Preceding the article is a bio that Pam sent along with it. Please read it as well. With the bio is an announcement of an interactive telecourse she will be offering March 30th. As soon as it is announced on the website, I will post a link for you to sign up. It should be a great learning experience for us bird owners.
I hope that this helps us all make a more informed decision when it comes to clipping our feathered companions.
On behalf of BirdBoard.com, we and our birds thank you Pam.
Biography for Pamela Clark
Pamela Clark is a well-known author, speaker and certified parrot behavior consultant. Her knowledge extends to a wide range of parrot species, and has been gained through experiences as diverse as breeding to rescue and rehabilitation. Pam has also trained parrots in behaviors as complex as that of free flight outdoors.
Pam’s approach when dealing with behavior problems is two-fold. She seeks to provide increased environmental enrichment and excellent nutrition, while using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to resolve behavior problems. She evaluates each aspect of the parrot’s existence, including nutrition, environment, and social relationships, recommending improvements using the most positive, least intrusive methods to insure improvement.
Pam lives in Salem, Oregon with a mixed flock of 10 companion parrots, one dog and two cats. In addition to her behavior consulting, writing and lecturing, she works as a veterinary technician for an avian specialist. Her articles have appeared in the Companion Parrot Quarterly, Bird Talk magazine, Birds USA, Parrots magazine, and the Holistic Bird Newsletter, and have been translated into several foreign languages.
Pamela Clark, CPBC
Pamela Clark will be teaching an interactive telecourse on this topic on March 30, 2008. During this hour and a half presentation, titled "Companion Parrots - Should We Clip Those Wings, Or Not?" she will lead participants to examine the pros and cons of both clipping flight feathers and allowing flight in companion parrots, so that they are better able to make this choice with their own parrots. Those interested can find more information and enroll in the telecourse by going to Raising Canine. For those who are unable to attend, the presentation with taped audio will be available after the presentation for purchase as well.
Copyright Pamela Clark October 2002. All rights reserved. Parts or whole may not be reprinted without express written permission of the author. This article originally appeared in the Holistic Bird Newsletter at holisticbird.com. Revised January 2008.
Feathered Companions…the Ultimate Dilemma
By Pamela Clark
Feathers and flight have fascinated man for thousands of years. In the first fifteen volumes of his Natural History, printed between 1749 and 1767, the Count of Buffon traces parrot keeping back to the time of Aristotle. Never, however, has it been as easy or popular to own a parrot as it is today. The advent of breeding and rearing practices, such as hand feeding, has increased their numbers in captivity dramatically. This new availability has only fanned our enthusiasm and fascination at the thought of having a feathered creature close at hand.
However, it is those feathers…the very things that fascinate us…that also frustrate us, since they bring us squarely at some point into having to make a decision. Do I clip this bird’s wings, or not? Prevailing attitudes, with which I will deal in a moment, are strongly held and divide parrot owners into two opposing camps. The individual parrot owner, however, often carries on an internal, more private, struggle over this issue. Having been advised to have the wings clipped, the parrot keeper is often reluctant to do so. Something about it just goes against the grain of our thinking. For others, the choice is a clear one and wings are clipped without a second thought.
I will assert that taking flight away from a bird is a choice that should be well considered and done with care, expertise and ultimate respect for the bird’s experience and how this will impact her. Hopefully, this article will make such a choice easier and more clearly defined for those who find themselves facing it.
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. While I have not been there to see for myself, my understanding is that many parrot owners in European countries do not, and that this practice is believed tantamount to abuse by some. This fact alone allows us to understand that the practice of keeping the flight feathers trimmed may not be always 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 condemn as negligent 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, and at the pro’s and con’s 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.” 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 an injustice.
I bred African Grey parrots for many years, and allowed each year’s babies to fly for a longer and longer period of time each year before clipping them. This experience allowed me to see clearly the very adverse impact clipping after fledging could have on some individuals, especially if they had been allowed a period of flight longer than four weeks. Eventually, I quit clipping babies entirely, successfully sending them to new homes fully flighted and trained to come on cue. Through this process, I was able to recognize that flight allows parrots to fully negotiate and actualize their social relationships. They even use flight to communicate with each other.
Feathers come in several different forms. Smooth ones cover the body, fluffy ones 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 exquisitely complex.
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. 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 stopping.
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.
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. 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.
(please see next reply for more)