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Clipping a Duck’s Wings: Importance + Step-by-Step Guide

wild duck flapping wings - clipping a duck's wings

Clipping a duck’s wings is a process that involves trimming the flight feathers on one wing to prevent the duck from flying while still allowing it to maintain balance and mobility.

It is a common practice for domestic ducks to be kept in non-enclosed areas to prevent them from flying away or getting into potentially dangerous situations.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • when and how often should a duck’s wings be clipped
  • step-by-step process on clipping a duck’s wings
  • alternative to clipping a duck’s wings

I’ve also included a short list of different duck breeds that can and cannot fly so you’d know if you need to do it for your flock.

Let’s get right into it!

Clipping a Duck’s Wings: Step-by-Step Guide

You’ll need the following tools to clip your duck’s wings:

  • Sharp scissors, preferably poultry or bandage scissors
  • Cornstarch or styptic powder (in case of bleeding)
  • A friend, preferably someone experienced in clipping wings


  1. Find your duck and set them in your lap, or have your friend hold the duck for you. If catching your duck is a chore, consider doing this when you add treats or feed to the coop, late at night after they come in for the evening, or early in the morning before being released from the coop.
  2. Choose the wing you want to clip. Ducks have asymmetrical flight feathers, meaning that the primary flight feathers are longer on one wing than the other. You’ll want to clip the primary flight feathers on the side that has the shorter feathers.
  3. Carefully extend the wing and look for the flight feathers. These are the longest, stiffest feathers at the end of the wing.
  4. Choose your clipping length. You should only trim off about a third of the feather length, leaving two-thirds of it. At this length, your duck will still be able to glide from a jump and balance itself well but not be able to fly properly.
  5. Start at the longest outward feather and trim it. Alternatively, for aesthetic purposes, you may skip the two longest feathers but trim the rest. This will make your duck’s wing look natural when it rests at its side while effectively stopping them from flying away.
  6. Do not cut blood (sometimes called pin) feathers. These feathers are younger and newer and are still attached to your duck’s blood supply. If you cut one of these, your duck will bleed a lot. These feathers have a darker shaft (centerpiece) because of the blood in them. These feathers often feel thicker and heavier and may be sensitive to the touch. Your duck may try to pull their wing back if you touch these feathers.
  7. Trim each feather one at a time, slowly, while checking for bleeding. Your duck should not bleed during this process. If they do, apply the styptic powder or cornstarch to stop the bleeding. Gently press it into the area that is bleeding, and hold pressure for at least a minute.
  8. Trim to the desired length, then set your duck back on the ground. The duck may be off-balanced or mildly disoriented at first. This is normal. Watch to see how they move, and make sure they can regain balance after some time has passed.

When and How Often Should You Clip a Duck’s Wings?

You should clip your duck’s wings as soon as they show signs of being capable of flying and then again after they molt.

Most ducks molt once a year.

This means you can clip it about once a year right after their molt, which typically occurs in the early spring to late summer, depending on your bird and the climate.

However, some ducks molt twice a year, especially females.

And when molting, the previously clipped feathers will fall off, and new, unclipped ones will take their place.

So for these individuals, you’ll need to clip their wings twice a year, right after each molt.

Alternatives To Clipping Duck Wings

If clipping your duck’s wings makes you uncomfortable or feels like too much intervention, there are a few alternatives to consider.

  1. Keep your duck in an enclosed, covered run at all times. We have a guide for building a run roof that you may find helpful.
  2. Allow your ducks to fly, and accept the potential risk of them flying away.
  3. Choose duck breeds that cannot fly.

Duck Breeds That Can’t Fly

If the idea of clipping duck wings doesn’t sit well with you, and you don’t want a flying Houdini in your flock, then I suggest getting ducks that can’t fly.

The following duck breeds have been selectively bred by humans long enough that they are no longer capable of flight.

Generally, the heavier a duck is, the less likely it is to fly successfully.

However, many of these ducks can hop and flap their wings hard to cover a few feet — mostly horizontally, but they cannot truly fly.

They may also be able to “glide” after jumping off a higher elevation to reach the ground smoother, but they cannot gain any altitude.

1. Indian Runner Duck

The Indian Runner Duck is a domestic duck breed known for its distinctive upright posture and slender body.

They are unable to fly due to their body structure and have been bred for their exceptional egg-laying abilities.

2. Ancona Duck

Ancona Ducks are a medium-sized breed known for their beautiful mottled plumage pattern.

They have significantly reduced flying abilities due to their heavy body structure and weak wings, making them better suited for terrestrial activities and backyard environments.

3. Rouen Duck

The Rouen Duck is a large breed with a striking resemblance to the Mallard duck.

Despite their wild appearance, they have incredibly limited flying capabilities and are often kept for their ornamental value and meat production.

4. Pekin Duck

The Pekin Duck, also known as the Long Island Duck, is a popular domestic duck breed raised for its meat.

This breed is considered one of the best meat ducks in the world!

They have a heavy, stocky build and small wings, resulting in limited flight capabilities.

5. Cayuga Duck

Cayuga Ducks are named after Lake Cayuga in New York.

This is a medium-sized breed with gorgeous iridescent black feathers.

While they have beautiful wings and relatively small bodies, their flight is still limited, making them suitable for backyard settings.

6. Silver Appleyard

The Silver Appleyard is a dual-purpose breed known for its attractive plumage and meat production.

Although they possess wings, their flight capabilities are limited, making them suitable for backyard or farm environments.

7. Welsh Harlequin

Welsh Harlequins are renowned for their excellent egg-laying abilities and striking coloration.

They are not strong fliers, making them well-suited for backyard or small-scale poultry operations.

Welsh Harlequins are on our list of best duck breeds for beginners partially because they are easy to keep at home.

8. Crested Ducks

Crested Ducks are characterized by their unique crest of feathers on their heads.

This crest of feathers is the result of a genetic mutation, which also makes them suffer from neurological issues and unbalanced walks.

This breed hasn’t been able to fly for more than two thousand years, so now they are primarily ornamental ducks that require your protection from predators.

Want to know more about flightless ducks? We have a separate article dedicated to these birds.

A flying duck breed needs to have its wings clipped to prevent it from flying away

Will My Ducks Fly Away If I Don’t Clip Their Wings?

If you have ducks capable of flying that are not kept in an enclosed run with a roof on it, then you’ll always have a chance of your ducks flying away.

Ducks that are capable of flying are typically more “wild” than the more domesticated breeds.

They have stronger instincts to fly and roam.

And no matter how much you feed and love your ducks, it may not be enough to keep them home.

This is not a moral or duck-keeping failure; it’s just how your ducks are hardwired.

If you’re thinking of getting the following breeds (or already have them), then you may seriously want to consider clipping their wings or have someone do it for you.

Duck Breeds That Can Fly

1. Call Duck

Call Ducks are some of the smallest domestic duck breeds (a bantam), with a small round head, short bill, and cute black eyes.

They’re also one of the noisiest domestic ducks breeds, which is how they got their names.

Call ducks were the original duck calls. Hunters would use them to lure in wild ducks.

2. Mallard Duck

The Mallard Duck is among the most widely distributed and recognized duck species.

They are known for their strong flying abilities and are found in various habitats across the world.

Mallard Ducks have beautiful plumage, with the male displaying vibrant green feathers on its head and neck.

3. Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Ducks are a domesticated breed that retains the ability to fly.

They have strong wing muscles and can take flight if they feel threatened or need to migrate to different locations.

Muscovy Ducks are known for their unique appearance, with males having fleshy caruncles on their faces and various color patterns.

4. Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is wild, but many people raise them on their farms and homesteads anyway.

This is a stunning and colorful duck breed native to North America, known for its ability to fly swiftly through wooded areas.

Wood Ducks have vibrant plumage, with males displaying striking patterns of iridescent greens, purples, and whites.

If you own (or are planning to own) these breeds, you have three options: keep them in an enclosed space where they cannot fly away, clip their wings, or accept the fact that they may randomly leave you one day if you don’t clip their wings. 

FAQs about Clipping Duck’s Wings

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions for trimming duck wings.

Why Do People Clip Duck Wings?

People clip their duck’s wings to restrict their flight, keep them safe, keep them inside tall fences, tame the ducks better, and prevent crop damage.

Can I Clip My Duck’s Wings?

Yes, you can clip your duck’s wings.

However, it’s best to wait until they are about five months old because this is when their adult feathers should be finished growing.

For many areas, doing it yourself will be your only option, as many veterinarians don’t offer this service.

If you have the privilege of having a more experienced duck keeper friend, ask them for help with your first wing trimming.

Does It Hurt Ducks to Clip Their Wings?

If you are careful not to cut or clip the pin or blood feathers, your duck should not bleed, and the process will not hurt them at all.

Clipping Duck’s Wings: Before You Go…

For the first-timer, you might see clipping a duck’s wings as something dreadful, and that’s understandable.

However, knowing why it’s important is crucial in managing your flock wisely.

Interested to learn more about duck management? Check out our recommended reads below!

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