Wildlife Reserve Amputates Birds to Keep Them on the Ground

The Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT) is being called out for mutilating birds to keep them captive, following an investigation by the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) that was prompted by the sight of lopsided birds.

The trust, which runs nine reserves in the UK, has been amputating the wings of newly hatched chicks with scissors without veterinary supervision, which is required by law, reports the Sunday Express.

Unlike clipping, which involves cutting only primary flight feathers (which can grow back), pinioning involves the amputation of bone at the carpal joint, which removes a pretty good chunk of wing.

According to CAPS, pinioning is recognized as mutilation and would not be legally allowed on farmed birds, but there are exceptions for zoos if it is done by a qualified veterinary surgeon. The practice is also condoned by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), which supports anyone performing the procedure on birds that are under ten days old and believes the procedure doesn’t cause stress and that birds get used to being flightless.

According to the trust, its employees are more qualified to carry out this procedure than veterinarians and they believed they didn’t need one if birds were under ten days old. However, a Defra spokesman told the Sunday Express that’s not the case and a veterinary surgeon is always required and that if people suspect that its being carried out illegally by unqualified individuals they should contact authorities.

Regardless of who does it or when they do it, mutilating birds to keep them captive and to allow people to get close to them at reserves is still brutal and controversial. According to the trust’s president, they continue to do it so they don’t have to enclose birds or construct aviaries. It’s believed that an estimated 5,600 birds at WWT reserves have been mutilated and that they are only a small portion of the total number of birds who have had this done to them elsewhere.

According to Liz Tyson, Director of CAPS:

That the zoo industry deems the partial amputation of limbs as a legitimate means to hold thousands of birds captive is horrifying. But the fact that the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have so brazenly confirmed that they are acting outside of the law and that they believe their staff know better than vets adds an even more sinister aspect to a practice which already defies justification. Add to this that BIAZA is advising its member zoos that this practice only requires a vet if the bird is older than ten days old suggests that this apparent defiance of the law might not be limited to just a few zoos but may span the entire industry. This means that many more thousands of birds may have had their wings severed by unqualified zoo staff.

Over a million people a year visit the reserves managed by WWT, but CAPS has found that many don’t know what has happened to these birds and are under the impression that they are free to come and go as they choose. The ones who find out about pinioning are apparently are not impressed.

After conducting a survey of both people who had and had not been to the reserves to find out their opinions on pinioning, CAPS found that of half the people who had visited 78 percent didn’t know birds had been mutilated, while 60 percent said they would no longer visit, or weren’t sure they would go back, after they found out what had been done. You can add your opinion and take their survey here.

As part of its Fight for Flight campaign CAPS is now calling for a ban on the practice.



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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

signed and survey completed, thanks for sharing :)

Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling5 years ago


Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling5 years ago

Jolly good!

Patricia M.
Patricia Mozza5 years ago

Sorry the more I look at this story the more incorrect it is. The Trust's president isn't quoted anywhere on the internet suggesting that they pinion so they don't have to build aviaries. The CAPS claim is wrong - they do have aviaries. And now people have gone off and signed petitions and surveys based on this incorrect information right across the Internet. I'm sure CAPS are well meaning but why are they publishing complete untruths about an organisation doing conservation work around the world? What's going on there?

Patricia M.
Patricia Mozza5 years ago

Read story, read comments, accepted invite from friend to visit WWT Slimbridge. Sorry have to log in and warn this story is MAJORLY INCORRECT. There are NO zebra finches AT ALL. Only half a dozen love birds flying free in a 40m long aviary full of trees. Only pinioned birds are wetland birds like flamingos which have large lakes and large nesting areas. Big anti-predator fence around whole reserve. I queried ethics, was told too risky for flamingos to be injured caught in netting and as they rarely fly, better to keep in large wetland areas where they can exhibit much more of their natural behaviour. I said I'd prefer them not to be captive in the UK. They pointed out a man recording how flamingos switch between social groups. Turns out WWT runs the international IUCN flamingo conservation. Said they were doing an action plan for flamingos in post-war Iraq. So I'm still not comfortable with captive animals full stop but see conservation arguments. Confused at WWT being part wild part captive birds. But either CAPS or Care2 have got some facts very, very majorly wrong here.

Aileen P.
Aileen P5 years ago

Disgusting! What is the matter in UK? Animal cruelty is rising in UK.

Robert Tedders
Robert T5 years ago

DISGUSTING. I'm going to try and remember to ask if this practice is used when I visit reserves from now on.

debby ro
Deborah ro5 years ago

what cruelty !

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

I don't know how long this organisation has continued with this cruel act - but they should face prosecution.
Could they be trimming their wings for the sake of tourism. This would also prevent the birds from migrating.
The RSPCA should investigate whether there are others involved with this mutilation, when they are supposedly protecting wetland birds...
Remember, it just takes one person to speak out regarding abuse !

Anne L.
laurence h5 years ago