Follow us!

Re: Why you shouldn't wing clip yet more info

Posted by Emma on 6/01/05
(82) Comments

    Hey hey, yet more! Again, DISCLAIMER: not written by me

    Prevailing Attitudes toward Wing Clipping and Flightedness
    At this point in time, parrot owners in the United States
    routinely clip their birds' wings in order to prevent or limit
    flight. Conversely, parrot owners in European countries do
    not, since this practice is believed tantamount to abuse. This
    fact alone allows us to understand that this practice, often
    recommended with almost religious fervor here in the United
    States, may not be quite as necessary as many believe it to be.

    The subject of wing-clipping often elicits strongly held
    opinions from parrot owners, veterinarians, and behavior
    consultants alike. They typically offer polarized opinions
    towards flight: they would never clip their parrots' wings, or
    they vociferously condemn those who allow flight, proclaiming
    that all parrots should be clipped. While I, too, have my own
    biases, I will attempt in this article to take a balanced look
    at issues related to the flight of birds when kept in
    captivity, at the pros and cons of both keeping parrots
    clipped and of keeping them flighted.

    First, however, let's take a look at some facts related to the
    flight of birds. If we are going to deprive a parrot of
    flight, we should do so with full recognition of what it is we
    are doing.

    Facts Regarding Feathers and Flight
    Birds are the only living creatures with feathers. Given that
    fact, even those readers without familiarity with parrots,
    might assume that feathers and flight would be of critical,
    primary importance to the life experience of any bird. In The
    Lives of Birds by Lester L. Short, the author
    remarks, "...everything about a bird's physical structure, and
    indeed much of its physiology, is affected to some degree by
    the constraints of flight."i We could take Mr. Short's
    observations one step further to very rightly state that
    everything about a bird is affected by its need to fly,
    including its emotional make-up. A bird is flight, and to
    ignore this in our parrot keeping practices is to do them an

    Feathers come in several different forms.
    Smooth ones cover the body, fluffyones provide warmth and
    insulation, and long, stiff feathers provide support for
    flight. An average-sized bird has several thousand feathers,
    which grow in feather tracts, with patches of bare skin in
    between. The flight feathers have a central, spongy shaft,
    making the feather lighter and more flexible for flight. Barbs
    extend outward, slanting diagonally from either side of the
    feather shaft. You can easily pull these barbs apart, then by
    pressing above and below the separation, zip them together
    again, the same way the bird does while preening. From each
    side of the barb grow hundreds of barbules that overlap each
    other. Minute hooks on the barbules lock the branches
    together. The "construction" of even a single feather is
    exquisitely complex.

    Feathers have many advantages. They are light and are replaced
    regularly when worn or lost. Each feather is individually
    attached to a muscle, which allows for greater
    maneuverability.ii Feathers enable birds to fly thousands of
    miles a year, to fly at speeds of 100 miles an hour, to hover
    and fly backwards, and to fly for days at a stretch without

    The bird's skeleton has evolved in such a way as to keep
    flying weight to a minimum. The skull of most birds is paper
    thin. Many have hollow bones, which are filled with air sacs
    for increased buoyancy. A frigate bird, whose wing span is
    seven feet wide, has a skeleton that weighs only four ounces,
    less than the weight of its feathers.iii

    Other organs have evolved in such a way as to make flight
    easier as well. The heart has become enlarged to include four
    chambers in most birds, in order to be able to remove
    impurities from the blood more quickly. In avian "lungs," air
    is pumped through a system of air sacs that branch off the
    lungs to occupy much of the bird's body. These air sacs act as
    bellows.iv In some species, this system of air sacs extends
    even down into the legs. In fact, in 1758, an English surgeon
    showed that a bird could still breathe if you completely
    blocked his windpipe, but made a small hole from the outside
    into a wing or leg bone.v

    The fusion of various bones in the skeleton has also resulted
    in decreased overall weight, and in some cases more
    flexibility. The bones of the clavicles have fused into
    the "wishbone" or furcula. Scientists have been able to view,
    with high-speed x-ray movies, the flight of a starling in a
    wind tunnel. They observed that the furcula opens and closes
    with each wing beat, acting as a sort of spring. This appears
    to assist the bird in breathing, pumping air throughout the

    One of the most important functions of flight is that of
    migration. Even tropical birds, who are not subjected to the
    extremes of weather, move with the seasonal rains and
    droughts, often across hundreds of miles.vii Certain examples
    of migratory flight almost defy belief. Some shorebirds fly
    non-stop from South America to the coast of New Jersey. This
    flight takes ten days to complete, a total of 240 hours of
    uninterrupted flight. The motivating force behind migration is
    about finding food, rather than avoiding severe temperatures.
    In reporting the migratory efforts of the short-tailed
    shearwater, a bird that covers over 18,000 miles in a single
    year, Weidensaul comments, "Migrations like this leave us
    staggered; we are such stodgy, rooted creatures. To think of
    crossing thousands of miles under our own power is as
    incomprehensible as jumping to the moon. Yet even the tiniest
    of birds perform such miracles."viii

    During flight, a number of flight skills are demonstrated. The
    bird must be able to gain lift. Three factors affect lift: the
    surface area of the wing, the wind speed, and the angle at
    which the wing is held.ix Gliding is another important skill
    for a flying bird. A bird will stop beating its wings, and
    thus begin to glide. This results in a loss of speed, which
    enables the bird to land. Gliding and hovering are necessary
    to landing. Powered flight requires more energy, and is
    achieved when the pectoral muscles drive the wing downwards.
    Birds must also be able to steer themselves once in the air.
    They can do this solely through the use of the wings. This is
    achieved by altering the angle or shape of one wing.

    Aside from the importance it has to birds, flight has carried
    significance for humans since time began. As Jack Page and
    Eugene Morton write in Lords of the Air, "We humans appear
    always to have been on the lookout for ways to understand
    ourselves and our world, and for most of our tenure here, we
    have rarely looked at any bird - say, a crow - and simply seen
    a crow.... In the first place, crows and most other birds fly,
    and flight has meaning. The crow is black, and black means
    something. Feathers mean something, as do the eggs from which
    the crow is born. For most people throughout time, these
    meanings have been as real as the bird itself, and perhaps
    more so, since the meanings were taken to be universal and
    eternal. Flight means space, light, thought, imagination."

    Among the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the bird came to
    signify the human soul. In ancient Egypt, the feather was one
    of the hieroglyphic elements that spelled such words as
    lightness and height. Wings have been seen as analogous to
    spirituality. To the Greeks, they also signified love and

    While these are only a few of the fascinating facts related to
    bird flight, they underscore two major points. First, every
    physical feature of the bird has evolved to facilitate flight.
    Second, much of our fascination with birds is because they can

    Attitudes toward Companion Parrots and Flight
    It has long been held as strong opinion in the United States
    that all companion parrots must have their wings clipped in
    order to insure their safety. This routine practice has led
    also to the rarely-questioned practice of clipping the flight
    feathers of baby parrots before they have a chance to take
    their first flight. It is assumed that, if the flight feathers
    are clipped for the purpose of removing flight, then the bird
    can not fly away and become lost. I believe it significant,
    and troubling, that the unstated, but underlying assumption
    behind this practice is that our companion parrots would fly
    away if given the opportunity.