The Benefits of Flight

At this time, there are strongly held views on whether to clip the wings of your companion bird, or leave it flighted. Proponents of wing clipping feel that birds in captivity are better off clipped, as flying puts the bird at risk:  For example, a flying bird may escape through an open door or window, or fly into harm in the house.  Yet, opponents to wing clipping believe it is a form of abuse.  Consider the following:

  • Birds are creatures designed around the act of flight.   This fact is undeniable.  Step outside, look up at the sky, and you will see birds in flight.  Physically, this is what birds do, and to remain healthy, this is what they should do, as there is no exercise in captivity that serves as an acceptable substitute.
  • How does the act of flight help keep my bird healthy?  To answer this question, one must first understand how the act of flight, and the fact of being a bird, are related.  The bones of a bird are thin, and some have air sacs.  The internal organs of a bird are abbreviated, designed to keep a bird light, and comfortable while airborne.  The respiratory system of a bird is complex; it extracts oxygen from the air as it inhales, and exhales, and in addition to lungs, it has air sacs extending throughout its body, to keep the birds blood oxygenated during the rigorous exercise of flight.

The digestive system of a bird is composed of not one stomach, but three:  the holding tank of the crop, the glandular stomach called the proventriculus, and the muscular stomach, called the ventriculus, or gizzard.  These systems all work to keep a bird unburdened by food in its digestive tract as it performs the act of flight.

When a bird is involved in flight, even short flights, its body is performing in the way it was designed to perform.  Physically, the bird’s muscles are exercised in a way that cannot be duplicated in any other activity, and all of the birds organs are allowed to operate, again, as they were designed to operate under the conditions that prevail when a bird is being a bird.  There is no substitute.

  • How does lack of flight affect a bird’s physical health?  Deprived of flight, a bird can only walk, climb, and stand.  Deprived of flight, a bird has very limited choices—it cannot go where it wants to go, it cannot do what it physically wants to do, and is designed to do.  Without flight, a bird cannot exercise its entire body as nature intended.  A bird without flight is very much like a person in a wheelchair, only the situation is worse, as the bird literally cannot travel any distance at all.

Deprived of the rigorous activity of flight, companion birds often become overweight and lethargic from lack of stimulating exercise.  Their muscles lose tone, and become flaccid.  The heart of the bird, a muscle, grows unhealthy from too rich a diet, and too little stimulation.   Very much like a person in a wheelchair who eats too much, the bird body slips into decline.

  • How does lack of flight affect a bird’s mental health?  Deprived of flight, a bird becomes entirely dependent upon the caregiver’s ability to recognize the birds desire of where it would like to be, as the bird itself cannot control where it wishes to go, or the way it would like to get there (flight).  In many situations, companion birds wait all day for the caregiver to arrive home from work; they wait for the caregiver to get to them in their busy day—and then, they have no real means of expressing, to the caregiver, where it is they would truly like to be.  On the shoulder?  On the playstand?  In another room?  By the window?  With another family member?

During the long hours of the day, frustration builds.  The bird cannot be where it really wants to be, it can only be where the caregiver wants it to be.   Frustrated, it flaps its wings—and with a sense of shock, it falls.

Without wings, a bird is at the mercy of the caregiver for its every possible need.  It now has no choice, in anything.  It’s food is chosen for it, it’s companions are chosen for it, where the bird spends its time is chosen for it, and how it gets there is accomplished for it.

For any intelligent creature, this is a depressing state indeed.  To truly understand, you might consider what life would be like for you if you spent the day on a sofa (a perch in a cage), waiting through any number of hours for a friend (the caregiver) to arrive and help you out of the sofa and onto a wheelchair.  Imagine, then, communicating where you would like to go without speaking a verbal language.  Imagine your frustration when your friend fails to understand.

Imagine that this is your life, day after day.

  • How can I keep my bird flighted, and still keep it safe?  The first and only step in keeping your bird flighted, and safe, is maintaining a safe flight exercise area.
  1. Keep windows closed, or have a screen barrier in place.
  2. Keep doors to the outside locked to prevent an unexpected visitor, or a family member, from entering.
  3. Close doors to the bathrooms and kitchen.
  4. Supervise your bird as it enjoys its freedom to make sure it stays out of trouble, and does not have interactions with other family pets.
  5. Provide a specific flight area.  In this regard, many people have a room that is bird proofed so that their bird may be allowed out, and yet does not have to be strictly supervised.  A room such as this would have unplugged electrical wires, and non-toxic, bird-friendly furnishings.
  • The ethics of keeping a bird flighted.  One must consider that in this, the heart of the matter truly lies.  A bird is an agile, graceful, soaring creature of flight.  Wings and feathers are astoundingly beautiful to behold, and they are, in fact, the essence of flight.  What is a bird, one might ask, without flight?  What is a butterfly?  What is a horse without legs to allow the breathtaking gallop, what is a fish without fins, a person without legs that walk, hands that grasp?

When humans bring birds into their homes–bring them into their homes because they are beautiful and entertaining–we take from these creatures many things.  We take away their natural environment—the sun, the rain, the trees, the sky, the airways.  We take from them the companionship of their own kind:  the natural understanding of their own kind, the comfort and sense of safety in the flock, the mate they select for a lifetime, the young they would raise and protect, love and care for, until grown.  We take from them control of their own lives.  We take these things away and give our birds a cage, toys, a diet we think is probably good for them, and finally—the grace of our attention.   Taking so much from them, and giving so little in return, on our terms, do we have the right to take their wings—the joy and essence of their existence—as well?

This is the question.  To decide the answer for yourself, you must look into the eyes of your feathered companion, and into its mind and its thoughts and its heart and the soul of the creature that, indeed, it is and was born to be.  You must look at its beautiful wings, extended in the joy of flight, and decide, in your own heart, if you’ve the right to take the power of those wings away.

Written by: Linda Brink