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With the exception of the adorable Kakapo, parrots are biologically designed for flight. All of their natural instincts are hinged on their flight ability, and it guides not only their physical health but also their mental and behavioral development as well. 


Not only are birds in captivity already significantly limited in the amount of exercise they get compared to their wild counterparts, but to clip reduces that even further. This can lead to a “lazy” or disinterested parrot, and to be sedentary is a very dangerous thing for any bird. This will inevitably lead to a buildup of fat over time - especially if the bird has a high fat diet (such as an all seed diet) - which will affect kidney/general organ function, and drastically increases their chance of suffering from obesity and other diseases, like atherosclerosis. With this inactivity also comes the degradation of the birds’ chest muscles, and if the degradation continues to the point of atrophy, it could lead to permanent flightlessness and poor body condition. Other physical risks include injury occurring during the clip, and/or a poorly done clip that severely affects the bird’s ability to balance and safely get around, which commonly leads to injuries to the head and keelbone.

Those in favor of clipping might argue that windows, open doors, a toilet lid left open, or a forgotten ceiling fan that is still running, are all dangerous to flighted birds. While this is technically true, these types of dangers are all the responsibility of the human(s) to safeguard against. Babies of *any* species (including puppies, kittens, and humans) will require you to alter your home in some way prior to their arrival. Birds are no different. Teaching your bird where your windows are, installing window clings or strips of painter's tape on the glass, keeping bathroom doors shut, caging the bird(s) while cooking, taping a light switch in the "off" position, etc. etc. are all easy ways to safeguard your home in preparation for welcoming a flighted pet. 


Now that we’ve gone over the physical ramifications, let’s talk bird brains.


When babies are weaning and beginning to fledge, their flight feathers play more than a few important roles: we talked about the first, which is balance; and how even a "gradual" or "partial" clip that is very slightly off can entirely throw a bird’s balance off, making them more prone to accidents. This inability to safely navigate their environment can also lead to a reluctance to explore as they grow. Encouraging and satisfying their naturally curious natures is a really important part of helping to develop a healthy and independent bird. This leads in to some of our common Clipping FAQs -


Q: Won’t clipping help keep me from losing my bird outside? 

A: The myth is if the bird is clipped, they cannot fly. This way, if you take them outside, they “cannot fly away” or if they do manage to “glide a short distance” they shouldn't get far and be easy to quickly retrieve. However, there are a few factors that render all of those points inaccurate: Even if a bird cannot take off and gain the lift for upward flight on their own, they can still open their wings and be carried off by a gust of wind for a long, long distance. Once they are able to finally land, you’ve likely lost sight of them and they will then be stuck, lacking the skill, confidence, and ability to move themselves safely from that spot. This puts them at immediate risk for inclement weather conditions, dehydration/starvation, and predators. Our alternative recommendation is to train a reliable recall early and often, and to work on adding difficult angles into that as well (so asking them to fly to you straight down from the top of a door, for example). If you'd like for your bird to join you outside, we highly recommend a safe birdie backpack, travel cage, or working with your bird on harness training. (We are also a free flight friendly aviary, and are happy to chat with prospective FF homes).


Q: My bird would rather explore or sit on their cage/play stand than spend time with me; I heard clipping will help them bond to me?

A: All of the interactions and training you do with your bird should be on an “opt-in” basis. It is your job to make spending time with you a super fun and rewarding thing for your bird. Clipping can also lead much more quickly to bites, as that is usually a last resort tactic (yes, even for conures) if their initial warning/body language is ignored; but biting moves way up on the list once you take away their ability to listen to their first instinct - fly away from whatever is making them feel unsafe/uncomfortable. The inability to fly also forces them to depend on you for transportation from cage to perching station, etc. - so while that will inevitably lead to a bond, it is a more tenuous one based on necessity rather than choice. It can also lead to a "Velcro Bird", which often results in a whole other host of issues/concerns. And really, giving a bird the ability to act independently and to have the freedom of choice to say “no”, will just make the times they say “yes” that much more meaningful.


Q: I have high ceilings/hard to reach areas in my home and heard clipping (or partial/gradual clipping) will help keep my young bird safer/easier to manage as they fledge?


A: The thinking around this ideally needs to shift away from "how can I alter my pet to fit my home" and towards "how should I alter my home to best fit my pet". When it comes down to it, learning how to control and maneuver their body through the air is a fundamental skill that will help set a baby bird up for success in all other skills they will learn throughout their life. Deciding where to go, how to land, what is safe, etc. will have them forming connections in their brains that they otherwise wouldn't. It will help significantly bolster their self-confidence, which is vital if you want to raise a well-adjusted bird. It is your responsibility to create a reasonably safe space where your bird is able to continue learning to fly, and just like with food and toys, a variety in your household environments will only increase your birds' adaptability. Babies are basically tiny, clumsy sponges whose sole job is to absorb new data and learn What It Means for them in their day to day life. So allowing them to fledge (with supervision and appropriate caution) naturally in their new home environment as it is, is the best way to set them up for success AND help them develop their critical thinking skills. 

Q: My fully flighted bird has been really aggressive lately, and I read that clipping will help that?

A: To answer this question, I'm going to reference our good friend Aesop and his fable, The Tortoise and the Hare; because when it comes to bird behavior and training, reaching that end result is not nearly as important as focusing on the journey itself, and how each step guides you and your bird both safely to the end. To clip in an attempt to resolve a behavioral issue is very much a move that stems from paramount consideration to human convenience, and is additionally driven by the urgent desire for the end result. And I get it - a parrot that is exhibiting aggressive or greatly disruptive behaviors can be exasperating, intimidating, and even dangerous - so it makes sense from a human perspective to want to fix that ASAP. However, the proposed method of clipping is by NO means a guaranteed fix since (as we mentioned above) clipping can actually lead much more quickly to bites. Additionally, by tailoring the path to resolution to the humans, the clipped bird effectively learns nothing from the experience. They are then likely exhibiting dramatic change in demeanor as a result of those physical and emotional stressors and/or the removal of choice. Which those things are, ultimately, temporary. Once their flight feathers grow back, the bird could easily return to the previous undesired behaviors because the actual root cause(s) remained unidentified, and likely still exist. We instead highly recommend 1) working to learn and respect your birds' individual body language. This will help you avoid many bites, which will give you both time and breathing room to further assess and resolve the issue(s) at hand, as well as increase your bond with your bird. Short daily training sessions are a great way for you to work on your communication skills! And 2) working with a Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant, who will be able to skillfully assess your unique situation and work with you on an attainable game plan that will teach both you and your parrot the skills you need to reach that finish line in a happy and healthy way. 


At the end of the day, birds are daredevils and injury magnets that will manage to get themselves into dangerous situations even in the safest of environments (Horse People, I know you'll likely understand this dilemma all too well!). It is our goal to raise our birds in a way that best allows them to grow into healthy and resilient adults with many beautiful years ahead of them. 

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