In zoos and wildlife parks up and down the country, thousands of birds stand in large open enclosures. Flamingos pick their way delicately through shallow water and cranes stand on slender legs watching the world go by. The occasional flurry of wings flapping is seen but, strangely, none of the birds take flight.

Are these birds simply content with their surroundings, choosing to stay conveniently within the boundaries of the zoo? Do they fly away at times and simply choose to return, safe in the knowledge they will find food in abundance and familiar flock mates? Is it a deep connection to their keepers that stops them from taking to the air? Or is it something else that holds these exotic birds in the unnatural environment of a UK zoo?

Look closely as wings are spread and you will find the answer:

Four Birds

At just a few days old, thousands of birds in UK zoos have the end of one wing deliberately severed.

These birds will never fly.

These birds will never be released to the wild.

These birds have the gift of flight taken away from them forever.

Our undercover investigator unearthed this cruel practice when visit zoos to assess the welfare of birds.


This procedure is classed as mutilation under the Animal Welfare Act and is banned for use on farmed birds. Yet it is standard practice at zoos up and down the country, as a way of keeping these large birds captive.


Not only is this horrific act carried out on birds but we discovered zoos around the UK were carrying it out illegally. Rather than paying qualified vets, they were allowing zoo keepers carry out the procedure which is done without any anaesthetic for the bird.

Read the full findings of our investigation

(Note: the reports refer to CAPS instead of Freedom for Animals as this was the name of our organisation at the time)

Mutilated for your viewing pleasure: Pinioning birds in English zoos


Last in the pecking order: A study of birds in English zoos in 2013

Celebrity and expert support

Ricky Gervais – Multi award-winning actor, director and writer

“The idea of amputating part of an animal’s limb in order to keep it in captivity is unacceptable. I support the campaign to see this practice banned at the earliest opportunity”



MMMeg Mathews – Designer and Campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA)

“I had visited wildlife reserves before and, I think like many people, did not think to question why the flamingos and other birds didn’t fly away. I perhaps assumed that they did and came back through choice. But, when I saw the photographs of these beautiful birds missing half a wing after being deliberately and permanently disabled, the reality really hit home. It opened my eyesand I had to speak out. This practice cannot continue. It must be stopped”

Andrew KellyDr Andrew Kelly – Wildlife Consultant and former Head of Wildlife at the RSPCA

“Pinioning is a cruel and unnecessary practice. It is a significant mutilation that has severe long-term consequences for the bird, depriving it of its most basic natural behaviour: the ability to fly.  In many cases, pinioning takes place between the age of 2 – 5 days, often without anaesthesia or pain relief. In my opinion it is simply unethical to carry out this practice simply to keep a bird in captivity”


Marc BekoffMarc Bekoff – Professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder

“Zoos do not and cannot do much for meaningfully educating people about the lives of other animals or for conserving then in the wild. While a very few people claim they gain more interest in other animals because of zoos, in the long term they do little for the animals to whom they are exposed.”


SONY DSCBaroness Angela Smith of Basildon – Member of the House of Lords

“This is shocking.  Those who visit such centres and who genuinely want to admire these birds in a natural environment will be horrified and upset to learn how and why they are mutilated in this way”


Professor Randy Malamud, PhDRandy Malamud

“This is for the birds” – the phrase, WW2-era US Army slang, connotes something as trivial, worthless.  Such language betrays our ideological prejudices; we need to reorient ourselves to appreciate the ecological and ethical importance of cohabiting equitably with other species.  We must let them be as they are made to be, instead of maiming them for our spectatorial convenience. Freedom for Animals’ Fight for Flight campaign is a powerful eye-opener, and I intend the utmost respect when I say, “This is for the birds.”

Greg GlendellGreg Glendell – Bird Behaviourist, Birds First

“Birds are fundamentally flying animals.  Flight Deprivation is inimical to the main means of locomotion of many species.  It denies birds the ‘Freedom to carry out normal behaviours’ as per the Animal Welfare Act.  Depriving them of flight by amputation of the ‘hand’ is a cruel and unnecessary mutilation which should have been stopped decades ago.”



Samantha LindleySamantha Lindley BVSc MRCVS – Longview Veterinary Services, Hon Vet Advisor CAPS

“All of the arguments used to support pinioning are based on the premise that it is a necessary practice to help the birds cope with captivity. If we start from the position that birds do not need to be in captivity, then performing an unnecessary mutilation to remove one of their most fundamental behavioural responses  in order to keep them captive is unjustified. Birds fly to escape danger, to find food, to find a mate and to find more favourable habitats. Losing the ability to respond to a stimulus does not remove the drive to respond to the stimulus, and being unable to fly when the motivation to do so is strong will produce conflict, fear and frustration.”

charlie photoCharlie Moores – Co-founder of the NGO Birds Korea

“Birds are intelligent, sentient animals, and as a lifelong birder I hate to see a bird confined to a cage or an exhibit. To deliberately permanently maim that bird so that it can never be released and will never be able to behave naturally is cruel and adds painful insult to an already unnatural situation. I fully support Freedom for Animals in calling for this anachronistic practice to be ended immediately”.


LibbyAndersonLibby Anderson – Policy Director, OneKind

“Congratulations to Freedom for Animals for exposing a practice that few of us realised existed.  Apart from being a painful procedure, pinioning denies birds their most basic behaviour and the one that we most admire – the ability to fly.  It would be illegal to mutilate poultry in this way, under our animal welfare legislation, yet other birds can lose parts of their wings for “general management” purposes.  Managing a flock of birds for public exhibition cannot justify such a primitive approach and OneKind supports Freedom for Animals in calling for it to end.”


VirginiaVirginia McKenna OBE – Co-Founder of The Born Free Foundation and multi-award winning actress

My question is always “Why does a bird have wings”? It is scandalous that zoos appear to consider mutilation an acceptable “tool” in the name of conservation and education. The message is, at best, confusing. Seeing birds walk around or swim in a pond may look delightful – and is better than seeing them in a cage – but they have paid a huge price to live this half-life. And we are being misled , to put it politely. I wholeheartedly support the campaign by Freedom for Animals to end the practice of pinioning. When we say “as free as a bird” let it really be true. 

Reports based upon a wider study carried out on behalf of Freedom for Animals by independent animal protection consultant, Craig Redmond.

Gosling photo credit: Bill Reynolds/Prairie Photography

Pinioned birds photo credit: Craig Redmond