A friend of mine owns a bird who cannot fly. She had adopted the bird as their first pet bird, having no previous experience as an owner. After doing some research on the internet, she decided to keep the bird flighted, because she’d read several articles stating that it was morally wrong to clip an animal that was created for flight. She loved the bird immensely, it meant everything to her. Then, one day, while flying around the house, the bird hit a window, breaking its wing. The owner rushed to the vet, but the damage was irreparable.
Now, because the owner was unable to care for a flighted bird, it can never fly again. Choosing whether or not to clip a bird’s wings is one of the greatest and most fiercely argued bird owner controversies. Clipping a bird’s wings simply means to cut off some of their flight feathers, preventing them from flying up or for very far, and is a temporary decision as the feathers grow back. Many new bird owners, when making the decision whether or not to clip, will often read articles that take a moral viewpoint on clipping.
Some people are told that it is morally wrong, or even animal cruelty, and adamantly refuse to see differently. Sometimes, though, they will learn about how safe clipping is and will never acknowledge the benefits of a having a flighted bird. Bird owners, when considering clipping their birds or adopting a new bird, should view clipping based on their own abilities, not on moral grounds Unfortunately, because it is one of the greatest bird owner controversies, the moral arguments are often used as a guideline by new bird owners when they make their decision.
In a poll taken, 50% said they keep their birds clipped, 14% said they temporarily clip their birds, 6% don’t but think they should, 25% refuse to on the grounds that it is wrong, and 2% didn’t even know what clipping was. For many people, when they make the decision to keep a flighted bird, they do so because they believe it is morally wrong. The most common reason that they provide for this claim is that birds are designed for flight, and it would be wrong to take it away from them. While one’s beliefs and opinions on the moral grounds of clipping should factor into the decision, it should not dominate the decision.
Jody Kieran, the founder and executive director of the Fallen Feathers rescue, rehabilitation, and education for birds states: “Ideally you would not clip a birds wings because they would be living in the wild and would need them for survival. Unfortunately they are now kept as pets. Because their living situation and hazards are now different determines the best and safest way to control their flight. Birds that are taken outside without restraint, even ones that would never leave their owner, are often startled and fly off with little possibility to be found.
Birds that live inside at all times are subject to hazards such as ceiling fans and windows that they cannot see and are hurt when they fly into them. Some homes have cats or dogs and so the owner wants the bird to have their flight feathers in the event the cat or dog tries to attack the bird so they can get away. It is important to always keep in mind the situation the bird is in now to best determine their feather condition” (Kieran). If one isn’t prepared to meet the needs of a flighted bird, then there can be serious and even lethal consequences.
Now, keeping a flighted bird can have great advantages, however, it can be difficult to keep one if the owner does not know what they are doing. In order to keep a flighted bird safe, you must completely “bird proof” their living area (this should include the entire household/apartment, as room escapes are possible). This means keeping windows and doors shut, making sure the bird can see any windows or glass doors, removing any toxic substances (look up a list online for more information), and always making sure that the bird is within ight.
One issue with flighted birds is that all parrotss, just like humans, need fresh air and sunshine everyday (preferably. Also just like us, it will not do much harm to miss a few days if there is cloudy weather). One cannot take a flighted bird outside unrestrained safely, no matter how strong the bond is. If something startles the bird, it will fly off, as Jody had said. The way this can be prevented is by purchasing a flight suit or harness and put in the time and training to allow your bird to accept the restraint.
In order to keep flighted birds, one must also be very knowledgeable in their individual bird’s body language and be very practised in bird training. Should one’s flighted bird escape, there is a very slim chance of it ever surviving, much less being found and brought home. Parrots are born and raised in captivity (unless illegally removed from their habitat), and so never learned how to find food and avoid predators in the wild. No matter where the bird’s location is, there is certainly to be some sort of raptor (bird of prey, such as an owl, hawk, eagle, et cetera) that will see the bird as a snack.
In their natural habitats, parrots are preyed upon mostly by bigger, carnivorous birds. Not to mention that, because parrots originate from rainforests, many plants, food sources, and even types of wood in areas outside the rainforest are toxic to them, and would make them sick or even kill them if they attempted to eat or perch on it. Also, because much of the world is urbanized now, there are few places a parrot could fly to where they would not be exposed to harmful pesticides, toxins in water, herbicides, and many other toxic chemicals sprayed regularly outside.
There are also many household dangers that a flighted bird can get into. If they were to fly somewhere that their owner cannot reach them, or fly out of the owner’s sight, then they could begin to eat something that could be toxic to them, such as a bar of soap, or something covered in lead-based paint. Not to mention that if the bird flies up somewhere that the owner cannot reach them and begins to destroy property, not only could they hurt themselves, but it would be harmful for the relationship between the owner and the bird.
Other dangers are more immediate to the eye, such as ceiling fans, windows, and pretty much anything that the bird could crash into and hurt itself on. Also, clipped birds can still reap the benefits of flighted birds, just in a different way. The bird’s confidence can be increased by providing challenges for them to overcome, and also by making it easier for them to travel from one space to another. For example, setting up a bird ladder that leads from the floor to their cage is one way that birds can increase their confidence levels.
For example, here is a picture of my own clipped bird, Kirby, a five year old pied cockatiel, climbing to his playground: Exercise is also an issue that flighted bird owners point out with clipped birds. Without being able to fly, how can clipped birds possibly receive their winged exercise to prevent fatty tumors from developing? The answer is simple; clipped birds still can fly, they just simply cannot fly up or for very far. A clipped bird can still exercise their bodies by walking and climbing, and a bird owner can have their bird preform wing exercises in order to keep their wings in shape.
Wing exercises can include teaching a bird to flap its wings on command or having the bird fly short distances. Micheal Adams, a pet health instructor, writes “Another easy way of making the bird flap its wings is to set it atop a Dowel rod and move it up and down repeatedly. A few minutes of this exercise conducted daily is sufficient for the bird, especially if its wings have been clipped. ” (Adams). Finally, mental stimulation is another issue that comes up with clipped birds. However, contrary to what most people would like to think, flying is not much of a mental stimulation for birds.
Birds, clipped or flighted, can be stimulated best by have their toys changed out regularly, having their perches rearranged, and learning new tricks or behaviors. Taking them outside for daily outings can also provide some stimulation. A great way to combine mental stimulation and exercise is through a playground, or playgym, such as the one shown below: Of course, there are pros and cons both to clipping and to keeping a flighted bird. When a person keeps a flighted bird, the relationship is taken to a new level, the bird’s confidence is increased, and the bird has increased mobility.
However, as discussed before, if not prepared there are also grave dangers involved with flight. Clipping is no different; a clipped bird is much easier to handle and train, and is much safer. On the other hand, the bird depends more on the person and needs to have ways provided for them to be able to reap all the same benefits as flighted birds. For this reason, it is completely irresponsible for an owner (especially one new to bird ownership) to make the decision based off of moral opinions. The decision should be taken on a case by case basis depending on the owner’s ability to keep a flighted bird safe or meet the needs of a clipped bird.
Before making the decision, it would be best for an owner to do more research on what is required for each decision, and then to do some self searching to decide if they can meet those requirements. Some ways to do this is to do more research online from reliable, unbiased sources (you can tell if they are reliable and unbiased if they provide factual evidence for their claims and do not ‘pick a side’ in the moral debate), speak to other bird owners in your area or online, or call your local avian veterinarian or an avian rescue organization.