If you’re thinking of keeping chickens as pets, then you may have heard that some chicken owners clip their pets’ wings? This can sound cruel and heartless when you hear about it but in fact, it can be a big benefit both to you and your birds. Clipping a chicken’s wings is designed to impair their ability to fly and it doesn’t hurt.
Can a chicken still fly with clipped wings? Yes, believe it or not, they can. Chickens are clever creatures and they can adapt to new situations in the same way that people can. However, you can make it harder for them to fly by clipping only a single wing and waiting until they are fully competent at flight before you clip. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Would You Clip A Chicken’s Wings?
You may not believe it, because it doesn’t happen that often when you’re watching chickens, but they can fly, and they can fly pretty well. This is a very useful talent; it allows a chicken to flee when attacked by prey in the wild. It can also allow them to access territory and food sources that they might otherwise not be able to get into.
While this skill may be very useful to a wild chicken, it might not be as handy when you keep pet chickens. Depending on the breed, chickens can fly up to 6 feet in the air. This is often just about high enough for a chicken to leap over the fencing on your yard or garden and to disappear off down the road.
An escaped pet chicken is not going to have the same levels of survival instinct as a wild chicken, it’s much more likely to end up dinner for a pet cat or a pet dog or run over by a car. It may also wander so far that you can’t find your chicken again. As pet owners, we don’t keep pet chickens in the hopes of them getting lost or hurt.
But do cats get along with pet chickens? Read here to find out.
So, we can do something else. We can clip a chicken’s wing or its wings to try and interfere with its ability to fly. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt. Let’s take a look at how you can clip a chicken’s wings and why you your chicken won’t mind if you do as long as you do it right.
How To Clip A Chicken’s Wings
Chickens have three types of feather on their wings: primary feathers (which are the main flight feathers), secondary (back up – they help steer) and covert feathers (which act as protection for the wing more than as a flight tool).
When you clip a chicken’s wings, you’re not doing any harm to the wing. Instead, you’re looking to remove the primary feathers but not to interfere with the secondary or covert feathers. This is pretty much the same thing as a human being getting a trim to their hair or cutting their nails – it’s not dangerous and the outcome is not painful.
It’s important not to rush out to clip your bird’s wings immediately, however, one thing that we’ve learned over time is that you want to wait until your chicken is getting close to clearing your fences when it’s in flight and this is why:
Can A Chicken Still Fly With Clipped Wings?
Technically, clipped wings don’t make flight entirely impossible, they just make it really hard. The younger a chicken is when you first clip its wings – the easier it is for them to work out and try strategies that allow them to get around the constraint of not having primary feathers to rely on.
So, if you want to throw your chicken off its game (and you do) then the time to do it is once they’ve learned to fly with their primary feathers. Then, when they lose them – they find it much harder to adapt because they’ve already learned how to fly and will struggle to adapt to their new situation (don’t worry – this may be confusing to your chicken but it won’t be distressing).
That means, yes a chicken can still fly with clipped wings but only if it can work out how to do so and the objective of wing clipping is to leave your chicken confused enough that it can’t work out how.
Wing Or Wings?
There is a bit of debate on this in the chicken owning community, but we come down on the side of clipping only a single wing or your chicken. Why? Having one working wing and one not working wing is far more confusing that having two wings that are exactly the same.
Think about swimming, if you had somebody with no arms, they’d work out pretty quickly to lay on their back and kick their legs, but if they only had one arm, you’d probably just find them swimming in circles and frustrated that they couldn’t get one arm to point them in the right direction.
Chickens, just like humans, are naturally symmetrical. When you mess with their external symmetry, it’s much harder to compensate than if you create a new, different kind of symmetry.
Are There Any Dangers Involved In Clipping Chicken Wings?
Yes. Before you grab your clippers and get ready to clip your chicken or chickens’ wings – you should know that you are giving your chicken something of a handicap when approaching the rest of its life.
The biggest problem you will create for the chicken is that it will find fleeing from a predator much harder if it can’t fly away. If you live in the middle of nowhere with no obvious predators – this may not be a big deal. If, on the other hand, dogs roam free in your neighborhood and might get into your yard, it might be a very big deal, indeed.
A chicken that can’t fly can’t dodge a dog nor can it evade a weasel.
You may also find that they have a little difficulty positioning themselves when roosting, if you find that this is the truth – don’t let them hurt themselves. You can use a ramp or a ladder to allow the chicken to get its old spot back without falling and injuring itself.
Now – Clipping Chicken Wings
We recommend that you phone a friend (or ask a family member) to get them to hold the chicken for you. It’s going to be much less of a challenge if the chicken is held comfortably in someone’s arms than if you’re trying to hold it and cut.
Then gently stretch out the wing that you intend to cut (remember – you’re only going to clip one wing) and your objective is to cut only the primary feathers at the point just below the covert feathers. If you do this right, you won’t hurt the chicken.
If you do it wrong, you may break a bone or sever a blood vessel and then things are going to get bad for your chicken.
You can see how to do this on this video here:
It’s also important to recognize that chicken wing clipping is not a “do it once and never do it again” job. In fact, your chicken is likely to regrow its feathers the next time it molts and then you will need to clip its wings again. The good news is that this job is easy and quick – it’s not a huge effort to carry out.
How High Can A Chicken Jump?
Once your chicken has been clipped, it’s not stuck to the ground. It can still jump and depending on the balance it can achieve your chicken may be able to jump 3-4 feet in the air still! So, you will still need reasonably tall fences to ensure they don’t escape.
Can A Chicken Live With One Wing?
More extreme than clipping would be the loss of a wing. Can a chicken survive with one wing? Yes, absolutely. In the same way that a person can survive with one arm. Life will be more challenging for a one-winged chicken but assuming the chicken survives both the loss of the wing and the treatment for the injury and pain – it can lead a long healthy life.
Can a chicken still fly with clipped wings? Yes, and in fact, they may be able to compensate no matter what you do but they are most likely to find flight beyond them if you clip just one wing (not both) and you wait until they reach a level of maturity with flight.
Clipping a chicken’s wings is not cruel or unpleasant for the chicken and it’s a very good way to help keep your chickens at home. However, you should be aware that they become easier prey when they are unable to fly.