To Clip or Not

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  Valley Aviary

Breeder's of Eclectus Parrots, Timneh African Grey, Great Billed Parrot, Cape Parrot

Exercise Video for A Clipped Bird:  This video shows how to give a bird that is clipped flying exercise.

On this page there are two very good articles on things to consider when you are contemplating whether or not to clip your birds wings.

What Do We Do With Those Wings? by Gay Noeth (article below)

Website about Fully Flighted Parrots 

Flighted Parrots by Steve Hartman of The Parrot University

Here is a link to another very good article that outlines advantages and disadvantages to both clipped and flighted: http://www.parrothouse.com/pamelaclark/feathersandflight.html  

 

What Do We Do With Those Wings?

Once you become a bird owner, you have a very important decision to make.  Actually, it may be necessary to make the decision before you even bring your bird home.  Being the thoughtful people that we are, we want to research our decision.  We want to search for any information to guide us with making the most informed choice.  What is this decision?… to clip or not to clip.  On this page, I hope to supply some of the available information to help you with this question, without your needing to search around.

Wing clipping is a very important part of pet bird care. [i]

It may seem more natural, and more beautiful to allow a bird free flight in the house, but it is essentially inviting disaster. [ii]

Clipping a bird's wings is done mainly for their own safety. [iii]

A mirror or large window may appear to be an opening to another area.  A head-on flight into one of these could cause a serious injury, a broken neck, or even death. [iv]

The list of hazards is extensive and the following only brushes the surface.  There are open containers of water including toilets and flower vases, beak-tempting electric cords, undraped windows with their illusion of non-existence and the chance of concussion or broken necks when birds find out otherwise, ceiling fans that can deliver a killing blow, small tight spaces to get lost in, hot pots, stove burners, woodstoves, and the increasingly popular halogen lights which get very hot. [v]

For most of us, losing our bird would be a very painful thing.  It would be even worse if the loss could have been prevented.  An open door or window is an invitation to an unclipped bird.  No matter how tame, birds will fly out and may be lost forever.  Some of us take our birds out in the sun or transport them to the vet or take them with us on a trip.  In all these situations, no matter how careful we are, an opportunity to fly away may present itself.  Clipping a bird's wings is an easy way to reduce the possibility of such a loss. [vi]

The earliest advantage of wing clipping that you will most likely notice is in training the bird.  After all, why should a bird feel it should have to "Step Up" when it could easily fly away from you. [vii]

The above lists but a few reasons why clipping is considered safer, not to mention that with flight, the bird has the ability to get into more things that could be toxic, like lead paint, lead curtain weights, solder, zinc, and possibly even medications which have been left out.

At this point, it would be easy to clip without thinking any farther, without delving any deeper, but it is my belief that everything should be considered completely before taking that step.  There is no reason we can’t use our own thought process rather than just be told by others what to do.  That said, I want to take a closer look at all the arguments for clipping but I think before that, we need to understand a little about birds.

Did you know that everything about a bird is designed for flight?

The skeletal structure consists of hollow, lightweight bones.  These bones have struts to add needed strength while maintaining a lightweight frame.  The digestive system is relatively fast, to get the nutrients out of the food and to expel the waste (excess weight) as soon as possible.  A crop allows them to eat food and take flight before digesting, allowing maximum intake of food with minimum time exposure to predators.

It is suspected that some birds may fly with the third eyelid covering the cornea of the eye, which prevents it from drying out during flight (acting like birdie goggles).  Their respiratory system is extremely efficient compared to mammals, with oxygen always going through the system, no matter if the bird is inhaling or exhaling.

Whether any of this is pertinent to our decision about clipping remains to be seen, but I do feel it is important to note.

So lets take a closer look at the reasons for clipping.

Safety - If they fly into the kitchen they may land on the hot stove, hot burner or even into a pan of hot liquid.

This is true.  If you allow them to fly in the kitchen while you are cooking, you could end up with an injured bird, but is there any reason they need to be loose in the kitchen while this is going on? Wouldn’t the common sense of the humans suggest the bird should be locked in their cage at this time, if you can’t keep them out of the kitchen?

It’s possible they could drown in the toilet or the dishwater.

Sure, they could drown in any standing liquid where they could fall in.  It’s just a simple thing of either putting the lid down, or closing the door to save them from the toilet.  Either one of these can become second nature very quickly.  Even children can learn this.  If the children have trouble remembering, the caretaker (you) can always go check to make sure.  If you have water in your kitchen sink and it needs to sit, cover it.

Unclipped birds can easily fly into windows, glass doors, or mirrors, injuring  themselves.

Mirrors are generally in the bathroom, so if you shut the door, you’ve eliminated two concerns at once.  Actually, I don’t find that many birds flying into a bathroom for no reason, if no one is there.  If you have other mirrors around, you could take the bird around and tap on the mirrors until the bird knows them.  You could also place something in front of them.

Yes, windows can be dangerous.  People have come up with several different methods to deal with windows.  You can have the curtains or blinds closed any time the bird is out, you can apply decals to the windows, you can make that cute little design of xxxx’s on your windows by applying the whitish scotch tape in this design.  You can put a layer of plastic over the windows (hey, this works great in a colder climate).  Some people have smeared their windows with things like the dry window cleaner and slowly removed it as the bird learns the windows.  Some people continuously take their bird around to the windows and tap on them.  Windows ARE something that need to be considered but since we all know how smart these creatures are, why would we ever think they can’t learn?

So what do we have so far?

If they fly into the kitchen they may land on the hot stove, hot burner or even into a pan of hot liquid.  They can fly and possibly get to electrical cords that are plugged in, or fly and get hit by the ceiling fan.  Its possible they could drown in the toilet or the dishwater.  Being able to fly where they want to, it would be much easier to get to those household cleaners, the solder trim in that picture frame and other toxic substances.[viii]

Are any of these hazards truly unavoidable if you have a flighted bird? Is clipping their only safety assurance?

Now we need to look at the other side of the coin.  Is there any harm in clipping? 

The lack of flight abilities could mean that the bird takes to walking on the floor more often where we could run into several hazards.  A bird wandering on the floor could very easily get stepped on or rolled over by a chair on wheels.  It could easily crawl under your recliner and get into the mechanics of it, getting squished if someone sits down on the chair.  It would be more accessible to other animals in the home while it’s walking on the floor.  Things like electrical plug-ins and wires that are commonly low or running along the floor are at a greater risk of causing harm.

You might at this point be thinking that all these reasons are rather far-fetched because your plan isn’t to allow the bird to be floor walking.  However, they are no more far-fetched than the arguments for reasons to clip.  At some point and time, your bird will end up on the floor. 

I think it’s necessary to go back to all those websites that tell you all the reasons to clip and realize a few very important facts.

If clipped too drastically, he won't be able to maneuver to avoid hitting something dangerous or to break his fall.  As a result he may injure his beak, breastbone or wings or even break a leg as he plummets to the ground. [ix]

If they do not learn how to properly land by flaring their tail and lifting their wings, then when they are clipped, they could injure themselves if startled off their perch or cage and could break their beak or keel bone. [x]

Both wings should be clipped symmetrically to ensure that a bird can glide to the ground and not fall like a ton of bricks (this can result in an injured or split keel, or an injured beak tip that can cause excessive bleeding) [xi].

Even with the best wing trim possible, birds will fly into windows or fall on the floor and crack the tip of their beaks.  If it is just the tip and only slightly cracked, you may find that you bird will not eat, will not climb, will not pick up anything, and generally behaves like he is in pain.  A cracked beak is like a broken tooth and it hurts a lot. [xii]

What are they all saying? They all say basically the same thing, but are you reading beyond the actual words? Are you thinking of the true implications?

The words they use say….  improper clip, meaning if clipped too severely….  if clipped to the point of rendering the bird flightless.

So these articles tell us that to protect the safety of our birds from the noted hazards, (which all include flying into them) we should clip but not render them flightless.  If they aren’t flightless how have we avoided the dangers? If clipping only means allowing them horizontal flight rather than upward flight, how many dangers have we truly avoided?

It is important to educate our clients so they understand that wing clipping is meant only to eliminate the possibility of upward flight, and that their birds may still retain some ability to fly horizontally, and may even gain lift in the wind.  Clients also need to be advised that birds should not be taken outside unless confined to a carrier or cage because of the possibility of escape or, if startled, sudden (if short) flight into trouble. [xiii]

So let’s face our greatest fear.  Our bird escapes out the door and flies away.  This is really the most traumatic moment for an owner.  We are overwhelmed with panic, guilt and worry.  Will we be able to find him? Will the neighbor’s dog find him before we do? Will he get hit by a car? Will he be able to find something to eat?

When thinking about the escape situation, which way would you consider the bird to have a better chance at survival? Fully flighted, able to manoeuvre, to fly up into a tree, to know how to land, or to be clipped? A clipped bird would need a lot of energy to fly, unable to fully manoeuvre, possibly unwilling to land from not knowing how, or unable to fly down out of a tree from lack of flying experience or maybe, just unable to fly when that dog runs over to sniff this strange creature in the yard next door.  Generally a bird on the wing is safer than a bird on the lawn.

Five years ago, before I got my first parrot, I read everything I could.  It was generally considered irresponsible to not clip, it was putting the parrot in harm's way.  The bird could fly into a mirror or window and die, the bird could fly into a boiling pot on the stove, etc., etc.  Being a novice, I accepted this advice to clip.

Less than a year after I brought my first parrot (Max. pionus) home and one month after his last clip, he got loose outside.  He caught air and flew.  I located him that day in a tree in a neighbor's yard, up high beyond my reach.  The neighbours pulled out their pruning ladder and it
wasn't quite long enough. I almost got him, but he startled and flew again.  Finally located him again that afternoon, in another tree, higher than before.  I couldn't understand WHY he wouldn't fly to me.  

I'd coax him with seeds and a bag of tortilla chips and it looked like he wanted to get to me, but he'd take off flying and end up in another tree, even higher.  This went on for 5 torturous days.  I'd locate him sunrise and sunset, because he'd get vocal at those times.  He would work his way down a branch and on to a thin flimsy branch, in an apparent attempt to fly to me.  He'd loose his grip and fly out or up, never down.  The last day I saw him, he was up about 80' in an oak.  He
took off flying in a large circle.  I thought perhaps he was heading for our property where I had his cage out with big full food bowls.  Maybe he was, but he continued circling and flew out of sight.  I advertised, I had flyers, I talked to people, etc. but I never got Max back.  It was a very poignant lesson for me to learn.  Clipped birds CAN fly.  Clipped birds with little or no fledging experience do NOT have the skill to fly down.  When this process of trying to retrieve Max was
ongoing, I actually wondered if he didn't want to come to me.  What a ridiculous thought!  He would have loved to land on my shoulder and grab a treat.  He simply didn't have the ability.  This realization slowly but surely came dripping into my brain.

It still gnaws at me and I don't want others to go through an experience like that.

That is primarily why I decided never to clip.  Over time, I learned of other benefits (for birds) by not clipping.  And my birds, being flighted indoors, have taught me the most.  It's fun, it's the way it should be.

The above is posted with permission but the author prefers to stay anonymous.

Clipping does NOT mean they can’t fly away! Clipping does not mean they can’t escape!  It only serves to give us a false sense of security, a false sense of security that people with flighted birds never have.

We haven’t even touched on what the psychological damage or physiological damage could be, due to clipping.  There is evidence to suggest that some birds are more fearful while clipped.  I imagine since flight is the instinct to evade predators, being clipped could make them feel threatened/helpless in an unsure situation.

Birds are meant to fly and are most happy and secure when they can.  If a bird cannot fly, its cardiovascular system won’t work hard enough to remain healthy.  They need to fly for fun and for exercise and to escape from danger.  A bird that cannot fly will tend to be more fearful because it knows it is vulnerable. [xiv]

Birds not only use flight as a natural means of locomotion, but in beautiful forms as a means of expression.  Many species spend hours of the day in the recreation of flight as others spend hours in song.  Flight is an art akin to music, with rhythm and feeling of movement as its foundation, a glorious means of expression that birds know well how to use. [xv]

A lecture was given at the University of Texas by Farish Jenkins, a Havard Comparative Anatomist, where Dr.  Jenkins recounted training starlings to fly in a wind tunnel.  He filmed the birds while flying...with both normal and X-ray cameras! What the developed film revealed is that a bird's respiratory system operates at optimum functioning capacity while a bird is in flight.  The starlings' bones, muscles and air sacs worked in unison during each and every up- and down-stroke of the wings.  Most amazing was the fact that the sternum rocked back and forth alternately depressing and allowing for expansion of the posterior air sacs.  That action assures that the double passing of air through a bird's lungs results in maximum gas exchange efficiency.  Thus the ability - the need - of a bird to fly and the bird's need for maximum pulmonary efficiency for sustained flight are intricately connected.  Bones, muscles, lungs and air sacs work together to produce a complicated, but efficient breathing apparatus. [xvi] [xvii]

So why do we suggest to clip wing feathers? All these years we have been told it’s for the safety of the bird! Have we been brainwashed?

How can it be for the bird’s safety if we can actually cause injury by taking away flight? How is it for their safety when we take away their natural escape response while housing them with predators? How is it for them, when some birds begin plucking from the clip? How is it for them if our homes still contain the same hazards, but we have taken away their ability to manoeuvre properly around/from these hazards in our home? How is it for their benefit if we let their muscles atrophy? How can it be best for them if their respiratory system doesn’t fully function without flight?

No! I can only assume it must be for another reason, but certainly NOT for the bird.

Recently, on an e-mail list, this exact subject was being discussed; the pros and cons of flight and one particularly thoughtful response came in.  I post it here (with permission) for all to think about. 

XXXX

All of your examples are no doubt true and all too common.  BUT, I could give you just as many examples of birds that are "clipped" with the same tragic outcomes.

Common sense has to be used in all facets of life.  Even when common sense is used, tragedies from unforeseen occurrences befall us all.  If you use the same logic that you are stating by using the examples you have relayed, then we humans really have no business driving cars, kids should not ride bikes or skateboards and astronauts should not be flying around in outer space.

But, of course, we all know that these daily risks that we all take are weighed through the prism of logic called "risk and reward".

Birds that die in household accidents are indeed tragic.  Children (or even adults) that die or injure themselves in the same sort of ways are far more common.  Does that mean that children should be locked in a cage or have a leash at all times? Should adults be limited to a certain level of danger in their lives according to some IQ test? ( hey, wait a minute, that is not a bad idea!!)

If someone wants to enjoy their bird in a flighted condition and they know the reasonable precautions needed to be taken to have a common sense "risk factor" accounted for, then I say "good for them"!!

If someone feels they need a flightless feather duster that has no chance of ever getting away from them, may I suggest a silkie chicken, domestic goose or pet emu.

There will always be a certain amount of people with NO common sense that walk outside with a flighted bird for the first time, with no training whatsoever, no idea what the bird will do, no forethought at all.  Those are the people that will be watching helplessly as their bird sails away.  Then again, maybe the bird is just trying to escape from being kept by someone so stupid.

Reasons I love birds:

#1- Their ability to fly
#2- Their beautiful coloring
#3- Their natural behavior
---
---
#1000- Their talking ability
#1001- Their cuddliness
#1002- Their snuggly nature

                       Xxxxxxx

So what is our problem? Are we just lazy?  We think nothing of training our dogs, or taking them to doggy class, but we would rather clip our birds than train them.  Most of the difficulties imagined with a flighted bird can be easily reduced or eliminated with a little time spent on training.

Training, you say? Of course! We buy these beautiful creatures, tell everyone how smart they are and yet we seem to have a mental block about training them.  Why do we seem to think they can’t be trained?  It’s all about consequences, just as any behavior is.

Probably the cues you will need to train the most for your flighted pet are:

1)      Come (whatever words you choose for fly to me)

2)      Stay (basically saying don’t fly to me)

3)      Off of there (basically meaning leave that spot and fly to another spot {approved spot})

4)      Go (meaning to fly off of me)

These cues are in addition to the normal cues like ‘step up’ and ‘step down’.

So where do you start? First, it’s important to realize that all learning, all behavior is a result of its consequences.  If we do “A” we get “B”.  If B is something desired (from the viewpoint of the one receiving it) then A will continue or increase.  This is called Positive Reinforcement and it’s the type of training and/or behavior modification that works the best.

So we would start teaching recall by rewarding every time the bird flies to you.  At first, you will need to give the cue when the bird is already flying towards you.  You must ‘get’ the behavior to be able to reward it before the bird can actually learn what behavior you are looking for.  This is why we start with capturing the behavior the bird is already doing.  After the bird has linked the verbal cue with the action, you can then switch to rewarding ONLY when you call.  This would not mean that you punish the bird in any way, for coming when you don’t call, just that it won’t get a reward for an uncued fly.

Start from a short distance.  T-stand to you.  Gradually move farther away, being careful that you don’t move too far, too fast.  Eventually, move out of sight, around a corner, another room.  Remember, lavish praise and reward (what the bird finds rewarding) immediately upon the bird doing the behavior.  If the reward/consequence is too slow after the behavior, the learning will be slower.  This is where some people use a clicker….to mark the desired behavior.  Your vocal praise can work just as well as a marker and then you can give another reinforcer.

Always use the same cue so there is no confusion for the bird.  Training failures are a result of either a lack of motivation (the reinforcer is not strong enough) or a lack of concise clear instructions/communication.  The bird must understand what you want before it can attempt to do it.

To teach “stay” we would, of course, reward the staying on the perch/stand as we move farther away.  Many people will also use a hand raised, like a stop sign, while they use their cue word.  Once this behavior is learned, don’t forget to reward it at different times.  It also helps if you make the area where you would like them to stay, rewarding unto itself.  Lots of chew things, shredding things, or the types of toys the particular bird enjoys.

All behaviors can be taught using this systematic approach.  We only need to be willing to take that bit of time it requires. 

Birds seem to enjoy learning.  It appears they like to think.  They are quick learners and really, they are easy to train.  Training need not be a chore.  It need only take a few minutes a couple of times a day, although the more repetitions we can do with them gaining positive reinforcement, the faster they will learn. 

I’d like you to consider one other thing, one other argument given by people who insist you clip and that is this, ’I clip my birds so they will remain on their playstands, rather than fly around the house.’

From what was said above about behavior, if the playstand is a place they WANT to be, if its fun for THEM, if it entertains them, wouldn’t they remain on that stand, with or without flight? And if they won’t remain there while flighted, it only suggests to me that they don’t like it in the first place, it isn’t reinforcing enough, but we try forcing them to comply by taking away their means of locomotion.  Consider that, the next time you pick your bird up off the floor and place it back on that stand, for the hundredth time.

My desire for this article was hopefully to make you think, to make you realize that clipping isn’t necessary.  A properly clipped bird can still fly far enough to get into the same household dangers.  While I may not have changed your mind, I hope I brought to light that a clipped bird is not necessarily a safer bird.  If you still choose to clip, the true reason is probably not for the bird’s sake. 

My wish is that someday us humans will adapt to having a bird rather than the bird adapt to having humans.

Since the dawn of mankind, humans have watched them, studied
them, have desired to emulate that which they do.  FLY!

Isn't it mysterious that the thing we so desired, we are so willing to take away from that exact creature which originally gave us our inspiration.

Gay Noeth 2004

  Used with permission

[i] Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
[ii] Thomas L Goldsmith, DVM MS
[iii] Bobbi Brinker
[iv] Judy Leach
[v] Mary Beth Voelker
[vi] Carol Highfill
[vii] To Clip  
[viii] Carol Highfill  
[ix] Carol Highfill
[x] Marcy Covault
[xi] Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP
[xii] Thomas L Goldsmith, DVM MS
[xiii] Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP
[xiv] David McCluggage, DVM “Holistic Care For Birds” pp 50,51
[xv] Dr.  Theodore Barber ”The Human Nature of Birds” pp 167
[xvi] Bill Arbon
 
 

Article on Wing Clipping  by Laurella Desborough:   

Flighted Parrots

Steve Hartman / The Parrot University

Can a parrot, designed by nature for millions of years, be truly mentally and physically healthy without flight?

The Parrot University at Hartman Aviary has spent 20 years researching what makes a parrot “a parrot.” We have found the number one characteristic that defines “a parrot” is its ability to fly. Flight is fundamental to every component of a parrot’s mind and body.

Learning to fly well is the most complicated and important task a parrot can learn. We will see that learning to fly will make a parrot healthier, more active, more coordinated, and better able to see. Flying helps with language development, higher intelligence, self-confidence, self-esteem and ultimately makes a very social companion.

Preparation for flight begins when most parrots are about three or four weeks old.

Development of neuropath ways in the coordination center of the very young parrot is the first step in preparation for flight. When about four weeks old, parrots begin to program their brain for coordination. This process begins the first time the baby starts to move around in the nest and is substantially complete by six months. Every new type of physical activity reinforces more neuropath ways in the cerebellum in the back of the baby’s brain.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain that stores the program for coordination and ultimately supplies the motor skills for flight. Neuropath ways are the brain’s electrical connections that allow motor skills to develop as the baby becomes mobile.

Since more experiences and activities lead to better motor coordination, then it makes sense that learning to fly adds an incredible amount of neuropath ways to the cerebellum.

Babies learn best when multiple senses are rewarded simultaneously (IE. sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). This means the best opportunity for a parrot to learn is when a combination of the senses is experienced at the same time. The senses of sight, sound and touch take on a very different nature during flight. This flying activity offers a greater variety of situations that parrots need to utilize for optimum mental and social development.

The parrot brain develops on a pre-determined schedule that has been fine-tuned by evolution for millions of years. Each one of the senses, as well as mental and physical skills develop over a period of time, but not at the same time. Some of the development phases are symbiotic, meaning that they need the information being developed in another area of the brain for their own development. For example, vision develops best when the baby can move around and see things from different angles and distances. Conversely, coordination develops best when the visual cortex can provide information on distance and perspective. Without this symbiotic relationship of vision and coordination, it is difficult to develop three-dimensional vision.

It is also important to consider the effect of exponential development. Every time a new neuropathy is added, the effect is many times greater than that one additional connection. We can think about how important it was to learn how two times two equals four. Once we understood this simple concept, we were able to perform millions of multiplication equations that are useful in many areas of our life outside of math class. It took many neuropath ways to get to the point of understanding that simple math problem, but just a few more to make it useful in many areas all of our life.

Let us consider just two developmental phases that are important for each other’s optimum development: coordination and vision. Then we will look at the broader picture of how wing clipping can cause problems in many areas of development.

Coordination and vision develop in different parts of the brain, but are essential for each other’s maximum development. As mentioned earlier, the area of the brain most important for coordination is called the cerebellum and is located in the lower rear section of the brain. Coordination develops as we move around and repeatedly try new and progressively more complicated activities.

The parrot’s visual cortex, which is quite different from ours, connects with virtually every part of the avian brain. A baby’s vision, at hatching, is a jumble of blurred shades, shapes and movements. The baby has the basic program to recognize these light rays entering his eyes, but needs to learn how to interpret the basic images so they can be directed to the appropriate part of the brain for interpretation. The fast movements associated with flying are important for developing motor skills, as well as developing coordination of the two eyes with the other senses.

Motor skills and vision are in some ways so integral to each other that it is difficult to separate the two. When a baby takes its first steps, it does not know where its foot will end up and usually stumbles. Is this because he cannot see the floor or because his muscles do not know how far to extend a foot to touch the floor?

 A feedback loop between the visual cortex and the cerebellum develop to fine tune each other. The ability to judge distance or the speed of an object cannot develop without experiencing movement in relation to the object or distance.

As a baby flies towards a tree, he will begin to associate the visual change with the closing of the distance between him and the object. As his motor skills develop, he will begin to associate the closing distance with an impending crash and learn how to slow down. The faster he flies, the faster the visual ability needs to be and the faster he can interpret the visual changes, the faster he will be able to fly. Teaching the brain to process information faster and on higher levels, promotes faster decision-making and fewer mistakes in all areas of mental and physical competence.

Now that we know how neuropath ways develop in a symbiotic and exponential manner, we can see how the elimination of flight will affect other areas of development and personality.

When the brain is not able to make proper associations as a result of a disability like wing clipping, it sometimes creates “compensating networks” in the brain. These networks develop to enable the baby to make sense of a faulty situation.

Basically, when the brain is called on to make a decision, there are usually several variables that need to be considered. Highly functioning individuals analyze every variable until they make sense. Lower functioning individuals often use compensating networks to jump to conclusions and avoid the problem. This often occurs for two reasons: the bird wants to bypass frustration, or for security and defense reasons, does not have the time to work on the problem.

The resulting intelligence and behavior may or may not operate in a normal fashion when the baby becomes an adult. Most often, the result will be inappropriate physical and social behavior.

Flight is so integral to a parrot’s identity that it is difficult to break the components into exclusive groups. Below I have attempted a very basic review of five arbitrary groups that influence a parrot’s behavior on a continual basis.

Defense

A parrot’s primary means of defense is flight. Any time a parrot even suspects danger, he can easily fly away. Parrots fly away so freely and readily that they rarely feel scared in the wild.

We must understand the difference between feeling threatened and being scared. As humans we can feel threatened by standing in the middle of a highway, but we need not be scared since we can easily walk to the side of the road and avoid danger. This is how parrots experience threats in the wild. They can easily fly away and rarely ever feel scared. We must also understand that parrots are prey species. Because they can be someone’s lunch at any time, they become VERY scared when they cannot avoid threatening situations.

When a parrot cannot remove himself from a threatening situation, he will default to his second line of defense, biting. Parrots that find they have no ability to escape danger or even perceived danger, become paranoid and tend to develop the “bite first, ask later” method of defense. As a prey species, their defense response system operates so fast, they respond automatically when scared and often bite us by accident. They lose the rational ability to choose between flight or fight and defend themselves at any cost. Ultimately, most of these flightless adult birds become unpredictable and lead very restricted lives.

When scared, a baby will not learn at a very high level. Young parrots that develop without the ability to fly will usually develop into a paranoid, untrusting adult, unable to socialize appropriately.

Sight

Sight and paranoia have a connection that starts with the retina.

Information received through the eyes is processed in the retina and sent to the visual cortex. Then the information travels over several different neuro-highways to many different parts of the brain simultaneously. The more these pathways are developed and reinforced through experience the quicker the overall response to visual stimulus will be.

Proper response to visual stimulus can take a little as a few thousands of a second, but the process is delayed when aggressive survival processes intervene and may take several seconds to sort out. Unfortunately, this situation when repeated a few times can become a conditioned response that will begin to show up significantly during adolescence and adulthood.

Parrots with poor visual skills take longer to assess visual stimulus which may cause the bird to need to react aggressively until the information is sorted out. For instance, a new person entering the room, or someone reaching out to touch may provoke an aggressive defensive survival response until the situation can be sorted out.

Flying birds quickly learn to process visual inputs faster as they develop and reinforce new and improved pathways for interpreting visual stimulus at high speeds in a three dimensional manner.

Safety

No parrot ever jumped out of the nest in the wild and knew how to fly. Babies fly into the side of trees, miss their landing sites and end up in a bush or worse. At Hartman Aviary, thousands of babies have used these same experiences to learn how to fly well. By experiencing these near tragedies as developing babies, they have honed all of their senses so that they will automatically avoid those situations in the future. A juvenile that learns the limits of his physical body, and how to stay out of trouble, will be more confident and easily learn how to fit into a domestic flock as an adult.

“Flightless parrots are safe parrots” is the advice often given by many short sighted professionals. Our 20 years of experience have proven that hazards are more abundant for flightless birds because they cannot avoid dangerous situations.

Some of the common arguments in favor of clipping wings include:

The bird may fly onto the stove or into a boiling pot of water.

Birds can learn more quickly than us where danger is. A parrot can be easily taught that a stove is dangerous. If he finds himself accidentally headed in that direction he can easily hover like a helicopter and fly in another direction.

When a bird in a multiple-bird household flies on another bird’s cage, he will get into a fight.

Birds in a natural situation rarely get into fights. At the first thought of danger, one of the birds backs down and flies away. A clipped bird that accidentally ends up on another bird’s cage will often get hurt because neither bird has the option to back down if they cannot get away. It is very easy to teach parrots in a multi-parrot household to get along and respect each other’s space if they can fly.

He may fall to the floor and get stepped on or eaten by the dog.

When a flighted bird accidentally finds himself on the floor, he can easily fly to a safe position. You must watch a flightless bird very closely because they often end up on the floor and may become the dog’s next treat.

Clipping wings will make a parrot easier to handle.

A parrot that does not develop properly will be a retarded adult that will either rebel and become very aggressive, or become passive and docile to an unnatural extent.

Flightless parrots are constantly exposed to situations where they feel afraid and out of control. Parrots that have no control over their life often develop paranoid schizophrenic behaviors. These individuals lack the ability to trust others and even themselves.

Unfortunately, most parrots that are rendered flightless end up re-growing enough feathers to gain lift and get into trouble. These parrots are unable to fly well or see well, and perpetuate the myth that parrots are too stupid to learn to fly in a home.

Exercise

A parrot in flight for just a few minutes receives more exercise than an active flightless parrot receives all day. In comparison, just think about how you feel after running a mile (if you can) as opposed to walking around the house all day. We all know the mental and physical benefits of exercise on all aspects of life. If a parrot is healthier and feels better, it can concentrate and focus its attention and it will learn faster and be more easily trained. It is necessary for a young developing parrot to gain the maximum advantage from exercise to build billions of neuropath ways he needs to achieve his potential IQ.

Self-Confidence and Social Ability

A high level of self-confidence and self-esteem are the by-product of a well- developed individual. Confident individuals present and interpret body language accurately. Individuals that can read each other’s body and vocal language can easily learn to fit into the flock or household.

An ability to demonstrate socially acceptable behavior often determines how much time a parrot spends caged. Early development plays an important role in developing self-confidence, but it does not stop there. Any shortfall in the development of any of the basic senses can result in lower self-esteem and inappropriate behavior.

The symbiotic relationship of all of these traits are also in jeopardy when an adult parrot cannot fly. A paranoid parrot that often feels insecure will not be able to maintain high levels of any basic social skills.

Intelligence

Every parrot is born with a genetically determined maximum intelligence level. Achieving this maximum IQ requires the individual to be supplied with all of the necessary stimulus while the brain is developing. The brain is very adaptable and can compensate for some missed experiences. However, a flightless parrot may miss out on as much as 50% of the activity he requires for proper development. Currently, there is no way to tell just how much damage this shortfall causes. It could be as much as 10% or 20% of the potential intelligence.

Conclusion

Flightless parrots lack the great abundance of life experience that their flighted friends enjoy. At the minimum, flight is a significant factor in the proper development of parrots.  

Learning is a life long process. Ninety %of the neuropath ways a parrot will produce occurs in the first six to eight months of life. The other 10% form as the adult learns how to use the information learned before adolescence. Following this rule of thumb, we can see that a baby who only builds 80% of the basic neuropath ways will at best top out at 88% of his potential as an adult.

Young parrots crippled during the exponential development phase of the cerebellum and visual cortex show a marked decrease in coordination relative to a flighted bird. Because of the symbiotic relationship of the development of all parts of the brain, the consequences of clipping can be seen in the adult parrot. Unfortunately, these birds will never be as mentally and physically sound as a parrot that was encouraged to develop to their full potential.

Rendering a parrot flightless is not a substitute to spending the time training him to be a well-behaved and responsible adult. Most parrot owners believe their pet to be smarter than a dog, but we do not see dog owners cutting off their legs to keep them out of trouble and make them submissive.

At Hartman Aviary, we have developed the techniques that make it easy to teach parrots to behave and safely learn to navigate well in our domestic environments. A parrot that learns to fly well will never get hurt flying into a window or wall, or accidentally fly out a door.

Flying is the most complicated activity a parrot can ever be involved in. Thus, it makes sense that the symbiotic relationship in the development of each part of the brain is maximized during flight. Not one area of the parrot’s brain will ever develop to its maximum potential without achieving the finely tuned ability to fly.

Spread the word and help every pet parrot thrive and enjoy life the way nature intended.

Used with permission

 

The Complete Pet Bird Owner's Handbook (Revised Ed    Read BEFORE You Buy or Adopt a Bird!    Avian Medicine: Principles and Application (Abridg 

 

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Last modified: November, 2007