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How to Clip a Chicken’s Flight Feathers (Easily and Safely)

Lisa lived in a development and had a large, fenced-in backyard for her chickens to free-range during the day. The wooden fence between her and her neighbor’s yard was 6 feet tall. Everything was going great until one day, one of Lisa’s chickens decided to explore the other side of the fence.

Chickens, depending on their size and variety, can be good flyers. Lisa’s chickens were happy in her protected yard until curiosity and natural instincts took over. Her chicken flew to the top of the fence and proceeded to jump down into the yard next door. She was immediately attacked by the neighbor’s two dogs. This was not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. 

While her chicken did survive, Lisa knew she could not risk this happening again. She promptly clipped her hen’s wing knowing she would prevent her from future incidents and potential death by her neighbor’s dogs. 

Why Chickens’ Wings May Need to Be Clipped

Maybe your birds are content in their run and flap their wings in the sunshine and breeze and life is good for everyone. Or perhaps, you have the ideal setup where your birds can free-range. They can perch or roost as they please and are good girls, faithfully returning to the coop each evening and responsibly lay their eggs in the nesting boxes.

Another way to ensure your chickens don’t fly the coop is to buy a heavy breed of chickens that don’t fly well, or at all. If you can’t bring yourself to clip wings, this is a good alternative. 

Clipping your birds is certainly not necessary. However, there are times when clipping your bird’s wings means the difference between life and death. You might have your flock enclosed because dogs, foxes, owls, hawks, coyotes, or other predators will eat them if they don’t stay in the coop.

You might live next to a high traffic area. If keeping the hens in the coop means they won’t wander into the road and get killed by a car, it’s your responsibility to enclose the coop or clip their wings. You don’t want your chickens wandering into a road and causing an accident.

There are many reasons for keeping chickens confined to a coop. The bottom line is that clipping their wings, if your coop is not entirely closed, may be the only way to ensure your chickens will stay put.

Disadvantages of Clipping a Chicken’s Wings

First and foremost, clipping a bird’s wings does not hurt them if done correctly. It’s like giving them a haircut and taking away their superpowers, but there is no pain involved. Like hair, feathers grow back. 

Must Be Done Routinely

Clipping has to be done every few weeks to keep a bird flightless. If your birds are free range and depend on flying or roosting to evade predators, it would be inhumane to clip their wings. They will die and you will be eggless. 

Wings Are Needed To Perch

Another consideration is the height of your perch. If you need to clip your flock’s wings to keep them enclosed, that’s fine. But take a look at the height of your perch. If you have birds that can no longer fly up to the roost, you will need to put a ramp or ladder up to facilitate perching.

You may need to supply a lower roost for birds that can’t glide back down from a high perch safely. If they are plummeting into walls or the floor, you may find a chicken with broken bones or dead from a broken neck. 

Other than perch considerations, if everything in the coop is still within easy reach without flying, your birds will be safe and content with their wings clipped. 

When to Clip Chicken Wings

In the world of tropical birds, professionals clip the wings before the birds learn how to fly. This makes the birds dependent on other resources to move about and takes flying right out of their thoughts. This is probably not necessary for chickens because they are not that intelligent and they don’t live 20 to 40 years like some tropical bird species.

You can clip your chickens’ wings on an “as needed” basis. Many chickens will have no reason to fly in the cold and dark winter months. They are totally happy to be homebodies and stay in or near the coop. 

When spring arrives, watch out. This will be the time to start clipping wings as everyone will want to spread their wings and fly.

Should You Clip One Wing or Two?

If you were in a row boat and you had one paddle taken away from you, would you still be able to row. You would pretty much go in circles. Flight is dependent on two equal forces working together. If you clip both wings, chickens may be able to compensate to the degree they can get airborne long enough to get over a fence.

This will be dependent on the breed and size of the chicken. Heavy breeds won’t stand a chance if you clip both wings. It is easier and a safer bet to clip only one wing if you have a good flying breed that will find an adaptation to clipped wings. 

How to Clip a Chicken’s Wing

how to clip chicken wings flight feathers safely

Notice “wing” was not plural? You need a sharp pair of scissors and helper that can hold a chicken confidently and securely.

Let The Hen Get Used To Being Held

If your chickens are not used to being handled and flap and squawk when you pick them up, you might want to practice holding them a few times before you do the deed.

Practice picking them up and holding them securely against your body, front end under your arm, back end pointing forward. Stroke the bird’s back until she relaxes. 

Reward The Hen With A Treat

You can practice extending her wing out gently, without forcing it. Let it stay extended until she stops struggling. After she has stayed quiet for a minute or two, slowly release the wing. When you release her, immediately reward her with a treat. 

When you can do this easily, your bird is ready for wing clipping.

Hold The Bird Securely

how to safely cut chicken wings

Have your partner hold your bird securely with the chicken’s head under the arm so you can extend the wing. The first large row of feathers are the primary flying feathers. They are long and thick and you will see where they end and the smaller feathers begin.

carefully Cut The Ends of The Flight Feathers

Cut the along the primary feathers at the base but safely away from the skin. 

how to clip chicken wing flight feathers

Additional Instruction

If you’ve never clipped a chicken’s wing, I highly recommend watching this instructional video on how to clip wings first.

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