New bird owners often have many questions about grooming. Routine grooming procedures in birds include nail trims and wing trims. Beak trims are performed only in unique situations and should not be considered part of routine grooming. Some owners choose to learn how to groom their birds at home, while others prefer to leave the grooming to avian professionals.
For new birds in our veterinary practice, we require an initial veterinary appointment for a physical examination and general counseling regarding your bird’s nutrition and care. You should also plan to have an examination performed annually to make sure your bird continues to be healthy—even a nail trim can be dangerous in a sick bird.
Safe grooming requires some restraint, usually with a towel. It is important to get your bird comfortable with a towel at home so that visits to the groomer or veterinarian are less stressful. To work on toweling at home, place a large bath towel on the floor and slowly bring each corner up towards your bird. Make this a fun experience–say ‘peek-a-boo’ and reward your bird with a favorite treat. Slowly work towards wrapping your bird in the towel. However, it is important that you never wrap your bird too tightly—if the chest is constricted, your bird can not breathe properly. Once you’ve mastered the toweling, work towards rubbing each toe and extending each wing while toweled. Now you’re ready for grooming!
Birds use their feet not only for standing, but also as ‘hands’ to grasp objects. Each foot consists of four digits, each with a nail attached to the last bone. The nail receives its nutrition from a blood vessel in its center—this is called the quick. It is important to trim just the tips of the nail to avoid the blood vessel and leave enough curvature to the nail to allow the bird to comfortably perch and grasp. A good rule of thumb is to trim the nail to an imaginary line drawn parallel to the bottom of the toe.
With small birds, the nails can be trimmed with a small finger nail clipper. With larger birds, a toe nail clipper or dog nail trimmer can be used. Rough edges can be filed after clipping. Most avian veterinarians use a rotary grinding tool such as a Dremel for larger bird nails. If a nail is accidentally trimmed too short, it will bleed. If this happens, immediately apply pressure and styptic powder.
There is a great debate regarding whether or not to trim a bird’s wing feathers. There are pros and cons to both options. On one hand, flying is a great form of exercise for birds. Birds that are allowed to fly tend to be in better condition and have a healthier cardiovascular system. Many of these birds also tend to have more confidence. On the other hand, there are many dangers that flighted birds can encounter. Mirrors, windows, hot stoves, ceiling fans, and open doors are just some examples. Because of these dangers, many owners choose to trim their bird’s wings. However, it is important to remember that even if your bird’s wings are trimmed, he or she can still have some flight. Never trust a wing clip completely!
Trimming the wing feathers is similar to having a hair cut if done properly—there should be no pain or bleeding. A poor wing trim can be detrimental to your bird, so it is essential that your bird is trimmed correctly. Each wing consists of ten primary feathers (numbered 1-10 from the middle of the wing towards the wing tip) and ten secondary feathers (numbered 1-10 from the middle of the wing towards the body). The long flight feathers are covered by smaller feathers called covert feathers. Wing trims should be symmetrical, only primary feathers should be trimmed, and feathers should always be trimmed below the coverts, allowing some protection for new growing feathers. Wing trims should be tailored to the individual bird—the goal is to modify flight to the desired effect for your individual bird. Slim-bodied, long-tailed birds such as Cockatiels and Macaws often need more feathers trimmed while heavy-bodied birds like African Greys and Amazons need a more conservative trim to prevent crashes. Young birds should be allowed to fly initially, then slowly work towards the desired wing clip style. Most birds require the trimming of 3-7 primary flight feathers, but the length of feather remaining will vary with each bird. A vanity clip, leaving the outermost flight feathers, is not recommended as these feathers are easily damaged or broken.
It is important to check for blood feathers when trimming wing feathers. A blood feather is a new growing feather that contains a blood vessel in the middle of the feather shaft. If a blood feather is cut, it will bleed excessively. Blood feathers are easily identified by the dark purple feather shaft. If you accidentally trim a blood feather at home, apply pressure and seek veterinary care.
A beak trim is not a routine grooming procedure in most birds. Beak trims are necessary in some individuals that have had previous trauma, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic abnormalities (such as liver disease) or genetic abnormalities that have led to abnormal beak growth. Beaks should never be trimmed or reshaped in an effort to decrease biting.
Grooming your bird should not be a scary or painful process—for either of you! Please schedule an appointment today to demonstrate how to safely perform these procedures on your bird.
Content prepared by St. Francis Animal and Bird Hospital, 1227 Larpenteur Ave. West, Roseville MN. 55113