Parrot Feathers – How and Why Do Parrots Fly?

Your parrot’s wings operate as an airfoil, or aerofoil. An airfoil is a shape which produces lift and is used in wings, blades and sails. The shape of a bird’s wings mean that air flows faster over the top of the wing that beneath it, and thus there is greater pressure below the wings than above them and this pressure difference causes lift. This phenomenon of lift can be explained by Bernoulli’ Principle which states that pressure decreases as its velocity increases.

A parrot’s physiology is such that the upper surface of the wing is raised and the lower surface is hollow, which has the effect of air traveling over the top of the wing at a faster rate than the bottom. The front edges of the wings ensure that the air is consistently split in the same direction over them.

This basic description does not fully explain a parrot’s wings, which have both primary and secondary feathers. The primaries are the top layer, or outer, feathers which are moved back and forth to create thrust. The secondary, or inner, feathers are the ones which split the air between outer and inner parts and provide the lift.  

Parrots use this ability of flight to evade predators and also to seek food and shelter, and migrate to optimal climates at different times of the year.

With careful observation you will see that you parrot starts its moult by shedding its fifth primary feather, after which it will start shedding feathers either side of this. The moulting process takes place once or twice a year.

A parrot’s flight system is more than just its wings of and consists of:

  • Primary feathers – the top layer of feathers that provide the thrust
  • Secondary feathers – beneath the primaries these shorter wings provide lift during flight
  • Alula – an area at the front of the wings made up of short feathers. Used for stability.
  • Wing coverts – used to cover the area between the primary and secondary feathers
  • Body plumage – these flat contour feathers cover the body and protect the bird from the elements
  • Tail feathers – these are short and square in parrots

Wing clipping is an option that many consider for their pet birds, but it is a bit of a controversial area in parrot care. Whilst clipping does not cause your pet any pain, some consider it cruel. An alternative is to leave the wings in tact, but diligently monitor your parrot to prevent escape. If you go this route then you can also buy your bird a harness and allow it to fly.