Clipping Chicken Wings - it keeps chickens from flying

Clipping chicken wings prevents birds from flying over short enclosures.

Clipping chicken wings is the most effective way to keep chickens from flying over the fence. Part of frugal living can involve raising your own food. If your food (or egg producing hen) keeps flying over the fence, it soon becomes food for predators, so keep the flight feathers on the wings trimmed and you'll have chickens inside the yard where they'll be safe.

If you're raising chickens in an enclosed area, with a roof or netting overhead, you won't have to trim their wings.

There are two schools of thought when clipping chicken wings: 1) trim only one wing; and, 2) trim both wings.

  • Trimming one wing makes the chicken fly off balance and out of control. I suppose the chicken feels awkward about its flight, and so stops trying to fly.
  • Trimming both wings makes more sense to me. I think it makes flight impossible, and it keeps the chicken balanced when it tries to fly. I don't know if this makes the chicken feel any better, but it makes me feel better.

When trimming wing feathers, it's best to have help. You can do it alone, but it is much more stressful for you and the chicken. You also risk cutting yourself as there just isn't an easy way to hold a large struggling bird, extend its wing, and carefully operate a pair of scissors.

There isn't much of a science to clipping chicken wings. Extend the wing of the chicken and cut back feathers as much as reasonably possible. Look at the tips of the flight feathers (trailing edge of the wings) and you'll see where they meet up with another row of feathers close to the wing. This is where you want to make your cut.

Clipping chicken wings can easily be done using a pair of household scissors.

Only cut the feathers that are easy to cut with a large pair of scissors. You can cut them with one deep cut, or in stages, an inch or two at a time.

Some of the feathers will need about 3 to 4 inches removed if they're long, while others will only need about 2 inches removed.

There are roughly 20 feathers on each wing that need to be cut - the entire trailing edge of the wing. When it gets difficult to cut the feathers, you've probably cut them plenty short enough.

Don't use Kindergarten scissors or other kids scissors. Get a pair of large scissors common for cutting paper. This will do the job very well, and you'll be able to cut through many feathers with each cut.

Once you have a little experience clipping chicken wings, it won't seem to be such a mystery.

Here are some photos to help you with your task.

Top side of wing before clipping.

Chicken wing before the cut.

Notice the long flight feathers on the trailing edge of the wing. These need to be cut back about three inches to near where the second row of feathers overlaps on the underside of the wing.

Underside of wind before clipping.

Looking at the underside of the wing, you can easily see where the cut needs to be made - near where the long flight feathers are overlapped by the other row of shorter feathers.

Cut as deep as reasonably possible - 3 to 4 inches on the longest feathers. If the feathers are difficult to cut, you're probably cutting too much off.

Clipping chicken wings focuses on eliminating the flight feathers and avoiding the wing.

The green line shows the location of the wing. The red line suggests where the feathers should be trimmed.

Underside after we finished clipping chicken wings.

After the cut, the underside of the wing should look like this.

Top side after we finished clipping chicken wings.

This is the "after" picture of the chicken wing. Compare with the first picture in the series.

Clipping chicken wings on both sides will keep the birds on the ground because flight will be impossible. Your birds will become convinced (for a while anyway) that flight is no longer possible, and they'll stop trying to fly. You might have to cut their wings again after they grow back, but you shouldn't have to do this more than twice a year.

For the timid, just remember, you're not actually clipping chicken wings, you're only trimming the flight feathers. Feel for the wing and you'll know where to make the cut. If it gets difficult to trim the feathers, you're probably trying to cut too deep.

If you're not skilled at catching chickens, you might wish to use a landing net during the day when they're active in the yard. If you practice clipping chicken wings in the evening or at night, it's easy just to pick them up off of their roosts.

The trimmed flight feathers can easily be seen in this photo as a nearly straight line across the center of the bird.

Photo left clearly shows a straight line cut of the flight feathers that bisects the body of the chicken at a 45 degree angle. Imagine a line from the lower breast to the middle of the tail and the cut should become clear to you.

Line shows the edge of the trimmed flight feathers.

Photo right shows a different bird with a similar flight feather trim. Here I've drawn a line on the photo to show you the edge of her flight feathers after she finished up with her adventure as a contestant in the annual clipping chicken wings event here at Best of Both Worlds.

If one of your objectives is to provide meat and eggs for the table, you'll do better if you practice clipping chicken wings. Otherwise, your flock might find a way to fly out of the yard and become food for someone else in the neighborhood.

Done with Clipping Chicken Wings, take me back to Backyard Chickens

Don't be scared about trimming the wings of your chickens. I've had people tell me about "show cuts" and other techniques, but who really cares? If you're out to keep your chickens from flying over the fence, you don't need to worry about being pretty, just focus on being effective.

In the event you're looking for more help than I'm offering here, let me point you in the direction of additional resources.