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Trimming the Claws of Waxbills, Weavers, Mannikins and other Small Birds and Finches – Bird Grooming


The claws of most pet birds require occasional trimming, and there are a few special considerations that should be kept in mind concerning certain groups.

The Adaptive Value of Long, Twisted Claws

Some birds that frequent grasslands and marshy habitats grow long, twisted claws as an adaptation to perching upon reeds and grasses (there’s a reason for everything, other than giving you more work!).  These claws, so useful in natural habitats, often cause captives to become entangled in nesting material, screened areas and aviary bushes.

Among commonly-kept birds, it is the rapidly-growing claws sported by many popular waxbills, weavers and mannikins that require the most attention.

Avoiding the Blood Vessel

When trimming your pet’s claws, be sure to work under a good light.  The claw’s blood supply is visible as a light red line within the claw…stop trimming above the point where this vessel ends.  The blood vessel will be difficult to locate in birds with black claws.  If at all possible, compare the claws of these species with similarly-sized finches having pale claws.  Trim black claws modestly, or, if unsure, bring the bird to a veterinarian for its “manicure”.

Necessary Trimming Supplies

Lay out your supplies ahead of time, so that you can complete the task quickly, thereby minimizing the stress factor.  Use a specially designed bird claw clipper and not just any small scissors that happens to be available.  This will assure a precise cut, and will prevent the claw-splitting to which tiny birds are prone.

Always have styptic powder available in the event that you do nick a blood vessel.  Styptic powder is an old standby – in zoos I’ve seen it used on animals ranging from hummingbirds to tigers – and will stem any minor bleeding (please note: styptic powder is not for use on deep wounds, infected areas or burns).  You may wish to keep our bird first aid kit, packed with a variety of useful items, on hand as well.

Further Reading

The brilliantly-colored Gouldian finch is a popular cage bird that is specifically adapted, via claws and otherwise, to life on the grasslands of northern Australia.  You can read about ongoing conservation projects for wild Gouldian finches at http://www.sciencewa.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=853&Itemid=670.




  1. avatar

    Great Article & Photos! Birds are not the only creatures that need nesting boxes! New blog on the Hx. of the Ladybug:

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    You are right…I’ve found all sorts of interesting creatures in bird houses, including flying squirrels and white-footed mice. I once saw a friend’s glass-backed bird house (they attach to windows, allowing one a look inside), that was colonized by giant European hornets, which are introduced here in NY; also spiders will build webs inside these, and so provide one a peek at their nocturnal activities.

    The ladybug houses are a great idea, thanks – I’ve never come across a large hibernating group, but have seen some amazing photos.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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