Friday, April 24, 2015

The great wing trimming debate

I receive calls occasionally from customers who tell me they do not want their babies wings trimmed. When I ask why, I usually get one of two reasons: These people have had a poor experience in the past with one of their birds receiving a botched (too short) wing trim. The second is that some feel trimming the bird's wings is unnatural and they want the bird to have free reign of the house (which to me, is not a good idea).

I find it interesting that people have such black and white opinions on this subject. There is a third option however. The moderate/conservative wing trim, which is what we do here for our birds. I'll touch on that later.

Our policy is to allow all our babies full flight until we see they are confident and skilled in their flying and landing abilities. This is so important for their physical and mental development. An interesting thing I have noticed is weaning confidence goes hand in hand with flying confidence.

Green cheek conure making a safe, controlled landing with
moderately clipped wings.
Around here, things can get pretty interesting when the babies are fledging! Kitchen chores are done with babies hanging out on top of my head, on my shoulders and hanging by one foot off the front of my shirt (laugh). Ceiling fans are off, doors closed, and careful attention must be paid to where the babies are at all times. Small birds, such as parrotlets can get lost in an instant! I remember one of my parrotlets went missing during playtime. I was feeding another baby and looked away for just a moment. I frantically looked for that baby for about an hour. I finally looked up and saw the little one perched on a chandelier!

This phase is a lot of fun for me. I like to teach a little bit of flight recall training (indoors of course). It's great exercise for the babies and so natural for them at this stage. A few repetitions of them flying to me and they are ready to settle down and play with the toys on their play area or get something to eat. I take pictures of the babies flying for my customers which they enjoy as well.

They also get to practice their flight skills in our outdoor "day" aviaries. Interestingly enough, after a few minutes of play out there too, they tend to settle down and just hang out.

Once they are flying well, I take just a little bit off the first four flight feathers on the first trim. Just a LITTLE BIT. In fact, the babies don't even notice and continue to fly as if they were still flighted. After a day or two, I trim just a little bit more and evaluate how they get around. My motto is you can always trim more off, but you can't put it back on!! So moderation and observation is the key when trimming feathers. After about the third trim, the babies again, are still getting around very well. BUT my moderate trim still allows for very good horizontal flight and balanced landings, while limiting the HEIGHT that the babies can reach when flying. This keeps them out of the ceiling fans and off the top of the curtain rods. It also slows them down to a more controlled speed while they are learning to navigate in their new homes.

Sometimes, the babies will build up some muscle strength after a few weeks in their new home and the owner's tell me the flights had to be trimmed just a little bit more (when this occurs, it is usually with the lighter bodied birds such as green cheek conures or parrotlets). To me, this is fine. It tells me that I trimmed the wings appropriate for the bird's age and physical condition while it was here.

My customers tell me they love my wing trimming method. Their birds are very social, flying to them, confident enough to explore the new play areas, etc. A recent customer, who purchased a jardines from me, really took some convincing when I told him I was going to trim his baby's wings. But when they came and got their baby, the wife remarked at how well their baby was able to fly and that it did so in such a controlled manner. Veterinarians have also complimented the wing trims on my babies when they are brought in for their well bird exams.

Young caique in full flight with moderately trimmed wings
For most households, I do recommend a bird's wings be trimmed. But this is a personal choice. Wing trims do not last forever. Should an owner decide he/she wants their bird free flighted, they can let the wings grow out after their birds molt and see how it goes. About 99% of my customers who have done this, after a short time, do decide to have the wings moderately trimmed again. But a few of my customers have kept their birds fully flighted very successfully using positive training techniques.

Trimming the wings helps behaviorally with some birds as well. I have one customer, who when their parrotlet is fully flighted, he claims the whole house as his territory and becomes hard to manage. Once the wings are trimmed, he settles back down to his usual, social personality. I had another customer tell me one of his birds took a disliking to the youngest child in the family, and if out, would fly and attack the child! Slowing this bird down with a wing trim would be the first step in getting back some control to establish more acceptable behavior.

A proper, very moderate wing trim like I mentioned above, has worked very well for us for 18 years and our customers tell us it works for them as well. As far as the argument that trimming a bird's wings is not "natural", one must remember that our home environment is not natural for birds. So I take this argument with a grain of salt. How many windows, walls and ceiling fans does a wild parrot need to avoid while flying at full speed in the jungle?

When I trim a bird's wings, the purpose is to SLOW DOWN the bird's flight and limit the HEIGHT that the bird can reach, NOT prevent flight entirely. Some people who are against clipping at all make the analogy that clipping a bird's wings is like cutting off a human's legs. I see it more like putting a parachute on a dragster to enable it to slow it down in a safe, controlled manner.

The safety and well being of our babies as they go into their new homes is our number one priority. We have found our moderate wing trimming technique allows our babies to acclimate safely in their new homes, while still having some (but not all) of their flight capabilities. After the bird is in your home for a few months and begins it's first molt, it is up to you to make the decision about what is best for you and your bird.

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