Cockatiels are among the fastest flying pet birds. Their sleek, slender bodies give them an advantage over larger birds, such as Amazons and African greys. Since cockatiels are so aerodynamic, you must pay close attention to the condition of the bird’s wing feathers and trim them regularly to keep your bird safe. The goal of a proper wing trim is to prevent your pet from flying away or into a window, mirror, or wall while he’s out of his cage. An added benefit of trimming your pet’s wings is that his inability to fly well will make him more dependent on you for transportation, which should make him easier to handle. However, the bird still needs enough wing feathers so that if he is startled and takes flight from his cage top or playgym, he can glide safely to the ground.
Because this is a delicate balance, you may want to enlist the help of your avian veterinarian, at least the first time. Wing trimming is a task that must be performed carefully to avoid injuring your pet, so take your time if you’re doing
it yourself. Please do not just pick up the largest pair of kitchen shears you own and start snipping away, as this can cause severe injury to the bird’s wingtips.
Feather Care Follow-up
Although it may seem as if your cockatiel’s tail feathers need regular trimming, they don’t under normal circumstances. Some cockatiels may thrash their tail feathers in the course of their normal activities, and you may feel better about your bird’s appearance if you trim the scruffy-looking feathers. However, if your bird’s tail feathers are often damaged or ratty-looking, your cockatiel’s cage may be too small for him to move about easily and comfortably. Remember that your pet’s cage should be spacious enough for him to move around easily, extend his
wings fully, and not have his crest touch the cage ceiling or the tip of his tail feathers touch the floor of the cage. If your bird’s cage fails these simple tests, get a larger cage for your cockatiel and use the smaller cage as a travel cage or as a temporary home when you’re cleaning the main cage.
Be particularly alert after a molt, because your bird will have a whole new crop of flight feathers that need attention. You’ll be able to tell when your bird is due for a trim when he starts becoming bolder in his flying attempts. Right after a wing trim, a cockatiel generally tries to fly and finds he’s unsuccessful at the attempt. He will keep trying, though, and may surprise you one day with a fairly good glide across his cage or off his playgym. If this happens, get the scissors and trim those wings immediately.
Wing trimming step by step
The first step in trimming your cockatiel’s wing feathers is to assemble all the things you will need and find a quiet, well-lit place to groom your pet before you catch and trim him. Your grooming tools will include:
• Washcloth or small towel to wrap your cockatiel in
• Small, sharp scissors to do the actual trimming
• Needle-nosed pliers (to pull out any blood feathers you may cut
• Flour or cornstarch (not styptic powder) to stop the bleeding in case
a blood feather is cut
• Nail trimmers (while you have your bird wrapped in the towel, you
might as well do his nails, too)
I encourage you to groom your pet in a quiet, well-lit place because grooming excites some birds and causes them to become wiggly. Having good light to work under will make your job easier, and having a quiet work area may calm your pet and make him easier to handle.
Once you’ve assembled your supplies and found a quiet grooming location, drape the towel over your hand and catch your cockatiel with your toweled hand. Gently grab your bird by the back of his head and neck (never compress the chest) and wrap him in the towel—firmly enough to hold him but not too tight! Hold your bird’s head securely through the towel with your thumb and index finger. (Having the bird’s head covered by the towel will calm him and will give him something to chew on while you clip his wings.)
Lay the bird on his back, being careful not to constrict or compress his chest (remember, birds have no diaphragm to help them breathe), and spread his wing out carefully. You will see an upper row of short feathers, called the covert feathers, and a lower row of long feathers, which are the flight feathers. Look for new flight feathers that are still growing in, also called blood feathers. These can be identified by their waxy, tight look (new feathers in their feather sheaths resemble the end of a shoelace) and their dark centers or quills—the dark color is caused by the blood
supply to the new feather. Never trim a blood feather. If your bird has a number of blood feathers, you may want to put off trimming his wings for a few days, because older, fully grown feathers act as a cushion to protect those just coming in from life’s hard knocks. If your bird has only one or two blood feathers, you can trim the full-grown
To trim your bird’s feathers, separate each one away from the other flight feathers and cut it individually (remember, the goal is to have a well-trimmed bird who is still able to glide a bit if he needs to). Start from the tip of the wing when you trim, and clip just five to eight feathers in. Use the primary covert feathers (the set of feathers above the primary flight feathers) as a guideline as to how short you should trim—trim the flight feathers so they are just a tiny bit longer than the coverts.
Be sure to trim an equal number of feathers from each wing. Although some people think that a bird needs only one trimmed wing, this is incorrect and could actually harm a bird who tries to fly with one trimmed and one untrimmed wing. Think of how off balance that would make you feel; your cockatiel is no different.
Now that you’ve successfully trimmed your bird’s wing feathers, congratulate yourself. You’ve just taken a great step toward keeping your cockatiel safe. Now you must remember to check your cockatiel’s wing feathers and retrim them periodically (about four times a year is a minimum).
Blood feather first aid
If you do happen to cut a blood feather, remain calm. You must remove it and stop the bleeding to ensure that your bird doesn’t bleed to death, and panicking will do neither of you any good.
To remove a blood feather, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to grasp the broken feather’s shaft as close to the skin of the wing as you can. With one steady motion, pull the feather out completely. After you’ve removed the feather, put a pinch of flour or cornstarch on the feather follicle (the spot you pulled the feather out of) and apply direct pressure
for a few minutes until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after a few minutes of direct pressure, or if you can’t remove the feather shaft, contact your avian veterinarian immediately for further instructions.
Although it may seem like you’re hurting your cockatiel by removing the broken blood feather, consider this: A broken blood feather is like an open faucet. If left in, the faucet stays open and lets the blood out. Once removed, the bird’s skin generally closes up behind the feather shaft and shuts off the faucet.