Having done two years of extensive flight training with Truman, I was ready to take this chance to further his flightducation. Just to be sure he'd come down to me if he did end up in an unreachable place, I brought his weight down to his training minimum weight. Kili on the other hand, I took down no further than typical training weight because I was comfortable and certain that she would do just fine. I've already taken chances flying her in irrecoverable indoor locations (such as TV studios) and knew what to expect from her.
What I mean by an irrecoverable indoor flying location is basically a location where the bird could land in such places that it would be impossible for the owner to recover the bird (except by the bird returning on its own). This is the closest thing to outdoor freeflight but without the risk of permanent loss or predation.
Note, I do not encourage anyone to attempt to fly their parrot (or for that matter have it unrestrained) in an irrecoverable indoor flying location without extensive flight training experience. Although it may not result in the death or escape of your parrot, it may cause extensive problems for the bird and disruptions to the facility. Instead, I encourage you to find recoverable large indoor flying locations first. This is not only to practice but also to test how your parrot would behave flying in a novel location. You don't want to be finding out that your parrot will fly right up to a 60ft ceiling, land, and be incapable or unwilling to come down the first time you are trying this! For the recoverable locations, I have designed a parrot recovery perch for getting parrots down from places up to 20ft high. If you are interested in one, please contact me directly. Only after you are confident that while flying in recoverable locations, your parrot has reliably returned to you even after landing in high places, then can you attempt flying the bird in a place with unreachable ceilings.
I started out with Kili & Truman on their training perches in the center of the gym. I had them fly short recalls to get the hang of flying in this new place and then progressively increased the distance until I was able to have them fly across hundreds of feet to reach me. I had them fly short boomerang flights to remind them how to return to me which proved useful when they would overshoot me. You see, parrots that are used to flying in confined spaces may develop too much speed flying in the open to slow down in time to land on you. Boomerang flying is a great skill to develop so that they would have the practice to turn around instead of just flying away.
It definitely helps to have two birds instead of one. One motivates the other. When Truman would recall first, Kili would eagerly follow when called. And vice versa. If one bird were to land and not come down from somewhere, giving a lot of attention, recalls, and treats to the other bird can sometimes drive it out and back to you. So while on one hand flying two parrots is more work and more to keep track of, it also helps improve the motivation of both birds at the same time!
Finally, when I was comfortable that Kili & Truman had no trouble finding me to land on, I sent them off to freefly around the gym to their hearts' content. I was curious if they would end up flock flying together or independently and it appeared to be more of the latter but really they were just all over the place. Kili enjoyed flying extensive figure eights around the gym at high speed and I was surprised to find that her stamina was better than Truman's! Don't forget that Kili is permanently missing some flight feathers, was not fledged as a baby, and has always been the weaker flyer. This made me realize that I had always worked her harder to compensate for this and as a result she ended up outflying Truman who is the natural born flyer!
In the span of over an hour the birds flew over a mile of heart pumping exercise flights both on command and of their will. They stayed on their perches until called and flew around when I offered them to. Overall I was very pleased with the session and my brother helped me record some of the highlights to share with you.
This is the 2nd video with footage of the birds' 3rd gym flight training session which also features Kili's newest trick.
Having visited a number of parrot performances at zoos and wildlife parks, I'm noticing a lot of similarity in their methods. After watching the shows, I usually manage to get a few questions in to the trainers that I am very interested about. The questions are tough and they are reluctant to answer but I have ways of getting information out of them.
Some of the parks I've visited that have parrot shows include: Gulf World Florida, Zoobic Safari Phillipines, San Diego Zoo CA, Sea World CA, and Wildlife World Zoo AZ. I've also seen other raptor shows and marine mammal shows and had opportunities to speak to the trainers. What is most amazing is that there is far more agreement in methodology across professionals than there is in the amateur training community. There are still many ineffective approaches being used and advocated that could never hold in a professional environment.
Outdoor Freeflight Green Wing Macaw at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Yet, the biggest question is does the methodology used by professionals belong in the home and how can parrot owners apply it? That is what I am here to share with you.
I already know how staff for shows train the parrots. It's the same way I do and the same way I share with you. What I am more interested about is how they attain reliability, balance ethics, and how they deal with a brilliant animal trying to outsmart them at every opportunity. I suspected and they have confirmed that it has mostly to do with: weight management, habit, routine, habit, and some luck.
More of the show is people performing in animal costumes than actual animal tricks. It's easier to dangle some money in front of a person to hang from a wire and make a fool of themselves than it is to get the birds to actually complete their flights! Green Wing and Military Macaw Fly at Sea World in this video.
Interestingly, most of the recent shows I've seen all keep flighted parrots. Now some are exclusively indoors but many are actually outdoors. The old school dog and pony show of parrot entertainment with a dozen clipped birds that perform one trick each is on its way out. There are still some oldsters that present this way, but it seems that a greater appreciation of the parrot as a complete and flighted performer is taking over. I love the indoor flighted parrot shows and agree that this is the very best compromise of freedom and safety. However, I think the main reason that outdoor flight shows exist is less for the purpose of being outside as it is about the large audiences they bring (leading to the impracticability of having the show indoors).
If plainly asked, "what do you do to get your parrot motivated to perform" or "how hungry do you have to make your bird to perform," trainers will get very elusive in their response. They'll start talking about how food is closely monitored, how the animals are healthy, how the animals like to perform, that they used positive reinforcement and treats, etc. Yet they will walk around telling you the fact that the birds' food is heavily managed. I am trying to avoid words like deprived, starved, underfed, etc because I am not out to judge or imply anything (positive or negative).
They tried hard to teach the dolphin to fly. Better leave that to the birds...
I use appropriate jargon and ask questions in ways that get them to actually tell me what kind of food management they actually use. Every place is somewhat different but overall it goes something like this: birds are fed only one scheduled measured meal per day (obviously after shows), weight is monitored and managed by meal portions, weight is usually reduced 10-20% from free feed, and all other food is earned as treats during shows or training. Some venues host only one show per day while others use the birds multiple times.
In order to keep "talking" parrot performs from flying off during shows or to keep performing birds still while the trainer is talking, treats are given to the birds regularly just for staying put. This is something that the old school wing clipping trainers never bothered with because they were able to keep a dozen parrots on stage because they could not go anywhere. This brings an interesting lesson back to pet owners. Yes parrots are hyper and want something to do all the time. They may not be content to sit on your hand for minutes non-stop just because you want them to or to show them to guests. You have to give them a good reason to grace you with their presence.
Military Macaw zooms overhead during Blue Horizons Dolphin/Bird Show at Sea World
Now when it comes to unrestrained outdoor flight, the secret behind the approach shows use (and also a damn good reason you shouldn't) is:
1) The parrots are kept very hungry. They have pretty much no choice but to make the couple flight passes that they are expected to and then be put away to eat. It's like the low fuel light comes on in your car, you don't have the luxury of choosing the cheapest gas station.
2) The parrots physical capabilities are highly limited. Their wings are atrophied and they aren't the strongest fliers. They are kept in cages or aviaries that are not conducive to flight. They rarely/never have opportunities to fly other than training or shows. This may not be done intentionally for this purpose but the byproduct is that their strength is only enough to fly their show routine. The bird would not be capable of bailing and flying too far away. This is like giving a teenager a run down car that will break down before they could jump town. Many parrot owners who keep their parrots flighted with a lot of out of cage time, may have stronger fliers that could get further away outdoors.
3) The parks own the grounds for a big radius around the performance area. Most likely if the bird were to get out, because of it's limited flying abilities, it would still end up landing somewhere within the park
4) The outdoor flighted parrots were bred and raised specifically to fill the role of flying outdoors for shows. They experience nothing else and are not kept as pets. This is the only lifestyle they know so they feel little choice but to comply. On the flipside, parrots at home are usually accustomed to much more freedom so outdoors they could take advantage of it.
5) Lastly, it's just that they don't care enough. The birds are expendable and having the show is important to bring in visitors. I'm not saying that the shows lose birds often (mainly for the reasons above), however, it's a chance they are willing to take. A pet owner with a personal relationship to a single bird is far less likely to consider this a worthwhile risk.
At most of the shows I attended, I only got to ask a few questions of the trainer after the show. However, during my June visit to Phoenix for the Parrot Wizard Bird Show & Seminar, I got to meet Josh the Education Curator and trainer. He took me for a private backstage tour of the show animals facility and chatted with me for nearly two hours about training. Josh admitted that parrots are the most difficult of birds to freefly and that they are less food motivated (thus probably requiring extensive weight management in order to be able to get the motivation). Their social motivation may be great for pet owners but is unreliable or even detrimental to shows (like when the birds prefer to fly to play with the audience than obey cues).
Josh demonstrates outdoor freeflight at World Wildlife Zoo
I would think performers would come to rely more heavily on variable ratio reinforcement schedules but it turns out that most of them stick to continuous. I'm not sure that this is so much a conscious decision as a matter of habit or unawareness though. In the home of course, variable ratio reinforcement is very handy and encourages good parrot behavior all around. However, some performers like Josh try to change out birds and schedules to keep things interesting both for trainers and the birds. He also told me about stories of how they lost certain freeflight birds and how they would get them back. There is a lot to it and it's a tough job. I'm glad Josh was very candid with me and gave me the real perspective instead of the perfection they strive to show their audience during performances.
Josh did a private demonstration of some parrot tricks and freeflight because they don't normally fly the birds in the hot Arizona summer. Video also shows a kookaburra making its vocalization.
If zoo and parrot performers can achieve such major success and reliability with their performing birds, then so can you. Believe it or not, you have the deck stacked in your favor because you can spend more one on one time personally working with your parrot. The professionals at these places are typically working with a multitude of various animals, juggling educational programs, and begging for funds. You can cut straight to the chase and work on things with your pet that bring you the relationship you seek.
When it comes to weight management, if professional trainers can safely manage their parrots' weight to 20% lower than freefeed weight with only one feeding a day, then you can rest assured that aiming for 10% and 2 daily feedings with your parrot is perfectly safe. Not only is it safe, but it is actually healthier than being overweight on freefeed. Hopefully this will convince you that using a more modest food management strategy with your parrot can achieve better behavior while also being more generous. There is no need for the same levels of food management in the home as in shows, however, I hope this convinces you not only that it works but that it is safe and healthy.
Here are some clips from my 2 hour long interview with Josh from Wildlife World Zoo in Phoenix Arizona:
Truman, my Cape Parrot, learned the flighted retrieve in no time. Being a bird of the air that he is, he made the transition from running around (if you can call it that) to get the ball to flying for it without any special thought. You see, unlike Kili, Truman has never been clipped in his life and is completely at ease in the air as any bird should be.
Normally I develop videos and training guides for new tricks that Truman learns but this time there was really nothing to show. One time I rolled the ball on the floor and Truman walked back to me with it, the next time I kneeled with my arm higher so he flew up to it still holding the ball when I called his name. That and a few sessions of practice was all it took before Truman would fly all the way across the room to any place on the floor to fetch the ball and bring it to me.
I even took the trick a step further and taught him to land on my hand and then walk over to my shoulder with the ball before giving it to me. This too was extremely simple to teach. First I had him give me the ball on my hand, then I started having him walk more up my arm to give it to my other outstretched hand. Eventually I stopped signaling him to walk to my shoulder and he just continued doing it out of habit from the previous trials.
So instead of going into further detail about how easy it was to teach Flighted Fetch to Truman, I will tell you how I taught it to my Senegal Parrot Kili which is more likely what others would need to go through to teach the trick to their parrot. Kili already knew how to fly and how to fetch, so it was a matter of making the connection in her little bird brain to do them simultaneously. So for obvious reasons, your bird needs to already be a veteran at fetch (and be able to do it on different surfaces with different objects with ease) and be capable of flight. Ideally the bird should be flight recall trained but it is technically possible to teach a parrot that doesn't normally fly to you to do fetch on its own anyhow.
I found a pair of flat/simple chairs best for this but you could just as well use two coffee tables or other surfaces of similar shape/size that can be placed up against each other at first. Start by having the parrot walk around on one surface fetching the object at one end and bringing it to a cup or your hand at the other end. Use the objects and retrieve methods already most familiar to the bird. Once the parrot is comfortable fetching on this surface, begin having it fetch back and forth between the two joined chairs or surfaces by walking across the gap. As the parrot becomes better at fetching across the divide, slowly begin to spread the distance between the chairs with each subsequent retrieve.
At first the parrot will walk across the short gap, but as the gap widens it will have to hop and eventually flap to make it across the divide. By the time your parrot is flying from chair to chair to deposit the ball, you'll be able to place them quite far apart and the parrot out of habit will continue to fly between them to fetch the ball. All that is left now is to teach the parrot to use flight in other ways such as down to the floor and up to your hand with the object. At least the basic skill and concept of flying with an object has been achieved.
You can go back to the twin chair method but substitute the second chair for your hand. Place your hand within step up distance of the only chair you are now using. Ask the parrot to fetch but instead of flying to the other table, get it to step up on one hand and then deposit the object into your other. Just like the prior process of spreading tables, move your hand further and further away. You may or may not need to use your parrots flight recall cue to motivate or hint it to fly to your hand once it has retrieved the object.
Some things to keep in mind for teaching this trick. First of all, this is a fairly advanced trick. Don't expect your parrot to learn this fresh out of learning retrieve or its first few tricks. I waited two years since Truman learned to fetch before I decided to add the flighted element to it. I wanted a long term rock solid history of retrieve beforehand. The most common difficulty will be the parrot dropping the object when it tries to fly to you or forgetting to bring it and flying to you. The best solution is to use my spreading method because then the gap grows so gradually that the parrot transitions from walking retrieve to flighted retrieve without realizing the mobility change. If you try to go straight from normal retrieve to flying up from the floor with it, the parrot is likely to be confused. If you encounter any trouble at any stage, just go back to the last success point and keep practicing. Make even slower progress before increasing the gap. Remember to practice and perfect short distance flighted retrieves before moving onto longer ones. Once the parrot grasps the concept, be sure to challenge it and you will be surprised at how extremely capable they really are!
You can even take this a step further and incorporate flight into all tricks that are derivatives of the retrieve. For more fun and greater exercise, I have Kili fly recalls across the room for the opportunity to perform a trick. Then I create a divide that mandates flight. So instead of laying out coins on a table for her to put in her piggy bank, I throw the coins on the floor and then Kili flies up and down with them. Likewise with ring toss, I toss the rings on the floor so not only is Kili challenged by the colors puzzle but also to physically go and get them.
This was a really fun and exciting weekend. The parrots came on a flying and camping trip to Maine. We set out not too early. Shortly after takeoff, air traffic control had me fly right over the Empire State Building and cross La Guardia airport. I let the birds out and they would go from sitting on me to atop Truman's travel cage. This was the first time I have ever taken them flying together in my airplane. Prior to this it was just one at a time and on occasion. But lately I have been testing things out and making preparations for our cross country flight to Arizona in June to present our live seminar.
Cartoon depiction of Kili & Truman on their camping outing
Kili copiloting the airplane
Truman giving flying advice from my shoulder
Kili & Truman perch atop Truman's travel cage while he tries to put a shoe on
We climbed to 13,500 feet to practice high elevation flying in preparation for our upcoming trip to Arizona to present a seminar. The birds got sleepy and dozed off. Kili was out like a log in her carrier in the full turned around sleeping position. Truman took longer to fall asleep but fell into a light slumber as well. However, the birds held up just fine and I'm no longer worried about flying over the rockies with them without supplemental oxygen. My airplane isn't pressurized, so although flying lower than jetliners, the actual cabin pressure is far lower.
Truman falls asleep in his travel cage because of the low pressure but shows no discomfort
After two and a half hours flight, we arrived in Belfast, Maine. We took a quick fly over the town and landed at the municipal airport. I harnessed up the parrots in the airplane and then we walked to town. It was only a few miles each way so not a big deal. Fresh air, sun, and entertainment for the birds. Kili & Truman took turns riding my hand or shoulder.
We went to a seafood place by the water and enjoyed some Maine lobster and seafood. Although pets aren't allowed into the restaurant, Kili and Truman earned special permission for their cuteness. We took a table at the furthest end to avoid disturbing anyone. The parrots sat on a nearby fence and earned scraps of french fries and veggies from the masters' table.
Airport and town of Belfast Maine
After a tasty seafood meal, we go to check out the marina in Belfast Maine
Kili and Truman find the airplane's propeller an ideal place to perch and drop a poo before the next flight
We walked back to the airport and climbed in the plane for a very short flight over to the island of Islesboro. The airport there was quite short and desolated. One other airplane was parked there but otherwise it did not appear as though anyone had been through there in weeks. I parked the plane near a grassy patch and then proceeded to unload. I put the parrots out in their carriers to watch the tent set up process. They were just in awe how all that tent fit in such a small bag. After everything was set up, we took a walk and watched the sun set.
Upon return to the camping area, we broke out the cooler and sat down for a picnic dinner. I brought a parrot training perch for the birds to share when they were out. The two of them jealously watched the picnic set up but were treated to some bread and parrot food. It was getting dark so I put the birds into their travel cages and wrapped them with their sheet so they could have their own tent within the tent to stay warm at night. I specifically opted to cover them with one big sheet rather than separate ones so they could share their trapped heat under it.
The parrots were awakened by the calls of wild birds that they had never heard before. So they joined in with their own chatter, shrieks, and whistles. I took the parrots outside wearing their harnesses and practiced some flight recalls with them for treats. They did some but were mostly busy looking around so I didn't push it much. I let them climb around in the tree near our tent and they were thrilled. It was a lot bigger than their tree at home!
Parrots go camping in a tent by the airplane in Islesboro Maine
Kili and Truman decorate the airport sign by doing their own run up
The parrots enjoy some morning sunshine in the tent atop Truman's travel cage
Kili and Truman had a thrill climbing around a tree by the tent
We packed up the tent and loaded the plane. Before long we were airborne and enroute to Hyannis in Cape Cod Massachussets. We flew right over top Boston Logan Airport enroute and Kili got a bird's eye view of Boston.
We arrived in an hour and a half, parked the plane, and headed into town for lunch. After a pleasant walk, we found my favorite raw bar called The Raw Bar. This place is home of the biggest Lobster Roll I have ever seen. For $25 you get a Lobster Roll the size of a Cape Parrot. It's gotta have at least 3-4 lobsters worth of meat piled on it. It is virtually impossible to eat this much lobster by yourself so it's good to have someone to share it with.
I set the parrots on the chair next to me and fed them oysters. Actually they were just the cracker kind, oyster crackers. But the parrots were in paradise. They love the crunchy chewy goodness of these little baked delights and were begging for more. I gave them a chance to taste some lobster but they opted to stick to the french fries and crackers instead.
Kili gets a "bird's eye view" of Boston as we fly over Boston Logan Airport
Parrots checking out the giant Lobster Roll. And yes, it's all real lobster, no substitute!
Kili and Truman prefer fake seafood like Oyster Crackers instead
After a delightful, and somewhat overfilling, seafood lunch, we strolled around Hyannis. From all directions Kili & Truman received praise from shocked onlookers. We returned to the airport and completed the flight back to New York in record time. With a steady tailwind, I was able to bring the power back to fly at 185mph on a mere 14 gallons of gas in an hour and fifteen minutes. Coming back to New York from the northeast, we turned south and flew down the Hudson to get back home.
Map portraying our trip. Red, green, yellow, then blue. NY - Belfast - Islesboro - Hyannis - NY
Senegal Parrot flying over New York City
The trip proved a huge success and we had a lot of fun. It was a new experience for the parrots but far from overwhelming. By camping, walking, and using personal transportation we were able to avoid all issues surrounding travel with pets. We ate outside and cleaned up our own mess. Thus we were able to make the entire trip with the birds without any question of whether they'd be allowed or not. This broke up the parrots' typical routine and also got them involved in something I would normally leave them at home to do. It's a win/win for everyone. Now check out the video footage from the parrots' camping trip to Maine.
While browsing parrot videos on youtube, I inevitably end up coming across videos pertaining to wing clipping. Believe me, I don't go looking for them, they just seem to find me themselves. I am always surprised by how common and taken for granted wing clipping of companion parrots is. Even more so I am shocked by the ridiculous myths that are circulating regarding it.
I compiled the following video from some of the horrific clips I've seen on youtube (pun intended). I didn't go out of my way looking for the most brutal ones. I think people who have posted them see nothing wrong with it and from the sample I've seen, I think this is pretty representative of how brutally most people clip their parrots.
I have always been a major proponent of keeping companion parrots flighted, however, I have not put all the reasons into a single article until now. I would like to not only demonstrate why it is bad to clip your parrots' wings but also why it's good to keep them flighted. To be fair, I'll also cover some of the challenges owners of flighted parrots should expect. Nonetheless, I think the reasons for keeping parrots flighted far outweigh reasons for clipping.
My personal experience of living with and training parrots spans a clipped parrot, refledged parrot, and a never clipped parrot so I think I am equally qualified to discus any of these stages. So onto the main topic, how to properly trim parrot wings? There is much discussion about whether to clip the primary or secondary feathers. How many feathers should be clipped? Will my parrot hate me if I clip its wings? And many other similar questions. My answer is that the right thing to do is not to clip a parrot's wings in the first place but instead analyze the motives for clipping and then achieve them in less intrusive ways than clipping the wings that are specifically directed at those issues.
Kili was clipped when I first got her. Like most parrot owners, I didn't know any better.
On the other hand Truman was never clipped. It took a great effort to find a breeder capable of this.
Parrots, like virtually all birds, have feathered wings that are used for flight. Millions of years of evolution of the avian and psittacine biology have led to these highly effective flighted bodies. Birds are evolved for flight in many different ways beyond just the wings that are apparent to the uneducated eye. Birds, like their dinosaur ancestors, possess hollow bones, air sacks, and higher metabolisms. These anatomical systems allow for the balance of weight and energy required for flight.
I think most people would agree that it would be cruel to always keep a cat or dog locked up in a small kennel without the chance to walk and run around for exercise. Likewise, even if a parrot isn't always caged but has its wings clipped, it is unable to attain the level of exercise necessary for its physiology. The health of the clipped parrot is as much jeopardized as a human or animal entirely denied of physical exercise. Obesity, cardiological, respiratory, and muscular problems are just some of the issues associated with parrots denied of flight. This is a good time to point out that a clipped parrot and an unclipped, but always caged parrot that has no room to fly, are in practically the same predicament. I will use clipped and unflighted interchangeably to mean parrots that are entirely denied flight whether by clipping, caging, or other means.
In flight, a parrot not only has to perform strenuous contractions of its pectoral muscles for flapping, but also many peripheral muscles for balance and direction. In order to keep up with the intense aerobic respiration necessary to keep those muscles moving, the bird needs to make full use of its heart, lungs, and air sacs. Thus many muscles and organs are used and exercised by a parrot in flight.
The problems of clipping are not only physical but also psychological. Without the rigorous mental stimulation of flight, clipped parrots are more likely to develop behavioral problems such as feather plucking, screaming, and biting. Think about it, an animal with the anatomy and metabolism evolved for flight has way more energy than can be consumed by any means other than flight. In a clipped parrot this unconsumed energy leads to obesity and/or behavioral issues associated with restlessness.
Feather plucking is often (but not exclusively) associated with insufficient mental stimulation, aka boredom. Flying is no less mentally challenging than physically. Believe me on this. Even without being physically strenuous, piloting gliders and airplanes is a mental exercise like no other. After a few hours of flying, I feel like my brain was reinserted after being bounced around in a game of badminton. Flying not only involves thinking about a lot of things quickly but also planning ahead. Our feathered friends have to think where they are going, how to get there, how to navigate obstacles, avoid predators, prepare for landing, calculate the landing, and have backup options in case it doesn't work as planned. That bird brain has to work harder in a few minutes of flight than spending all day with toys, feeding, and tricks. So you see, clipping wings not only causes a physical but also a mental handicap to a parrot.
Clipping a parrot's wings immobilizes a parrot which causes it to depend on humans for transport. People think that's a good thing. They believe that this makes a parrot tamer, more manageable, and like people better. Wrong. Just because the parrot cannot get away from things it dislikes does not make it not dislike them. Screaming and biting can be largely associated to the clipping problem. Parrots have a fight or flight reflex. Really it should be called flight or fight because they will typically opt to fly away than fight. The clipped parrot learns to bite the owner to avoid handling or things it dislikes. A flighted parrot flies away instead. To the lay parrot owner, biting may seem preferable over flight. Hey, at least the biting parrot remains within reach while the flighted parrot can get away. However, with training, flight is more manageable than biting. A parrot will fly where it wants, so if you can just change things such that the parrot wants to fly to you, problem solved. Biting on the other hand is very difficult to undo once it is learned. Once a parrot learns that biting will get it what it wants (to be left alone, not to be put into cage, etc), it is very very difficult and painful to eliminate this. To eliminate learned biting, it is necessary to accept hundreds or thousands of bites to convince the parrot that this will not affect your behavior when it is already convinced that it can.
Screaming is yet another problem that clipping is partly to blame for. The screaming parrot in the cage is a different issue, however, out of cage clipped parrots learn to scream to get the owner's attention. In the case of a flighted parrot that wants to go some place else, it will simply fly over there. However, a clipped parrot placed on a high stand is helpless and cannot go back to its cage for a drink or over to the owner without human attention. Thus the clipped parrot can learn to scream to get the owner to come over to take care of its needs rather than attending to them on its own. Also, to me it seems that parrots are more prone to screaming when they have a lot of energy. After a good flying session they get tired and tend to be a lot quieter.
I am going to present many reasons I have come across for clipping wings and present alternatives.
Clip the parrots wings so that the parrot will love you.
The parrot has no reason to love you whether you clip its wings or not. It probably has even more reason not to if you're so selfish that you want to cause such an atrocious physical and mental handicap. The best way to achieve a parrot's love is to do things that it likes (or train it to like things it may not naturally like) and treat it with respect. By treating a parrot in ways that it likes ensures that it will want to fly to you and be around you. You cannot force your pet to like you, you have to earn it. Not clipping the wings provides the most genuine feedback. If your parrot regularly comes to you, you know it really wants to be with you and not because it is forced.
Clipping wings is necessary for the parrots own safety.
This is the biggest load of bull I have to listen to from all over the place experts and beginners alike! First of all, I don't think anyone truly believes this and that it's just a cover up for other selfish reasons. But I will for the moment assume that people really think this and go line by line dispelling this fundamental myth of parrot ownership. Rather than addressing this classic line, I'm going to break it down to specific safety concerns that clipping is purported to address.
I clip my parrot's wings so that it doesn't fly away when I take it outside.
Many people who have never once seen their parrot fly indoors have been shocked to see their clipped parrot flying away outside. There are several reasons why clipped parrots magically seem to be able to takeoff outdoors. Wing clipping normally involves cutting the tips of several primary feathers. The primary feathers are a bird's means of propulsion moreso than lift. Primary feathers are more akin to a propeller than a wing on an airplane. Without thrust, a parrot cannot fly up or straight. However, it can still glide on its remaining secondaries and wing surface area. While the clipped parrot cannot glide or control its flight as well as an unclipped one, it is still able to do this to an extent. Indoors this usually means that a parrot can only fly a limited distance. Outdoors, there are three elements that can cause a clipped parrot to fly beyond any capability observed indoors. The adenaline rush of a major startle could give the parrot strength to flap harder than usual and overcome some clipping. Wind is the biggest cause of clipped parrots becoming able to fly outdoors. Wind replaces thrust as the source of air moving over the wing surface initially for a clipped parrot becoming airborne. By taking off into a headwind gradient, dynamic soaring occurs where additional lift is gained by increasing winds. Also winds can be deflected upward by trees and buildings, creating even more of an upward push. Worse yet, the wind drifts the parrot across a large distance, but being clipped it lacks experience or control to solve this. The parrot could end up in a tree, fall into water and drown, or get hit by a car. Don't be complacent and think that this is only a problem on windy days. Thermals can form without wind and suck the helpless parrot upward should it take flight. People have been shocked by how high or far their clipped parrot has ended up when it unexpectedly took flight outside. Whether clipped or not, companion parrots should be properly caged or restrained when taken outdoors.
It is necessary to clip parrot wings so they cannot fly out of doors and windows.
Once again, even a clipped parrot has some flight and gliding capability. Sometimes it is just enough for something terrible to happen. This is why rather than using clipping (which isn't foolproof for preventing fly outs), it is important to solve this by keeping windows/doors closed while the parrot is out. Whenever doors or windows need to be opened, the parrot should be away in its cage. This is the only way to guarantee its safety.
Parrots should be clipped to prevent them from falling into toilets, sinks, and other sources of water.
I hear this all the time, yet it makes absolutely no sense. A clipped parrot is more likely to "fall in" by accident without escape than a flighted parrot. A flighted parrot can control its flight so most likely would not be in danger of this situation. I can tell you from personal experience that my parrots have never gone into sinks/toilets even when possible. They are scared and uninterested in them. They are less likely to fall into them than a scared clipped parrot without control of its flight. There still exists the possibility of doing it out of curiosity which really can apply to any parrot. Clipping wings is no guarantee that the parrot doesn't end up in the bathroom. Keeping toilet seats closed or better yet bathroom doors closed solves this danger without clipping parrot's wings.
Parrots need to be clipped or they can fall into a boiling pot of water while cooking.
I see absolutely no good reason for a parrot (or any pet) to be out during cooking. Besides boiling water, cooking usually involves knives, fumes, and other things that can be dangerous to any any parrot. The one and only case I have heard of a parrot falling into a boiling pot of water was a clipped parrot though. Parrots should be put away and attention given toward cooking. But if we're going to talk about theoretically who is safer, it's probably the flighted parrot as it can fly away. A clipped parrot fell off someone's shoulder once and landed right in the pot. Once again, clipping is not a solution at all (and possibly a greater threat). Common sense and safety precautions must prevail.
Parrots must have their wings clipped or they will fly into walls/windows and break their neck.
This myth I have only ever heard professed by people who have always clipped their parrot's wings. My parrots fly around the house and I don't have this problem and nor does anyone else I know with flighted parrots. If anything, it's the clipped parrots that end up crashing into things when they gain a few feathers without practice or experience using them. I guess owners take this as proof that parrots can't be trusted to fly and go right back to clipping them without even giving them a chance to get better. My parrots did take some harmless bumps while learning to fly but have practically never crashed again since then. Once a parrot is a capable flier, it can think on the fly and avoid walls and windows. As an extra precaution it is good to keep windows shaded, however, once parrots learn about windows they can fly in such rooms without knocking into them.
Parrots can become victims of other pets (cats/dogs) if they aren't clipped.
Parrots are at risk around other animals whether clipped or not, period. Despite people's hopes and desires of keeping both in harmony, parrots just are not compatible with carnivorous pets who instinctively see them as prey. Clipping may actually put a parrot at greater risk of not being able to fly away but keeping them flighted does not save them either. I have heard of more cases of parrots being killed by cats/dogs than most other kinds of accidents combined. Don't look for excuses, don't think if it hasn't happened that it can't, don't add a parrot to a household with a cat/dog/ferret, don't add a cat/dog/ferret to a household with a parrot. This really is a case of choosing one or the other (or keeping them entirely apart, like dog outside).
If I don't clip my parrot, it won't stay on its perch.
Well duh! Neither would you. Naturally a parrot wants to move around, explore, and do different things. No matter how much food, toys, and exciting things you put on the perch, it's not enough to keep a parrot sufficiently mentally stimulated. Of course when it is unsafe or impractical for the parrot to roam your home, it should be in the cage. However, for the time it is out, it deserves to have some freedom getting around. I don't know why people think it is fair for a cat/dog to roam a house all day long but that a parrot should be clipped and sit on/in it's cage 24/7. If clipping is the only thing that it is keeping it in one place, then you can imagine mentally how much it is missing out on when it can't go anywhere.
I don't want my parrot pooping all over the place so it is best to clip the wings.
This practically is not an issue for a potty trained flighted parrot. Almost all of the time my parrots fly back to their perch to poop. In fact this may be cleaner than a clipped parrot that just goes wherever it is because it doesn't have the option to fly to its designated pooping location (such as when it is on the owner).
If my parrot could fly, it won't want me to put it back in its cage and fly away.
The root of the problem would exist regardless if the parrot is clipped or not if it does not want to go back into the cage. The flighted parrot would fly away, the clipped parrot would bite. Either way, something is not right and you would be hurting your relationship with the parrot by forcing it. Instead of clipping (or forcing), use training and feeding schedules to make it such that your parrot wants to go back into the cage and it's like you're doing it a favor.
If my parrot could fly, I wouldn't be able to put it away in the cage as punishment.
Sure shows what a bad idea it is to use the cage as punishment? Most likely it just encourages more biting anyway so it's for the better not to do this in the first place.
Clipping parrots' wings does not hurt them
It is true that the actual scissor to feather aspect of clipping wings does not hurt them. Many times parrots are hurt in the grooming process but even that can be done gently enough (or even trained to participate in) that this may not hurt. However, the parrot is likely hurt in other physical and psychological ways. Its health is hurt by the lack of exercise, it's mind is hurt by helplessness, and it's body is actually hurt when it falls down. Often times clipping is done severely on purpose not only so that the parrot couldn't fly but also so it would be self-punishing to even try. This can lead to bruised or fractured legs and sternums.
Flighted parrots can get killed flying into ceiling fans.
Yes, they can. I don't know what parrot owner in their right mind keeps those things around. If not entirely remove it, I would at least suggest disabling the wiring so it can't be turned on by accident. There are plenty of alternatives like closed box fans, air conditioners, and those new bladeless fans. It's a reasonable enough sacrifice to make for the safety of your pet and not a good excuse for keeping them grounded. I hate to think anyone is choosing a fan over their pet and if they are I really pity the way they must treat it in other regards.
Flighted parrots just end up in the cage all day.
This isn't true or at least doesn't have to be. Or rather it should be the same as with clipped parrots. Even clipped parrots require supervision when they are out of the cage. After some time they will get bored of staying on the same perch (as would a flighted parrot that might just fly over to another) and begin to scream for attention, hop off, or find other ways of driving the owner nuts. I think it is just in the parrot's nature to get bored of things and want to explore so clipped or not, the amount of time the owner can tolerate them being out shouldn't change too much when going from clipped to flighted. Some just have more patience for these things than others. However, during the transition stage things can fall out of balance which usually encourages people to go back to clipping. The time when a parrot is figuring out what it can do with its wings isn't necessarily representative and you have to move past it to get to a truly flighted parrot. My parrots get about the same amount of time out of the cage as they did when they were clipped (some of them). It is limited moreso by my schedule than anything else but when I do spend all day at home, I still keep their out of cage schedule similar to what they should normally expect.
Clip a parrot in the beginning and let it fly later.
Some folks on the edge of encouraging flighted parrots still suggest an early clip (including breeders that fledge and have flighted parrots). The most popular time to clip (weenling coming home) is probably the worst time to do it. Developing parrots need to learn flight and how to appropriately use it in the human environment during this stage more than ever. They learn quickly and get hurt less because their bones are still flexible. This is like a toddler learning to walk. Not being able to fly in this critical stage may cause some permanent physical and mental abnormalities. The parrot that got to fly throughout its first year will have an advantage over the one that didn't down the line. Most importantly, this is the most pointless time to clip a parrot because the just hand raised fledgling is eager to go to people and eager to learn. This is the best opportunity to teach it life in the human household while still having its unquestioned trust.
A partial trim is a good intermediate compromise.
Some people suggest cutting just 2-4 primaries so that the parrot retains a level of flight but flies less. I don't like this idea because it seems the parrot would have to flap disproportionately hard to stay airborne and cause stress to its wings and system. It is definitely more natural to be flying with full feathers. If the owner is ok enough with the parrot to be mostly flighted, then clearly flight safety precautions have been made so there really isn't much reason not to just go all the way. Parrots will get into mischief no matter what so you may as well accept that there is no magic solution and it's part of who they are and what we like about them.
I know people are going to come up with some specific exceptions and try to argue that it's ok to clip all parrots on the basis of these rare ones so I'll just bring up some cases where clipping may be inevitable. Some parrots will be born with deformities or develop certain injuries throughout their life that may prevent them from safe flight so these cases should be left up to the vet. Parrot rescues are overwhelmed with other people's unwanted parrots and it is often impossible or dangerous to keep them flighted. Under the circumstances those parrots are already getting the best they can expect considering the situations they are coming from. Still, rescues should strive to home out those parrots to friendly homes where they can be kept in their natural flighted state. However, with such an overwhelming number of birds being displaced, they often have to do whatever they can for minimal survival for these unfortunately unwanted animals. I cannot blame the rescues. It's the people who screwed up the parrots to begin with that are at fault.
Then there will be animal hoarders who just want to collect as many different parrots or animals as possible. They can't keep parrots flighted amidst a household zoo of animals. The problems here lie far deeper than just clipping vs flight so I'm not going to get into them. The only point I have to make is that people shouldn't mix parrots with incompatible animals and shouldn't acquire more animals than they can provide outstanding living conditions for. Likewise there are circumstances of children owning parrots that want to keep them flighted but the parents do not allow them. I don't know what the parents were thinking allowing them to get a bird in the first place then but another reason why I don't recommend parrots for children until they are in complete control of their circumstances.
There will also be some circumstances where people bought and kept a parrot clipped for a long time and are considering flight. Yet their household and circumstances truly prevent them from keeping them flighted no matter how much they would like to. Again, it is still worthwhile to try to go as far as possible in preparation for having the parrot flighted, brainstorm with other people what can be done, etc. But, there will be times that it is still not possible to go that final step. However, this is not justification for most people not to try or make excuses. Everyone thinks they can't do it but most often it is because they haven't tried or haven't tried long enough. I simply cannot believe that such a vast number of parrots have to be clipped by extreme household circumstances. Just because exceptions may exist does not mean we shouldn't all strive not to have to be them.
Now I'd like to go over some of the challenges. Flighted parrots do require some training, vigilance, and bird proofing. However, none of these concepts should be unfamiliar to owners that clip. If they are, they are probably going about parrot ownership in the wrong way. The vast majority of bird proofing should already be in place regardless if the parrot can fly or not (such as avoiding teflon, closing doors, closing windows, not cooking with parrot out, etc). Just the finishing touches and supervision are all that's needed beyond that. Even clipped parrots can end up on the floor and electrocuted while chewing a cord so owner vigilance is required either way. And finally training. Even clipped parrots must be taught basics like step up, targeting, and being held. Adding flight recall is just once further step and really the culmination of the other skills. It should almost come naturally if you can provide the parrot the necessary motivation to be around you. There are plenty of minute details and perfections to flighted ownership that I won't get into here because I have discussed them before and throughout. Accepting these challenges should just be a natural part of bird ownership. If owners genuinely care about their companion parrots, the benefit of knowing how much better off your parrot is far outweighs the extra effort in keeping them flighted.
Many people resist keeping flighted parrots. I'm not completely sure why but my guess is that they mainly fall in two categories: people who simply don't know/realize that keeping parrots flighted is safe and possible, and people who just don't care about their parrot. I think the sad reality is that most people who clip their parrots fall into the second category. Whether it's because they prize their possessions more than their pets or because they just selfishly want a decorative talking animal that doesn't get in the way... I really pity their parrots and find it a total shame that they acquire them in the first place. These people will resist, make excuses, distract, and ignore good reasoning. But they won't have the guts to admit that it's their fault and they are to blame and not the parrot. I cannot change their minds. But for everyone else who clips their parrots and is reading this article, please take these reasons into consideration. Don't take this decision lightly. Think it trough and seek help of others. Please feel free to discuss this and your specific case on the parrot forum. Think it over. Work in little steps toward making your parrot flighted. Even if you don't think you can achieve it 100%, just taking the steps to bird proof as much as possible, use harnesses outside, using flighted precautions, etc will at least ensure more safety for even the clipped parrot. Then all that will be left is figuring out the last few unique issues to getting your parrot safely flighted. There is always a solution. The only question is if it's worth it to you?
Finally I would like to end this article by expressing just how truly remarkable it is to have flighted parrots. This is a large part of the reason I chose to have birds. It is just absolutely thrilling to watch them effortlessly get around on their wings or feel the breeze as they swoop right over my head. We should appreciate, marvel, and envy their flight and not take it into our hands to be taking it away from them. Here's a video of my parrots in flight.
Note all the flights in the video are trained/cued flights and it may seem like that's the only kind of flying my parrots do. This isn't true. They do fly at will or on cue to me outside of training sessions or just where they want to go. It's just very difficult to capture because it is spontaneous. The only way to reliably demonstrate their flight to an audience is when it is on cue. But rest assured they do fly as they wish at other times.