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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Anna
7 years ago

Yay! I would love some Koop clean! The coop is a little stinky right now…

Sara Crawford
Sara Crawford
7 years ago

I keep entering for the koop clean, maybe this time!

Oh, and I recently had to clip my birds wings (adding an OEGB, way to agile at getting over even 6-7foot fences) I roped my husband into helping me, and he kept saying "are you SURE it doesn't hurt them?" before clipping the feathers. You should have seen the look on his face before he cut the first feather. I think he really thought there would be blood spurting out or the chicken would start screaming.

Nan
Nan
7 years ago

I've always kept my chickens inside an enclosure which allows me to leave their wings intact. Good to know what to do if that ever changes. We all love Koop Clean, and I would love to win a bag of it (it costs a lot at my local Agway).

Eileen Head
Eileen Head
7 years ago

I am currently using Koop Klean and loving it! The coop smells so fresh. I could use another bale 🙂

Jamie Baker
Jamie Baker
7 years ago

Great article! Did you know that you can also clip the primaries closer to the body, leaving the outermost 3-4, and get an effectively clipped wing? Flight is prohibited, but the wing looks intact when folded. We used to do this for exotic bird owners when I was a vet-tech, and when I worked for a small pet store/groomer. Because, you know, sometimes you want to see those pretty wings folded against the body. 🙂

Awesome giveaway, too! Thank you!

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