Chickens are not a bird of flight per say. They can get a little lift to escape the chicken run. They can also manage to get up in a tree to roost. Being able to roost in a tree isn’t necessary if your chickens sleep in a coop.
For the safety and well being of your feathered friends you may want to consider clipping their wings. Clipping the feathers on the chicken wing does not hurt them. Think of it as clipping your fingernails, they will grow back. You can even do this task by yourself, it is that easy.
I usually like to clip the wings of my new chickens so that they have to stay in the run and yard and not escape. This helps them to learn new boundaries. My chicken run is covered but I like to let them free range on nice days. I do not clip the wings on my chicks until their adult feathers are completely in. Roosters and hens alike can have their wings clipped.
The wing feathers will grow back in, especially after molting. You may want to reclip the chicken wing about six or so weeks after molting as they have grown back out. You will also want to check periodically as it just takes the clipped feathers to get to the right length to allow for flight.
This is a hen that has decided to take roost in tree. She has taken to this tree nightly and we can’t catch her to get her out. This is why you clip wings.
Chicken Wing Feathers
There are several feathers to a chicken wing. Before clipping the wings you may want a little rundown of the feathers of the chicken wing. Each feather has a shaft that holds the feather into the skin. The shaft is where you will inspect for blood before clipping. Where the blood lies in the shaft you will notice that it is darker and turns white as you go toward the tip of the feather.
This is the underside of the chicken wing.You can see the shaft running up the center of the feathers at this angle.
There are lesser coverts, median coverts, secondary coverts and primary coverts. The tertial feathers are the ones that grow on the side of the wing next to the chickens body. The lesser coverts are the feathers that are from the tertials to the bend of the wing. Then from the end of the lesser coverts to the edge of the wing you have a small section called the alula. Finally, there are secondary and primary feathers.
Under the lesser coverts you have the median coverts and under them are the secondary coverts and then the secondary feathers at the ends. There are ten secondary feathers. The feathers get longer as they move down the wing being the secondary feathers are the longest on that side. You do not need to clip the secondary feathers.
The primary feathers are the ones that you clip. There are ten primary feathers. The primary coverts are the feathers that are above the primaries. The primary feathers are the longest of the wing feathers.
I have color coded the different feathers for easier identification: white = tertials, yellow = alula, light blue = lesser coverts, black= median coverts, green = secondary coverts, orange = primary coverts, dark blue = secondaries, and red = primaries.
The key to a successful wing clipping is to only clip one wing. If you clip both wings then the chicken can still fly. You have to make the wings uneven so that the chicken is unbalanced and can’t fly high, it can still flap and jump down without harming itself. Cutting one wing will do the trick and keep the bird on the ground.
How To Clip A Chicken Wing Step by Step
1. Catch the chicken, sometimes easier said than done.
2. Hold the chicken tight against you.
3. Take one wing and spread out the feathers. I generally try to stick with the same side so I can quickly check if I got them all. This is not necessary but it makes my life a little easier.
4. Inspect the primary feathers on the underside of the wing. You will notice the feather shaft is darker to a point then it is white. The white part is safe to cut as there is no blood there.
5. Take a pair of scissors, any kind works, and clip the ten primary feathers back. I have actually used blunt tipped school scissors and it worked just fine.
6. Turn the chicken loose, you are done.
This does not hurt the chickens, they are more bothered by being held than actually by clipping their feathers. I usually recruit my kids into chasing the chickens for me as they enjoy it and I can just clip and release. When clipping you just need to take the feathers down some. There is no need to completely remove the primary feather exposing skin or bringing blood.
The feathers will grow back out, and will need clipping again. In the fall and winter months, chickens will lose their feathers; this is called molting. They will lose their feathers starting at the head and neck then down their back and across their breast and thighs and finally ending with the tail feathers. The new feathers that grow back in are called pinfeathers and they will grow in the same order as the old ones were lost.
During the molting process you will notice that the hens aren’t really laying eggs either. During this time, the chickens need to reserve their nutrients and therefore still need to be fed a high quality feed. Molting occurs every year with chickens and so you will probably be clipping wings again when the feathers are done growing.
All livestock requires some amount of care, and clipping chicken wings is one of the easier tasks there are to conquer. Good luck and happy wing clipping of your feathered friends.
Sarah Rodriguez is a homesteading wife and mother of five living in Appalachia. She grew up in a homesteading and logging family.
She and her husband Arnie work their 10-acre homestead together alongside their growing family. Sarah honed her self-reliance skills through 4-H and FFA at an early age and is now teaching her children to live off the land, raise livestock, and the importance of both sustainability and frugality.