Beak Grooming

Posted by Bird Tricks on

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.

Because birds do not have hands, their beaks are used in nearly every activity they perform. A wild bird uses its beak for excavating and lining a nest, climbing and eating to name just a few purposes. These activities naturally wear down any excess growth on the beak, keeping them in perfect shape.

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.

Should your bird’s beak need to be trimmed, this is most definitely a job for your vet or a groomer experienced in beak trimming. The beak contains an active blood supply and live nerve endings. A miscalculation on your part will cause bleeding and pain (and future mistrust). A vet or groomer will recognize certain changes in the beak tissue that will alert them that they are approaching the blood supply.

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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6 comments

  • we do the beak and nails on my blue and Gold at the vets, wings get clipped also, he likes to go outside and he will inform me when he is ready to go out, lol.

    Helen. on
  • Very good info thank u :)

    cynthia deleon on
  • I have a caique have to get his beak trim…He has gone thru
    Many toys. With that being said He is happy funny and loving
    Bird…

    Cynthia James on
  • My Too loves for me to clean his beak especially the parts that can come away with just my nail. His beak gets a real good workout climbing his cage and destroying wood (like our windows and cupboard doors) ouch.. and plastic toys.

    A budgie we rescued was never given anything to chew until we got him. When I first started giving it cuttlefish bone it went though it like mad then it stopped completely and the beak really grew so long that he couldn’t eat. We had to trim a wee bit off so it could eat properly then it was OK. Hated to do that because the poor little thing was never hand held or loved like we love our birds but I think he was happy he could eat bis pellets better. Sadly he passed a few years back but I will remember the beak trimming.

    June on
  • Beak trimming is old school, they used to say it had to be done, nails too. But a beak trim just doesn’t need to be done. And be glad you don’t have to do it. Cookes beak does not grow the way
    its supposed to. The top part doesn’t mesh with the lower part so the lower part will grow up to her head if left alone. So I do it. With a pair of wire cutters and a metal finger nail file. She fights like tiger and its not pleasent for either one of us. I don’t have to do it, she gets by fine with it over grown, or used to, since I do it every few months and have been for the last 20 years, she today may not know how to handle things now. The first time I took her to a vet and they knocked her out and used a grinder and that I said no more of that and taught myself to it. I try to make her beak look as normal as I can, but theres only so much I can do. So be gald you don’t have trim your birds beak.

    michael and cookie on

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