Feathers fly over clipping birds’ wings
Vail, CO Colorado
In regular human company, certain subjects — like those usual suspects, politics and religion — are just better left unplumbed.
With animal lovers, the minefields are not always quite so clear. Cat people get apoplectic over feral-cat overpopulation. Dog enthusiasts can get into fisticuffs over elective surgeries such as ear cropping, tail docking and dewclaw removal.
And among the bird folk, the lightning-rod topics include wing-clipping to keep birds grounded.
For a little amplification on this, we turn to Marc Morrone, longtime parrot breeder, erstwhile Martha Stewart pet expert (he’s still got a show on her Sirius satellite channel) and owner of Parrots of the World in Rockville Centre, N.Y. Morrone has the ability to annoy people on both sides of a debate, which, to my mind, makes him somewhat even-handed.
Morrone sees wing-clipping as a pragmatic decision, not a moral one. “We do it for our benefit, not for the birds’,” he says, making a comparison to tail-docking in dogs.
The difference, of course, is that wing clipping is not permanent, and an owner can change his or her mind with each new molt of flight feathers. Your bird’s breeder can give you instructions on how to clip; some recommend clipping the feathers symmetrically, one at a time from each side, and gauging the result before clipping more. The goal is for the bird to be able to glide to the ground, but not fly.
The species and size of your bird also affects how many feathers to clip. Make an appointment with an avian vet to learn how to safely restrain the bird, what to cut and where, and what tools to use.
One of the main arguments against clipping is that the inability to fly frustrates a bird’s biological imperative, leading to behavioral issues such as compulsive feather-plucking.
Morrone is having none of it.
“Parrots are not the only birds that are deliberately rendered flightless by people,” he says. “Go to a zoo. All those outdoor birds — the cranes, flamingos, vultures, all birds that in a state of nature fly thousands of miles — when they are born, the tip of one wing is cut off.”
Called pinioning, this surgery removes the pinion joint, located on the wing far from the body, and ensures that the birds can never fly.
“Yet all of those birds breed nicely, even endangered species like whooping cranes,” Morrone says. “If it’s OK to do to whooping cranes, it’s OK to do with parrots. There’s nothing wrong with it scientifically.”
Instead, neurotic behavior “boils down to husbandry,” he continues. “Birds can get exercise only if they are exercised.” Ironically, one of the downsides of not clipping wings is that anxious owners might be less likely to let an unclipped bird leave the cage, depriving it of much-needed stimulation and socialization.
Another argument in favor of clipping is that it curbs dominance.
That said, Morrone does not trim his birds’ wings. “I just don’t like it,” he says. “Part of having a bird to me is its flying.”