Updated: I just read a really heartbreaking story about someone who was pressured into free flying their parrot before he was ready, a move that ended in tragedy. I want to make it extra super clear that I’m not advocating that you free fly your birds (i.e., let it fly outside without a harness) or even that you leave your bird unclipped if you know that circumstances make it too risky. You alone have to decide whether you can leave your bird flighted and do so safely. All I wanted to do in this post is bring up some common objections, show how I solved those problems (or not) and inject a little humor into the subject. Use common sense and keep your birds safe, please!!

Flying ParrotConcern #1: It’s Easier for an Un-Clipped Bird to Escape

Solution: I don’t know the stats, but clipped birds probably escape as much as flighted birds (this is a guess, based on anecdotal evidence – don’t quote me!). Too many people believe that their clipped bird can’t fly – that is simply not true! Add a bit of adrenaline or a small breeze to an unfamiliar environment, and even a clipped bird can take off and not touch down again for miles. Don’t count on clipping to be enough to keep your bird safe.

Whether your bird is clipped, partially clipped or fully flighted, don’t leave doors or windows open, make sure your parrot is in his cage if people are coming and going, and keep him on a harness or in a cage if you’re going outside.

(Recall training can be a life saver, literally, but don’t get overconfident about your parrot’s recall abilities in unfamiliar environments.)

Eclectus photo by Looking Glass

Concern #2: A Flighted Bird Can Fly into Windows and Hurt Itself

Solution: Parrots generally don’t fly into things if they know the lay of the land. I frequently reintroduce the windows to Stewie by holding him up close, tapping on the glass and letting him touch it. I don’t believe I’m overestimating him when I say that he understands that it’s solid.

There are also safe places for him to land in case he spooks and takes to the air (which happens a lot). As a flighted bird, when he takes off, he simply flies in a circle and lands back where he started instead of falling to the floor and then being helplessly “trapped” there. Stewie has several landing spots he seeks out when he’s airborne in the living room: his cage, his playstand, the back of my computer chair and me.

A newly fledging parrot, or one who is learning to fly as an adult, might be a little clumsy, but don’t let one minor mishap send you running to the pruning shears. Like toddlers learning to walk, birds may need a little practice before they get the hang of it.

Concern #3: Bird Flies Circles Around Your Head to Get Your Attention, Hitting You in the Face with His Wings as He Sees How Close He Can Get Before You Stop Ignoring Him.

Solution: If you know of a remedy to this problem that doesn’t involve a recipe for parrot pot pie, please let me know, because I haven’t figured out how to discourage it.

But seriously, some people complain about a bird getting “attitude problems” when flighted, and it’s true that a flighted parrot might demonstrate an increase in confidence. Just like a toddler starts getting into things they shouldn’t once they’re mobile, a bird who can fly probably won’t stay put if there are more interesting things to do elsewhere. The best way to deal with a confident flying bird is to channel that energy into training; training is even more important with flying birds because they are are self-determined. A flighted parrot shouldn’t be any more difficult to handle than one that can’t fly if the parrot (and the owner) are well-trained. Obviously that’s easier said than done.

Now about that parrot pot pie recipe…