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Dancing Senegal Parrot


Type: Senegal Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: Senegalus
Subspecies: Mesotypus
Sex: Female
Weight: 120 grams
Height: 9 inches
Age: 16 years old
Caped Cape Parrot


Type: Cape Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Subspecies: Fuscicollis
Sex: Male
Weight: 330 grams
Height: 13 inches
Age: 14 years, 3 months
Blue and Gold Macaw


Type: Blue & Gold Macaw
Genus: Ara
Sex: Female
Weight: 850 grams
Height: 26 inches
Age: 11 years, 11 months
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List of Common Parrots:

Budgerigar (Budgie)
Alexandrine Parakeet
African Ringneck
Indian Ringneck
Monk Parakeet (Quaker Parrot)

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Blue Winged Parrotlet
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Sun Conure
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Blue Crowned Conure
Mitred Conure
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Green Cheeked Conure
Nanday Conure

Black Headed Caique
White Bellied Caique

Poicephalus Parrots:
Senegal Parrot
Meyer's Parrot
Red Bellied Parrot
Brown Headed Parrot
Jardine's Parrot
Cape Parrot
Ruppell's Parrot

Eclectus Parrot

African Greys:
Congo African Grey (CAG)
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Blue Fronted Amazon
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Red Shouldered (Hahn's) Macaw
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Blue Throated Macaw
Military Macaw
Red Fronted Macaw
Scarlet Macaw
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Glossary of Common Parrot Terms

How to Properly Clip a Parrot's Wings (Don't Clip at All)

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By Michael Sazhin

Tuesday April 3rd, 2012

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.

Clipped Senegal Parrot
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.

Flying Cape 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.

Senegal Parrot Flying

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.

Part of: Taming & Basic Training, Health, Nutrition, and Diet, General Parrot Care, Indoor Freeflight, Flight Recall, Outdoor Harness Flight
Clipping Flight
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