It is common practice for people to have their bird's wings clipped in order to prevent it from flying. Jerry wonders if that is the right thing for Alfred, his palm cockatoo.

Jerry's major fear is that Alfred might fly out an open door into the wild blue yonder, never to be seen again.

Disabling a bird's ability to fly can make training it a more rewarding experience, as the bird is no longer able to escape by taking flight.

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Birds that cannot fly are less likely to reach areas that may pose some sort of danger. Ceiling fans come to mind, along with hot cooking surfaces. But I prefer to allow my birds to fly.

Flight is an important exercise for aerobic fitness and for the development and maintenance of good muscle tone. Flight can allow a bird to avoid danger or flee from it - think four-legged pets. Obviously, this would not be a factor for all bird households. Birds can be taught to avoid things in the house while flying.

Of course, every situation is unique. Birds that are not handled and that don't spend much, if any time, out of the cage may need to be clipped. If they were allowed to escape their enclosures, they would fly in an unfamiliar environment while experiencing some degree of panic. This is precisely why I believe it is very important to make your bird a part of your life. Play and interact with it and it will not fear flying in the house. It's best to start doing so when birds are young, but still can be accomplished with older birds, albeit with more effort.

As for Alfred, I suspect he can be allowed to fly. From Jerry's description, Alfred is very bonded to Jerry. I imagine he is very secure and should do quite well flying through Jerry's house. Palm cockatoos are large birds and can knock things over with nothing more than the air movement created by their wings during flight. Jerry's main concern that Alfred might fly out an open door and disappear would always be a potential concern of mine. I cannot advise testing that theory, but I will tell you that birds well-bonded to humans do not generally fly away, never to return.

I can attest to this from personal experience. One of my birds, Tuki, was outdoors with me on my shoulder while I was working in the yard. She was suddenly spooked by the rotating blades of my windmill and flew off into a Cypress tree, 25 feet off the ground. She was obviously scared and would not leave the tree. I climbed the tree to rescue her, and she came right to me.

I advise discussing the clipping of wings with an avian veterinarian and with other bird owners. If a decision is made to clip your bird's feathers, make sure it is done properly. Inappropriately clipped feathers can cause problems such as bleeding from the feather shafts and poking of the body wall with the cut feather ends. This can lead to plucking behavior.

Not cutting the proper amount or proper types of feathers is another concern. This may allow the bird to fly or, worse, cause it to fall and potentially be injured.

(Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto, Calif. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto CA 95352.)


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