Should You Clip Your Parakeet’s Wings?

It’s a question that has been around as long as parakeets (aka budgies) have been kept as pets: Should you clip or not clip your parakeet’s wing feathers?

Clipping a parakeet’s wing feathers is a controversy similar to declawing cats: Some people are adamantly against it, and others think it is normal and necessary for keeping your parakeet safe.

But before we go any farther, let’s clear up a common misconception.

When you are clipping your parakeet’s “wings,” you are actually clipping flight feathers that are growing out of the skin of the wings.

You aren’t clipping the “covert feathers” that protect the bones and muscles of the wings. You aren’t clipping any living tissue. You should not draw blood. And anything you clip you be capable of growing back.

You may see clipping a parakeet’s wings as right or wrong for the bird, but if you are doing it right, you should be causing no permanent harm to your bird.

Now let’s consider some pros and cons for what we will be calling clipping your parakeet’s wings.

Reasons for Clipping a Parakeet’s Wings

Parakeets are safer when they can’t fly into dangerous situations.

A parakeet whose wing feathers have been clipped can’t fly out an open door or window, never to be seen again.

A parakeet that cannot fly will not fly into the mouth of a lurking cat, or a spinning ceiling fan, into a garbage disposal, or into a pot of boiling water on the stove.

Parakeets that cannot fly will not get into household cleaners, vacuum cleaners, medications, cosmetics, or foods that are poisonous for them. Clipping a parakeet’s wings may prevent a tragic event.

Some owners believe that clipping their parakeet’s wings makes them easier to train, at least in the beginning.

A bird with clipped wing feathers can’t get away from its handlers. And because clipping wings severely limits a parakeet’s mobility, it becomes more dependent on its human owner. Bonding, some believe, naturally follows.

There are animal experts who believe that clipping a parakeet’s wings is analogous to spaying or neutering a dog or cat. The bird becomes mellower and easier to handle.

And there is the perennial problem of bird droppings with any parakeet that is free to fly at will.

Parakeets can and will poop everywhere. When a pet parakeet’s wings are clipped, there is less cleanup, in fewer places.

Reasons for Not Clipping a Parakeet’s Wings

Some parakeet owners argue that clipping a parakeet’s wings is unnatural.

It is the nature of birds to fly. That’s why they have wings!

Nearly every species of bird has the ability to fly. Even though your parakeet may spend most of its life in the safety and security of your home, the ability to fly is a major part of what makes it a bird.

Some parakeet owners argue that not clipping wings makes the bird healthier. In the wild, parakeets have to fly as much as 30 miles (50 km) a day to find food and water.

Their bodies are made for lots of exercises. Letting your bird fly gives it a chance to get the exercise it needs to stay in good shape.

There is also an argument that clipping a parakeet’s wings causes it distress.

We don’t really know whether parakeets with clipped wings experience emotional anguish — after all, a parakeet in the wild that can’t fly very quickly succumbs to predators — but a parakeet that can’t fly is undoubtedly a bored bird.

Parakeets that don’t have enough to do become destructive. They pull out their own feathers and tear up their toys.

Finally, it’s possible to argue that clipping a bird’s wings also leaves it vulnerable to danger.

A bird with clipped wings outside its cage can’t escape a cat, can’t get out of the way of a riding toy, and can’t do anything if it falls into a sink or a drain or a filled bathtub. Horrible accidents can happen to parakeets with clipped wings, too.

What Do Veterinarians Say About Clipping a Parakeet’s Wings?

Your veterinarian is likely to have a nuanced view of the benefits of clipping your budgie’s wings.

Your veterinarian will not see the possible outcomes as either a parakeet that can easily escape out the window or a parakeet that will spend its life getting fat in the bottom of its cage.

Your veterinarian is likely to tell you that the benefit of clipping a parakeet’s wings is this:

Wings should be clipped just enough that the parakeet cannot fly upward. The bird should still have the ability to fly horizontally to escape danger and to make a soft landing when it feels secure.

A parakeet should be able to flutter down from about shoulder height to a spot 10 or 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) away.

Your veterinarian will also point out that there are exceptions to every rule.

Some parakeets have disfigurements of the beak, legs, or feet. Maybe the bird suffered a broken leg. Maybe its feet were deformed by mites or fungal infection.

These birds need their wings to keep their balance. They need their wings to stay on a perch and to avoid hard falls inside and outside their cages.

And your veterinarian will probably raise a strong objection to clip your parakeet’s wings, so it will bond with you.

Parakeets learn to bond with humans by being hand-fed as chicks. Or they have another developmental period around the ages of six to nine months when they are open to learning to accept humans as part of the flock.

There are other techniques for bonding with your bird. Clipping your bird’s wings when it is learning to fly, or learning to climb, or learning how to interact with the other bird or birds in its cage can set its development back.

You may not ever be able to enjoy your pet as much as if you had put off clipping wings to a more appropriate stage in your bird’s life.

But if you don’t choose to clip your parakeet’s wings, there is an important training activity you must send it through to keep it safe.

Recall Training

Recall training gives you a way to get your bird back if it flies out an open window or an open door. It also gives you a way to control your bird when it is flying loose in your house.

Recall training is best understood as a series of “baby steps” that teach your parakeet to come when called.

The first step in recall training is to convert your parakeet’s diet to seed pellets and vegetables.

Parakeets prefer real seeds to seed pellets. They love a spray of millet. In recall training, you still provide your parakeets with the seeds they love, but you make them come to you to get them.

You should make sure the treats for coming to you when you call them are very small. These treats should be consumed in 10 seconds or less. Your parakeet should always be wanting more.

There is a specific way to give your parakeet a treat during recall training. You want your parakeet to eat out of your hand, preferably with your hand flat and your palm up.

The first goal is to get your parakeet to take a treat out of your hand while it stands on a flat surface or a perch.

As your parakeet takes the food, give your recall command. It can be “Here (name of your bird)” or any other phrase or a clicker or a whistle (if everyone in your household can whistle).

The sound should be clear and easy for you to make. (Remember, it’s you that are making the sound, not your parakeet.)

It should be something everyone in the family can remember. Someday your bird may be outside and one of you will need to make the recall command to get your bird to come.

Use exactly the same command every time. Don’t punish your bird for not coming, but give exactly the same reward every time it does.

Once you have trained your parakeet to take food from your hand while it is on a perch, the next step is to get it to sit on your hand while it feeds from your hand.

Next, you want it to take short trips across the room to land on your hand and get its treat. Then you want to train it to fly across the house when you call to get its treat.

It’s not a good idea to test your luck by training your bird to come to your hand outdoors.

With careful precautions, you will never have to retrieve your bird outdoors.

But if you do, it helps to have had your vet fit it with a leg band ID or a microchip so there’s at least a chance it will be returned to you.

How Are a Parakeet’s Wings Clipped?

Each of your parakeet’s wings has 10 feathers known as the primaries. These 10 feathers are on the outside of each wing. They give your parakeet the thrust it needs for lifting off into flight.

The rest of the feathers on each wing furnish the lift your parakeet needs to stay in the air. They function a lot like the propellers on an old-style airplane.

When you reduce the size of these propellers, you still have a parakeet that can flutter in lace and glide downward. It just won’t be able to fly very high.

The primary feather also helps the parakeet control its direction as they generate thrust.

For that reason, it’s important to keep the trims of the feathers on the two wings symmetric. You don’t want to trim just one wing and quit, or trim one wing more than the other. And you don’t want to trim either wing too much.

If you don’t clip the wing feathers symmetrically, your parakeet will spin out of control in light.

You also need to keep in mind that a bird’s weight in proportion to the surface area of its wings determines to lift. The larger the bird, the less the wing feathers need to be clipped.

All the wing feathers need to be trimmed the same amount. The covert feathers, which you don’t ever trim, are a guide.

The covert feathers on the top side of the wing are longer than the covert feathers on the lower side of the wing. This makes them safer to use a guide for trimming the wing feathers.

Wing feathers are clipped about half an inch (1.25 cm) from the tip of the upper covert.

Clipping any closer than this leads to problems after molting. If you trim too close, emerging feathers after molting won’t have enough protection and there can be bleeding and infection.

No two parakeets get exactly the same clipping. Your veterinarian will consider age and stage of development. The rule to remember is:

You can always clip more feathers, but it is hard to get feathers to grow back.

It’s important to make sure your bird has needed flying ability after its first clipping.

Then it may be possible to take more feathers to limit its flying ability as needed. But your veterinarian will be careful not to cripple your bird.

Can I Clip My Parakeet’s Wings Myself?

Yes. But it is a good idea to have your veterinarian show you exactly how the procedure is one.

You need to know how to clip and how much to clip. If there is any possibility of clipping too much, then you need to avoid doing the procedure yourself.

Parakeet parents need to be warned that accidentally cutting a pin feather or blood feather can result in profuse bleeding. Your bird may suffer a great deal if you clip the wrong feather.

It’s always possible to get the vet to clip your parakeet’s wings on regular checkups. And the cost of the service is usually covered by pet health insurance.

It is important to remember that feathers grow back. Wings need to be clipped six to ten weeks after molting.

Even a couple of new feathers in the right place can dramatically increase your parakeet’s ability to fly, so never assume that your bird can’t fly. Always keep your parakeet in a safe place.

There is no absolute rule about whether to clip your parakeet’s wings. What’s right for one parakeet isn’t always right for another. The safety of your parakeet is paramount.

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