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Should I Clip My Budgie’s Wings?

As a budgie owner, you may have heard that wing clipping is an easy way to keep your bird safe—but the hidden dangers of this surprisingly invasive procedure can actually put your pet in harm’s way.

What is wing clipping, anyway?

Wing clipping is the practice cutting a bird’s flight feathers, rendering them partially or entirely incapable of flight. Even a small trim can have significant consequences on their balance and posture, so even in the small number of cases (usually where it may be necessary, it should be performed by a trained professional such as an avian veterinarian for medical purposes and should be considered a medical procedure. 

Decades ago, wing clipping was common practice for pet birds, and outdated advice about the procedure has persisted in many budgie-owning circles. 

Three budgies in a row, wings slightly outstretched.

You may have heard that:

 

  1. Clipping your budgie’s wings in their first years of life will prevent them from bumping into objects and getting hurt.
  2. Wing clipping is the best way to prevent your bird from escaping out an open door or window.
  3. Clipping a bird’s wings is akin to putting a dog on a leash.
  4. Clipping wings is just like a nail trim or haircut because the they don’t feel pain during the procedure.
Would you be surprised to learn that all of the above advice is misleading? In fact, the most up-to-date research shows us that wing clipping seriously damages a bird’s physical and mental health.

Why is wing clipping not recommended?

Baby Budgie

Like a human child learning to walk, it’s completely normal for a young budgie to be clumsy when learning to fly. Minor bumps and tumbles are to be expected, and the best way to prevent future accidents is to allow them to continue practicing in a safe, obstacle-free environment. Just like you wouldn’t tie a toddler’s legs together to prevent them from stumbling, it doesn’t make sense to clip a fledgling’s wings to stop them from learning to fly. Additionally, a bird that wasn’t allowed to fly when young will remember that experience, developing and retaining confidence issues into adulthood.

Wing clipping seriously inhibits a budgie’s sense of safety and mobility. Unlike chickens and other domestic poultry, budgies and other parrots rely on flight as their main means of transportation, self-defense, and also physical exertion. 

While the procedure of wing clipping itself does not cause pain, it has lasting physical and behavioral consequences on the animal that often are pervasive for the rest of their life. Even after their wing feathers return, the behavioral effects can last them a lifetime. Wing clipping can make a bird feel they are unable to escape when placed in an uncomfortable situation, resulting in aggressive and fearful behavior (e.g., biting frequently, or sequestering themselves in specific areas of their cage and refusing to venture away) that likely will persist even after the wing feathers return unless targeted, supportive training is provided to slowly correct the damage. 

A budgie with clipped wings may also try to keep up with unclipped flockmates in the household, taking jumps from dangerous heights to try and keep up with their peers. These kinds of falls can result in life-threatening injuries like keel fractures, where they split open the large bone in the center of their chest from the impact of the fall. 

Clipped budgies be in more danger than their unclipped peers. An unclipped budgie can easily fly away if it is threatened or if they’re on the floor and about to get stepped on. Clipped budgies, however, get less lift and the time it takes off might be too long to fully protect themselves from the incoming danger. 

More Than Just A Behavioral Change

Beyond the behavioral and psychological changes, research studies have continued to uncover and confirm decades of observations by parrot behavior experts that clipped parrots have higher risk of health problems compared to fully flighted ones. 

Recent research from Dr. Scott Echols, DVM, DABVP has observed lower bone density in clipped parrots compared to fully flighted ones, putting clipped parrots at more risk for severe injuries when they fall.  

Flight is also required to maintain the large flight muscles on the chest which get weaker with lack of use and can, in severe cases, develop into muscle atrophy where the muscle significantly thins and becomes very difficult to recover. 

it is also important to remember that flight is a learned skill. Ascending, descending, turning, accelerating and decelerating are all learned skills that require practice. Fledgling budgies are in a unique time in their brain and muscular development where they practice and hone these skills. Budgies and other parrots who were never given the opportunity to properly fledge due to being clipped also have a much harder time learning to fly later on. 

So What Can You Do?

There are more humane ways to ensure our beloved budgies stay safe. We simply have to alter our behavior and habitat rather than alter our bird’s physiology. Here are some basic tips:

Parrot-proof your home.

It’s critical that your budgie has space where they can fly and make mistakes safely. Some rooms are harder to navigate than others—try imagining your space from a bird’s-eye-view, making sure there is plenty of room to navigate and as few obstacles (e.g., bulky furniture, hanging decorations) as possible. By creating a safe space, your budgies can practice flying without hurting themselves.

Completely block escape routes.

Just like a high-security lab or an aviary at a zoo, you should always make sure there is at least one barrier between your bird and the outside world. Make a household rule to check that the birdcage is shut before opening an exterior door or window. And, if possible, add an extra layer of protection (like a magnetic door screen or window locks) for additional peace of mind.

Remember "common-sense" safety.

Basic safety measures, like not having a ceiling fan running while your bird is out, can easily slip your mind. It’s better to go the extra mile (by using, for example, a cover like this to prevent you from accidentally flipping the fan switch on) than to make a mistake that could threaten your budgie’s life.

At the end of the day...

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Wing clipping is not just unnecessary, but isn’t an ideal solution for safety or for training! As budgie owners, it’s our job to step up for the animals we love. This means allowing our birds to engage in healthy, natural behaviors like flight and modifying our homes to ensure they have safe spaces in which to do so.

Of course, there are many other factors that can influence your budgie’s health and safety. To learn more, browse our other articles on The Budgie Academy website, and be sure to follow us on social media for the most reliable, up-to-date information!

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Literature Cited

 

  1. Glendell, G. 2017. Birds Need to Fly. The IAABC Journal. http://spring2017.iaabcjournal.org/birds-need-fly. Accessed 03/24/2019.
  2. Linden, Phoebe Greene with Leuscher, Andrew. 2006. The Manual of Parrot Behavior. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell Publishing. Pages 93-111.
  3. Proctor, Noble and Lynch, Patrick. 1993. Manual of Ornithology: Avian Structure & Function. Ann Arbor, MI:Yale University. Pg. 214.
  4. Speer, B., 2015. Current Therapy in Avian Medicine and Surgery. Elsevier Health Sciences, p. 700
  5. Orosz, S., 2016.  Bird Vets Flock To Portland For ExoticsCon 2016.  Lafeber Company. 
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  1. Pingback: The Facts on Fully Flighted Budgies – The Budgie Academy

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