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Reb Davis RVN APVN (avian)

Why is flight important?

Flight is important for so many reasons!

The primary form of travel for parrots is flight- in the wild they would fly for miles to find food, water sources, nesting sites and is utilized in evading predators.

Parrots have evolved specifically for flights over long distances- their anatomy and metabolism are designed for flight. They have pneumatic (air-filled) bones to make their skeleton lighter which enables them to take off and fly successfully. They have an enlarged sternum, called a keel bone, for attachment of all the strong chest and wing muscles needed for flight. They have a very efficient respiratory system, consisting of lungs and air sacs, which enables them to extract more oxygen out of the air they are breathing during flying (think of how out of breath you can get during exercise!)

Flying burns calories and builds flight muscles and is considered an important factor in the physical health of parrots.


Flight plays a role in your parrots’ mental well-being and confidence. A parrot that has been wing clipped or that has never learnt to fly may be un-coordinated, off balance or may lose confidence entirely with their ability to fly. 

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In the home many parrots do not have opportunities to fly or indeed exercise at all. Many are confined to cages and often, cages far too small for their species with no ‘out of cage time’ allowed.

Many species are prone to health conditions due to this lack of exercise and flight. They can become overweight, which causes further health complications, and they can become under stimulated, again leading to health, mental and behavioural issues.


Ideal Environment

It is your duty as an owner to provide opportunities for flight to facilitate all of the listed benefits it provides.

You should grant daily ‘out of cage time’ to allow them to stretch their wings, as a bare minimum. During this time, it is important to ensure the area/room is a safe place for them to fly such as no open windows, no predatory animals in the vicinity (cats/dogs/reptiles), open fires, ceiling fans, boiling pans of water… the list goes on, common sense is a must!

This time should also be supervised to make sure they don’t get up to no good! Parrots like to chew things! 

I would like to add, for those parrots that may not be used to coming out of their cage or are phobic of handling in general, ‘out of cage time’ will need to be a staged process to allow them to become accustomed to this new routine. If this is something you may struggle with, there are many charities, professionals and organisations that will be willing to help guide you through this process- please reach out to them (or us at PAW, we are always willing to point you in the right direction).

If this isn’t something you are willing to try, the question of whether a parrot is right for you should be deliberated over, and again there is help out there should you need it.

Wing Clipping

There is an awful misconception that wing clipping = parrot cannot fly/escape.

The actual fact is that it only really reduces their ability to take off successfully. 

If a gust of wind takes them, they are able to glide.

If they then land on a tree, they are unable to fly back down.

If they try to fly back down, they will crash land and can cause often fatal injuries to themselves such as split keel (the keel bone breaks through the flesh from the impact of the fall).

They will not have the necessary flight skills to evade predators- cats, dogs, birds of prey or cars.

I have heard far too many reports of people going outside with their ‘clipped’ parrot on their shoulder and are then surprised when they get spooked and enact fight or flight response and manage to get some distance from their owner.

Generally, reports of lost and found birds have seen that fully flighted birds have a higher chance of being reunited with their owners due to being able to fend for themselves more successfully than clipped birds.

Most avian vets and vets in general will not carry out wing clipping- only under very specific circumstances and after thorough discussions.

Wing clipping should only be carried out by a trained professional- do not attempt to do it yourself.

Some breeders often offer wing clipping as a way to enable you to bond and train you new parrot more successfully- this is untrue and should be discouraged.


Taking your parrot outside is great for them- natural UV rays, fresh air, environmental stimulation. There are much safer ways to do this than wing clipping- access to an aviary, secure pet crate/carrier, parrot harness or free flight.


Parrot Harnesses and Harness Training

Before you start harness training, you will need to select an appropriate, safe and tested harness. When researching, consider a parrot’s ability to manipulate items (clasps, clips, buckles) with their beaks. Even the most secure fully fabric harness can be picked apart, which is why the training process is so important- encouraging your parrot to accept the harness willingly will reduce the impulse to pull at the harness.

Avoid leg chains/rings- they can cause injury if your parrot decides to fly, once the end of the chain is reached it will tug on their leg sharply and can cause broken bones and dislocation.

The best choice (in my opinion) is The Aviator Parrot Harness- it is designed and manufactured to be safe and lightweight, it is a body harness that goes over the head and around the wings of your parrot and has an elasticated lead to prevent a sudden stop if your parrot flies. I have had great success training my own parrots to accept wearing them and have had minimal issues with its quality- they are tough and durable (difficult to chew through) and even if this happens there are still parts of the harness left intact to keep you parrot safe until you can restrain to secure. They also come in multiple sizes for many species of parrot- ranging from mini for small parrots such as budgies right up to XL for the larger macaw species.


Once you have selected your harness, you can begin your training plan.

The basic principles are familiarising yourself with the fitting of the harness and taking on and off, desensitizing your parrot to the harness, getting your parrot used to the outside world, practising manipulating your parrots’ body to allow fitting of the harness, allowing short periods of harness wearing with positive reinforcement in a safe environment and once these have been conquered then a trial run outside close to home can be achieved (perhaps in your back garden). Once you and your parrot are confident and comfortable with the process, harness wearing time can be increased for walks outside etc.

Familiarising yourself- watch videos, research techniques, read instructions, examine harness and practise techniques.

Desensitizing- Slowly introduce the harness to your parrot. Start with sitting a distance away from your parrot and play/manipulate the harness with your hands, pretend to be excited/positive to draw attention to what you are doing. Do this regularly for short periods, always make it a positive experience and stop once your parrot loses interest.  Over time move closer to your parrot doing the same as above.

When your parrot is having out of cage time, leave the harness in view. Reward with praise or a treat if they get close to it and are not anxious. The goal is to eventually get your parrot to get close to it and even touch/play with it willingly. 

Getting your parrot ready for the outside world- regularly take them outside to get them used to the brightness, sounds, wind, noise etc. This can be done in an aviary or a secure crate/carrier. This can be done alongside the desensitisation.

Practising manipulating your parrots ‘body- The harness will need to be fitted over your parrots’ head and wings, therefor your parrot will need to become accustomed to having wings extended and having an object passed over its head, both of which are not natural for a parrot to do and may actively dislike. This is another desensitization process. When handling, gently extend your parrots wings outwards one at a time and monitor your parrots’ response to this (praise/treat when tolerating well. Gently apply pressure over your parrots’ head and neck with your fingers, again gauge response and praise/treat accordingly. With both of these it is important to stop and allow your parrot to move away from you if they feel uncomfortable, it should always be a positive experience and always short training sessions. This can also be done alongside the previous points.

Short periods of harness wearing- When you and your parrot are at a point where they accept body manipulation, are not stressed about being outside, are comfortable alongside the harness- you can attempt your first short fitting. Abort if either yourself or your parrot become too stressed. It may be that you have to go back a step and do a bit more desensitizing. Persevere, and once successful, praise and treat then remove harness. Do this several times before moving outside and practice moving around with your parrot in the harness.

Trial run outside- Once your parrot is willing accepting the harness, ensure secure and slowly move outside. Allow them to acclimatise to the outside environment. Get yourself comfortable with the situation too- if you feel anxious about being outside, your parrot will pick up on that. Spend 10-15 minutes outside or less if either of you are becoming stressed. Repeat until you are both comfortable.

Increase time outside on harness- Stay outside for increasing periods of time until you feel ready for a proper adventure!

When outside exploring there are some pointers to consider- other animals (dogs/cats/birds of prey) may show an interest in your parrot or spook them. Crossing or walking along roads, ensure you have a good and close hold on the leash to prevent them from flying into an oncoming car (the same applies around water). ALWAYS ENSURE THE SAFETY OF YOUR PARROT whilst outside.

It is also worth considering that if your parrot is insured, insurers may not cover any injuries obtained whilst out on a walk- check your policy document to confirm.


Free Flight

This is allowing your parrot to fly free outside. Further training after harness training essential- recall training.

You begin practising recall (getting your parrot to come to you on command) in a safe environment indoors. Start with short distances and gradually increase the distance. Once this is achieved, you can harness your bird and begin the same training outside. Eventually you may need a longer lead to be able to sufficiently increase distances. 

The goal is to be confident in your parrot’s recall ability to remove the harness entirely and allow them to fly free.

There is also a navigation element to free flight training.

Considerations for free flying include- some species/mutations are not suited to flight outside (lutino/albino with red pupils- vision is impaired outside). The fitness level of your bird- can you parrot physically cope with a long flight? Weather conditions suitable for free flight. Predatory animals/birds of prey. The welfare and safety of your parrot should always be your priority. 

If you are not confident in your training abilities, either elect not to free fly or seek professional parrot training advice- there are several organisations that offer free flight training courses. 

Free flight is not for every owner or for every parrot and is certainly not a necessary part of parrot keeping, it is more an extra enrichment practice.

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