Grooming Your Parrot

Owning a parrot can be a wonderful experience. They are capable of giving such joy and interaction. For starters, always use the "UP" command when you want your bird to step up on your hand. ...

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Owning a parrot can be a wonderful experience. They are capable of giving such joy and interaction.

For starters, always use the "UP" command when you want your bird to step up on your hand. Use "Down" when placing your bird on his perch. This gives the bird an idea of what you'd like him to do. On the last "UP", were his nails a little sharp? Did they dig in like little knives? Has your bird started flying to your shoulder instead of climbing up your pants leg? Having a fully flighted bird can be dangerous. As graceful as a fully flighted bird looks, it looks even worse when you see your beloved pet fly off into the wild blue yonder. I get so many calls concerning lost birds, especially in the spring, when owners take their birds outside for a breath of fresh air. Or you open the door and forget that your bird is on your shoulder. He gets startled and takes off. It's not that the bird wants to run away from home. It's just that once they fly away, they have no sense of direction to get home. This brings about the topic of grooming.

It is important to keep your birds wings properly clipped. An amateur should not attempt this. You could clip a blood feather. This could be dangerous since the feather shaft acts like a straw, sucking up the blood and bleeding for what seems to be an eternity. You can apply pressure or ice to the shaft, but ultimately the shaft might need to be removed. The shaft needs to be removed at the root. A clamp or a pair of needle nose pliers is sufficient for this procedure. You must grip firmly at the root and pull quickly, after toweling the bird, since it is doubtful that he will be sitting there quietly as you rip out his feathers. This can be painful, but it is a necessity.

After the quill is removed, the bleeding will subside. You should use bandage scissors to clip the wings. The number of flight feathers trimmed depends on the species of bird. An African grey is known to be clumsy so he needs fewer feathers clipped. Cockatiels are so streamlined that as much as you clip, these birds always maintain some capability flight. Cutting the first 7 primaries is recommended. Since my birds spend a lot of time outdoors, I cut all their primaries. If you are unsure of yourself, please contact your local avian vet or a person experienced with birds.

Now to get to those sharp nails. Once again you should towel your bird, holding his neck firmly, so that he doesn't twist around and bite. Have a second person clip, using a specially designed clipper. The tips of the nails have nerves and blood vessels. If you clip too far, you will cause pain and bleeding. Make sure you have a container of Quik-Stop available. This powder coagulates the blood and quickly stops the bleeding. Flour can be used as a substitute. You can also scrape a candle or a bar of soap over the bleeding toenail to clog up the vessels. Just snip off a little at a time. You can also use an emery board as you hold your baby and gently file one nail at a time. Or you can use a dremel, with a special attachment and grind down the nails. Use extreme caution with a dremel since you could accidentally scrape the birds' leg and cause severe damage. Notice how this sounds easy to an experienced owner, but for the amateur it can be a dangerous situation.

I must reiterate the dangers of clipping your bird's beak. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a routine procedure for a parrot. A bird needs his sharp beak to satisfy his natural chewing instincts and to crack open those nuts. The only time a beak should be clipped is when it is so overgrown that it interferes with his eating capabilities, and even then should be done only by a qualified avian vet. If there is any doubt about the safety issue you should have a professional groom your bird. A vet can perform grooming or you may prefer to have a professional groomer make a house call. House calls can be just the answer for a busy person. If you have several birds, having the groomer come to your home can save a lot of wear and tear on your birds. You also avoid exposing your bird to other ill animals at the vets' office.

I would like to recommend two groomers who I know to be very professional and experienced.

Carol Ann Kaminski is the Vice President of the Parrot Fanciers Club, and a certified avian specialist who has performed grooming at the club meetings for the past two years. She also will care for your bird while you go on vacation in your own home or in her home. Carol will accommodate whatever situation is most convenient for you. Contact Carol at 631-661-6377 or

Jennifer Brule is another qualified bird specialist, formerly the avian curator for the beautiful macaws and cockatoos of the Rainforest Caf, which has recently closed. Jenn offers her expertise as an in home groomer. She will also be available at the monthly meetings of the Parrot Fanciers Club and will groom your bird at the cost of $5.00 each. It is suggested that you bring your own towel, for health reasons, to wrap your bird during the grooming process. Jenn can be reached at and 631-893-8991.

Costs for the in home grooming can vary depending on the distance traveled and the amount of birds involved. I think the minimal fee of $25 per home visit is well worth the peace of mind and safety of you and your birds.