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An opinion on to pinion or not to pinion

A pinion opinion

Pinioning. With a few species specific exceptions birds were meant to fly. I don’t believe that there is anyone who would argue with that. At the same time though it could be said that they do not have to fly. Within the protected confinement of captivity they are capable of leading a long and functional life, including breeding and rearing chicks without ever flying. Waterfowl immediately spring to mind but rescued Eagles disabled by accidents in the wild can live and breed in captivity without a hitch.

My discussion here relates specifically to waterfowl except when other species are mentioned.


Black Swan

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The difference between pinioning and not pinioning is the difference between access to and the relative freedom of several acres of an islet spotted lake or confinement to an aviary pond. Waterfowl do not fly around for 'Joie de vivre'. They take to the air to move on in search of food, sex and safety, the three primal urges. If these are already available, like with all captive animals, territory sizes may be reduced. The question of quality over quantity of space should also be considered along with public perception and amenity.

There are those who would like to draw a comparison between pinioning and the declawing of cats. I don’t believe that the two acts are in any way similar. A properly carried out pinion is a quick snip of one small part of one wing of a 3 day old baby bird. It can be performed by a veterinary surgeon or experienced laymen. Declawing means drastic surgery of ten digits and must be carried out by a veterinary surgeon. I certainly do not go along with the Zoo Check point of view:

Yes, the Born Free Foundation is an international animal welfare charity and we are opposed to the captivity of wild animals, so as far as pinioning is concerned, denying a bird flight is like denying a human being the ability to walk and climb. Whether an animal is two days old or ten weeks old it knows that it should fly, it is an innate natural force for a bird to know that it should fly, and to deny that animal flight is a crime .” – Daniel Turner

Although I do not place Zoo Check or the Born Free Foundation in the camp as the loony left. There is an element out there swaying opinion who do not believe cows should be milked, sheep sheared or horses ridden.

Mandarin Ducks

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I should state from the outset that I do not believe that a pinion should be the method of choice per se. Other options should be considered along with the latest scientific findings and through rigorous discussion with the zoo ethics committee. What works for one species may not necessarily be the best for others. The law requires that exotic species be not allowed to escape into the wild.


It has been shown that the breeding of cranes and storks can be directly affected by the unbalancing effect of a pinion.


The pinioning procedure is described as being ‘the same as removing a human hand at the wrist’. It sounds barbaric and whereas I would not argue that it IS an actual amputation it is not as bad as the written word describes. When correctly carried out there is rarely any bleeding and the young chick is behaving as if nothing had happened within a minute of being released. The chick has never flown and so it could be argued will never miss flying.


Pinioning has not been shown to have any long lasting effect on the birds apart from preventing flight. Declawing incapacitates many natural functions of a cat as well as increasing the likelihood of skeletal problems later on.


Muscovy Duck

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I am totally against pinioning of birds more than 4 days old by anyone other than a veterinary surgeon. Longer than this it becomes a true surgical procedure involving pain, shock and trauma. I would wonder as to why any bird should need to be pinioned after that age. There has obviously been some failure in captive management practices. Questions would have to be asked.

If birds were not pinioned they would have to be kept within roofed aviaries. This could result in frequent and repeated head injuries if the birds were startled. The alternative would be the building of aviaries of exceptional size which would in most cases be cost prohibitive. At the same time it would restrict the number of species which could be maintained for breeding programmes. Roofed aviaries too would restrict the available ‘floor’ space and as this is the area most frequently utilised it is, I believe, better to pinion.

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Apart from roofed aviaries the alternatives to pinioning are feather clipping and brailing. Feather clipping of one wing has the same effect as a pinion. It unbalances the bird and so prevents flight. If feather clipping is the management choice then this is necessary on a regular basis to trim the feathers as they come through. Each and every time the birds are caught they are put under stress. It is frequently necessary to catch three or four times a year as feathers have a habit of rapid re-growth on occasion and not all feathers grow at the same rate in a group of birds. It will inevitably be necessary to catch all at each session to round up stragglers and check. Brailing is much the same as clipping only one wing is taped and so renders the bird flightless. The tape can be removed at any time and in theory the bird can fly. Depending on how long the tape has been in place there will be some stiffness and even muscle wastage.


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Some countries do not allow pinioning to take place and there an increasing number of zoos elsewhere who are adopting the policy. I believe that whereas in some cases this has sound scientific backing there is also a degree of pandering to the whims of those who are overly concerned about animal welfare without examining the benefits to the birds by doing so. As I have explained above, some welfare problems can actually be created by the act of not pinioning. It seems a shame especially as this could be solved by this quick and almost painless procedure.

Whereas I have no evidence to support the suggestion. It seems likely to me that zoos on a limited budget and so unable to build aviaries for waterfowl rather than the traditional open enclosure are likely to purchase or obtain their stock from breeding facilities in countries where the pinion is permitted by law. Waterfowl are generally long lived in captivity and so it may be that collections in countries which have a pinion ban in force may not yet have started looking for replacement or unrelated stock.

If more wildfowl keepers had adopted pinioning as a management practice we would not have the number of exotic wildfowl established in the wild today. The European White Headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala faces slow extinction today as a result of cross breeding with the feral North American Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

White Headed Duck

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Laura Wheeler on August 11, 2015:

I appreciate your rational summation of the issue! We are preparing to raise Coturnix Quail, and a few exotic Pheasant and Partridge species, and have concluded that pinioning results in the greatest possible freedom for the animals while meeting regulatory requirements in our area. We have previously wing clipped Muscovy Ducks, but found the process to be traumatic for both the birds, and us! They are so large and strong, that to clip them even once is a battle with each bird. Clipping a flock of them becomes an exhausting endeavor, to catch, and hold, and clip them. Definitely NOT a sustainable management practice for our small property, and covered runs are very cost prohibitive, and would require a double entry to be escape proof. In the final assessment, pinioning provides the greatest benefit to the animals (increased freedom, and more accessible forage space), and the best cost/effort choice for us. NOT something I would do if money were no object (I'd build covered forage runs for all our poultry). But until gold falls from the sky to shower our business endeavors, pinioning is the least traumatic option for us and the birds.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 10, 2013:

Thanks monkey mike 1 - I believe it would do more harm than good to ban the practice. The anti's really need to examine the pro's here rather than their illogical agenda.

monkey mike 1 on April 10, 2013:

I am totally with you on this one Peter. I have seen, and done, many pinionings during my career and believe that is a valuable management tool. If done correctly it causes no pain, discomfort or undue stress (being handled is of course a bit stressful itself), but when the pinioning is done by someone experienced then it can be done in seconds. Compare that with chasing, cornering, grabbing and positioning the bird to clip its wings maybe 2 or 3 times a year. This clipping process can take 10 minutes or more to complete, and the bird can be severely stressed for hours afterwards. Like you I too respect other peoples opinions, but would like to point out to Dahlia Flower an error in her reply. She stated that wing clipping stresses the bird but that "each time they live through it"! I have never witnessed, or even heard of a bird not surviving a pinion. If done at the correct time, i.e. before it is 3 days old, the chick does not suffer, there is very rarely any bleeding, and as you state the chick acts as if nothing has happened. It is not the barbaric act that some see it as, but simply a very effective management tool.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on September 14, 2012:

Thanks Dahlia Flower. Each to their own. It is something I have thought long and hard about and came out in favour of because it is the kindest least stressful approach...but I respect your opinion.

Dahlia Flower from Canada on September 13, 2012:

I had never heard of pinioning before this moment and it sure has my stomach upset! What an awful thing. To clip the wings or feather clipping as you call it, is more humane. Yes, it stresses the bird each time but they live through it -- if it's properly done with two knowledgeable people.

Thanks for a very educational hub. Voting up and useful. Useful because I know now something I'm against.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 04, 2011:

@DREAM ON - Thank you for your very kind comment.

DREAM ON on August 04, 2011:

A great hub with amazing pictures that go hand in hand with beauty.Thanx to you I found the HubPages just two years ago and it has been one incredible experience ever since.I just wanted to thank you for if you didn't write on your blog I would of never found the HubPages.Wishing you the best of health and happiness in the future.

Don White on November 18, 2009:

What a beautifully crafted Hub. I agree with you entirely, but I don't pretend to be the bird and animal expert you are, Peter. I am now going to be your newest fan, so why don't you go to my Hubs (Don White or dusanotes) and Hub along with me. Thanks for being there for us. Don White

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on October 06, 2009:

Peter what a great hub. To be totally honest I had never heard of pinioning before your article. I clip the wings of my Mascovies and Rouen ducks. Mind you the male muscovies really do not need much clipping as they're way too heavy to fly. This works well enough for me but if it were a matter of keeping my birds safe I probably would consider pinioning.

Thank you for sharing

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 01, 2009:

I really don't expect everyone to agree. Sometimes I wake and think differently but on the whole still feel as in my Hub. Thanks dohn121

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on October 01, 2009:

With the exception of such birds as ostrich and kiwis, birds were meant to fly. It is also in my "opinion" that they should be, Peter. But the fact of the matter is that government regulations contradict our views for the time being. Thank you for writing this.

Les Trois Chenes from Videix, Limousin, South West France on October 01, 2009:

Lovely photo of swan. I clip my hens' wings - and then they fly right out of my hand - almost. Clipping the wing feathers of the geese had more effect. Haven't even clipped wings this year, will see if they fly away or not. I wouldn't pinion my birds when I could just clip feathers.

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