A bird’s beak is not only amazing and versatile, it is also vital to her existence. A bird uses her beak to eat, obtain food and move herself from place to place. It is instrumental in holding, hulling and grinding food. And it can do a whole lot more:
- A bird will use her beak to pick a lock, crush a nut or perform delicate feats such as peeling the skin off a grape.
- This same beak is utilized for preening, climbing, balancing, swinging, courtship, feeding hatchlings, making noise and, if necessary, defense.
Beak size and shape
The size and shape of a bird’s beak varies depending on a particular species’ needs and lifestyle:
- A canary or a finch has a short, straight beak ideal for plucking seeds from a stalk or insects from tiny spaces.
- Parrots, or hookbills, use their beaks for cracking and crushing food, as well as employing it as a third foot for climbing.
- This phenomenal body part actually consists of two parts: the upper and lower mandibles.
- Although it seems like it’s constructed of solid bone, it’s actually hollow except for fine boney struts.
- The beak structure has a thin horny covering over bone, known as corium, and is similar to the antler material of wild animals.
- The corium grows continuously and should be smooth and uniform in both color and texture.
- The bone structure beneath the corium is porous and the center is hollow, which allows air to pass from the nacres (nostrils) to the respiratory system.
- Despite being porous, the inner boney structure gives the beak its shape and strength.
Common beak problems
If your bird is normal and healthy, you shouldn’t observe any major change in beak length over time. (The normal growth rate for a canary’s beak is approximately just 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches per year). If your bird’s beak appears to be overgrown, it is imperative to have your bird examined by a veterinarian.
- An overgrown beak can be a sign of illness, such as liver disease and/or malnutrition.
- Look out for beak malocclusion, which is the misalignment of the upper and lower mandibles. Typically caused by injuries or genetic deformities, this can prevent normal wear and result in an overgrown, misshapen beak.
- Beak fractures can also be quite common. The bone structure is not indestructible and unnatural forces can cause cracks.
Supplies for a healthy bird and beak
Make sure your bird enjoys a proper balanced diet and is offered plenty of chew toys. The chewing action actually wears at the edges and inside layers, which will help your bird maintain a healthy beak. Here’s a handy checklist:
- Perches of soft woods for parrots, white pine for cockatiels and balsa wood for parakeets
- Cuttle bones, mineral blocks, mollusk shells
- Climbing toys such as chains, ladders and ropes
- Bones (chicken, ribs or steak bones)
- Chew toys (made for your particular species of bird)