Introduction: Clipping Chicken Wings

About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building out…
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

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

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

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

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

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.