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Broken Flight Feathers

Expert Question

My 6 year old African Grey seems to have a problem with growing her flight feathers on one wing.  When I rehomed her 2 years ago she had all her primaries on the left wing and none on the right. Her first owner informed me that she played so hard that she frequently knocked out the primaries on this wing.  At her first vet visit (a few days after rehoming) my vet advised to clip the left wing to keep her balanced while the right wing grew in. Since then all her primaries are back on the left wing and the primaries on the right wing have attempted to grow in 4-5 times, only to be knocked out when playing with her toys and wiping out or spooking and flapping to the ground. I have noticed that the primaries (especially the first two) on the right wing appear ragged when growing in compared to how the left ones come in. Marnie eats a balanced diet considered excellent by my vet which includes Harrisons pellets, fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, a cage mix free of sunflower and peanuts (avian naturals) and sprouts. All of these are a combination of dried, cooked and fresh. 95% of what she eats is Organic and that which is not is pesticide, preservative etc free. She is offered a herb mix (twin beaks aviaries) free fed and a supplement of OptOmega recommended by my vet.  She get everything except her cooked foods via foraging toys which she loves using.  She averages 4-12 hours out of the cage on a large playscape every day. Her cage is 28"X42"X66” with a variety of toys and perches.  Could you please offer any advice as to how to help her grow in her right primaries without breaking them and have them grow in healthy so that she may finally regain the flight that she so desperately wants?

Expert Answer

First, I must commend you for rehoming Marnie; I know that rehomed parrots take lots of effort, but they repay that many times over!  It appears that you are giving Marnie a great diet and a wonderful environment. 

Unfortunately, Marnie’s situation with breaking blood feathers is not an unusual one in clipped birds when the primaries (the first ten wing feathers) grow out.  Normally, primaries usually molt and regrow one at a time; as the new feather regrows, it is supported and protected by the older, mature primary feathers on either side.

There are a couple of things I would recommend to help Marnie:

1. Keep her left wing trimmed while her right wing feathers grow in to keep her more balanced.  This may take a year or more, as feathers normally molt every two years.

2. Keep her perches low in her cage and playstand, pad the floor with towels or blankets and put her toys downm low, so that if she does fall, she won;‘t go far.

It takes time to resolve this kind of problem, but our parrots will be with us for many, many years, so a year is not that long in the scheme of things.  Keep up the good work you have already begun, persistence will pay off!

Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at