Site Index

Bird Grooming

Wing Trimming

To be safe, caged birds should have their wing feathers trimmed. The decision to deny a caged bird free, unrestricted flight (as in the wild) is made by each bird owner at the time the bird is made a captive pet in the home.

Wing trimming makes a bird's cage confinement safer. Flight feathers of both wings should be trimmed. If your bird escapes its cage and takes flight, its descent to the floor is balanced and relatively controlled. Trimming the feathers on only one wing results in an unbalanced descent to the floor, possibly injuring the bird.

Another disadvantage is that many birds with only one wing trimmed can fly as soon as 1-2 flight feathers have grown out on the trimmed side. Some bird owners prefer not to trim the wings of their smaller caged birds (parakeets, cockatiels) because their flying brings the owner great enjoyment. These small caged birds have a smaller turning radius in flight than the larger ones. Consequently, the smaller birds can usually safely fly about most homes and apartments. One other advantage of not trimming the wings of these small birds is that it allows them to escape when in danger and threatened by any pet in the home.

However, generally it is best to keep your pet bird's wings trimmed at all times, except for the specific circumstances detailed above. Trimming the wings is like trimming your fingernails. If performed properly, the bird will experience no bleeding or discomfort. Trimming the wings makes taming the bird easier and usually shortens the time for taming. Further, this procedure changes the bird's appearance very little. Have an experienced veterinarian or veterinary technician perform this task and teach you how to properly do it.

Beak and Claw (Nail) Clipping

Caged birds live in a very "geometric" world, in contrast to their wild counterparts. Most surfaces they perch on (perches, cage bars, etc) are smooth and regular. Consequently, the claws and beaks of pet birds tend to overgrow, and the surfaces of their beaks also tend to become rough and irregular. In the wild bird's natural environment, this never arises because they are very active and wear down their claws on tree bark, rocks and other abrasive surfaces. Most caged birds need their claws trimmed periodically in spite of gimmicks often employed to keep them shortened. Sandpaper perch covers, for example, do not prevent nail overgrowth but they do cause irritation and excessive wear of the soles of the feet. These perch covers should not be used.

An emery board, nail clippers or cautery instrument can be used to shorten the claws of smaller caged birds. A rapidly rotating grinding stone is used to trim the claws and to shorten, shape and smooth the beaks of larger birds. The results are very professional and satisfying. You should not attempt to trim the beak of your bird. If you do attempt to trim the claws, you must have something on hand with which to stop any bleeding. These clotting aids are called styptics. Recommended styptics include Kwik-Stop, silver nitrate sticks and ferric sub sulfate. If bleeding occurs while trimming the claws, do not panic. First, carefully restrain the bird. Next, squeeze the toe just above the claw (tourniquet effect). Then apply the styptic to the bleeding claw. Alternate the last 2 steps until the bleeding has stopped. Always seek veterinary help when your bird is bleeding or has bled. Bleeding always represents an emergency situation. Corn starch or flour is a common household item that can be applied to bleeding claws or other wounds to help with blood clotting and to stop bleeding. The steps outlined above are first-aid procedures only and are not a substitute for veterinary assistance.


Many exotic pet birds originally lived in tropical climates where rainfall is a daily, or otherwise frequent occurrence. Rainwater provides drinking water and an opportunity for bathing. Birds typically take advantage of this moisture by "showering" during a rainstorm or bathing in puddles formed by the falling rainwater. This keeps their feathers healthy, and restores and maintains a brilliant sheen to the plumage. Caged birds should also be allowed to bathe periodically. Some prefer to bathe in a small container, others tolerate being sprayed or misted with water. Regular tap water and a spray bottle or plant mister should be used. Commercial solutions available for this purpose offer no particular advantage and may in fact, be harmful. Many pet bird owners enjoy taking their bird into the shower with them on a regular basis. Bathing activities can be undertaken once daily or as often as convenient. It is important to allow the bird to air dry in a warm room or in the warm sunshine. Hair dryers can be used to blow dry your bird, but the appliance must be held a safe distance (more than 10 inches away) from the bird to prevent burns.