What is Broken Beak?
A “beak scuffle” generally occurs when an enclosure is overcrowded, when birds of different sizes are enclosed together, if birds haven’t been introduced properly, but are made enclosure-mates, if one bird assumes a bully position among a group, or just because two birds - who are typically buddies – have a spontaneous fight. These scenarios, and many others, may lead to altercations that happen in a fraction of a second. While some of these scenarios can be avoided (such as careless caging), some cannot.
Like humans and any other species, birds fight. Before you know it, you are looking at one or two broken beaks, an injury which is just as dangerous, and as painful, as it sounds. While many birds wind up with some type of beak injury in their lifetime, management of the injury must be executed with the greatest care. The purpose of a bird’s beak is multi-fold; its primary job, of course, is to capture, secure and eat food. It makes probing for, and eating, insects easy. It cracks seeds. It’s used for drinking. The beak functions like human hands. It enables a bird to gather materials to build a nest, to feed its young, and to preen. And yes, a beak is sometimes used as a weapon; its hard surface can serve as an effective protectant. Given these reasons, we must assist with its repair, if possible. Most of us would want to help, but where to begin? Is a beak even repairable?
The beak consists of two parts: the upper and the lower mandible. The upper mandible differs from the lower mandible because it grows firmly out of the bird’s skull. The lower mandible can move independently, and operates as if on a hinge. Its hard surface is composed of skin, which is overlaid with a substance called keratin. Keratin is the same material that makes up human fingernails. The bird produces the keratin, which then dries to create the solid, durable beak. The keratin constantly regenerates to keep the beak intact and strong. Clearly, the loss of a beak is devastating, but it’s also very painful because the beak is connected to bone and nerve endings. It also has its own blood supply, so any type of crack, break or injury will cause substantial bleeding.
Many birds will experience a beak injury in their lifetime; while it’s a serious injury, there are options for recovery.
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Symptoms of Broken Beak in Birds
The appearance of a bird with a broken beak will be most evident. Not only will your bird look uncomfortable, he could be experiencing pain.
- Injury to the beak
Causes of Broken Beak in Birds
The primary cause of an injured or broken beak is fighting between birds. Another cause may be a collision between the bird and a building, a car, a tree, or other objects and structures. Breakage of the beak will cause extensive bleeding and damage to the keratin.
Diagnosis of Broken Beak in Birds
The first action to take if your bird suffers a beak injury is to apply pressure to the bleeding. Contacting the veterinarian (an avian veterinarian, if possible) or animal clinic should be your next step. If you are not able to make an immediate trip to your veterinarian (though you must see a vet within 24 hours), many veterinarians or technicians will offer you guidance by telephone until your appointment.
In the meantime, do not remove any part of the damaged beak. This may increase the bleeding, and a beak injury can cause a bird to bleed to death. Some bird owners consider using Super Glue to try and fix a crack, but this is also not recommended. Glue, due to fumes and other chemicals, could burn not only the wound, but also the bird’s eyes and skin.
To slow bleeding until you can make it to the vet, you could try to "cork" the area using a mass of softened soap from the underside of a typical bar of bathroom soap. However, this is an option only to be used in emergency, and hopefully just while on route to the vet.
The primary means of diagnosing a beak injury is a physical exam conducted by a (preferably avian) veterinarian; sedation may be needed if the bird is under extreme stress.
Treatment of Broken Beak in Birds
It’s important to keep the wound sterile, particularly because tissues may be exposed and could be susceptible to infection. Also, the tissues tend to dry out, which will cause the bird irritation and discomfort. The vet will likely recommend that you rinse the wound with sterile saline solution (contact lens solution is fine, but make sure it’s preservative free) to maintain moisture as well as a clean wound site.
Once at the appointment, the vet will examine the injury and recommend the best course of treatment. Options include wiring the beak, or covering it with a type of protective “cast” or acrylic coating, such as what dentists use to repair human teeth.
If the blood loss has been severe and if the injury impedes eating or drinking, the bird might be hospitalized overnight for fluids, antibiotics, antifungals and pain care.
Your best source of information about how to proceed with nutrition is your veterinarian. The bird might be on a soft food diet for a while, for a lifetime, or not at all. Some alternatives include mashed sweet potatoes, bananas, and even (human) baby food.
Recovery of Broken Beak in Birds
The primary components of recovery from a beak injury include watching the wires or cast for any changes, following the veterinarian’s eating plan, administering medication, allowing for healing time, and isolating the bird from other birds and animals. Most cracks or small injuries will simply grow out like a break in a fingernail. A beak doesn’t repair itself, or grow back together, but it usually will grow out. In some cases, the bird will never retain its former appearance, and could suffer disfigurement. Other birds may be on a soft food diet for the duration of its life, but otherwise will return to normal functioning.