Duck's picture


For those of you who don’t know me (which surely numbers in the tens of thousands) I’m a female cockatoo who refuses to reveal her age. My owners purchased me in Hawaii when I was a young “chick” and had me shipped to Naples eons ago. For years they thought I was a boy. That’s why they gave me such a goofy name. And they revel in telling me stories about what a nice bird I used to be. I was affectionate and could be easily handled and never bit the hands that fed me. But with age I grew cranky and very obnoxious. Or so they say.

I’ve mastered a robust, ear-piercing scream when I’m feeling neglected, throw my food out of my cage during temper tantrums, and reach through the grate at the bottom of my cage and start shredding the newspapers that are my “litter box.” When you get close to my cage I’ll try to grab a finger with one of my dagger-like claws so I can pull it into my beak where I can apply an indeterminate amount of near finger-severing psi. Don’t believe me?

Just ask Karina, my pet sitter. I grabbed hold of her right index finger one day and bit down as hard as I could. She swears it went down to the bone. She doubled over and was crying the pain was so intense. So I let go so she could go to the emergency room where they sewed her finger back together. She claims it took forever to regain feeling in that finger.

To make it up to her, I promised Karina I’d be the avian savant for Island Pet Sitters. Which, in a way, is ironic. Whenever my family travels she still has to “bird sit” me so I’m really her boss, not vice versa like she thinks. But she has finally wised up and started researching ‘bird grooming,’ as in the clipping of my nails, beak, and wings. Very unsporting don’t you think?

Anyway, she insisted that I pass on some grooming ‘tips’ for any new bird owners who might want to start grooming their birds at an early age to de-sensitize them to nail, beak, and wing tipping.


A pet bird’s nails will need to be trimmed every few months since our nails don’t get worn down like those of our wild counterparts. An easy rule of thumb regarding when it’s time to trim: it starts getting painful to have us sit on your arms or shoulders.

There are three methods for nail trimming:

Grind the nail tip with a high speed rotary tool with a cone-shaped grinding bit. Basic nail trimmers like those used for cats/dogs. A battery-operated low temperature cautery tool, a pen like wand with a thin wire loop on the end that heats up in seconds to burn off the very tip of the nail. This method works particularly well with birds that have dark, pigmented nails.

There are two things to be cautious of: nicking the quick (blood vessel) of the nail and seriously injuring the bird while restraining it. A bird-savvy helper should restrain the bird from flapping and kicking while another individual holds the bird’s foot and trims the nail. The foot holder must not pull hard on the leg or a bone fracture or dislocation can occur.


Parrots are called “hook bills” because they have sharp, pointy, hook-shaped beaks like mine. The best method for trimming is to use a rotary tool to grind down the beak tip. Just as with nails, care must be taken when trimming overgrown beaks; there is a blood vessel running down the center of the beak that can bleed profusely if cut.


Wing trimming is as controversial as is de-clawing a cat. But it is really a matter of safety, primarily for the us - the birds - who might end up flying into one of the mirrored walls so popular in this part of the country. It is also a great training tool because the bird can’t fly away during training sessions.

The rule-of-thumb for wing trimming is to clip only the outermost five primary feathers; never the secondary feathers closer to the body. Clipping feathers too short can cause the sharp, cut ends of the feather shafts to poke uncomfortably into our sides when we fold our wings in. In addition, too short a wing trim can cause the bird to plummet to the ground if it tries to fly.

As with nail trimming, wing trimming usually requires gentle towel restraint by one person while another person uses scissors to do the trimming. Newly formed “blood feathers,” feathers that still have visible blood in the feather shafts, should not be trimmed. Trimming these feathers can lead to profuse bleeding.

So there you have it, bird grooming in a nutshell! Just remember, we are very fragile creatures and must be handled with tender loving care. We also love to be spoiled so make sure we have a variety of foods and lots of toys. We bore easily!

Duck's picture
About Duck
Duck is a 12-year-old Cockatoo who was flown in from Hawaii to live in the lesser paradise of Marco Island. Karina has been his pet sitter for years. The two bonded for life when Duck grabbed her right index finger and administered his 1500 psi of force.