Parrots are becoming more popular as pets with each passing day. This is
evidenced by the many new books published each month, the number of new
products developed and marketed in the increasing number of magazines
devoted to parrot keeping, and the proliferation of Internet discussion
lists which provide access to information regarding parrot care and
behavior. This upsurge in the number of parrots in homes and the amount of
information newly available does not alert the companion parrot owner to a
very important and pertinent fact - that parrot keeping is a relatively
It has really been only in the last 30 years or so that the popularity
of parrots has significantly grown. The importation of wild-caught parrots
was only brought to a halt by legislation in 1992. Thus, many of the
parrots in captivity are wild-caught birds. Since these wild-caught
parrots were plentiful and inexpensive for many years, it has only been
perhaps in the last 20 years or so that hand-fed parrots have begun to be
produced in any real numbers. With the advent of incubation and
hand-feeding practices, there has been a proliferation of domestically
reared psittacines, routinely offered for sale in pet stores. These
hand-reared birds have brought with them a whole new set of challenges.
For one thing, they manifest many behavior problems that we did not
encounter with wild-caught birds.
This increase in parrot behavior problems has created fertile ground
for the birth of a new profession, that of the avian behavior consultant.
Consultants not only work individually with owners to find the most
effective means for dealing with behavior problems, but educate the public
at large about the needs of these beautiful creatures. Thus, both the
fields of behavior consulting and avian veterinary medicine are quite new.
It is important to understand this, because it means that ideas regarding
parrots and their care are in flux. There is ever-growing debate about not
only the best methods for dealing with behavior problems, but the
standards of care that should be adopted by those who keep parrots, and
how those parrots should be reared to begin with.
It is important to remain mindful of this truth, so that we continue to
question our care-giving practices. It is entirely possible that ideas
that we hold to be true today may very well be proven foolish as time
passes. A good example of this is the theory of "height
dominance," which states that allowing a parrot to perch up higher
than the owner's eye level or on the owner's shoulder will result in a
parrot who believes itself to be the dominant member of the relationship,
resulting in non-compliance. While most avian behavior consultants
accepted this theory as fact for many years, voicing warnings to always
keep parrots perched down low, it has now become clear to many working in
the field that there is little truth to this.
I believe that our accepted practice of wing clipping every companion
parrot will be one of the next to come under close scrutiny, most likely
resulting in a decrease in this practice.
Prevailing Attitudes toward Wing Clipping and Flightedness
At this point in time, parrot owners in the United States routinely
clip their birds' wings in order to prevent or limit flight. Conversely,
parrot owners in European countries do not, since this practice is
believed tantamount to abuse. This fact alone allows us to understand that
this practice, often recommended with almost religious fervor here in the
United States, may not be quite as necessary as many believe it to be.
The subject of wing-clipping often elicits strongly held opinions from
parrot owners, veterinarians, and behavior consultants alike. They
typically offer polarized opinions towards flight: they would never clip
their parrots' wings, or they vociferously condemn those who allow flight,
proclaiming that all parrots should be clipped. While I, too, have my own
biases, I will attempt in this article to take a balanced look at issues
related to the flight of birds when kept in captivity, at the pros and
cons of both keeping parrots clipped and of keeping them flighted.
First, however, let's take a look at some facts related to the flight
of birds. If we are going to deprive a parrot of flight, we should do so
with full recognition of what it is we are doing.
Facts Regarding Feathers and Flight
Birds are the only living creatures with feathers. Given that fact,
even those readers without familiarity with parrots, might assume that
feathers and flight would be of critical, primary importance to the life
experience of any bird. In The Lives of Birds by Lester L. Short, the
author remarks, "...everything about a bird's physical structure, and
indeed much of its physiology, is affected to some degree by the
constraints of flight."i We could take Mr. Short's observations one
step further to very rightly state that everything about a bird is
affected by its need to fly, including its emotional make-up. A bird is
flight, and to ignore this in our parrot keeping practices is to do them
come in several different forms.
Smooth ones cover the body, fluffyones provide warmth and insulation,
and long, stiff feathers provide support for flight. An average-sized bird
has several thousand feathers, which grow in feather tracts, with patches
of bare skin in between. The flight feathers have a central, spongy shaft,
making the feather lighter and more flexible for flight. Barbs extend
outward, slanting diagonally from either side of the feather shaft. You
can easily pull these barbs apart, then by pressing above and below the
separation, zip them together again, the same way the bird does while
preening. From each side of the barb grow hundreds of barbules that
overlap each other. Minute hooks on the barbules lock the branches
together. The "construction" of even a single feather is
Feathers have many advantages. They are light and are replaced
regularly when worn or lost. Each feather is individually attached to a
muscle, which allows for greater maneuverability.ii Feathers enable birds
to fly thousands of miles a year, to fly at speeds of 100 miles an hour,
to hover and fly backwards, and to fly for days at a stretch without
The bird's skeleton has evolved in such a way as to keep flying weight
to a minimum. The skull of most birds is paper thin. Many have hollow
bones, which are filled with air sacs for increased buoyancy. A frigate
bird, whose wing span is seven feet wide, has a skeleton that weighs only
four ounces, less than the weight of its feathers.iii
Other organs have evolved in such a way as to make flight easier as
well. The heart has become enlarged to include four chambers in most
birds, in order to be able to remove impurities from the blood more
quickly. In avian "lungs," air is pumped through a system of air
sacs that branch off the lungs to occupy much of the bird's body. These
air sacs act as bellows.iv In some species, this system of air sacs
extends even down into the legs. In fact, in 1758, an English surgeon
showed that a bird could still breathe if you completely blocked his
windpipe, but made a small hole from the outside into a wing or leg bone.v
The fusion of various bones in the skeleton has also resulted in
decreased overall weight, and in some cases more flexibility. The bones of
the clavicles have fused into the "wishbone" or furcula.
Scientists have been able to view, with high-speed x-ray movies, the
flight of a starling in a wind tunnel. They observed that the furcula
opens and closes with each wing beat, acting as a sort of spring. This
appears to assist the bird in breathing, pumping air throughout the
One of the most important functions of flight is that of migration.
Even tropical birds, who are not subjected to the extremes of weather,
move with the seasonal rains and droughts, often across hundreds of
miles.vii Certain examples of migratory flight almost defy belief. Some
shorebirds fly non-stop from South America to the coast of New Jersey.
This flight takes ten days to complete, a total of 240 hours of
uninterrupted flight. The motivating force behind migration is about
finding food, rather than avoiding severe temperatures. In reporting the
migratory efforts of the short-tailed shearwater, a bird that covers over
18,000 miles in a single year, Weidensaul comments, "Migrations like
this leave us staggered; we are such stodgy, rooted creatures. To think of
crossing thousands of miles under our own power is as incomprehensible as
jumping to the moon. Yet even the tiniest of birds perform such
During flight, a number of flight skills are demonstrated. The bird
must be able to gain lift. Three factors affect lift: the surface area of
the wing, the wind speed, and the angle at which the wing is held.ix
Gliding is another important skill for a flying bird. A bird will stop
beating its wings, and thus begin to glide. This results in a loss of
speed, which enables the bird to land. Gliding and hovering are necessary
to landing. Powered flight requires more energy, and is achieved when the
pectoral muscles drive the wing downwards. Birds must also be able to
steer themselves once in the air. They can do this solely through the use
of the wings. This is achieved by altering the angle or shape of one wing.
Aside from the importance it has to birds, flight has carried
significance for humans since time began. As Jack Page and Eugene Morton
write in Lords of the Air, "We humans appear always to have been on
the lookout for ways to understand ourselves and our world, and for most
of our tenure here, we have rarely looked at any bird - say, a crow - and
simply seen a crow.... In the first place, crows and most other birds fly,
and flight has meaning. The crow is black, and black means something.
Feathers mean something, as do the eggs from which the crow is born. For
most people throughout time, these meanings have been as real as the bird
itself, and perhaps more so, since the meanings were taken to be universal
and eternal. Flight means space, light, thought, imagination."
Among the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the bird came to signify
the human soul. In ancient Egypt, the feather was one of the hieroglyphic
elements that spelled such words as lightness and height. Wings have been
seen as analogous to spirituality. To the Greeks, they also signified love
While these are only a few of the fascinating facts related to bird
flight, they underscore two major points. First, every physical feature of
the bird has evolved to facilitate flight. Second, much of our fascination
with birds is because they can fly.
Attitudes toward Companion Parrots and Flight
It has long been held as strong opinion in the United States that all
companion parrots must have their wings clipped in order to insure their
safety. This routine practice has led also to the rarely-questioned
practice of clipping the flight feathers of baby parrots before they have
a chance to take their first flight. It is assumed that, if the flight
feathers are clipped for the purpose of removing flight, then the bird can
not fly away and become lost. I believe it significant, and troubling,
that the unstated, but underlying assumption behind this practice is that
our companion parrots would fly away if given the opportunity.
In most literature in print today, the choice to either keep our
parrots flighted or clipped is always presented as a very "black and
white" decision, as if they are no options in between. The owner
either keeps the bird flighted, or the bird is clipped, and clipping is
highly recommended. In fact, this is not such a black and white issue.
Many parrot owners keep their parrots just partially clipped. Some allow
flight at some times of the year, then clip their parrots for the
remainder of the year, as might the couple who travel in a motor home for
the summer and take their bird with them.
I believe that we are now at a crossroads in terms of our practices
regarding the clipping of our parrots' wings, and that it is high time to
closely scrutinize and review our thinking on this issue. There are
advantages and disadvantages to both keeping parrots clipped and to
keeping them flighted. The well-informed parrot owner should be cognizant
of all of these, in order to be able to make an informed choice for his
own birds. Whether we choose to clip our parrots, or allow them flight, we
must take the responsibility for the fact that we are keeping a flighted
spirit in our home.
Advantages of Wing Clipping
As previously stated, the majority of companion parrot owners have kept
their bird's wings clipped in order to insure the safety of their
birds...that they could not fly away and get lost. This is still seen as
the major advantage of this practice. Aside from that original purpose,
advocates of clipped wings have seen several other advantages as well.
One obvious advantage is that the parrot must live a sedentary life,
remaining where he is put, either on his cage or an alternate perch. This
minimizes the destruction of household items that often accompanies parrot
keeping. Parrots in the wild spend much of their time tearing apart plant
life, and this is an instinctive behavior. Flighted parrots can go where
they want, finding access to the owner's possessions more easily than
might a clipped parrot.
Given that, keeping a parrot flighted requires a certain amount of
"training" on the part of the owner. If the owner lacks the
knowledge that will enable him to train his parrot to observe certain
"rules," then the parrot may wind up spending more time in his
cage than might a clipped parrot. Thus, a third advantage to keeping the
wings clipped is that the parrot may enjoy more time out of his cage
A fourth advantage involves the relative ease the owner has in taking
his parrot places. It is much easier to take a parrot to visit a friend or
on a trip to the hardware store if his wings are clipped. A flighted
parrot must be controlled in some way, either by wearing a harness or
riding in a carrier when going places.
Lastly, for those owners relatively inexperienced in handling parrots,
it can be much easier to handle a well-socialized, clipped parrot, than it
is to deal with a flighted parrot. Many flighted parrots, if not well
trained and well bonded to the owner will simply fly away when an attempt
is made to handle them or introduce them to new experiences.
Disadvantages of Wing Clipping
Ironically, the first advantage mentioned above - that of insuring that
the parrot can not fly away, is not always the advantage it appears. The
single greatest disadvantage to keeping the parrot clipped is that it
leads the owner to completely abdicate responsibility for the fact that
they are keeping as a pet a flighted creature. If the owner truly
understands the importance of feathers, wings and flight to the parrot,
does it not stand to reason that he should work hard to understand all
aspects of the bird's psyche and physical health that correlate or are
influenced by this defining ability to fly?
Sadly, all too often the owner of the clipped parrot abdicates any
responsibility for the fact that he keeps a flighted creature as a
companion. He does learn about the flighted aspects of his bird. He does
not understand how and why, and most importantly when, molting takes
place. He does not teach the parrot to allow an examination of her wings
so that it can be ascertained how many flight feathers might have grown
out and when the parrot might need to be clipped again. He does not
understand how either a slight breeze or two extra flight feathers might
increase flight capability. Tragically, this often results in the loss of
I once spoke to a woman who owned a sun conure. She once mentioned
that, upon her groomer's advice, she took the bird in once a month to have
its wings clipped. This woman had been led to believe that a bird's flight
feathers grow in the same manner as does human hair - constantly. She is a
perfect example of the phenomenon I am describing. She was entirely
well-meaning, but nevertheless had abdicated responsibility for the fact
the she was keeping a flighted companion. Further, during every initial
consultation with a new client, I ask them how many flight feathers their
parrot has clipped. I have yet to meet someone who could tell me that.
They simply leave the whole matter up to the groomer.
For any readers also new to parrots, and unclear about flight feathers
and when clipping should take place, I will briefly explain this. Most
parrots have a major molt once a year and this most often occurs right
after breeding season, in late summer or early fall. They also may have a
second, minor molt during the winter. For example, African Greys have
their major molt in August and September, but also have a minor molt in
January and February.
Thus, ideally, a parrot should only need to have its wings clipped once
a year, if the timing is good. However, if the clipping takes place prior
to the molt, and then additional flight feathers grow in during the molt,
the wings will need to be clipped again when the molt is over.
Again, the greatest disadvantage to wing clipping is that it encourages
complacency in the owner. The owner is given to believe that his only
responsibility is to take the parrot into the groomer or veterinarian at
regular intervals to have the wings clipped. This same owner is also led
to believe that her parrot can not fly. These are the owners who venture
outdoors with their birds on their shoulders, place their birds in trees
for a little afternoon playtime, or carry their birds around on their
hands in busy areas. These are the owners who lose their birds.
For, the truth is, the parrot who is always clipped will still, under
certain circumstances, be able to fly away, but will not have the flight
skills or the knowledge that would enable it to fly back to the owner. A
once clipped parrot who has grown out a couple of flight feathers on each
side, who encounters a slight breeze outdoors while riding around on the
owner's shoulder, and who is startled by the sight of something nearby,
can travel quite a long way.
A second disadvantage has yet to be proven. If we remember back to the
information gathered by scientists about the relationship between flying
and breathing, it is possible that the overall health of the respiratory
system may be compromised if the bird is never allowed to fly. I believe
it possible that life span may be shortened, or the parrot may fall victim
to respiratory illness, when she is denied the form of exercise that is
There are some very fundamental and measurable physiological changes
that take place in the body during exercise. As aviculturist Gloria
Scholbe explained so well in a message sent to the Holistic Bird Internet
Discussion List, "Wild birds exercise their muscles on a regular
basis as they forage for food. In addition to getting them to where they
are going and obtaining fuel for the body's needs, exercise benefits the
body in other ways."
"Improvements created by exercise begin at the cellular level.
Deep inside each cell are mitochondria. These cellular elements produce
energy. As the body expends energy through exercise, the body signals its
need for more energy, so numbers of mitochondria increase to meet that
need. The number of capillaries also increases when the body signals its
need for more oxygen."
"Each muscle that is worked during activity becomes stronger
because of the work it is asked to do. Body systems that support the
muscles are also affected by the muscle's work. The heart becomes
stronger, and blood vessels increase in number and in strength. The
nervous system increases in efficiency. The lungs and respiratory system
dislodge bacteria and improve the work of oxygen exchange. Bones, which
support the muscles, increase in density. All around, the physical body is
strengthened through exercise, but the benefits don't end with the
physical body. There are emotional benefits too."
"Sustained exercise results in feelings of overall well-being.
This is partly because exercise stimulates the brain to secrete endorphins
and other chemicals that help to reduce pain and lift depression. Exercise
reduces tension and helps to dissipate the damaging chemicals produced as
a response to the 'fight or flight' reaction."
Gloria brings up yet another disadvantage that results from lack of
exercise. Parrots evolved to fly many miles each day, which requires the
expenditure of lots of energy. In captivity, these same parrots now sit in
cages for hours each day. The result of this sedentary lifestyle is often
an increase in noise (screaming) and, in come cases, aggression, which can
lead to the bird losing its home. In a great many cases, both of these
problems can be improved or completely resolved by increasing the exercise
the bird gets, in addition to increasing the amount of mental stimulation
provided the bird.
A third disadvantage of wing clipping is the heavy reliance upon the
groomer's judgment, and the bad wing clips that frequently result. Many
young African Greys and Poicephalus are started off on a life of fear and
pain when clipped too severely as babies. This not only ruins their
balance, but prevents them from gliding downward if they are startled.
Instead, when startled, they often drop like a rock, injuring their chests
and keel bones, and creating a constant feeling of anxiety and fear in the
young bird. These too-short wing clips often are the beginning of a
feather abuse problem, wherein the parrot either chews off the ends of the
remaining flight feathers and any incoming, new flight feathers, or starts
to barber or pull the chest feathers.
Brian Speer, DVM, in his lecture given to listeners at The Parrot
Festival in Houston, Texas in January 2002 discussed this very problem. He
stipulated that, under no circumstances, should flight be removed from a
parrot all at once, and that no more than between five to seven flight
feathers should ever be removed from a bird. I can only completely agree.
If clipping is deemed necessary, the owner should see that it is done in
stages, perhaps clipping the first three flight feathers on the outer edge
of each wing, then taking the two next flight feathers a couple of weeks
A fourth disadvantage concerns only some species, in whom the removal
of flight ability can arouse significant feelings of vulnerability. This
is true for some Red-tailed (Congo) African Greys, especially the more
passive personalities among this species. Some individuals are genetically
predisposed to experience more anxiety and fear than are others, and for
these birds, clipping can result in increased behavior problems related to
Lastly, there is a profound disadvantage to baby parrots in never being
allowed to fledge and develop good flight skills prior to being clipped. I
raise African Greys on a small scale. Each baby is fledged and flies for
at least 8 weeks before any clipping is done. I have also taken in several
older African Greys, who had lost their homes for one reason or another.
Thus, I have had ample opportunity to observe the personality differences
between those birds I have reared, fledged and kept, and those individuals
I rescued who never had the opportunity to fly. The difference is like
night and day.
When a young bird fledges, he learns to think. He learns to act
volitionally. He goes through a mental and physical process every time he
takes a flight. He decides that he wants to move, where he wants to go,
then must figure out how high and fast he must fly to get there, and when
to stall and hover prior to landing. This is a complex series of thoughts
If a parrot does not learn to think and act volitionally as a
fledgling, there is little chance that he will ever do so, even if his
flight feathers are allowed to grow out. I have three rescued older
African Greys here who, although fully flighted, will sit in one place all
day if I do not move them. They never learned to act with volition. Even
though they are physically able to fly, it does not occur to them to do
I do not think that every species has such a profound reaction to being
clipped as a youngster, but we might imagine that there is not the full
development of the personality that takes place if, as a young bird, the
parrot learns that he can go places if he wants to, and learns the
attendant flight skills that enable him to do so. Simply put, flight
enables personality development and expression.
Taking Responsibility for the Clipped Parrot
The decision to clip a parrot should be freely made, rather than
imposed by present social customs. While much of the literature in print
today regarding parrots would have you believe that it is irresponsible
not to clip a parrot's wings, the fact that clipping wings is seen in
other countries as almost akin to abuse allows us to understand that there
are no "have to's" about this issue. Each parrot is an
individual, as is each owner. For some, the decision to keep the companion
parrot flighted will be the best one. For others, such as homes where
small children are likely to leave doors open, one of the residents tends
to be absent minded, or the parrot is very territorial, it may be a very
good decision to keep the companion parrot's wings clipped.
If we do choose to keep our parrots clipped, then is it imperative that
we take responsibility for doing so. We must learn about and come to
understand the process of molting, and teach the parrot to allow an
examination of his wings so that we can tell when he does need grooming.
We should either learn to clip the parrot ourselves, in order to prevent a
"bad" wing clip, or be prepared to act assertively with the
groomer and specify the number of flight feathers that should be removed,
using the guidelines provided by Dr. Speer. (It is not true that your
parrot will hold it against you if you clip his wings yourself.) And,
lastly, we must work hard to make up for the fact that the parrot can not
fly. We should move him from perch to perch throughout the day, so that he
has some variety, and strive to provide him with a varied number of
activities through which he can exercise both his mental and physical
I would also recommend exploring the "gray" areas of flight.
For some parrots, it might be a good idea to allow the parrot a few weeks
of full flight each year after the annual molt, before clipping him back
very gradually. This should help to keep him physically fit.
Advantages of Flight
Some of the advantages to keeping a parrot fully flighted within the
home will be obvious, as they will be the converse of the disadvantages of
wing clipping. If ever lost, the parrot is more likely to have both the
stamina and the flight skills to fly back down to the owner when found.
The bird is more likely to enjoy good health, both physically and
mentally. There is no possibility of damage being done by a groomer who
performs a bad wing clip. For the young bird who is allowed to fledge and
fly, even if clipped prior to going to his new home, there will be the
joyful and enthusiastic expansion of personality that occurs during
fledging, provided that the period of flight allowed is several weeks in
duration. Such an initial period of flight will lead to both confidence
and coordination. The young parrot allowed flight will remain forever a
more athletic creature, and a more enjoyable one to have around, at that.
A couple of these advantages warrant closer inspection. First, the
owner who keeps his parrot either partially or fully flighted is likely to
be more involved with his bird. Out of necessity, he will find it
necessary to do some training with the parrot, in order to protect his
household furnishings and possessions. This training of flight cues is not
difficult to do with a bird, and is a lot of fun for both owner and
parrot. The majority of my own parrots are flighted, and each responds to
the cue, "Off there!" From personal experience, I believe that
flighted birds are more fun to have as companions. They are so much better
able to reveal their personalities through movement of choice.
Consistent with the need to teach some flight "rules," many
owners of flighted parrots go so far as to teach the parrot to come when
called. This is known as teaching "the recall." This becomes a
huge advantage to the owner of a flighted parrot, because if the parrot
ever does get loose outdoors, the owner stands the very best chance of
recovering the parrot. If he has also consistently encouraged the use of a
contact call, he will have a much easier time locating the bird.
It is ironic that proponents of wing clipping most often determine the
necessity of this practice based upon prevention of loss. In fact, a
flighted parrot who has good skills and stamina, who knows how to fly
downward, who has perhaps spent time outdoors in an aviary, who comes to
the recall cue, is in most cases, quite easy to recover. I personally
believe this to be the best prevention against loss, far superior to the
removal of flight.
Lastly, there comes with keeping a flighted parrot a true appreciation
for the keen intelligence and magical whimsy so frequently displayed by
the flighted bird. Flighted parrots are often more enjoyable, since they
are well able to make choices and interact with us at will. They are a lot
of fun. By always keeping the birds in our midst clipped, I believe that
we blind ourselves to the view and appreciation of the parrot as a
flighted entity, which in some cases even leads to the abuse of the
parrot. And, certainly, it allows us to hold onto the historic vision of
birds as unintelligent creatures. We have all heard of the "bird
brain," a most uncomplimentary label. In the end, we, as well as the
birds, are the losers.
Disadvantages of Flight
That stated, however, there are some serious considerations and some
true disadvantages to keeping a flighted parrot. They are not, however,
those most often alluded to by those who warn against flight. Many times
we hear of the dangers of keeping parrots flighted in the home. The usual
dangers cited are windows, kitchen appliances, electrical cords, the
toilet, etc. In truth, however, parrots are "learning machines,"
quite capable of learning about windows and other household hazards.
It is true, though, that the owners of flighted parrots need to be
alert and aware of potential losses. Many who keep parrots believe that
these birds are always on the alert, ready for an opportunity to escape.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. If treated well, our parrots do
not want to escape or to fly away from home. It does, however, occur by
accident. A typical scenario occurs when the owner does not pay attention
to the bird's location in the room, and opens the door to walk outside.
The parrot flies to the owner's shoulder as the door opens, is startled by
the sudden exposure to the outdoors, and takes off in flight. Or, the
parrot sees the owner outdoors and attempts to fly to the owner through an
Other losses through injury or death occur when a flighted parrot
chooses to perch atop an open door...and someone closes the door quickly.
In some cases, death comes when a transparent partition is closed, never
having been closed previously. In one instance, the home had a sliding
glass door that separated two rooms. This door was always open. The
African Grey had long been flighted and enjoyed a routine pattern of
flight in the house for exercise. One day, someone closed the door. While
baby parrots who are just fledging, do not, as a rule, have the muscle
development that allows them to injure or kill themselves when running
into windows, a fully flighted parrot, in good shape, can certainly kill
himself flying into such a partition, just as wild birds do when flying
Anyone who elects to keep flighted parrots can not be absent-minded.
They must maintain an awareness of the parrot's location in the home at
all times, travel through doorways carefully, and think through any
actions likely to impact the flighted bird. For instance, the operation of
a ceiling fan can mean the death of the flighted parrot, if the owner
absentmindedly turns it on without thinking of the ramifications.
Second, as previously stated, in order to live companionably with a
flighted bird, it is necessary to provide instruction about where the bird
can perch, and where it must not perch. This takes some time, effort, and
patience. For those who do not enjoy animal training, or have not the time
to learn appropriate techniques, wing clipping may well be the better
choice. Flightedness is of no advantage to the parrot who is always kept
locked in a cage in order to prevent his getting into trouble. He is
better off able to climb around his cage and alternate perching sites.
A third disadvantage is the, to some degree, unavoidable harm which
comes to household items when flighted parrots are allowed exploration of
Parrots are playful and they enjoy figuring out how things work. My
African Grey, Marko, has two favorite activities. She flies to my pot rack
in the kitchen while I am working out there, and throws the lighter pots
and pans down onto the stove. When I happen to leave the room and she is
bored, she enjoys pushing down the spigot on the large bottle of purified
water that we keep on the counter for drinking, watching as the water
flows down and splashes into the floor. While I am willing to tolerate
these minor annoyances, another individual might find this type of parrot
"fun" intolerable. However, I am amused by Marko's intelligence
and sense of humor. The primary cause of harm to household items come, of
course, from chewing. In all honesty, I don't think I have a window sill
without need of some sanding and re-staining, and I dare not leave a book
lying on the end table if I want it to remain in perfect condition.
Fourth, depending upon the personality of the parrot in question,
flightedness can lead to increased aggression that is directly related to
territoriality. For example, my flighted male Grey, Rollo, decided at one
point that the bathroom off the hallway belonged to him. I did not agree.
On two occasions, as I was drying off after a shower with the door ajar,
he flew into the room and bit me on the back of the neck. As uncommon an
occurrence as this might seem, I have spoken to two other Grey owners who
have experienced similar attacks. My solution was simply to convince him
that the bathroom does, indeed, belong to me, by running him out of there
when necessary. I could well understand it if an owner was not willing to
enter into such "negotiations."
Last, a disadvantage of major proportions is the difficulty of finding
alternative care for the flighted birds when you must leave town. There
are few care-givers who are knowledgeable enough to be able to handle a
flighted parrot, and the option of leaving the bird in its cage throughout
the owner's entire absence is obviously an undesirable one.
Taking Responsibility for the Flighted Parrot
Without question, the owner of the flighted parrot must "step up
to the plate" and learn certain training skills that will serve to
keep the parrot safe. There is the chance that one day the flighted parrot
will go through the doorway after the owner and become lost. Whether or
not retrieval is successful may well depend upon whether the parrot has
been taught the recall, has become conditioned to respond to a contact
call, and knows how to fly downward.
Clicker training is a good place to start with a parrot who is, or may
become, flighted. Websites that provide information on how to train
parrots using the clicker training method are www.clickingwithbirds.com
and www.thepiratesparrrot.com. Numerous books are also in print on this
Two excellent articles that cover the subjects of teaching the parrot
to come when called and the initial steps of clicker training with birds
were written by trainer Francois Joiris and appeared in issues #50 and #51
of the Companion Parrot Quarterly (formerly the Pet Bird Report). Back
issues may be ordered from www.companionparrot.com.
The very best resource for owners interested in learning more about
flight and keeping flighted parrots is the Free Flight Internet Discussion
List owned by trainer Chris Biro. This is an excellent discussion list
which allows for open-minded exploration of both clipping and keeping the
flighted parrot. Those interested can subscribe at this following link:
When keeping a flighted parrot, it is necessary for the owner to live
differently, to train himself to remain aware of any possible dangers to
the flighted bird. This may involve foregoing use of a ceiling fan,
installing double doorways to prevent loss, taking shorter vacations, and
training oneself to remain mindful of the parrot's whereabouts when out of
Finally, handling issues must be given closer attention when the parrot
is flighted. Either the parrot must be transported in a carrier, or
trained to allow the owner to keep a thumb firmly pressed down on the
bird's foot and a hand on the bird's back when covering short distances
outdoors. The owner of the flighted parrot will find that this is just one
of many "training issues" that will warrant attention. While
this training will undoubtedly improve the parrot/human relationship, it
still demands time and attention.
Perhaps, in retrospect, this analysis has not been so unbiased. The
astute reader can not help but pick up on my enthusiasm for keeping my own
birds flighted. In the beginning of my parrot keeping career, I kept my
birds clipped, having been led to believe that this is what the
responsible parrot owner does. Once I began breeding, and realized the
benefits of fledging to the babies, I had a new awareness of the benefits
of flight for all birds. Gradually, as my own knowledge and skill has
grown, each of my parrots has become flighted...and safely so. I would
never choose to go backwards in this progression of philosophy and
practice. In fact, observation of their delight in flying humbles me. Who
am I to remove this most significant and defining of abilities?
i Short, Lester L. The Lives of Birds. New York, NY: Henry
Holt & Co., 1993
ii Edited by Poole, Robert M. The Wonder of Birds
.Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1083.
Gift of Birds. National Wildlife Federation, 1979.
v Page, Jake and Morton, Eugene S. Lords of the Air: The Smithsonian Book of Birds. New York: mithsonian Institution. 1989
vii Weidensaul, Scott. Living
On the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds.
New York: North Point Press. 1999
ix Perrins, Christopher. Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World. New
York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1976