How to Clip Your Bird’s Wings

Clipping bird’s wings will keep ’em contained to their proper pen! Have a hen (chicken or turkey) that is always escaping? This post is for you! Let’s walk through the steps needed to practice safe clipping!

It is important to make certain you do it at the right time and in the proper manner!

First of all, let me assure you that clipping the 20-or-so, long wingtip feathers (primaries & secondaries) on a bird’s wing does not hurt it, nor is the damage permanent. Our heritage turkeys re-grow the lengths on their shortened feathers within 3-4 months. Your birds will still be able to fly after this clipping, but it is discouragement enough to keep ’em from going over the wire. Don’t worry about laying hens! They’ll make it to the nests though it will take time for them to adjust to the off-set wing.

How to Safely Trim Your Bird's Wings

Be careful if clipping wings during molting seasons (Aug-Dec). A bird’s defense mechanism is its flight. For this reasons, they don’t lose their wingtip feathers all at once. Instead, they slowly fall out and are regrownso you must be careful when clipping! 

Before doing so, check the base of each quill. If any have a greyish-blue tone or are dark in color, don’t clip! Dark color exists only because blood is flowing through the quill and growing the feather. If you clip it, you could hurt your bird and they can lose blood. Look for a white quill base. When confirmed, go ahead and shorten the wing.

Suppose you find 2 or 3 feathers with a dark base? Go ahead a clip the others, but leave the growing ones. It’ll look strange but you’ll avoid needlessly hurting your bird and without the other flight feathers, they’ll stay put.

For the task at hand its safest and easiest to use scissors, tin snips or small pruning “shears” (also known as snips). Scissors will dull quickly if you have a flock to go through! This procedure is easier with the help of another person, particularly with larger birds.

With our heritage turkeys, they must still fly up to their 4 ft roost. As a result, we take the wingtips off (as is common practice) at the first overlapping layer of feathers, known as the coverts. Pull out your bird’s wing! You’ll see they layers.

Let’s Get Clipping!!!

Round up your birds. I’d recommend locking ’em in the chicken house or secure place ’cause once they get wind of the scheme they may be a bit wary of you!

Look at these guys! We had to push ’em into a covered run just catch them. I think suspicion is written all over their lil’ red heads!

If your birds are not gentled, you may want to wear gloves, particularly with large birds such as heritage turkeys. Their claws are long and can rip through human skin easily! We bear more than one scar from these events!

With birds that are crazily wild, go for the feet. If catching larger types of poultry, they can weigh 10-30 lbs and are capable of blow through almost anything (and anyone)! Catching hold of their feet is the easiest, gentlest and surest way to capture ’em.

Having a second person makes the job so much easier! With the bird’s head facing you, lift it from underneath by placing your left hand on the breastbone. This method keeps your arms and hands clear of clawing feet! Tuck the fowl’s head between your left arm and body while holding its weight. Shifting the bird slightly outward from you will keep the feet clear of your jeans as well.

Tail in front of you, head behind, its also a good way to avoid the manure nervous birds release! Now use the right hand to extend the wing and your helper can clip-clip-clip with your cutting tool. Remember: cut at the first set of overlapping feathers! Let the bird go and move on.

Techniques for Safe Wing Clipping

It’s kinda funny to watch ’em get used to their new wing. And a bit sad. But it works for the time being and we know from experience…that ole’ bird will be out again in approx 3-4 months time!




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