Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW)

Science in the service of animal welfare

Registered Charity Number: 207996
Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire

Is flight important to the welfare of captive birds?

Study will test theory that restricting flight leads to welfare problems in caged birds

Flight is one of the most constrained natural behaviours for captive birds and restricting or preventing flight is therefore a welfare concern

Findings have the potential to improve wellbeing in millions of birds from a variety of species


Flight is one of the most constrained natural behaviours for captive birds and restricting or preventing flight is therefore a welfare concern.  A proposal has been submitted by Professor Innes Cuthill of the University of Bristol and colleagues at the Universities of Guelph, Canada and Utrecht, the Netherlands, for a study which will test the theory that restricting flight leads to welfare problems in caged birds and the prediction that welfare will be poorest in the most flight-dependent species in the wild.

UFAW proposes to fund this study, which will cost £50,000 but has the potential to improve the welfare of millions of birds.  Can you help us to fund this study or others with a donation? 

Investigating the importance of flight to captive birds by restricting or preventing flight in itself is a welfare concern.  Professor Cuthill and his colleagues therefore propose to use a statistical technique that takes into account the evolutionary history of parrot species and existing information on flight dependency, as well as existing data on welfare from an online survey of pet parrots worldwide and from zoos that have agreed to help the study. 

Parrots have been chosen as a focal group as they are well represented in captivity, are commonly kept in restrictive cages or enclosures and may also be physically prevented from flying by wing clipping or pinioning.  In addition, there are many varieties of parrots (psittacines) from budgerigars to cockatoos to macaws and from ground-dwelling and flightless birds to swift and migratory ones.

Together, the information will improve understanding of normal parrot behaviour in captivity and highlight factors that may play a role in the development of common behaviour problems. With this knowledge, parrot owners and keepers can make informed predictions about how to best optimise their parrots' living environments – or about which solutions might best reduce, or even prevent, problem behaviours from occurring.

In setting out his project proposal, Professor Cuthill said: “This study has the capability to gain both species-specific and fundamental knowledge with the potential to improve the welfare of many millions of captive parrots.  Our findings will have a number of widespread benefits, including tailored practical recommendations for addressing welfare issues based on successful identification of biological risk factors, informed best practice and husbandry guidelines and suggestions for species that are pre-adapted to suit captive conditions.”

It is expected that the extraction, analysis and interrogation of the data will take 18 months.  The results will be shared with zoos and pet parrot owners, as well as disseminated via relevant media, an appropriate scientific journal and a national and international conference.

How you can help

As a charity, UFAW relies on membership subscriptions, donations and legacies in order to be able to continue its vital work and to fund projects like this.  Please help us by supporting this appeal. 

Making a donation  Your donation, large or small, will make a difference and will go towards the cost of funding this study. You can donate by clicking the donate button below.

Becoming a member  Membership of UFAW is open to all worldwide – the continuing work of UFAW is dependent on the support of its members, so please consider becoming a member.  As well as twice yearly updates on UFAW activities and developments, you will receive 35% discount off all books in the UFAW Wiley book series and off virtually all other Wiley books.

Leaving a legacy  A gift in your will, regardless of size, will ensure that we can continue to harness science to make advances in animal welfare worldwide and that the results of such scientific research are acted upon promptly.

If you have a pet parrot, you can also help this study by taking part in the survey.  See www.parrotsurvey.com for further information.