Your bird’s feet have to do double duty serving both as feet AND hands. The nails at the end of those jointy toes play a big role in their grasping and maneuverability. Nails grow long and sharp and we need to be certain to keep them well maintained to keep them safe in their cages. Your will know your bird is in need of a trim when the nails is long enough to prevent the ends of the toes from laying flat and naturally against the surface he stands on. In fact, they’re probably overdue at that point.
A parrot’s nail is made up of keratin, the same substance that composes our own.There is a blood supply that runs through the center called the quick which is usually not visible because of the density and dark color of the nail. It is the quick that one needs to be aware of when opting to clip your bird’s nails. When you accidentally cut into the quick it is painful for the bird and there will be blood. These accidents do happen.
Keeping a bottle Kwikstop, a coagulant powder available at just about any pet store that carries bird supplies, is a good idea.This will stop the bleeding but won’t help you keep your bird be still and cooperative the next time around. Birds remember everything, seemingly forever.
Flour or cornstarch will usually stop the bleeding in a pinch, which is what I had to resort to one day when a combination of bad eyesight and a bad aim caused me to cut deep into Linus’s (umbrella cockatoo) quick during a nail trim. He is the only one of my birds that I use clippers on, the rest get filed, but it’s still a good idea to run a file over the clipped nails to remove any jagged edges that might cut into the skin when they lift their leg to scratch.
When Theo (goffins cockatoo) first came to live with me she did not like her toes to be touched, one of many oddities about her. She would stand on your fingers, but wouldn’t allow you to hold her toes. When it came time for a trim I took her to the vet. I was working hard on trust issues with her and I preferred that they be the bad guys who toweled her and did her nails for the time being. They informed me that her quick traveled down nearly the entire length of her nails and they recommended filing for her because it was too easy to misjudge the amount to be clipped. Her nails never grow really long like like Linus’s do, but they can get as sharp as cat’s claws.
I also file the nails of my small birds. Some people use fingernail clippers, but I have seen the bad results of clips done with these clippers that seem to dull easily. A dull clipper will crush the nail instead of slicing through it, which causes splintering and pain. There is no reason to risk this when a few passes of the file will get the job done adequately. (It is equally as important to be sure that the blade in the dog nail clippers you use on your larger birds is replaced often for all the same reasons.)
With my larger birds, I will generally clip or file the nails when they are hanging on the side of their cages. It works well because they are positioned to interact with you (although this may not be what they had in mind exactly) and their beaks are somewhat prevented from interfering with the process. I will talk softly to them as I manipulate the toes into position and before they even realize, we’re done.
Be sure not to clip the nails too short even if your bird has a short quick.Their nail are used in manipulating objects with their feet and if you cut them too short they lose some of that ability. Further, their agility in climbing can be hindered. Linus, likes to hang upside down in his cage and swing wildly back and forth. Without good length to his nails, he might slip and fall. Try not to go with the idea that if you clip a little extra now that it will be that much longer before you have to do it again, this is how we have accidents with the quick.
I am not a fan of sandy perches because the rough surfaces are hard on and unnatural for your bird’s feet. I keep those and cement perches in areas of the cage that are not used for long, such as the feeding stations. They will help keep the nails in shape, but as in the case with a couple of my birds with foot issues, I am not willing to risk the problems that could arise through constant use.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.