Pet Vet: Macaw owner wonders about having his wings clipped

July 13, 2014

Amanda is the proud caretaker of Ollie, a 5-month-old blue and gold macaw that she has raised from the egg. Ollie is doing very well with free range of Amandaís home, though I suspect Ollie would refer to it as his home.

Amanda has allowed Ollie to fly inside the house, but she is concerned that as he becomes more adept at doing so, he might escape its confines and fly into the wild blue yonder. This fear has prompted her to ask if she should have Ollieís wings trimmed.

First off, I will say without reservation that no bird should ever have its wings trimmed. That is in essence an amputation and never to be done except in the case of a necessary surgical procedure. I do realize what Amanda is asking, however, and want to clarify the terminology: The question should read, "Should Ollie have his feathers trimmed?"

Feather trimming in our avian companions is a very commonly performed procedure. It is not, however, always necessary. As a caretaker for a bird, it is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not to have your birdís feathers trimmed, and that decision should not be made without understanding the consequences.

Most companion birds are capable of flight. In fact, they can be extremely good fliers, even within a household, and flying is an excellent form of exercise for birds. In making the decision on whether or not to trim your birdís feathers ó in essence disallowing them to fly ó this exercise potential needs to be taken into account. If your bird is not flying, how then will he exercise?

Another very important consideration in making the decision to trim or not to trim your birdís feathers is who will be doing the trimming? Are they aware of the proper trimming technique for your species of bird? Do they have the proper instruments for trimming?

Improperly trimmed wing feathers can lead to problems in birds, some of which can be devastating. I have seen cockatoos, for example, that have had their wing feathers trimmed in such a way that the ends of the trimmed feathers were poking the sides of the birds causing them great irritation and leading to self mutilation as a result.

One of the worst possible scenarios is breast bone fractures. This occurs when the wing feathers are trimmed too short and the bird drops like a stone to the floor when attempting to fly. This contact with the floor can cause enough blunt force to split the breast bone.

If you have considered your situation with your avian companion and are strongly considering having his wing feathers trimmed, make an appointment with your avian veterinarian to discuss it. He or she will steer you in the right direction once learning of your home environment.

If trimming is chosen, he or she will discuss the proper technique needed for your companion and then perform the trimming. Exercise for your bird should also be discussed.

One point I want to make is to strongly urge people who have avian companions not to trim their own birdís feathers. Some birds hold grudges. They generally do not appreciate being groomed, and it is best they blame someone other than their caretaker for the indignity (and restraint) of it all.

Certainly, there are situations where a birds wing feathers must be trimmed. However, my bottom line here is that this is not something that automatically needs to be done.

Birds with free rein of their households can learn to fly beautifully and indeed to fly back to their cages to do their "business." Every situation is different; use your veterinarian to help you decide what might be best for your bird and your unique situation.




McClatchy-Tribune Information Services