Simple Anatomical Guide to Feathers of the Wing

Blue and Gold Macaw spreading right wing for viewing of primary and secondary coverts

Clipping is a controversial topic amongst bird lovers. Some say clipping prevents your bird from flying away whereas others argue the practice is cruel and goes against a birds purpose in life. Despite all the fuss, if you are one of the pro-clippers out there or not, here’s a little anatomy lesson for you.


Figure 1. Feathers of a Wing (Remiges)

  1. Primaries/Primary
  2. Primary Coverts
  3. Alula
  4. Secondaries/Secondary
  5. Greater Secondary Coverts
  6. Median Coverts
  7. Lesser Coverts
  8. Tertials

The 3 main feather types for flight are the primaries, secondaries and tail fathers (retrices). The primaries are the largest flight feathers that help thrust the bird whereas the secondaries propel the bird and in combination with the tail feathers, the bird will lift off for flight and remain airborne.

Next time you pick up the scissors, check you’re only clipping the first 5-6 feathers of the primaries, labelled as (1) in the image above. It’s equally as important to not clip any blood feathers as this will cause bleeding and pain. Furthermore, do not cut too deep as you still want your bird to glide, land safely and avoid injury, just in case they ever decide to be cheeky and jump off a table. Ensure you cut the same length and amount of feathers on each wing so the bird can retain equilibrium.

If you are inexperienced and want to avoid unnecessary stress on your bird, seek assistance from your local veterinarian. The actual clipping procedure should only take 2-3 minutes depending on your birds tolerance of being held.

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