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Cracking Beak and Avian Nutrition

Expert Question

Dear EB, My parrot’s beak seams to be splitting well part of it is coming off as though she chews on wood and breaks part of it.  Is this natural or is this a vitamin deficiency? She gets vitamins in her water everyday, although she is still eating a parrot seed mixture as she wont eat fixed parrot food. She nibbles on some of the fixed parrot food but not steady yet. She also gets fresh fruit every day with fresh vegetables. Thanks in advance - Angela Barrett

Expert Answer

Dear Angela, Ideally a veterinarian would answer this question. But I will give a try at offering what I have learned.

Parrot beaks grow from the base growth plate in layers, wearing off at the tip and being replenished from back and below. It is normal to have flaking and layers of keratin apparent, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem. In most cases, the birds we have encountered were being fed an unbalanced diet which affected the bill indirectly.

Too much dryness as in extruded diets without sufficient omega fatty acids was one problem—often encountered in African species. Too much dry seed, especially of the safflower variety was another cause in smaller parrots.

We would begin giving such parrots a fresh raw, cooked and sprouted diet of pulses and buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, hemp seeds, etc, and adding some flax oil droplets or virgin olive oil drops onto the daily fare to increase oil intake. Vegetables are much more important than fruits, and you must make pieces small enough that the bird cannot just throw them out of a food bowl. Over a six week period, sometimes less, results would indicate a beak that became more malleable and shiny looking.

Increase amounts of nuts in the diet may help also. there is some evidence that dryness and beak problems could be related to liver function. Be sure the seeds that your bird gets are of highest quality—organic from the health food store if possible. Canary seed and spray millet are some of the best from the farm and pet store shelves.

Most vitamins that are added to drinking water are less effective than powdered vitamins sprinkled on wet food and fruits and veggies. Parrots drink minimal amounts of water to assimilate such vitamins, especially, should the vitamins make the water colored or change its taste appreciably.  Also water tends to oxidize the additives and make them relatively useless after an hour or so, while any minerals settle to the bottom and are not consumed.

A small amount of high grade vitamin E squeezed from a capsule (200 iu) and gently rubbed on the beak offers a short term aid to serious flaking. Humidity in the environment should be increased, slightly, especially in the case of Eclectus, Amazons, Pionus, etc.

When you ask a question, it really helps to give the species, age and gender of your bird so that a more informative answer may be given.

I hope a vet can expound upon this rather subjective reply, so that you and all readers may benefit.

With aloha, EBC

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”