Is it OK to trim a Birds Long Tail Feathers?

I have seen lots of people on the internet asking if it is ok to trim or cut a birds long tail feathers. The answer here is a definite no because your bird needs his tail to enable him to balance on his perch. Without a birds long tail feathers, the bird will be very wobbly and sometimes fall off his perch and hurt himself.

Why does a bird need long tail feathers?birds long tail feathers

Bird tails are simply a bunch of long feathers that are controlled by muscles at the base of the tail. Birds shed all of their feathers once or twice a year, but they all grow back. Tail feathers have many uses for a bird, the main ones being flight and balance. Without tail feathers, birds are unlikely to be able to fly or land gracefully and are unable to turn mid-flight.

There’s more to a birds long tail feathers than meets the eye, as they are lighter and stiffer than the body feathers, and are just like the wing feathers to help them in flight. The difference between wing and flight feathers is that the wing has an off centre shaft and the tail feathers have  a central shaft.

They also use their tails to balance themselves while they climb, whether it be up a tree or the side of the cage.  If your bird doesn’t have tail feathers for any reason, make sure the perch is low down in the cage, as he is bound to fall off and hurt himself otherwise.

Did you know that when birds are attacked or frightened they can drop some of their tail feathers? This is called fright molt. This sometimes helps the bird get away, leaving the attacker with only a mouth or foot full of feathers. Luckily the tail feathers do grow back.

During courtship, the males like to fan out their tail feathers and show them off to their female counterparts.

Why can’t we just trim a birds long tail feathers?

Many people are tempted to trim a birds long tail feathers because they tend to get dirty and grotty looking from dragging around the bottom of the cage. Don’t be tempted, as you will do the bird more harm than good.

If you are worried about the tail getting dirty, try using a grid at the bottom of the cage, or if you use newspaper, then get the plain one, as sometimes the black ink tends to rub off on your birds tail.


  1. I agree 100% it is better to leave your bird’s feathers for nature to take care of.

    Think of the tail feathers as the tail of many other animals. Not prehensile like a monkey’s or a lemur’s.

    The tail feathers of any bird are designed perfectly as nature intended them to be.

    In flight, they act as a rudder for left and right. The tail feathers help a bird “balance” in the air.

    Also in courtship, as you mentioned, the tail feathers are used in displays to the ladies.

    Who’s a pretty boy? lol

    My advice, leave the feathers alone, you can’t argue with nature.

    Thanks for an interesting post about birds long tail feathers.

    I’ll be visiting cockatiels as pets frequently to get updates on the world of cockatiel care.


  2. Very interesting article, I have from time to time thought about a bird for a pet myself. I have always been a dog owner, I never have had a bird for a pet before. It does interest me how important the tail feathers are to a bird, god gave them their tail feathers with a purpose in mind.

    How would a first time bird buyer choose the right type of bird and cage and such, this would be a new experience I thank you for your information.

    1. Here is one of the articles for you to read on this site regarding choosing the best cage for your feathered friend. Click here. As far as choosing the right bird, it is a personal choice. I own two cockatiels and one Cockatoo and I enjoy them all.

  3. Great information. I also believe you have to leave your bird feathers. I would love to have one as a pet but I don’t know how my dogs are going to behave with a new friend

  4. My firsts instinct before I read this post, is NO, don’t trim the birds feathers! Now, I see, you take them away and they can no longer fly, have good balance, or move around properly. I think birds are beautiful and cutting their tail feathers takes away from that. Besides the fact that it takes away flight and balance for them. I agree with your post. Thank you for sharing!

  5. God created them as they are, to live in nature, not in apartment and ABSOLUTELY NOT IN CAGE! How people don’t understand simple things… birds are not toys. Would you like if someone will put you in cage?

    1. I agree Helen, if they are born in the wild leave them there. But over the years domesticated birds have gotten so used to captivity that they wouldn’t know how to survive in the wild. Most domesticated birds think of their cages as their home and after being taken out for a while always willingly and happily go back.

  6. I never just chopped my bird’s tail off, but I have lightly trimmed it towards the bottom. And everything has been fine no balancing problems or anything, been doing it over 30 years. Love pet birds, mine get great care. I also rehabilitate sick birds 🙂

    1. Hi Jodie,

      From time to time I have also just trimmed the very end off especially on my Lutino, as the end of the tail does get very grubby. I am sure this is pretty harmless.

    2. Same here, I always trim their tail feathers, I breed cockatiels and they all are very beautiful and healthy, and no problem at all trimming their tails,slightly, doing it over 20 years…😚

      1. What do I do if one of my cockatiel’s long tail feather is bent and dangling? It sort of look like it will come off itself? Do I leave it?

        1. If it is bent and dangling, then it is safe to say that the feather is broken. Gently snip the feather off at the broken point. If you do decide to leave it, it will eventually fall off naturally or the bird will deal with it.

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