Q: I rehomed a blue and gold macaw this week from someone who couldn’t afford him any longer. His beak is crooked and overgrown. Will he be able to eat normally? — Jackie W, Decatur, IL
A: What you are describing sounds like “scissor beak”. It is a somewhat common condition where the upper and lower portions of the beak (mandibles) do not meet properly causing one or both to deform. Beak overgrowth is commonly associated with scissor beak as an afflicted bird will not use the beak in typical ways that would result in the normal wear that would keep it in proper condition and shape.
There isn’t any one reason for this condition; it could be congenital or hereditary. It can be the result of improper hand feeding, poor diet or the result of a behavior pattern that causes unusual wear in the beak forcing misalignment. It could be a combination of these factors.
Parrots are brilliantly talented when it comes to adapting to situations. One with scissor beak is quite able to eat the same foods as other parrot. It simply makes modifications as to how it accomplishes this where necessary. You should encourage your new bird to eat regular foods, if it is not doing so already.
However, you will want to make every effort to eliminate the problem. A beak that is untended and allowed to overgrow without restraint can lead to other problems. A friend once told me about an amazon with scissor beak that had come into his possession after it was removed by authorities from a horrible breeding situation.The upper mandible was so overgrown that it had imbedded itself into the side of the bird’s face.
The good news is that scissor beak is almost always correctable. With the use of a rotary tool and common fingernail and cuticle instruments, a vet can reshape the beak. Since the beak is in constant growth, it requires repeated and consistent reshaping. Over a period of time, depending on the severity of the deformation, the remodeling slowly encourages new growth to come in correctly.
This procedure should ALWAYS be performed by a qualified vet. Improper shaping by a novice could make the problem worse.
Dr. Scott McDonald, DVM may be the only avian vet the planet with a mobile office, in which he performs outpatient procedures and consultations. He put together a great pictoral of beak deformities and injuries of birds that have been in his care. There are several before and after photos depicting the wonderful results of beak reshaping and repair. Some of the pictures are graphic – be warned.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.