How a Bird is "Groomed"
While bathing/misting your bird is important part to keeping your bird well groomed, there are additional grooming procedures that help keep your bird safe, comfortable and allow you to handle them easily.
If you are inexperienced or do not know the correct way to trim wings, beak and nails seek instruction and a demonstration from your avian veterinarian and ask about the appropriate tools to use before attempting the procedures yourself. You'll need to know how to recognize a blood feather, the number of flight feathers to trim and how short to trim them (that is, how close to the contour feathers* of the wing). Wings trimmed improperly can irritate the bird and perhaps cause them to chew on their feathers and develop other bad habits. Different species have different trimming requirements. Wings should be trimmed enough to allow the bird to glide to the floor rather than dropping like a lead weight which can cause injury. The best way to have your bird's beak and nails trimmed may be to have your veterinarian or professional bird groomer do it for you.
Once you've learned the correct way to provide these additional grooming activities, the following information may be helpful. Before you get started with wing, beak and nail grooming, you must first know how to safely restrain a bird. (The Avian Restraint Jacket is the perfect accessory for your groomer or veterinarian to use.) During the grooming process watch for stress. If your bird becomes over-stressed stop immediately and let the bird recover. If your bird always stresses out when you try to groom him, it may be better to allow your veterinarian perform the service. Extreme or prolonged stress can seriously affect birds, even causing death.
Trimming Wings. Your bird's wings should be kept trimmed approximately every 6 weeks to 2 months. However, because feathers are always being replaced their wings should be checked often to keep your bird safe. Caution: A newly developing feather is called a blood feather; that is, it is a new feather emerging from its follicle and is still growing and being nourished with a supply of blood. Be very careful of trimming blood feathers so that you do not cut into the feather shaft where the blood is. When the feather is completely grown in the blood supply is no longer needed and is closed off and the shaft turns hard and whitish in color. The mature part of the feather can then be safely trimmed. More about blood feathers and what to do in an emergency.
While there are varying opinions on how to clip wings, it is commonly thought best to clip the appropriate number of outer primary flight feathers of BOTH wings in order for the bird to remain "balanced". These feathers should be trimmed to the same length, rather than leaving the outer two or three untrimmed, which is sometimes done to make the bird look more natural when the wing is folded. However, when these 2-3 outer feathers are left untrimmed it makes them vulnerable to breaking (if the bird were to fall) because there are no adjacent feathers of the same length to support them. Primary feathers are trimmed to prevent the bird from getting lift it it tries to fly. Secondary flight feathers should be left intact to provide some air resistence which helps prevent the bird from dropping like a lead weight. The number of feathers to remove on each side varies with the species and the weight of the individual bird.
Birds can learn to willing accept wing trimming. A properly conditioned bird is willing to let you open his wings and shows no fear of the trimming process. It therefore becomes a stress free experience. Training a bird when he is young is easiest. However, working with and older bird so he becomes comfortable opening his wings and allowing you to hold them open is the first step. Approach this by making it fun ... treat it as a game. It is ideal to get your bird comfortable with being touched all over his body, including under his wings. If he is fearful in the beginning take it slowly and be patient.
It would be a serious oversight not to mention why it is important to keep a bird's wings trimmed, for the information of new bird owners. While bird lovers do not enjoy the thought of taking away the power of flight from a bird, it is done for their safety. Not only can a flighted bird escape through open doors, but there are hazards they can encounter accidentally in your home when they have the ability to fly ... some of the dangers are listed on our "Beware of Hazards" page.
*Contour feathers are those that cover most of the bird's body providing a smooth appearance. The small contour feathers at the base of (and overlapping) the primary and secondary wing feathers are called coverts.
Beak Grooming. Beaks are normally shaped and shortened only if necessary, and by using a motor-driven, variable speed hobby grinder with a cone-shaped stone bit. Often birds can keep their own beaks in good condition by chewing on wood and toys offered as entertainment. For those birds that need occasional beak grooming it is best to seek qualified help from your veterinarian. Bird beaks should not be cut or clipped, but rather filed down with a high-speed grinder, as mentioned. For bird owners wishing to perform this grooming procedure themselves, it is critical to receive proper guidance for a professional to avoid possible injury to your bird.
Companion birds that require repeated beak trimming should be examined by an avian veterinarian for illness, nutritional problems and an evaluation of the general care provided by the owner.
Nail Grooming. Be sure your birds nails are kept at a safe and comfortable length. Nails that are too long make perching difficult and may lead to serious foot problems, can get caught on cages and toys and even your clothing, etc. leading to serious injury. Also nails that are too sharp make it painful for you to hold the bird. While the time to trim a bird's nails is individual to that bird, a general rule is that if the toe is elevated off the ground when the feet are standing on a flat surface it may be time to trim them. Even short nails that have sharp points may need to be blunted to avoid pain to your bare skin when holding them.
The first thing to realize about trimming nails is that each nail has a blood and nerve supply called the "quick". The quick grows with the nail and an overgrown nail will have a longer quick. If a nail is trimmed too far back you'll cut into the quick and it will bleed and will be painful to the bird. Any blood loss, not matter how small, is significant and should be stopped immediately with pressure and a styptic compound such as Kwik Stop, Quick Blood Stopper, Stay.
Before you get started be sure to have the correct equipment and supplies on hand, including your styptic product. There are bird Nail Trimmer Kits available as well as dog or cat nail trimmers that can be used to cut the nails depending on the size of your bird. A motor-driven, variable speed hobby grinder with a cone-shaped stone bit is best if you are trimming large birds or multiple birds.
With the bird restrained trim the tip off the nail with a nail clipper or grind it down with a hobby grinder. Use caution by removing a small amount from each nail ... more can always be removed, if needed. If the bird has light colored nails look for the blood-filled quick as mentioned above. Do not cut or grind into the quick. Trim the nail below the quick so as not to injure the bird. With dark colored nails where the quick cannot be seen, go slowly by trimming only 1-2 mm of nail. If you accidentally clip into the quick and it bleeds use pressure and your styptic product to stop the blood flow. If the nail edges are sharp after cutting the tip of the nail it can be rounded and smoothed a diamond file, or emery board (like you'd used on your own nails), or the hobby grinder can be used to dull the sharp edges of the larger birds. If you've had to use a styptic product to stop any bleeding be sure to check for any bleeding after your bird has been returned to its environment. If your bird's nails have grown too long, trim off 1-2 mm each week until the normal length is reached. This is to help prevent cutting into the quick which has been growing along with the nail.
To help your bird keep his nails trimmed you can offer some conditioning perches and swings, like those provided by Sandy Perches which help keep his nails worn down and will not cause foot problems. These conditioning perches should be used in conjunction with natural wood perches of varying diameters, not instead of them.