Beak Monitoring

As I spend more time with older birds, I have become increasingly convinced that the beak is central to our ability to monitor the overall health of both small birds (canaries, finches etc) and parrots.

I have been working with this idea for a couple of decades now, and I am confident that the beak can tell us even more, maybe, than bloodwork, depending on how extensive the testing has been.

Obviously when there is gross overgrowth or deformity happening, we all know that this is a health problem; or when a very young bird develops beak issues we all know that this is probably a bad sign, stemming from a genetic problem/virus etc.

But I have learned through experimentation, trial and error, that when birds develop subtle changes in their beak structure over time, this can indicate really significant but subtle problems. If we catch these problems early, we have an opportunity to ward off the slow progression of chronic disease.

Warning signs:

– is the beak getting somewhat rumply, i.e. is it rough at all, does it have flakes, bumps or dented areas forming?

– is the color good?

– is the tip growing even a little bit longer than it should?

– are the nails growing a bit too long at the same time as the beak is growing a bit long?

If anything seems off, I usually look at foraging opportunities first: does the bird have mineral blocks (for the smaller birds), plenty of toys and hard wood chews? If there is no problem with foraging materials, I move to diet and exercise. Has the bird suddenly become sedentary resulting in a buildup of nutrition that should be getting burned off? Has the diet changed (usually it’s too much protein or synthetic vitamins/minerals that will give you beak overgrowth)?

Once I develop a theory as to what may be causing the beak changes, I then eliminate or add things one at a time and watch the beak. It takes about three to six months to be sure whether the beak is getting better, staying the same, or deteriorating. After that time I might change one more thing and wait a few more months. With this system, I have been able to make favorable changes that restore the beak to its normal, healthy state.

I am convinced, based on experiences with my own large flock of multiple species, that beaks should not need much, if any, clipping and trimming. With small birds like finches and canaries, yes, you will probably need to do some trimming – but no more than once or twice per year. But with the parrots, I want to say I never clip beaks or nails. If beaks or nails get long, I adjust the environment and diet and they self-correct. And once I make changes, I find that it is useful to leave the beaks alone so that I can monitor whether the beak will self-correct to determine the best husbandry methods for each particular bird.

In other words, I use the beak as a beacon:)

Lainey Alexander

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, or by any veterinarian. All information, including any product or technique mentioned, is for educational purposes only. None of the information is intended to diagnose or treat any disease.