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How to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

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Recently I wrote a post about certain breeds of chickens that could fly. And in it I mentioned three ways to prevent your birds from taking flight. Today we’re going to look more closely at wing clipping. Because, if you’ve never done it, it can seem daunting. Also, I’ll explain how to clip a chicken’s wings. However, first, let’s find out whether or not you should clip their wings.

Reasons to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

If you have pasture raised chickens, then you probably don’t have them penned in an enclosure all day. Which means you likely have fence line separating your property from your neighbor’s. And if you have one of those flighty breeds, they possibly frequent your neighbor’s yard. Therefore, the main reason to clip your birds’ wings is to keep them in their yard and on your property. And the other reasons to clip your chickens wings include:

mixed flock of chicks around raised garden bed with coop in the distance
This was our first raised garden bed, before we built the 4 1/2 foot fence dividing the yard. The chickens easily destroyed the garden, even with the chicken wire.
  • To restrict your chickens from destroying your garden, if you have one
  • In addition, to keep them from getting mauled by a predator
  • And lastly, to prevent them from getting run over by any vehicles, if you happen to live close to any roads

On the other hand, if you keep your birds in the run, then you don’t need to worry about clipping any wings. But just having a fence won’t deter a determined bird. Because, as I mentioned in my last article, some breeds can fly over 10 feet!

Pros and Cons to Clipping a Chicken’s Wings

person holding out freshly clipped wing feathers of a Black Ameraucana hen
We had to clip this hen’s wings after administering first aid; she flew into a neighbor’s yard, and my husband rescued her from being nipped by their dogs. Thankfully they weren’t big dogs, or the damage would’ve been worse.

A couple of the advantages of wing clipping are that

  • It’s safe and painless if done correctly.

Compare it to a dog getting its claws trimmed; but NOT to declawing a cat. Or it can even be compared to a human getting a haircut.

  • In addition, your chickens will re-learn behavior.

If you’re new to this, you might be scratching your head, saying, What? But it’s true, chickens can be motivated and taught certain behaviors. I’ve witnessed it in my own birds. With each bird that needs and gets its wings clipped, they no longer need to be re-clipped, because they’ve learned not to cross those forbidden boundaries.

  • And wing clipping is temporary, since chickens molt.

Thus, new feathers come in.

The disadvantages to clipping chickens’ wings include

  • If done improperly, it can cause bleeding
  • Also, if birds are in open pastures, roaming at will, then wing clipping limits their ability to get away from predators
  • And finally, some people think it makes the birds look less attractive

When to Clip and When NOT to Clip

Believe it or not, there are actually better times and situations in which to clip your chickens’ wings, if that’s something you’re considering.

mixed flock of mostly black juvenile chicks
  • First off, don’t clip any chickens’ wings unless they have their adult feathers.

Chicks go through several molts before they’re finally considered adults themselves. And if you clip their wings while they’re juvenile, you’ll just have to do it again. And again. Also, when feathers are growing, there will be blood in the shafts.

Growing feathers are dark or black, while fully formed ones appear clear or white.

you can clip as soon as the birds have all their adult feathers and it becomes necessary. (Emphasis mine)

Therefore, if your birds aren’t showing signs that they’re flying over any fences, then there’s no need to do any wing clipping.

  • And lastly, I already pointed out that birds in open pastures, roaming at will, would be hindered if their wings were clipped.

The BEST time to clip your chickens’ wings is when you have adult backyard birds that are repeatedly being a nuisance, getting into the neighbor’s yard, your garden, a busy road, or trying to get mauled by some animal. And most, if not all, sites recommend you first catching your birds. Forget that. Who wants to chase around a bunch of chickens all day?

Rather, here’s the alternative: Before letting them out in the morning one day, have someone help you clip their wings, one bird at a time.

mixed flock of black chickens in yard divided by wooden and wire fence

Materials Needed to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

  • Partner to help you

Having someone assist you with clipping your birds’ wings will make the job easier and go faster.

  • Good pair of scissors

You need sharp scissors to cut through the shafts; alternatively, you also could use sharp wire cutters

  • And styptic powder or alum

In the event you cut too short, and a feather starts to bleed, dip the feather in some styptic powder or alum, until it’s coated.

Instructions for Clipping a Chicken’s Wings

  • Get your partner and supplies; and without letting any birds out, (if that’s possible) set-up shop for wing-clipping

Since we can stand up normal in our run without trouble, that’s where we usually take care of things, like wing clipping. However, your coop and run may be different. If it’s smaller, you’ll have to get creative.

person in pink shirt holding Black Ameraucana rooster with one wing outstretched
Tiny Nuts already had his wings clipped, as you can see by the straight edges.
  • One person needs to hold the bird firmly, making sure one chicken wing is held securely against the chicken, so there’s no flapping, while the other person will clip the free wing
  • Next, have the person with the scissors locate the primary feathers; are the shafts dark or clear? If they’re clear, then they’re safe to trim
  • With a steady hand, only trim back the 10 primary feathers about 50% of the way; (unless you know your bird is a flyer, start small)
Notice the primary feathers.

Now, it’s at this point that a lot of sites suggest you’d be finished, because supposedly having one clipped wing would unbalance a chicken. And I also tried that approach my first experience with wing clipping. However, all of my Ameraucana chickens can fly with this unbalanced design. Hence, we clipped more. And when that didn’t work, we clipped more, and jaggedly.

  • Thus, you can trim only one side, but if you have one of the flighty breeds, like me, you just might have to go back and trim more than just the primaries and make it look ugly; remember to check the shafts, and if they’re clear, you can trim them
digital art of a chicken's wing
Digital Art, Courtesy of Sarah Smith

Again, most sites adamantly advise against trimming the secondary feathers. But obviously they’ve never had Ameraucanas; otherwise they’d never suggest such a thing. Though there are a couple of sites that are familiar with the more determined flyers. So, if you have birds like I do, and you want to protect them, then you need to clip more than the primaries. It’s that, or risk them getting into trouble.

Conclusion

Wing clipping, if done correctly, is a safe and painless way to prevent your chickens from flying from the safety of their enclosures. Whether a few chickens or the whole flock like to get out, clipping wings can offer some respite.

Clipping a chicken’s wings is only temporary, and many sites suggest repeating the procedure annually. However, I disagree. Just like waiting to see if wing clipping is even needed, wait and see if repeating the process is necessary.

Black Ameraucana hen in front of brick wall
We’ve only had to re-clip this hen’s wings one other time after her molt; she learned her lesson after that.

For example, I have only had to repeat the procedure on one hen after her molt. The whole idea for me is to re-teach my birds, because they are teachable, contrary to what anyone might think. When their wings are clipped, they’re grounded for that time frame. So when their molt is ended, and their wings are in and they’re free again, hopefully they’ve learned not to go where we don’t want them to go. And that’s just what I’ve personally discovered happens with my own birds.

What do you think about wing clipping chickens? Have you ever done it?

Thanks for reading this post. Your comments are appreciated. If you liked this, please like, share, and please don’t forget to follow!

By KS

I breed pure Black Ameraucana chickens and Easter Eggers that are Black Ameraucana mixed with either Cuckoo Maran or Barred Rock. And I donate eggs to people or organizations in need.

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