Wing Clipping: Whether & How to Clip a Chicken’s Wing Feathers

There are times when it may be necessary to limit a chicken's ability to fly and wing clipping is a means to that end. Whether to clip a chicken's wings should be carefully considered by weighing the pros and cons as the disadvantages are significant. When done properly, wing clipping is painless.

There are times when it may be necessary to limit a chicken’s ability to fly and wing clipping is a means to that end. Whether to clip a chicken’s wings should be carefully considered by weighing the pros and cons as the disadvantages are significant. When done properly, wing clipping is painless.

Kate, my Speckled Sussex hen
Kate, my Speckled Sussex hen

ABOUT WING FEATHERS

The longest feathers on a chicken’s wing are its primaries, also known as primary wing feathers or flight feathers.  Coverts are the shorter wings that cover/overlap the primaries. Secondary wing feathers, which are located behind the primaries, are not routinely clipped.

The longest feathers on a chicken's wing are its primaries, also known as primary wing feathers or flight feathers. Coverts are the shorter wings that cover/overlap the primaries. Secondary wing feathers, which are located behind the primaries, are not routinely clipped.
Primary wing feathers may be referred to as flight feathers or primaries.

Clipping the flight feathers of one wing limits a chicken’s ability to fly by interfering with balance. There are ten primary wing feathers as shown below fully extended.

Clipping the flight feathers of one wing limits a chicken's ability to fly by interfering with balance. There are ten primary wing feathers as shown below fully extended.

WHEN TO CLIP PRIMARY WING FEATHERS

Some chickens find the grass greener on the other side of any place they are, but there are times when it is necessary to confine them for their own safety (busy road, dogs next door, etc) or to preserve a garden. Wing clipping a way to limit a chicken’s ability to fly.

Some chickens find the grass greener on the other side of any place they are, but there are times when it is necessary to confine them for their own safety (busy road, dogs next door, etc) or to preserve a garden. Wing clipping a way to limit a chicken's ability to fly.

ADVANTAGES OF WING CLIPPING

  • Safe, painless way to ground a chicken. Clipping flight feathers disrupts a bird’s balance, which can prevent flying over fences intended to safeguard it.
  • Temporary: feathers will grow back when the chicken molts.

DISADVANTAGES OF WING CLIPPING

  • Hampers bird’s ability to use flight as an escape mechanism, leaving chicken vulnerable to predators.
  • May result in injuries from the inability to descend safely from heights (roosts/branches)
  • When done improperly, can result in bleeding.
  • Disqualifies show chickens.
Newly emerging feathers have a vein-filled shaft that will bleed if cut or injured. Avoid cutting any of these pin feathers during wing clipping.

PIN FEATHER WARNING 

Newly emerging feathers have a vein-filled shaft that will bleed if cut or injured. Avoid cutting any of these pin feathers during wing clipping.

For maximum safety and efficiency, a partner should be roped into helping with wing clipping.

HOW TO CLIP A CHICKEN’S FLIGHT FEATHERS

For maximum safety and efficiency, a partner should be roped into helping with wing clipping.

  • Operator 1 holds chicken’s feet in one hand, pressing chicken close to body while fanning the wing feathers out with the free hand.
  • Operator 2 locates coverts and primaries.
  • Using sharp, long scissors, Operator 2 clips primary flight feathers just BENEATH the coverts.


Some chickens are more ambitious, spirited or motivated than others to clear a fence, which may necessitate the clipping of primary feathers on both wings, the clipping of secondary wing feathers and/or installing overhead netting in the enclosure.

Some chickens are more ambitious, spirited or motivated than others to clear a fence, which may necessitate the clipping of primary feathers on both wings, the clipping of secondary wing feathers and/or installing overhead netting in the enclosure.
Intact Wings

Wing clipping has not stopped Kate from hopping up and over a four foot high fence despite her size. I am not willing to clip secondary feathers or coverts, however. She isn’t in danger when she is on the other side of the fence, but she does make a mess in the mulch in the front of the house. I can live with it.

Wing clipping has not stopped Kate from hopping up and over a four foot high fence despite her size. I am not willing to clip secondary feathers or coverts, however. She isn't in danger when she is on the other side of the fence, but she does make a mess in the mulch in the front of the house. I can live with it.
Clipped Wings

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Bill
Bill
2 years ago

We have a seven foot fence around the yard. Our chickens are now three months old and love to flap their wings and run/fly. Do we need to worry about them flying over a 7 foot high fence?

Lady Distinctive
Lady Distinctive
2020 years ago

I have never heard of such a thing!! I will pursue this line of fencing first thing Monday morning!! The ladies have all had their wings clipped this morning (amazingly simple) and within an hour or two were over the four foot fence and in my neighbor’s yard!! There is an area there (Louisiana) where it is boggy and I couldn’t get to them, so had to let them find their own way back this evening. Only one was in the coop, so we proceeded to search around (getting dark) for the other three who were hiding out in my… Read more »

Lady Distinctive
Lady Distinctive
2020 years ago

My fencing is 4 ft all around. My four ladies have been happy free-ranging in the back yard for about a year now. Suddenly, they have decided to fly to the top of the fence and go pilfering their bugs from my neighbors, and recently have gone to the front of the house near to the street! I read where you stated that clipping a wing (or both) probably won’t stop them from hopping a 4 ft fence!! I hate to keep them all cooped up in that 8′ x 8′ enclosure!! But I cannot have them scratching in my… Read more »

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