Clipping a companion cockatiel’s wings can be a difficult decision to make.
Bird breeders, owners, and avian experts have strong opinions on this subject and they are worth considering.
The primary reason to consider clipping cockatiel wings is for safety. If your cockatiel might be able to escape through an open window or door, fly to a hot stove or open toilet, safety is definitely an issue.
The question then becomes how to deal with it. Clipping wings is one of several ways. If you decide to clip your cockatiel’s wings for safety reasons, this article will teach you how to do it safely and correctly.
How to Clip Cockatiel Wings
The goal of clipping cockatiel wings is to restrict the amount of lift the bird can get without impacting their ability to safely navigate to the ground.
To do this, you want to clip the majority (but not all) of the primary or far-end flight feathers and possibly a few of the second or middle wing feathers.
Read on to learn exactly how to clip cockatiel wings safely.
How to Clip Cockatiel Wings Safely and Correctly
As the veterinarians so rightly point out in this very professional YouTube video, clipping a companion cockatiel’s wings is a controversial decision. There is no doubt there are strong feelings on either side on this issue.
But if you do make the decision that your bird’s safety requires that you clip their wings, you want to be sure you do it safely and correctly. This video will show you how to do that step by step.
The Case for Clipping Cockatiel Wings
Learning how to clip cockatiel wings correctly and safely is not as intuitive as it sounds. You need to first understand what each set of wing feathers is used for.
The American Cockatiel Society offers a good visual aid to help you identify each set of feathers on your bird.
Primary flight feathers
The primary flight feathers are the set of feathers at the outermost wing tip – usually, there are 10.
These are the feathers that allow the cockatiel to gain and maintain altitude in flight. Therefore, these are the feathers that are targeted in clipping cockatiel wings to restrict flight.
Secondary flight feathers
Secondary flight feathers are like assistants to the primary flight feathers. These feathers – usually a set of 10 shorter feathers mid-way along the wing – should never be clipped.
The Case For And Against Clipping Cockatiel Wings
You may have noticed in the YouTube video you just watched that the veterinarian very clearly stated that some cockatiel owners agree with wing clipping while others do not.
She also said she wanted people who choose to clip cockatiel wings to know how to do it properly for the bird’s health and safety.
This is so important!
Not everyone believes that cockatiel wing clipping is necessary or beneficial. The key is to consider why you are choosing to clip cockatiel wings.
If you are thinking about clipping your cockatiel’s wings as a way to develop a bond, socialize or tame your bird, this can backfire.
Just because your bird is not able to get away from you as easily doesn’t necessarily mean they will warm up to you more quickly.
However, if you have a cockatiel and there are dangers you absolutely need to make sure your pet never encounters, such as hot stoves, open toilet bowls, or oscillating overhead or floor fans, then clipping wings may be the most humane choice.
Far too many cockatiel keepers have lost their birds when they or another family member casually opened a window or door, forgetting their bird was fully flighted and out of the cage.
Tame pet cockatiels who are socialized to humans are unlikely to survive for long in a wild setting. They do not know how to be wild birds and find food and water and safety.
So not clipping your bird’s wings and risking an untimely escape can be like signing your cockatiel’s death warrant. In this case, it is safer to clip wings to prevent disaster.
These are some arguments you can think through to decide whether it is in your bird’s best interest to clip the wings or leave them fully flighted.
How to Clip Cockatiel Wings So You Don’t Hurt Your Bird
As VCA Animal Hospital explains, wing clipping is never supposed to be a foolproof way to prevent your bird from flying.
Rather, it is a method to ensure if your bird does become airborne, they can safely glide to a landing rather than dropping like a stone and crash-landing on the ground.
Cockatiels are small, fragile birds that can easily injure themselves if they can’t at least glide a little to land.
Flight – or at least the movements that would create flight – is also a very important form of exercise for a cockatiel.
So you want your bird to still feel able to flap their wings and get the cardiovascular and strengthening benefits of that flapping motion.
To achieve both of these goals – a graceful landing and sufficient healthy exercise – you will need to consider how to clip your cockatiel’s wings.
There are several methods which we will review in the next section here.
Methods for Clipping Cockatiel Wings
These are the most common methods that breeders and keepers tend to use to clip cockatiel wings.
These methods deal only with clipping the primary set of flight feathers – those that are farthest away on the wing from the bird’s body.
The secondary (middle section) of feathers should never be clipped.
Clipping all of the primary flight feathers on only one wing
This is an outdated method of clipping a bird’s wings. It is dangerous and leaves the bird unbalanced if they should become airborne.
Clipping all of the primary flight feathers
This is often the best option in very small and lightweight birds like cockatiels. Some cockatiels may still be able to gain altitude and sail along in a strong air current if the outermost primary flight feathers remain unclipped.
Clipping all but the outermost one or two primary flight feathers
This is the preferred method for clipping cockatiel wings today as long as the bird demonstrates they can safely glide to the ground but cannot gain and maintain altitude.
The bird’s weight can be a factor in which cockatiels can keep their outermost one or two primary flight feathers and which cockatiels cannot.
Clipping Cockatiel Wings Safely
It is so important to know how to safely clip your cockatiel’s wings. As Talk Cockatiels owners forum demonstrates, birds can be badly injured or even crippled from improper wing clipping.
Cockatiels are very small birds and can easily bleed out from even a minor injury.
Cockatiels have blood feathers that can be identified by the thick reddish-bluish-colored feather shaft. If you cut into a blood feather it will cause intense pain and bleeding.
Always have styptic powder on hand just in case you need it – a quick application could prevent bleeding out.
Brisbane Bird Veterinarian explains how to properly hold a cockatiel. You will need two people to do this safely.
If you are not comfortable clipping your cockatiel’s wings or you do not have a helper available, this is a job best left to avian veterinary professionals.