Q: Is it true that I should have my bird’s beak trimmed?
– Miles.B., Billings. MO
A: A bird’s beak is made of keratin, the same fibrous protein that forms our nails and hair. And like our nails and hair, beaks are in a state of perpetual growth throughout life. One would think that this would necessitate a beak trim every now and again, but this is not usually the case. If your bird’s beak is normal in appearance, there is no need to have any work done on it.
Ideally, it should be the same with our captive parrots. Their beaks should be getting enough of a work out with cage bar climbing, object manipulation and toy destruction to keep them in proper shape, but it is not always the case.
When I brought Theo, my goffins cockatoo, home, she was not in the greatest shape emotionally or physically. Among other issues, she was fearful of everything and reacted to toys with near hysteria. As a result, her beak was constantly overgrown due to lack of use. I knew this right away by looking at her because the pointed part of her upper beak was squared off and jagged, telling me that her beak had overgrown and the tip had recently snapped off.
You should be aware that sometimes an overgrown beak can be the result of health problems (usually liver related or due to malnutrition), but it is more commonly a matter of lack of use. The very best way to keep your bird’s beak in great condition is to see that he uses it frequently by chewing materials such as wood and in other activities that include the beak. A bird with a healthy enthusiasm for play and toy destruction will least often be seen with an overgrown beak and will have no need for any trimming.
It is normal for small parts of the beak to chip or peel away. This is part of a normal pattern that slowly replaces the outermost part of the beak with new growth from beneath. Your bird’s beak will constantly be undergoing such renovations.
**NOTE: There are beak maladies that are not caused by under-use such as malocclusion, a misalignment known as scissor beak (see picture above) as well as other abnormalities that effect the texture and appearance of the beak. Health issues, like PBFD, could be indicated by such abnormalities and your vet must be alerted and involved in treatment.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.
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