Introduction: Clipping Chicken Wings

Picture of Clipping Chicken Wings
Chickens can't fly as well as other birds, but they can flap their wings enough to carry them over fences and out of the coop. If you've got backyard free range chickens, clipping their wings is a must so that you chickens don't escape and get lost, or worse, in trouble with an angry dog or some other predator in the area.

Clipping chicken wings is a bit daunting if you've never done it before, but once you've clipped a wing or two, you'll discover that it really isn't as difficult or dangerous as you may have thought.

  • Clean pair of sharp scissors
  • Towel (optional)
  • Pliers (optional safety measure)
  • Corn Starch (optional safety measure)
  • Gauze or rag (optional safety measure)

Step 1: Catch a Chicken

Picture of Catch a Chicken

The hardest part about clipping chicken wings is catching the chicken. Some chickens are docile and like being touched, others fear humans and run away like their lives depended on it (which I guess they do sometimes).

A few things that seem to help is to corner them in a small space so they have less of an area to get away from you. You can also use a towel and throw it over the chicken. That should slow them down enough long enough to grab them.

Once you grab the chicken, you should gently apply pressure to their wings and pick them up, or you can go for the pro maneuver and snatch them up by their ankles. Watch out for their claws and beaks.

The more regularly you handle your chickens, the easier it will be to catch and hold them. So for some chickens, this may be a non issue, but for first timers, it's a little challenging.

Step 2: Invert and Calm the Chicken

Picture of Invert and Calm the Chicken

Once we caught the chicken we spent a minute calming it down. Pet it softly, make cooing noises, and, what seemed to work best - invert it. When the chicken is upside down, it goes into a trance and they become much more docile.

Step 3: Expose the Wing

Picture of Expose the Wing

With the chicken upside down, identify which wing you are going to clip. Expose what are called the primary flight feathers by grabbing the chickens wing and gently pulling it away from its body. You can tell the primary flight feathers from other feathers on the chickens wing because they may be a different color, are generally longer, and are the 10 or so feathers closest to the tip of the chickens wing.

Many people find success by clipping just one wing. Others clip both wings. The theory behind clipping just one wing is that the bird will be thrown off balance enough by having just one smaller wing that their flight capabilities will be drastically limited. It seems that chicken owners have not reached consensus yet on this issue.

We cut back the feathers on only the chickens right wings. This way they're all the same, and when we need to cut the wings again in a few months, we can be consistent with what wing we'd like to cut.

Step 4: Cut Back the Primary Flight Feathers

Picture of Cut Back the Primary Flight Feathers

Using a clean pair of sharp scissors, clip around 2/3 of the length of the first 10 or so feathers on the chickens wing. Take a look at the diagram below to see roughly how much of the feather you should be cutting off. You can also use the chickens secondary flight feathers (located in the same position on the wing as the primary flight feathers, just closer to the chicken's body) as a guide.

The idea is to cut off a significant amount of the feathers, while not making a cut so close to the chickens wing that you make them bleed. Chicken feathers have blood veins extending into them about an inch or so. If you cut below this point, the feather is completely dead, the chicken feels nothing, and the wings get clipped successfully.

If you cut above this point (closer to the chickens body/wing) the chicken will begin to bleed through the cut feather and your chicken will be in danger. If that occurs, apply pressure to the tip of the feather with a rag, and get your chicken to a veterinarian. Corn flour or starch applied to the cut feather cuticle can slow the bleeding and help the chicken clot. Additionally, grabbing the base of the feather with a pair of pliers and removing it completely from the chicken wing can also help the chicken clot. This process will hurt your chicken, but in a pinch, it may save its life.

Apparently the veins in the feather itself just don't clot very well.

If you cut the primary feathers carefully, there's no reason why you should ever cause your chickens to be in pain or to bleed during this process.

Step 5: Release the Chicken

Picture of Release the Chicken

Once you've trimmed the chicken's feathers, release the chicken. It might be a little disoriented for a moment, but it should be unharmed.


MollyD23 (author)2017-06-23

Pinioning a wing and clipping flight feathers are not the same thing.

Pinioning involves surgically removing, or amputating, an entire joint of the wing. I've heard it compared to declawing a cat, though I think it is more like removing the joint if a finger. It is as painful as surgery is, and is banned in many countries.

Clipping flight feathers is more like clipping fingernails. And just like clipping your your own quick or cuticle, feathers will bleed if you clip too close to the vein. But if you're comfortable cutting your dog's nails, you will be fine clipping flight feathers. No one has banned clipping flight feathers.

Remember, though, that chickens fly to get away from predators. If your chickens free range, they need to be able to fly. If you are clipping wings to keep your chickens out of your garden, it might be safer for your chickens to make your fence higher. However, it may be more dangerous for your birds to be escaping their enclosure, so feather clipping is entirely appropriate. It will not physically hurt your birds.

Pwag (author)2009-03-16

What's the filing cabinet for? There's away to do this when they are chicks, that keeps the primaries from growing in, it involves removing the tips of their wings entirely. I've never had the guts to do it, as I don't to risk losing a chicken. An easier way (but less amusing to the neighbors) of capturing them, is to do this at dawn (gross) or at dusk (easier) when they are tucked in for the night. Chickens have crazy poor night vision and their usually rather docile. If you hit them with a flashlight (not really hit them, but shine it in their eyes) it's easy to just reach out and pick em up.

xenobiologista (author)Pwag2010-07-19

Just want to point out that some people consider pinioning to be cruel - along the lines of mulesing sheep or docking dogs' tails, it's something that's done for the convenience of humans. I don't have enough experience with chickens to be convinced either way so I'll reserve judgement.

finton (author)xenobiologista2013-08-03

I agree xenobiologista. "Pinioning" by removing the wingtip is a cruel as any other form of docking: can anyone honestly tell me that docking farm animals is regularly done with anaesthetic? I didn't think so. Dogs are more likely to be tail-docked with anaesthesia. As Pwag says at 3:24 PM, once young chickens have learnt that they "can't" fly with a trimmed wing, they tend not to - similar to why an adult elephant can be held by only a foot-chain and a peg, but can actually drag a huge log: it's all in the mind.

CaitlinB28 (author)finton2017-05-05

Actually two types of anaesthesia are used on farm. An instant pain relief spray and a 48hr pain relief on lambs at mulesing. Just thought you should know...

finton (author)CaitlinB282017-05-07

Good to know, thanks Caitlin, and good to hear. Castrating and docking used to be done with a knife, hot iron, or rubber rings, but without anaesthetic.

It's possibly more of a modern technique, then, or perhaps country-specific: where are you?

Mine is for the safety of my chickens. I live in a high predator area, I lost 2 chickens, and two guinea hens to a fox last week because they flew out of the coop and decided to free range on their own.. This way they stay in the coop (which is rather large 50'x100') and they stay safe. I wouldn't have clipped their wings otherwise, but it killed me to lose 2 great pet hens, and guineas.

Pwag (author)Pwag2009-03-16

Oh heck, I also read that if you trim just one wing, they'll learn not to fly since when they do with one wing trimmed, they wind up doing a barrel roll and crashing. I haven't had luck with this, but it's worth a try and might be funny after a beer or two.

corsair977 (author)2010-04-11

You guys are making a big deal out of nothing.  Clipping a chicken's wings is not that big of a deal.  First of all all you have to do is clip one wing.  That makes a chicken trying to fly non aerodynamic.  you don't have to "pet or invert" the chicken, you simply hold it down and clip the feathers being careful not to get close to the "wick" of the wing. You have to do this about once every two months.

Lorellai (author)corsair9772010-04-12

There is a reason why this website is called "instructables".

Clipping feathers may not be a big deal if you've done it before but for someone who has never handled a squawking, flapping chicken whilst trying to simultaneously wield a pair of scissors and not damage the bird the process could be seen as daunting.

If for one have never attempted to clip feathers but should I have need to do so in the future this instructable has provided a good reference point, my thanks to NoahW for providing it.

ClarissaB1 (author)Lorellai2016-10-12

Amen~ LOL

finton (author)corsair9772013-08-03

Only need to clip the wings after every moult, once the old clipped feathers have fallen out and the new ones are fully grown. Now my 8 chooks believe that flying above 1 metre is futile, I don't even bother clipping their wings any more.

Sheldy123 (author)2015-08-01

My chickens have gotten into other yards. I always clip them but always fly. Thanks!

PennyB2 (author)2015-05-18

Help! I clipped my hens' wings (Only one). It's been less than a month and they are starting to fly again. What do I do?

jenn.graham.146 (author)2015-05-07

I prefer to use QuickStop vs a styptic pencil, this from my experience with grooming dogs/cats over the years. QuickStop has a lot less sting to it and the unhappy animal gets just that much less stressed. JMHO :)

zombieauthor13 (author)2015-03-24

There's a lot of talk about stopping bleeding but no one has mentioned a styptic pencil. They've been used for years to stop bleeding. I picked up a huge one at WalMart for about a buck. It's a must for animal care. If you can't find one, keep a large container of ground black pepper on hand. It stops bleeding fast and doesn't burn like you'd think. I cut my hand pretty deeply, blood wouldn't stop and I was getting concerned. No car and in the middle of the sticks is have to resort to an ambulance for a stupid cut. My grandmother happened to call and tell me about the pepper, I poured some on the cut expecting one heck of a sting, but it didn't. Now I use it when a cut is too deep for styptics.

Also, be wary about inverting chickens. It's not good for their inner organs, the lungs can fill with fluid, their craw can also 'back up' causing some uncomfortable, choking chickens (no pun intended).

Goodhart (author)2009-02-07

If you cut above this point (closer to the chickens body/wing) the chicken will begin to bleed through the cut feather and your chicken will be in danger. If that occurs, apply pressure to the tip of the feather with a rag, and get your chicken to a veterinarian. Corn flour or starch applied to the cut feather cuticle can slow the bleeding and help the chicken clot. Additionally, grabbing the base of the feather with a pair of pliers and removing it completely from the chicken wing can also help the chicken clot. This process will hurt your chicken, but in a pinch, it may save its life.

Our Budgies began to bleed one day after my wife cut their nails a wee bit short, and she told us to try a tiny dab of Super glue (this is what the emergency vet would use to stop it, so she said).

mommabearamanda (author)Goodhart2015-02-16

thank you for for the detailed description on this post

finton (author)Goodhart2013-08-03

But make sure the glue is dry before you put them back on the perch ... :]

Goodhart (author)finton2013-08-04

Yep, no sense in gluing the poor things to the perch :D

kevanchristian (author)2015-02-05

step 4 looks exactly like my chicken.

Bluechookegg (author)2011-08-21

How long do I have to wait till I clip my hens wings again?

finton (author)Bluechookegg2013-08-03

Until shortly after the next moult, when the clipped feathers have dropped out and the new ones are grown.

ruchirguitar (author)2013-03-19

I am from India and I have three Aseel hens. I had one for year and recently got two more. The old ones' feathers are clipped. I did it because I was afraid it would fly away and get killed by street dogs or something.
But after laying eggs and chicks a couple of time, she doesn't go anywhere.
Is it possible for her to grow then new feathers so she can at least protect itself from cats and other things if she is in danger? how to make the clipped feathers grow back? I dont think she has molted in a year... Please someone guide me.

finton (author)ruchirguitar2013-08-03

You can't make the clipped feathers grow back. Although it is strange that she hasn't moulted in a year (if you are correct), all chickens moult at least once a year. Mine did recently and a couple looked like they'd been semi-plucked! Others in my flock hardly changed appearance. By now your hen may have moulted already and the clipped feathers will have fallen out. If not, be patient and it will happen.

GorillazMiko (author)2013-06-06

Awesome tattoos.

Bobey (author)2013-04-28

Chickens are my favorite animal so I can't bare to see this instructable

syoung26 (author)2012-05-13

Thanks - really clear instructions - like the others, we are off to try it now

Thanks for your help

redgilnc (author)2012-03-24

Thank you! A appreciate this post. Very well done with the pictures and explanation.

CatTrampoline (author)2012-01-20

Beautiful bird - she looks like our Aracona cross, Stripe.

CatTrampoline (author)2012-01-20

A large salmon net is a good way to catch escaped fowl without excessive chasing. You still need to herd/chase them into a corner but the net works much better than the hands for the inital catch. Then carefully fold their wings up and lift them out by their feet.

I used to keep pet chickens at our old place and looked up one day to see the door of the run open, all 6 birds out, and my 5-yr old chasing them around the fenced main yard in an attempt to recapture them. We got them rounded up before the hawks and neighbor cats came over.

Re: Bloodfeathers - when my cockatiels would break a blood feather by crashing into something, pulling the remains of the feather out with forceps stopped the bleeding more surely than styptic powder. This was done on the advice of an avian vet and hurt about as much as pulling out a hair from one's head.

canida (author)2009-02-06

Can you see how far down the feathers the blood vessels extend, or is it a bit of guesswork?

CatTrampoline (author)canida2012-01-20

You should be able to see it. I could always tell when one of my birds was growing in a new feather - the quill will look a lot darker or redder than the surrounding feather quills.

Lithium Rain (author)canida2009-02-08

I can never see it, personally. Not saying it's impossible though. But you'd have to be cutting ridiculously close to clip a vein.

Sky Graham (author)2011-12-16

Hey there, level 800 Master Chicken Catcher, can catch two roosters at the same time - Out here in the sticks, aint got nuthin but chicken coops rain barrels and solar panels. Common sense is a valuable thing, it helps you evaluate whether or not or how you should do something, if you are planning on clipping wings, please allow your brain to supercede anything that you may read here or there, do not be one of the countless people that have cut an animals nails too short or clipped a wing to close to the quill. I see people asking questions like how soon can I cut the wing or how far down should I cut it, this scares me. There is no simple answer, cutting a yung chicks wings is dangerous, and the amount of wing that you clip will be based on the size of the bird, not some arbitrary width that u can set on your protracter, you must use common sense. Also, it is only 1 wing you clip not two; Unless you have coddled your chicken since a baby, the holding it and putting its head under its wing is fear and unconciousness. Chickens have small heads, when u tip them upside down, the blood rushes to their head and causes unconciousness - normally you do this when you are cutting their head off. Holding a bird nicely can be done under your arm, allowing the bird to place its feet on your hand and roost, this puts the bird at ease. And as for the chicken wire escapes, if a bird goes nutso on a piece of chicken wire fence, the fence loses to the chicken, look closely for broken links - they are hard to notice, an undamaged fence will not stop a racoon from reaching in and eating the guts from the other side - A rooster will work as an alarm and will sacrifice himself first.

MoxXieMox (author)2009-02-13

Honestly this is something that should be left at the hands of a veterinarian. Mainly due to if the person does this wrong it can truly injure the animal. This is definitely something much easier said than done. Much previous experience is needed with handling live animals and definitely birds. Because birds are very fragile and can be frightened to the point that they go into shock. Thank you for sharing however this should definitely be used with caution.

noahw (author)MoxXieMox2009-02-13

I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I've got to disagree with you there. I'm not a chicken owner, but my friend is, as are many people these days. Clipping chicken wings is a perfectly safe when done properly. Pet owners need to learn how to do all kinds of interesting and delicate procedures on their animals to keep them safe, healthy and happy. I'm not against veterinarians either, I just think that they have a time and place. Many animal owners, farm workers, and people who around more than just cats and dogs in a domestic setting become jacks of all trades when it comes to helping their animals.

jonsnent (author)noahw2011-10-17

Hey, thats me. Jackette of all trades please.

socialtalker (author)noahw2009-04-21

perhaps it might be best when doing it for the first time, being overseen by a vet, or chicken expert might be best, no? it seems like workshop/classes in animal care in home farming might start to become very popular. i know when i was beekeeping, taking a class to be overseen by an instructor was an enormous help.

DIY-Guy (author)socialtalker2011-06-02

Great instructions, very clear and unambiguous!
For anyone unsure of their abilities, never fear, this is easy! I'd rather clip a feather any day, than give myself a haircut with a mirror.

Clipping a feather at the halfway mark is no more dangerous than trimming your beard halfway. No classes needed, no supervision required.

We come to sites like this one because we are self-sufficient or we are trying to exercise our God given mental powers of observation and deduction. We are not helpless, incompetent, or otherwise lacking in ability to learn. If one can use a computer, post a comment, and pay the bill for the Internet Service... one can certainly use scissors to clip a few feathers. I hope everyone who needs encouragement to "do it yourself" can find the courage to do so after reading this comment.

Peanut123 (author)MoxXieMox2009-03-24

PS Clip the feathers NOT the wing

jonsnent (author)Peanut1232011-10-17

Thanks for saying feathers not wings. Get someone on here that don't really understand and wa-la you got a mess on your hands. You can cut parrakets feathers also so they don't fly.

virtualnoodles (author)MoxXieMox2011-01-25

chickens are very calm once you pick them up they aren't going to be traumatized if they struggle just put there head under a wing and they fall right asleep

Dr Qui (author)MoxXieMox2010-07-17

Honestly, MoxXieMox you must have never kept chickens, chickens are far from fragile.

This Instructable is spot on. And in my view as an owner of chickens ducks etc, is a more humane thing than have them escape and get gored to death by next doors dogs or cats.

Only ever clip one wing, do not be tempted to clip both or the bird will still be able to fly to a certain extent.  I once had a Mallard duck that decided to follow its wild cousins because I had clipped both its  winds.  I found out later from the guy i got the Mallard from that i should only have clipped one wing.

melartweaver (author)MoxXieMox2010-04-17

 I would always resort to a veterinarian, but something as simple as this...  The feathers don't supply blood or life-sustaining energy to the body of the birds.  I think this instructable is safe to follow.

abracadava (author)MoxXieMox2009-06-07

we are a long way from the backend of nowhere, vet needed but only us here. thank god i found this site. our hens got out last night, just captured them and clipped all three. sometimes you have to think for yourself & use common sense, - at this rate, noone would dare change a lightbulb.

Peanut123 (author)MoxXieMox2009-03-24

Hey, this is not an issue to be left to a vet. This is a simple procedure and will not put the chicken into shock. Besides the price for the vet to come and clip is way over the price to replace your neighbors garden bed

Mongoose13 (author)MoxXieMox2009-03-21

Honestly, this is something that chicken owners should learn how to do. I don't know what kind of birds you handle, but chickens can handle this type of thing with no problem.

hello, i have done this to my chickens, it's not fun when a chicken fly away, we just cut the feathers, not the whole wing, there are no nerves in the feather, it's just like cutting hairs.

darrenchittick (author)2011-07-17

It's funny how many folks think they always need to find some other person to do things for them. Kudos to you for learning and sharing how to do things. Clipping feathers is like clipping hair. No pain no muss. Clip only one so they are off balance and they'll not be flying off to get themselves in trouble with cars or neighbor's animals. This is about safety for the chicken. If I can keep them in the controlled environment of my yard, I can keep the other stuff out.

One thing you might try, is clipping after they've gone to roost for the night. They are just ready to sleep and don't care what you do! No catching. :)

Happy chicken keeping!

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