Pinioning: As Free as a Bird?

The ‘P’ word – what does it mean?

Pinioning involves cutting a bird’s wing at the carpal joint, permanently removing the part of the wing from which the primary feathers grow. It is a surgical procedure, classed as a “mutilation” under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 in Scotland. A bird that has had its wing pinioned can never fly nor be released back to the wild as the amputated part – equivalent to a human “hand” – will not grow back. Whilst this sounds like a practice from a forgotten era that should have been consigned to the history books long ago, it is in fact still legal in zoos and being practised by many captive facilities in Britain today.

The Born Free Foundation’s colleagues at The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) recently published the results of an investigation into the pinioning of birds in British zoos, with a particular focus on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust centres []. Over the years, Born Free has heard many justifications from zoos in defence of pinioning: it’s necessary to improve the welfare of the birds as it allows them to have access to larger, roofless enclosures; aviaries are much more costly to build than open air enclosures, and pinioning can be carried out at little to no expense to the zoo; pinioning allows the public to get close to birds; pinioning can be justified in the name of conservation, making sure rarer, breeding birds don’t fly away and get separated; and so on. These so-called justifications are, at best, flimsy and none outweigh the impact of this invasive surgery on the individual animals.

What is apparent is a worrying lack of transparency between zoos and their visitors. According to CAPS, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust currently has 5,663 “resident” (captive) birds, all of which have been pinioned, yet until the CAPS investigation was launched, there was little or no information on their website about this practice. We are convinced that members of the public should, at the very least, be provided with open and accurate information regarding pinioning and similar invasive measures taken by zoos (such as de-barbing rays in aquaria) so they can decide for themselves whether they still wish to visit.

Virginia McKenna OBE, founder of the Born Free Foundation, recently commented: “Why does a bird have wings”? It is scandalous that zoos appear to consider mutilation an acceptable “tool” in the name of conservation and education. The message is, at best, confusing. Seeing birds walk around or swim in a pond may look delightful – and is better than seeing them in a cage – but they have paid a huge price to live this half-life. And we are being misled, to put it politely.”

Countries such as Estonia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, have all outlawed pinioning, and yet it is still a perfectly legal practice in zoos in this country. Born Free is proud to support the “Fight for Flight”, and commends CAPS for bringing this important issue into the public arena. We need to ask ourselves what is more important: the few seconds spent admiring individual, mutilated captive geese or ducks, or the bird’s ability to use its most definitive adaptation – its wings – and fly?

3 Responses to “Pinioning: As Free as a Bird?”

  1. Mark Achurch Says:

    Debate on pinioning is overdue but should not be hysterical. Captive facilities are guilty of not analysing or explaining the practice, but it is also true that pinioning is not news to campaigning groups who have known about it for many years and have chosen to wait a long time to highlight the issue. Why is this if it is an urgent welfare matter?
    I would like to hear expert opinion on the effects of pinioning on birds. If it is done purely to save money on enclosures and causes pain then it is obviously wrong. Could it be beneficial to prevent injury , escape, or stress from handling for repeated wing clipping?
    Many domestic breeds of waterfowl have no ability to fly. It is difficult to believe that a most water birds would have any desire to fly from place to place if all other needs were in situ and there are no predators to escape from.

  2. gill gilbey Says:

    the procedure is barbaric,something I had not heard of.It should be illegal.No one should have the authority to “maim” a healthy bird. I shall contact the RSPB and see what they have to say.

  3. Sally Garland Says:

    Pinioning is cruel. So is caging and tying birds to perches for life. A bird on the wing is a beautiful, heart lifting sight….that’s how they should always be seen.