All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Clip or Not to Clip

Dear Marie,
I was watching the news recently when I saw a story about a lost parrot and its heart-broken owner.  As the mom of two feathered children, I could totally relate to her grief.  For people who don’t have any birds, I don’t know if they can fully appreciate how much they become part of the family.  They often live as long (or longer) than their people; they are very intelligent, they are playful and intelligent.  In many ways, my parrots are more like part of my family than my dogs and cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dogs and cats too, it’s just that parrots seem more substantial in their personalities.  If I were to lose one, I would be wrecked.  So this brings me to my question.  My birds never go outside so I have not clipped their wings.  They can fly inside my home.  Everyone who comes to visit me knows that they have to be very careful when coming and going and my birds never seem interested in leaving.  But now, after seeing the story of the bird that flew away, I am starting to worry.  If my birds have always seemed content in the house and never showed signs of wanting to escape, am I right in thinking I don’t need to clip their wings?

Dear Jenna.
There is much debate on this topic.  Personally, I have always clipped my cockatoo’s wings—just some of the interior flight feathers; I leave enough outer feathers to allow him to jump down from high places safely.  He’s a little like Buzz Lightyear, falling with style!

Like your birds, my little guy is very bonded to my family and he has less than zero interest in making his way in the big, bad world.  He absolutely HATES leaving the house.  I do take him out from time to time, but he generally can’t wait to get back home.

But parrots are prey animals and are easily frightened.  If there is ever a situation—an emergency, for example—where strangers must enter your home, they might not realize you have birds.  Doors could be left open, unusual activities may occur, and in a blink of an eye, your frightened birds could flee the scene.

It does not take long for a bird to fly far from home and in the air, all rooftops look the same.  Lost birds become frantic and tired.  They fly until they are completely drained of energy and usually land in very unsafe locations.  In this weakened state, they can be picked off by predators or cars.  If people find them, they are rarely turned in to shelters.  Still worse, they may succumb to the elements and/or starvation.

Even though their chances for making it back home are slim if they escape, I do strongly encourage you to get each of your birds microchipped.  If they do get loose and if they are picked up by animal control or taken to a veterinarian, they can be scanned and returned to you.

In reality, it doesn’t take an emergency situation involving strangers to lose a pet bird.  I know you feel that everyone at your house knows the rules about opening and closing doors safely.  But there only needs to be one lapse in following those rules that leads to the tragic loss of your parrots.  

Since your birds have always had full flight, you should probably talk about this subject with your avian veterinarian.  He or she can explain and demonstrate how to trim flight feathers, and how many to trim.  If you decide to proceed with clipping, it might be a good idea to ease your birds into a new flightless lifestyle.  Clip just a few feathers in the beginning so that flying is just slightly inhibited.  After your birds adjust, clip a couple more feathers.  Never trim so many that your bird cannot glide to the floor from a tall perch.

The last thing I want to leave you with is that birds like being in high places.  Be sure to set up various items that can be used for climbing.  Birds are excellent climbers and enjoy ropes, ladders, and other items that are strategically placed around your home that will allow them to get to their favorite elevated perches.  

Clipping a bird’s wings is a difficult decision.  These animals were intended to fly.  But being pets, they depend on people for safety and security.  They are tame, captive bred animals, that have never learned survival skills like their wild counterparts.  Most that escape die within days of disappearing.   For these reasons, I will always recommend clipping flight feathers.  

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