The backstory for a key character in my story involves him receiving a harsh punishment for becoming corrupt. The tearing off of the wings themselves is easy to write. It's the state he's left in afterwards that I need help on. Sadly (or fortunately?), no one seems to have written articles on 'ripping the wings off of birds'.

In Disney's Maleficent, her lover cuts off her wings and she finds it difficult to walk afterwards and uses a stick. Would this be accurate? Or would it only be as traumatic as losing an arm? Since the wings would be connected to various ligaments and muscles in the back, would it cripple him permanently? Would it affect the spine?

I'm asking for a logical, biological based answer. If I wanted to, I could just bypass facts and write away (it is fantasy after all). I'd like it to be as realistic as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Throwing the creature off balance is an interesting idea. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Actually tearing wings off would be very traumatic (and probably not survivable). Cutting might work better, if you want the punishment to be less likely to result in death. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ "Would it affect the spine?" Appendages (that's what wings are...) aren't attached to the spine, they're attached to the shoulders and hips. This third pair of appendages would need a similar structure in the middle of the back. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Please read about anatomically correct angels and explain how your angles fly / what are they use wings for / what is their anatomy. Without such explanation it is hard to really answer your question. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Someone would just ring a bell and the angel would get its wings back. ;) $\endgroup$
    – kjw
    Apr 23, 2018 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


Physical Problems

We can look for reference at humans with severe limb injuries or monkeys who's tails were injured. We know they have a hard time with walking around in their new state.
Any creature is accustomed to live with the body it has. For humans, we are used to 2 legs, 2 hands and our general anatomy. Monkeys have tails, and they are used to walking with them. Your angel is used to the wings.
Point is - When a change that drastic happens, yes, your angel will be affected. He will have a hard time walking, and also with other physical activities.

Mental Problems

Another aspect is mental reaction. Your angel suffered a severe trauma, and that tends to leave a mark on one's mind as well as on the body. If the angels' mentality is anything like a human's, he is likely to suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, and lack of faith in his ability to function. And those are just a few of the common reactions. I would actually say that this is the more significant harms. Unless wings are super important to the anatomy of angels, he should heal and become handicapped, but functional. A mental disorder that might arise - that can be much harder to deal with, much harder to heal and have very serious implications.

Edit: I just came across this great source. It is quite extensive yet still comprehensible. Also, it obviously regards humans, not angels, but if your angels have a human-like physiology, that makes the transition quite straightforward.

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    $\begingroup$ Can it, though? I'm no anatomy expert, but the way I see it, muscles are attached to bones, period. If I my arm got cut at elbow level, what use would my biceps and triceps be? Wouldn't they just devolve into floppy slices of meat? I think the wing muscles, if their sole function is to flap wings, would devolve that way. And "usual" back muscles (deltoids, rhomboids) would grow more powerful, if properly trained. $\endgroup$
    – Jenayah
    Apr 23, 2018 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ As someone dealing with the after effects of significant injury, I have a quick comment... no, muscles do not grow back more strongly absent a significant "load" from a now changed anatomy - however you can work them into a different configuration through your physical therapy and muscle building regimen - but this doesn't just happen through the "lack of load" from a traumatically-amputated limb. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2018 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ I've read a few stories with winged creatures who had them forcibly removed, and one had a phobia that I found interesting -- he hated having people behind him. Whether they were in crowds, alone, walking somewhere, he always felt the need to keep a wall to his back, though it never presented consciously; he'd just always find a way to be at the back of a group or keep his back away from people. It could be interesting to explore psychological trauma like that, with subtle changes that can be easily explained, but aren't. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Apr 23, 2018 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Jenayah - Not really. Muscles are attached to tendons, and tendons are attached to bones. Ligaments connect bone to bone. If you have a winged creature where the wings are their own appendages, most likely you would only have tendon/ligament connection to a joint on the back, much like the shoulders. (Shoulder "joints" are basically just a web of ligaments/tendons/muscles. There is very little resembling any other joint in the body.) The tradeoff there, is while there is little physical joint structure, you have hypermobility compared to other body joints. $\endgroup$
    – JohnP
    Apr 23, 2018 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnP I think I see what you mean. With our shoulders we can do rotations, translations, combined etc. If the same things was to be applied to wings, I guess it could lead to some cool flying abilities. But then again, I'm even less of an aviation expert than I am in anatomy :p $\endgroup$
    – Jenayah
    Apr 23, 2018 at 19:27

Since birds don't really have arms and we don't exactly have a angle to study it is difficult to say what would happen.

If the wings are connected to the spine

There would be serious damage and if it was a harsh removal he may no longer be able to walk. There would also be a chance that arms or hands may not work if the wings are directly attached to the nervous system and they were pulled out with the nervous system it could lead to a large portion of the body not working.

If the wings are not connected to the spine

This is probably the better option. If the wings are held in place by muscles alone then pulling them off would cause large physical harm but it would most likely heal because the spine and nervous system would not be damaged extensively. After the skin heals he would probably be fine.

Either way he would be heavily off balance at first and there would be mental scarring as well as potential ghost pains.


In Maleficent, her lover cuts off her wings and she finds it difficult to walk afterwards and uses a stick. Would this be accurate? Or would it be just as traumatic as losing an arm?

It would be as traumatic, in a different way. Angels should be used to both walk balancing the weight of their wings, and occasionally supplementing with a quick wing stroke. Both are now out of the question, so your angel is forced to lean forward to compensate, and use a stick to maintain equilibrium (until he's used to walking wingless).

Occasionally he'll instinctively try to negotiate a higher step than immediately possible, maybe utter a cry of pain when the torn ligaments don't respond, and fall flat on his face.

Since the wings would be connected to various ligaments and muscles in the back, would it cripple him permanently?

This would depend entirely on how the connection is designed. You know that biologically an angel is not possible, because he'd need too large a wingspan to be able to lift, even with hollow bones and larger chest and boobs made of solid muscle: for the same reason, you can choose the anatomical setup you prefer. The whole organization of the scapulae might not be that of a hominin like a man: angels and centaurs are, in all evidence, hexapods (unless you let them have hands at the end of the wings, or the wings themselves be modified arms, like the common bat).

Chances and extent of recovery would also depend on how the wings were torn - if shorn at the base, digging in the back muscles, or farther out; whether cut neatly, or teared away destroying the surrounding tissues; and so on.

In theory there's nothing against wings actually regrowing. Human arms do not grow back, but angels are not men (I remember one short story of such an "angel").


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