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Wing clipping is an act where the owner or a veterinariar clips some of the flight feathers of a companion parrot. The concrete result of this act is that the bird can no longer fly until the feathers grow back. Even though it's still relatively commonly done, there are many unethical sides about this act. Why is wing clipping done in a first place? Why should it not be done? What are the better options?

Wing clipping is done often either to...

1) force the bird to stay more still while it is taming period
2) restrain the bird from going to unwanted places
3) prevent the parrot to escape.

Wing clipping is one of those old school “training” methods that have been used due to the lack of better knowledge. Even though in Europe it’s very repulsed method, unfortunately there are many areas around the globe where wing clipping is still concidered normal. Owners who use the wing clipping often use certain arguments, for example that the clipping prevents the bird to escape – but a parrot owner should be prepared to change their lifes for the birds and not the otherwise. Flying is one of the most important things for birds. Actually it is one of those things that make birds what they are. Flying is the best excercise for the parrot and it keeps their muscles in good condition. Having strong urges to use their wings, clipped parrots may get more nervous and due to forcing they adapt easily problem behavior.

“Why should I let my cockatiel fly?”

1) It let’s my bird to excercise, keeping the muscles in good condition.
2) Flying maintains also the mental health of the parrot.
3) There will be less problem behavior that cockatiels trained by forcing are very prone to develope.
4) It is much more ethical.
5) You can prevent future accidents caused by a rusty flight ability.
6) Owner is responsible for arranging as good surroundings as possible
7) Why get a flying pet if you don't want it to fly?

“Wing clipping makes my parrot tame.”

After you remove the flying ability the bird has very few ways to get away from danger. This is especially at first very stressfull situation for a scared parrot. Without the wings the bird can’t escape. Human then forces the bird to interact, making the cockatiel also very much depending on himself/herself by taking part of the moving ability. The big downside is that after the feathers grow back the bird may no longer be as tame anymore. One reason for this is the so called “learned helplessness”, studied a lot by an american psychologist Martin Seligman. Learned helplessness is the condition where a human or animal has learned to behave helplessly: They won’t act to avoid an unpleasant circumstances or happening even if they had a possibility to react.

Think about it like this: Someone kidnaps you and chains your legs together. The kidnapper is actually being nice to you even you have no idea why he is doing this to you and you don’t even speak his language. But he has to carry you to many places or else you can only crawl using your hands and other body. You will learn to obey because you have to. You spend a year with this kidnapper and all of a sudden you realize that the chains are off. What would you do? No matter how nice the kidnapper was you probably would taste your freedom.

When taming the cockatiel gently, without forcing, the bird will also remain tame and it likes you just because it really does so – not because it has to.

“My cockatiel is being bossy. Wing clipping made it calm.”

It is true that the clipping may calm down birds: have you ever wondered why?

“I don’t like his bad attitude when the wings grow back.”

The parrot doesn’t have a “bad attitude”. He/she is just being a parrot and doing things that it has learned to use to achieve things. In this kind of case, it can be said that everything concerning bad attitudes can be found inside the owner’s own head. If the owner gets a parrot he must accept what he bound him/herself into.

“Exactly! Good surroundings! My cockatiel might fly and crash against the window!”

Windows are easy to cover with different curtains. If I want more light to the house I use half transparent fabrics or venetian blinds.

“My cockatiel can fly out from the door or window!”

Keep the doors and windows closed. It’s quite simple. You wouldn’t let any other pet to run away through them either unless they were trained to stay nearby. If you need to air the house you can use for example mosquito nets.

“The bird can excercise by flapping the wings even it can’t fly.”

I heard one hobbyist once saying happily that the bird gets still exercise while flapping its wings while holding tightly the cage bars. Well, the same behavior occurs in birds that are fully capable of flying but have not gotten away from the cage. Even if it gives some excercise, flapping without rising to the air won’t fulfill any instinctive needs of the bird.

“But if it flies I can’t take my cockatiel out.”

You actually can! You can always use traveling cages or do some harness training. Cockatiels are relatively easy to train to go to leash – just remember to use positive reinforcement or otherwise you will traumatize the bird.

Some people cut their cockatiel’s wing feathers to get them tame but that’s pretty much cheating since the

By cutting the wings the owner makes the parrot fully dependent of humans. They can’t move as they should. They have to walk. And actually the wing clipping doesn’t guarantee the safety. I’ve seen a senegal parrot with clipped wings flying 200 meters right next to the car road. And then there are some sad cases like one YouTube-famous cockatiel that was crushed when the owner stepped on it. That tiel is not the only one.

I usually try to talk about things with some neutral tone but in this case I can tell that cutting the flights is a selfish act that is defended with excuses. But if you want to have a pet that doesn't fly, don't get a cockatiel.

Stock images: Shutterstock / omepl1

© Ida-Emilia Kaukonen 2003-2016
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