Pinioning Waterfowl (Downies) (Disease Investigation & Control - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Control / Treatment & Care / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Flight restraint.

(See also:

Description Pinioning is the amputation of the portion of the wing distal to the 'bastard-wing' or alula. The procedure is carried out on one wing only. The portion removed is the part of the wing on which the primary flight feathers grow. In very young waterfowl (downies) the wing is very small in proportion to the body.
  • The bird is held in one hand, with the thumb and forefinger holding the wing out and applying pressure just proximal to the alula (bastard-wing).
  • A sharp, sterile pair of scissors is used to cut through the wing just distal to the alula, and at a slight slant medially (inward) from the front to the back edge of the wing. This involves cutting through the major and minor metacarpal bones.
  • Pressure is maintained on the wing for a few seconds. If there is any bleeding the cut end may be touched with a styptic (e.g. silver nitrate pencil) and/or sprayed with an antibiotic/dye spray to encourage drying and disguise any blood spot.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Pinioning is a commonly used method of flight restraint in waterfowl.
  • Pinioning allows waterfowl to be kept in large, open enclosures, and avoids the potential problems associated with escaped birds.
  • If a bird is to be pinioned this should be carried when the bird is only a few days old (e.g. 2-5 days old - P4.1992.w1) when the wing is very small in proportion to the body. At this age bleeding is minimal and easily controlled and the procedure appears to cause less stress in the bird than if carried out later.
Notes If combined with vent-sexing, it is conventional to pinion females on the left, males on the right.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Pinioning is permanent and irreversible: an effectively pinioned bird will never be able to fly.
  • Some species such as whistling-ducks and shelducks, which have long secondaries, may be able to fly even if pinioned (or feather-clipped).
  • Brood-mates and broody hens may peck at any blood spot on the end of the pinioned wing and cause injury.
  • Birds which are being parent-reared, particularly diving ducks, may be very difficult to catch to pinion.
  • It is important to ensure no traces of blood are left on the wing if the downy is with parents, as this may lead to excessive grooming which may traumatise the site and cause further haemorrhage.
  • Blow-flies may infect the wound, particularly in hot weather. An antibiotic/dye spray may be applied to reduce the risk of myiasis (fly-strike).
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • For pinioning downies, a sterile pair of sharp scissors is required.
  • A styptic for haemostasis (stopping bleeding) should also be available.
Expertise level / Ease of Use Pinioning of downies is relatively simple. However, it is advisable for a novice to watch someone more experienced with the technique and to carry out the procedure under supervision initially.
Cost/ Availability Pinioning downies is inexpensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Pinioning is a mutilation and as such should never be undertaken lightly.
  • There may be legislation limiting this procedure; national legislation varies.
    • In the UK it is illegal for waterfowl to be pinioned if they are to be kept on agricultural land (The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations, 1982). (B11.1.w15).
  • Pinioning is a surgical procedure.
    • In the UK this is considered an act of veterinary surgery and should only be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon; this position has recently [2013] been clarified by RCVS. (W162.Apr13.w1).
    • In England, anaesthesia is required if pinioning is carried out on birds aged 10 days or older. (LUK35)
  • It may be an offence to allow waterfowl to escape: for example in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to release exotic (non-native) species into the wild.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Suzanne I Boardman
References B7, B10.26.w1, B11.1.w15, B30, B139, LUK35, P4.1992.w1, V.w5, W162.Apr13.w1

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