There are six main areas where flight is important to a Parrot...
The pea sized visual cortex in a human is very tiny compared to the size of our brain. A Parrot’s visual cortex is huge as compared with the bird’s brain, and actually has major neuro connections to most of its brain. As prey animals, Parrots need to respond to what they see much quicker than humans, because they are on the lunch menus of so many predators.
Information received through the eyes travels over many different neuro-highways to many different parts of the brain simultaneously. The more these pathways are used and reinforced through experience, the quicker the overall response to visual stimulus will be.
Proper response to visual stimulus should take as little as a few thousands of a second, but the process is delayed when ‘compensatory networks’ intervene and may take several seconds to sort out, or process.
Parrots with poor visual skills take longer to assess visual stimulus, which may cause the bird to need to react aggressively until the information is processed. For instance, a new person entering the room, or someone reaching out to touch, may provoke ‘a bite first ask later’ response while the situation is being processed.
Flying birds quickly learn to process visual inputs faster, as they develop and reinforce new and improved pathways for interpreting visual stimulus at high speeds in a three dimensional manner. This educational process cannot take place in a bird that does not fly.
A Parrot’s primary means of defense is flight. Any time a Parrot even suspects danger, he takes to flight, while sorting out the facts (thinking on the wing). Parrots fly away so freely and readily that they rarely feel scared in the wild.
Feeling threatened and being scared are two distinctly different emotions. As humans we can feel threatened by standing in the middle of a highway, however we need not be scared since we can easily walk to the side of the road to avoid danger.
This is how Parrots experience threats. They can easily fly away, and rarely ever feel scared. Because they can be someone’s lunch at any time, they become VERY scared when they cannot immediately avoid threatening situations.
Flightless Parrots quickly lose the ability to choose between flight or fight (flight or bite in a Parrot’s world). When a Parrot cannot remove himself from a threatening situation, he will default to the second line of defense; BITE.
Parrots with no ability to escape danger, or even perceived danger, become paranoid and tend to develop the “bite first, ask later” method of defense. Their defense response system operates so fast, they respond automatically when scared, and often unexpectedly bite their owner by accident. Ultimately, most of these adult birds become unpredictable and lead very restricted lives.
Flight is necessary for the ‘Retreat and re-approach’ behavior that is very important for baby birds. When scared, and unable to retreat, babies will not learn at a very high level.
No Parrot ever jumped out of the nest in the wild and knew how to fly. Babies fly into the side of trees, miss their landing sites and end up in a bush, or worse.
At The Parrot University we have watched thousands of babies use these same experiences to learn how to fly well. By experiencing these near tragedies as developing babies, they have honed all of their senses, and will automatically avoid those situations in the future.
A juvenile that learns the limits of his physical body, and how to stay out of trouble, will be more confident and easily learn to fit into a domestic human-bird flock as an adult.
“Flightless Parrots are safe Parrots” is the advice often given by less experienced bird behaviorists. Our 20 plus years of experience working with over 4,500 flighted parrots at The Parrot University, we have proven that hazards are significantly greater for flightless birds, because they are less able to avoid dangerous situations.
Not only can they not get out of harm’s way when necessary, they rarely know where danger lies, because they have very limited life experience.
Some common arguments in favour of clipping wings include:
The bird may fly onto the stove or into a boiling pot of water.
Birds can learn more quickly than us where danger is. In just a few minutes, a Parrot that has always been flighted can easily be taught that a stove is dangerous. If he finds himself accidentally headed in that direction, he can easily hover like a helicopter and fly in another direction. Clipped birds that become airborne have very little control over which burner they land on.
If bird in a multiple-bird household flies on another bird’s cage, he will get into a fight.
Birds in a natural situation rarely get into fights. At the first thought of danger, one of the birds backs down and flies away. A clipped bird that accidentally ends up on another bird’s cage will often get hurt because neither bird has the option to back down if they cannot get away. It is very easy to teach Parrots in a multi-Parrot household to get along and respect each other’s space, if they can fly.
Flighted birds can get to the floor and get stepped on or eaten by the dog.
When a flighted bird accidentally finds himself on the floor, he can easily fly to a safe position. You must watch flightless birds very closely, because they can only walk when they want to go somewhere, and often fall off the perch. It is common for dogs, cats and human feet to injure birds that cannot fly.
Clipping wings will make a parrot easier to handle.
This reason has some truth to it. If a bird was not properly trained when young, and becomes an unruly adult, rendering him flightless will limit his ‘retreat and approach’ options. This eliminates the ability to get away and can result in dependency on the owner.
Flightless Parrots are constantly exposed to situations where they feel afraid and out of control. With no control over their life, Parrots often develop paranoid schizophrenic behaviors. These individuals lack the ability to trust others and are generally known as ‘a one person bird’.
Birds are unable to learn not to fly into windows and walls
All young birds and children walk/fly into walls and windows, but not forever. Flighted baby Parrots learn very quickly.
Most Parrots that are rendered flightless as a juvenile end up regrowing enough feathers to gain lift. These uneducated birds repeatedly fly into windows and consistently crash land.
These disabled Parrots are generally unable to ‘think on the wing’, and perpetuate the myth that Parrots are too stupid to learn to fly in a home. This caused a kneejerk reaction by many humans to clip even more of the wing, and worsen the problem.
A Parrot in flight for just a few minutes receives more exercise than an active flightless Parrot receives all day. A healthy wild Parrot does not pant after flying a long distance, yet very few pet Parrots can fly across the room or aggressively flap their wings without an extended period of panting.
We all know the mental and physical benefits of exercise on all aspects of life. If a Parrot is healthy it can concentrate and focus its attention, learn faster, and is more easily trained and will probably live longer.
A young Parrot must gain the maximum advantage from exercise to build billions of neuropathways and achieve its potential IQ to become a high-functioning adult.
Relative amount of energy used when your bird is doing different activities.
Sleeping 1.0 unit
Awake 1.5 units
Playing in Place 3.0 units
Moving and Playing 6.0 units
(getting in trouble)
Aggressively Flapping Wings 9.0 units
Flying 18.0 units
Self-Confidence and Social Ability
High levels of self-confidence and self-esteem are the by-product of a well- educated, fearless individual. Confident individuals present and interpret body language accurately, and easily learn to fit into the flock or household. A paranoid anti-social bird will not be able to maintain high levels of any basic social skills.
Every Parrot is born with a genetically determined maximum intelligence level. Achieving this maximum IQ requires the individual to be supplied with necessary environmental stimulus during each development phase.
The brain is very adaptable and can compensate for some missed experiences. However, a flightless Parrot may miss out on as much as 50% of the physical and mental experience required for proper development. Currently, there is no way to tell just how much damage this shortfall causes. It could be as much as 10% or 20% of an individual’s potential intelligence.
Flightless Parrots lack the great abundance of life experience that their flighted friends enjoy. At minimum, flight is a significant factor in proper Parrot development.
Learning is a lifelong process. 90% of the neuropathways a Parrot will use as an adult are programmed in the first six to eight months of life. The remaining 10% develop as the adult learns how to use the information acquired before adolescence.
Following this rule of thumb, we can see that a baby who only builds 80% of his potential neuropathways before adolescence will at best top out at 88% of his potential as an adult. This amounts to over a 10% deficiency in IQ.
Rendering a Parrot flightless should not be an acceptable substitute for spending time training him to be a well-behaved and responsible adult. Most Parrot owners believe their pet to be smarter than a dog, but we do not see dog owners cutting off their legs to keep them out of trouble and make them submissive.
Thinking on the wing is the most complicated activity a Parrot can be involved in. Given that the symbiotic development of each part of the brain is maximized during flight, no area of the Parrot’s brain can develop to its maximum potential without achieving fine tuned flight.
Spread the word and help every pet Parrot thrive and enjoy life the way nature intended.
Note: The author does not promote "free flight" outdoors. All pet birds should be harness trained so they can safely go with you when you leave the home.