Just like your nails, your bird's toenails grow at a regular rate. In the wild, natural abrasion from climbing and perching wears a bird's nails down, but once the bird moves indoors, she needs your help to have a nice pedicure. If left untrimmed, nails that are too long can make it difficult for your bird to perch properly and she may get caught on a perch or other object, causing injury. Overgrown nails can also make it uncomfortable for you to handle your bird. You can reduce the frequency or nail trimmings by providing your feathery friend with natural tree branches for perches or abrasive perches.

Tools You Will Need

  • An assistant, who may need heavy gloves, too, depending on the type of bird
  • Human nail clippers, or in the case of a large bird, dog toenail clippers or a fingernail file
  • Coagulant, in case of bleeding (cornstarch or flour will work in an emergency)
Trimming Techniques
  • First, recognize that you or your assistant will probably have a very unhappy bird in hand! Most birds do not enjoy having their nails trimmed.
  • Have all your tools laid out within easy reach, and plan the process so you may proceed as quickly as possible.
  • Have your assistant hold the bird so that the bird cannot flap its wings or escape. However, make sure there's not too much pressure on the bird's chest to avoid suffocation. Your bird's skeleton is very fragile, so make sure your assistant does not exert too much pressure in restraining the bird.
  • Don't use a towel to help restrain your bird because the bird could easily become overheated. Look for signs of overheating throughout the process; panting is one sure sign.
  • Scheduling your bird's nail trimming for a cooler part of the day will also help avoid overheating.
  • If your bird shows signs of overheating, spray her lower legs and feet with water to help cool her off. Birds shed a large amount of excess heat through their feet.
  • Your bird will not be able to grasp as firmly with newly trimmed nails. Sitting on uneven surfaces, for instance, may be more difficult for the bird, so be understanding and patient if your bird appears clumsy. Young birds will not be quite as steady on their feet as adults after their nails are trimmed.
  • The primary precaution when trimming your bird's nails is to avoid cutting into the quick, the nerve and blood supply that grows part of the way down the length of the nail. If your bird's nails are light-colored, you'll be able to easily see the quick and know how far up the nail to trim. Dark-colored nails hide the quick, so you must be extra careful.
  • The best technique to use in order to avoid cutting into the quick is to cut very small amounts of the nail at a time rather than a large piece. You don't need to trim a great deal of the nail in order to keep it at a proper length, especially if nail trimming is a regular part of your bird's grooming routine. Cutting just a bit of the nail every few days also encourages the quick to recede between cutting sessions.
  • In the event you do cut into the quick, there will be significant bleeding that must be stopped quickly by applying a styptic pencil, silver nitrate, iron subsulfate or a liquid anticoagulant. Then hold a piece of dry cotton against the bleeding area with a bit of pressure until the bleeding stops. In cases of severe bleeding, get the bird to an avian veterinarian immediately.
Some vets use a motorized tool that grinds down the nails, but many birds are frightened by the noise of the tool. If your bird's nails are seriously overgrown, you should definitely have your avian veterinarian do the job, at least the first time.