month before hand, and was only just regrowing flight feathers so was similar to a clipped bird. The two flighted birds returned quickly after frolicking around in the trees for a bit and responding when I called them. I had only to open the cage door for them to wander back in. The third bird, with damaged flight feathers, took a while longer to find. I searched high and low for him and spent a good hour door knocking asking the neighbours to check in their back yards for him. He was missing overnight and I had feared the worst – for a small non-flighted bird to survive an accidental escape in a heavily populated area, filled with predators, he was unlikely to survive the night. To my utmost relief a facebook post uncovered his whereabouts the next morning. I had only to post on a few lost and found pages before an ad posted the night before with a picture of him safe and sound was brought to my attention. I quickly contacted the finder and was reunited within a few hours of finding the ad.

The lesson that was learnt from this experience is that although many of us believe that clipping will keep them safe, it may do the complete opposite. A non-flighted bird may not be able to travel as far but he has so much less chances of being found alive, than a flighted bird able to evade predators and find suitable roosting sites. A well trained flighted bird can make life in turn, that much easier, returning to a strong recall cue and being able to fly down from a tree when asked.

Upon reading this personal experience I hope present and future bird owners can contemplate what it means to own a bird and whether the hard ships that you may face, will be able to be taken in stride, or if you would be better off owning a less demanding and challenging pet. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but in this space and time I believe every bird that is physically capable of flying should have that right, it’s not about modifying the animal to fit the environment, but modifying the environment to fit the animal (one of Rachel's favourite sayings!). You chose this creature to live with you so make its life one worth living, and one full of excitement and adventure. 

-Georgia Kerr
Harnessing is a great clipping alternative
Harness training a macaw - one of my first clients
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