The Harsh Impacts Of Wing-Clipping On Pet Birds

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

This article highlights the unknown impacts wing-clipping has on pet birds and parrots in captivity. I believe anybody who intends on trimming their bird’s flight feathers has a right to know EXACTLY what this does to their birds, hence the creation of this super detailed post. 

You’ll be presented with facts, statistics, and research to back up any major points made.

My goal is NOT to shame anyone for their choices with their parrots, it is to simply shed light on the lesser-known realities of wing clipping. 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  1. The physical impacts wing clipping has on pet birds
  1. The mental/psychological impacts wing clipping has on parrots
  1. Why you MUST avoid trimming baby bird wings
  1. How birds behave after a wing clip
  1. Common myths about wing clipping and their counter-truths

Physical Impacts Of Wing Clipping On Pet Birds & Parrots

Birds and parrots are much better physically when fully flighted compared to if they had their wings clipped. Flying is a bird’s main form of exercise. When that ability is restricted or eliminated, parrots are vulnerable to health issues caused by a lack of exercise.

The whole anatomy and structure of most avians are literally designed for flight, so this makes sense.

bird wing clip
Image source: Pixabay

There are 5 primary physical impacts that can result from wing clipping:

  1. Muscle atrophy
  2. Decreased bone density
  3. Heart & cardiovascular disease
  4. Obesity
  5. Flying injuries

Before you have a heart attack yourself (because I too was shocked by these facts), let’s discuss each one in further detail…

Muscle Atrophy | Physical Impact

Firstly, what is muscle atrophy?

As defined by Wikipedia, it’s the loss of skeletal muscle mass, which can be caused by immobility, aging, malnutrition, medications, or an injury.

The result of muscle atrophy is a significant loss of strength and mobility in specific muscles.

Clipped birds are prone to muscle atrophy as the ability to exercise their wing muscles have been restricted or eliminated. And the longer the bird has been clipped, the more severe the muscle atrophy can be, which makes it far more difficult to recover from.

I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine the impact of a 20-year wing clip on the muscles of long-life birds like macaws and cockatoos.

Studies on mice and humans concluded that muscle atrophy is harder to recover from as the animal ages.

parrot wing clip
Image source: Pixabay

But a bird doesn’t need to be clipped for 20 years in order for muscle atrophy to take effect, even just a few months of not using the wing muscles can have notable consequences…

An Interesting Study On Birds & Muscle Atrophy

I come across this study that highlights just how quickly muscle atrophy can take effect in flight-restricted birds.

Here’s an overview of that study:

The strength of the pectoralis flight muscles was assessed (using electromyography) in wild birds and in birds who were flight restricted for 40 days. The results showed that the flight-restricted birds had significantly less muscle strength than the wild birds after 40 days.

This study was conducted on great myna birds, but it’s logical to assume similar results would occur in parrots and other commonly caged birds.

Flight Restrictions & Bone Density | Physical Impact

Bone structure and the ability to fly are heavily linked in birds.

Their bones have been specifically evolved to be lightweight and hollow for flight and respiratory efficiency, but also quite dense to prevent easy fracturing. Here’s an image demonstrating what most bird bones look like on the inside:

Image Source

Avian bones are NOT static and are ever-changing based on a variety of factors. One of those factors is how often the parrot moves their muscles, which has a direct effect on bone density.

According to Dr Scott Echols, an avian vet, birds who don’t fly, climb, or walk much generally have a poor bone density in the corresponding areas. A lack of flight will specifically reduce the bone density along the “thoracic girdle and distal neck/proximal notarium vertebrae”.

That’s a direct quote from the vet.

Bone density, just like muscle mass, remains healthier when the bird can exercise properly compared to if flight was restricted.

Heart & Cardiovascular Diseases | Physical Impact

Heart disease is a pretty common occurrence in pet birds – AlpineVet

According to Volume 18 of The Journal Of Avian Medicine & Surgery, the main risks of heart and cardiovascular diseases for birds include:

  • Restricted or lack of exercise
  • Poor diets
  • Abnormal climate conditions

Since clipped birds get less exercise than fully-flighted birds, it’s logical to conclude that clipped birds are simply at higher risk of heart or cardiovascular diseases. Although birds can retain some flight ability with a mild wing clip, it often proves too clumsy and they just stop trying, which prevents an adequate amount of exercise.

Severe wing clips stop this even further as they’re done to completely eliminate flight in parrots.

Obesity | Major Risk Factor For Heart & Cardiovascular Diseases | Physical Impact

Obesity is yet another fairly common health issue in caged parrots, one that can easily lead to heart or cardiovascular diseases. This illness can be caused by poor diets (particularly seed-only diets) and a lack of exercise, just like heart disease.

As well as cardiovascular problems, obesity in birds can also be a major risk factor for:

  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Foot lesions
  • And egg binding 

With that said, proper dieting AND regular flight exercise will help prevent obesity in parrots.

For a lot of bird owners, getting their feathered friend to eat healthily is challenging enough, so why increase their chances of obesity even further by restricting their flight? Furthermore, how can anyone say they clip their bird for “safety” after learning that flight restriction has been proven to cause muscle atrophy, obesity, reduce bone density, and put them at higher risk for heart disease?

However, it’s understandable that many owners aren’t aware of these facts as they hardly receive any coverage.

cutting bird wings
Image source: Pixabay

Flying Injuries | Physical Impact

Birds and parrots with severely clipped wings tend to injure themselves while attempting flight.

Of course, this doesn’t happen to all birds, but since having clipped wings has a negative effect on lift generation, flight control, and general aerial mobility, it makes sense why those injuries DO occur. They also happen more often with severely clipped or one-sided clipped birds compared to parrots with a mild wing clip.

Birds with less flight control are simply more likely to crash into walls or plummet to the floor.

In fact, an avian vet from states – “Birds with hacked-off wing clips fly like a rock” – The vet continues by saying that they treat a lot of clipped birds with open wounds as a result of falling hard onto a tiled or wooden floor.

The second injury often caused by severely cut wing tips is broken blood feathers.

The same vet from the source linked above says that if the primary flight feathers are clipped too short, they can’t protect nearby developing blood feathers. Naturally, fully-grown feathers would absorb and distribute any force taken evenly throughout the feathers. Without an adequate flight feather length, those delicate blood feathers are vulnerable to taking that force, which can cause breaking and bleeding.

Mental Impacts Of Wing-Clipping On Pet Birds & Parrots

Animal welfare is not just assessed by physical health anymore, but by mental and psychological health as well. In other words, an animal is considered neglected unless both its physical and mental health is properly cared for.

The restriction of flight has been proven to cause negative psychological impacts on parrots.

Parrots have the inherent biological desire to fly properly, so this makes sense.

Below you’ll learn some of the negative effects wing-clipping has on the mental health of birds based on our current knowledge and research.

The Feeling Of Vulnerability | Mental Impact

Having clipped wings restricts an ability that was crucial for birds to survive in the wild.

When faced with danger in the wild, a birds natural instincts tell them to fly away ASAP.

Those natural instincts still exist within our pet parrots and there are plenty of things that they can perceive as dangerous in our homes. Before we tame our birds, we humans are usually seen as their biggest threat.

Without the ability to fly with a normal level of control, parrots feel quite vulnerable.

Knowing that they can’t quickly escape threats if they arise puts a parrot into an anxious or even helpless state of mind because they know how vulnerable they are. If you were to look at a bird with clipped wings, especially one inside a cage, you can literally SEE how vulnerable they are.

bird wing cut and trim
Image source: Pixabay

Parrots, being one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, are definitely aware of how vulnerable they are with an unnatural disability.

This increased stressor often causes many undesirable behaviours…

Anxiety, Stress, & Feather Picking | Mental Impact

Feather picking/plucking is a serious problem that primarily affects our companion birds.

It has been well established that feather picking, in many cases, is a show of stress. I’d like to add to that by citing an article in the Journal Of Exotic Pet Medicine stating that most feather destructive behaviours are related to a reductive environment where the bird has little or no control.

Having the ability to fly restricted or completely eliminated is a HUGE loss of control for an animal literally made to fly.

Based on this, I think it’s logical to assume clipped birds are more likely to feather pluck than flighted birds.

There’s more research backing this up…

Another study highlighted in volume 28 of the Journal Of Avian Medicine & Surgery concluded that African Grey parrots were 5x more likely to engage in feather destructive behaviours than their fully flighted counterparts.

clip parrot and bird wings
Image source: Pixabay

In summary:

Feather destructive behaviours can be caused by a loss of controlled flight. Birds and parrots with flight restrictions (clipped wings) are more likely to pick their feathers compared to flighted birds.

I guess this is why feather plucking (in a self-destructive manner) does not occur in wild birds.

Clipped Birds ARE NOT Tamed, They’re Just Cooperating | Mental Impact

Have you ever heard of “passive coping”?

To put it simply:

It’s a term used to describe how animals behave when they see no other way out of stressful situations. Before using passive coping strategies to deal with stress, parrots will first exhaust their “active” coping strategies, which include flight or fight.

If a parrot cannot escape from or eliminate the source of stress, it will begin to passively cope.

Passive coping strategies used by parrots and birds include:

  • Withdrawing from the situation
  • Acting non-aggressively
  • Generally trying not to initiate a conflict in hopes of protecting itself

An example of a “passively coping” bird – After multiple failed attempts at flying away from a new owner and realising that bites are ineffective, a clipped parrot can decide to cooperate with the human or withdraw into the cage to protect itself.

cockatiel wing clip
Image source: Pixabay

Each individual, based on past experiences, will showcase slightly different coping strategies.

Many new bird owners will assume the bird is tamed after it calms down or starts to show “friendliness” toward them. But in reality, the clipped bird likely sees no way out of the situation and decides that cooperating is the best way to avoid the consequences of facing the dangerous human.

If interactions were forced onto a clipped bird and it suddenly started acting tame, it’s more than likely NOT tame and is just passively coping with a stressful situation.

Most of the info in this section came from this source.

Why You MUST Avoid Clipping Baby Bird Wings

Fledging is arguably the most important stage of any bird’s life.

It’s a time when the baby bird would naturally be learning flight, building muscles, and generally getting used to being a bird.

Unfortunately, clipping a bird’s wings before they go through this life stage puts a stop to much of this crucial development and often results in long-lasting consequences.

For example…

Pectoralis (flight) muscle growth happens rapidly during the fledging periods – according to a study done on pigeons.

Young birds who suffer flight restrictions (getting clipped) before those muscles are built will have unnaturally weak muscles, which also has negative effects on bone density and strength. That’s one BIG issue that often requires a lengthy rehabilitation process to fix.

baby bird clip wings
Image source: FreeImages. A young macaw around fledging age

Another issue with clipping young parrots is hindering their ability to learn how to fly.

Us humans learn a majority of our basic motor skills, such as crawling and walking during our developing years…

It’s the exact same thing with birds!

Parrots that don’t learn to fly at the right age due to a wing clip will struggle to learn how to fly as adults, even with fully grown flight feathers.

Getting a bird in this condition to fly, even short distances, often proves extremely difficult.

A study done on mice suggests that the brain’s ability to change, learn, memorise, and recover from certain injuries declines as the animal ages.

Considering this, the best time to learn flight is when it would happen naturally, during fledging.

SugarLoafAnimalHospital, a vet site that suggests wing clipping in certain cases, even states that you should NOT clip the wings of a baby bird until it learns to fly and land safely. Being vets, they clearly understand the importance of proper development and fledging for birds.

Common Bird Behaviours After A Wing Clip

Many owners notice drastic and sudden changes in their flighted bird’s behaviour after clipping their wings. From the stories I’ve read on various sites, the most common words used to describe their parrot’s personality change are:

  • “Depressed”
  • “Less playful”
  • “More nervous and anxious”
  • “Not like their former selves”

Considering what we’ve discussed in this article, it makes sense why an owner would use these words to describe their clipped bird’s new behaviour.

Below I’d like to share 2 stories I found that highlight bird behaviours after a wing clip:

First Story – “Depressed after wing clip” – ParrotForums

  1. An owner of a black-headed caique parrot noticed an instant personality change after clipping their wings. The wing clip was done to stop the bird from flying to a desk and eating make-up and pencils. Before the procedure, the caique would always want to be outside the cage, but since the wing clip, he “jumps at any opportunity to get back in the cage”. “He doesn’t want to play, he’s nervous, doesn’t do his usual hopping, and just seems really sad.” – Direct quotes from the story. The owner also believes the wing clip was done too short because the caique often plummets to the ground, which has made him scared to attempt flight. Story source

From what I’ve gathered, it seems the caique has become insecure, possibly feeling vulnerable, as a result of the wing clip. This is evident from the fact that the owner is describing new behaviours that indicate a lack of confidence, such as wanting to be in the cage more often and not interacting as much as he did before the wing clip. If the bird has also plummeted to the ground a few times, that’ll certainly motivate him to stop trying to fly. This bird has definitely been affected negatively by the wing clip.

parrot wing clips
Image source: Pixabay

Second Story – “Depressed from wing clip?” – TalkCockatiels

  1. An owner clipped their 8-month-old cockatiels wings because the flight was upsetting their dog. Just like the first story, the owner noticed some dramatic behavioural changes after the wing trim – “Since his wing clip, he has been feisty (without any provocation) extremely depressed and miserable”. “He’s not even interested in being around us, which is the complete opposite of his usual self”. “He barely touches the fresh/cooked food that he normally loves”. Story source

The “he has been feisty” description really interested me in this story. Why would a bird who could previously fly start acting “feisty” when flight is restricted? My best guess based on the info provided is that the bird realised flight is no longer an option and resorts to fighting (biting) when put into situations where he would normally fly away.

The loss of flight has made him feel more vulnerable, which makes him respond by fighting in more situations than normal due to the increased feeling of stress. Not wanting to be around the owners after the wing clip could also indicate a lack of confidence, generally poor mood, and an increase in stress. All of which can easily be labelled as “depressed”.

trimming cockatiel wings
An image of my cockatiel, Arthur

Have you noticed the same pattern I noticed across both stories?

The birds were happy, active, and socially interactive before the wing clip. After the wing clip, however, the birds started showing undesirable behaviours (aggression, socially withdrawing, inactivity) and are often labelled as “depressed” due to this behaviour.

Wing clipping has negatively affected the behaviour of the birds in these stories and there are plenty of similar stories on the web.

Debunking Common Wing-Clipping Myths

Either through YouTube, Google, Reddit, or various forum sites, a lot of misinformation is spread about how wing clipping affects pet birds. I want to quickly clear up some of the most common wing-clipping myths and bring attention to their truths.

Myth 1: Birds With Clipped Wings Won’t Fly Away Outside

There have been plenty of fly-offs and lost birds as a result of this myth. The myth suggests that since the bird has clipped wings, they cannot fly and it’s safe to take them outside unrestrained. Although birds will struggle to generate lift and proper flight coordination with trimmed wings, a strong gust of wind can still carry them quite a distance.

You should NEVER take your bird outside unless they’re in a travel cage, harness-trained, or free-flight trained.

Myth 2: Parrots Can NEVER Fly Again With Clipped Wings

Although this myth is far less common than the previous one, there are a fair amount of people who still believe wing clipping is a permanent restriction on flight.

The truth is:

Wing clipping is only temporary and all clipped feathers will grow back to full length during the bird’s next heavy moult.

Myth 3: Birds Are Safer With Trimmed Wings

A common justification for cutting the wings of pet birds is for “safety” reasons. For example, they want to protect their birds from crashing into walls, flying into windows, or having other flight-related accidents. Although these owners have good intentions, birds are much safer when fully flighted.

Parrots, being natural fliers, will not have difficulties navigating a house as long as nothing impedes their flight control. There also has to be a good amount of open space relative to the bird’s size.

There are ways to keep flighted birds safe indoors, but wing clipping is just more convenient.

Even larger parrots can fly well indoors when given the chance…

Conclusion | Short Summary

Here’s a brief summary of what was covered in this article

5 Physical impacts wing clipping has on birds:

  1. Muscle atrophy
  1. Reduced bone density
  1. Heart & cardiovascular diseases
  1. Obesity
  1. Flying injuries

3 Psychological impacts wing trimming has on parrots:

  1. The feeling of vulnerability
  1. Anxiety, stress, and the increased chance of feather picking
  1. Becoming physically and emotionally dependent on owners

The harmful effects wing clipping has on developing/fledging birds and why, if you plan to clip at all, you should wait until they learn how to fly and land. We also discussed a little bit about natural baby bird development to reinforce how important it is for them to learn how to fly at the right age.

Using stories I read online, I covered how birds behave after a wing clip – In many cases, the owners noticed negative personality changes in their birds after the procedure.

Finally, we debunked 3 common myths about wing-clipping parrots:

  • Myth 1: Birds with clipped wings won’t fly away when taken outside
  • Myth 2: Parrots can NEVER fly again getting their wings cut
  • Myth 3: Birds are safer with trimmed flight feathers

Hopefully, you learnt something new about wing clipping in this article. Please be aware that my goal was not to shame those who wing clip their birds, it was to simply spread awareness about the proven effects of this very controversial practice.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Learn how to keep flighted parrots safe in the household by bird-proofing your home…



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