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.
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.