what happens if a bird breaks its beak

A birds beak is one of its most important features, used for eating, drinking, hunting and even, in some species, attracting mates or warning off potential predators or competitors.

Beaks and bills come in many shapes and sizes, often influenced by a birds diet or behaviors. Seed-eating birds, for example, have short, pointed beaks that help them crack open seeds. Birds that catch and kill their prey, including hawks, eagles and owls, often have a hook-shaped bill. Birds that dive into the water to catch fish, like pelicans and some other waterfowl, have long, slender bills they can use for scooping.

Beak injuries are common among birds, according to the National Aviary. But for birds in the wild, a broken or chipped beak can be a matter of life or death, especially if the injury affects the way a bird hunts or eats.

In the wild, beak injuries are often caused by trauma, possibly from a collision with a window, being hit by a car or even falling from a nest, said Molly Craig, director of animal care at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn.

Injuries from building collisions are more common in our area during the peak migration times in the spring and fall, said Dr. Laura Meals, a veterinarian for the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

“(Building collisions are) common in young birds who are doing their first migration and those that have underlying illness or who are debilitated,” Meals said.

Beak abnormalities can also occur from attacks by other wildlife or as the result of metabolic and genetic diseases and birth defects.

For example, birds can suffer from a condition called scissorbeak, which is a misalignment of the top and bottom beaks, Craig said, adding this is one of the beak conditions they see most often. Scissorbeak can develop because of an injury, but it can also be genetic.

Whether a bird can survive a beak injury depends on several factors. First, the severity of the injury is key.

“Depending on the nature of the injury, it can sometimes self-correct,” Craig said, giving the example of a misaligned beak caused by swelling, which often resolves on its own.

A fractured beak, however, can be much more serious. Some of the cases Craig has seen have been easily treated, but others not so much. Whether the birds can ever be released into the wild varies from case to case.

“In the case of a fractured beak, viability for release depends heavily on the location of the break,” she said. “A break near the tip of the beak can often be corrected with some trimming and time. In more severe cases, we may coordinate with one of our veterinarians to adhere the beak back together.”

A general rule of thumb for beak injuries is that the closer the break is to the tip of the beak, the better the chance it will heal, Meals said.

In many cases, wildlife rehabbers and veterinarians are able to make splints — often with everyday items like paper clips, cotton swabs and tongue depressors — to bridge the fractured segments of a birds beak, Meals said.

Because birds beaks are rich in nerves and blood vessels, working with a veterinarian is often required to properly treat the injury, Craig said.

Of course, not all birds that suffer beak injuries make it to an animal rehab facility for treatment. In these cases, the birds will either learn how to survive with the broken beak or, if thats not possible, succumb to the injury.

Craig said the Fox Valley Wildlife Center takes in thousands of animals every year, but only a couple of these cases involve beak injuries. When these types of injuries occur, one of the key considerations is whether the birds will be able to feed themselves.

“In particularly severe cases where the beak cannot be corrected, we assess their ability to self-feed with the injury,” she said. “This will be much more difficult for a seed-eating bird as compared to a bird with a softer diet based on plants or insects.”

Birds that are able to feed themselves after an injury are candidates for being released into the wild, Craig said. In some cases, however, a bird may require regular maintenance after its injury even though it is able to feed itself.

“Two of our resident songbirds, a rose-breasted grosbeak and an American robin, both have beak deformities that require monthly trimming but are able to self-feed without issue,” she said.

At the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, Meals said she often will assess an injured bird over a period of several weeks to monitor their progress and determine whether it can safely be released back into the wild.

“During this time, I will watch them eat and monitor their weight,” she said. “If they are successful, I will move them into a larger space that simulates their natural environment. If they continue to thrive, I will release them back into the wild.”

In more severe cases, where the bird will not be able to feed itself because of the injury, Craig said they would likely opt to humanely euthanize it.

If you find a bird with a broken beak, Craig said she suggests contacting a wildlife rehabilitation facility as soon as possible for treatment and to alleviate any suffering. Both the Fox Valley Wildlife Center and the Willowbrook Wildlife Center accept injured wildlife from the suburban area.

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How to Treat a Bleeding Beak

A bleeding beak must be treated immediately. Before taking their birds to a veterinarian, owners of seriously bleeding birds may need to control the bleeding at home.

If a bird has a bleeding beak or toenail at home, owners might want to have powdered clotting agents and a styptic pencil handy. Applying pressure to the bleeding area, such as with a paper towel or small cloth, can stop minor bleeding. Applying a styptic pencil or a powdered clotting agent—the kind usually used on bleeding toenails—may be necessary for more severe bleeding.

Once the bleeding has stopped and a clot has formed, these substances are typically gently flushed off with water to prevent the injured bird from ingesting the clotting agent or styptic.

Because beaks are packed with blood vessels and nerves, injuries to them can occasionally cause severe bleeding and agony, which makes it difficult for a bird to eat. A veterinarian should be consulted as soon as possible for birds that are not eating, have bleeding in their beaks, or are in extreme pain. Individuals who have severe burns, open wounds, or visible fractures exposing bone, as well as those who have avulsions or dislocations, ought to receive prompt medical attention.

Medical Treatment for Beak Injury

Make an appointment with a veterinarian to have your bird’s beak examined if you notice anything unusual about it. While some beak anomalies necessitate emergency veterinary care, others are less serious.

While severe beak trauma may not be treatable, minor beak injuries might be. A thorough physical examination by an experienced veterinarian for birds can help determine the best course of treatment.

Although they are not usually considered emergency situations, birds with slowly developing beak changes (like surface discoloration or pitting) or slowly growing masses on the beak should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Infections can quickly spread to wounds, burns, and fractures, particularly if food gets packed into them. Small cuts, abrasions, and burns can be treated topically or systemically with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and painkillers. They can also be cleaned with an antiseptic.

The keratin covering of the beak often regrows very slowly over a period of weeks to months. Large keratin flaws might require an acrylic patch. In an adult bird, the underlying damaged bone will not regenerate. Severe crushing injuries, fractures, and dislocations might need long-term medication administration in addition to surgical repair.

Certain congenital abnormalities may require surgical repair as well. It is necessary to biopsy and culture suspected beak infections so that the appropriate drugs (i e. , antibiotics vs. antifungal drugs) can be administered. In order to identify beak growths and determine the best course of treatment, they must also be biopsiedand/or removed. g. , with chemotherapy, radiation, etc. ).

In order to preserve nerves and blood vessels, beaks that have been avulsed—or torn away from the face—may be surgically reattached provided there is still a substantial connection between the beak and face. Often, avulsed beaks are not salvageable and must be removed. When a bird loses its upper or lower beak, it may eventually learn to feed itself. However, its owners will need to provide hand feedings for several weeks or months while the bird adjusts.

In general, birds without both upper and lower beaks are incapable of adapting and ought to be put down humanely. Though they are available, beak prosthetics need to be surgically implanted by a veterinarian and customized to fit each individual bird. These prosthetics need to be replaced as needed because they frequently fall off over time, especially in growing or highly active birds.


Can birds survive with a broken beak?

Birds adapt well, even if part of or the entire upper or lower beak is lost, and are generally able to eat and drink without assistance. Beak deformities occur secondary to trauma or, in baby birds, are developmental abnormalities.

Can birds feel pain in their beaks?

The beak has nerves in it and just like we humans can feel tooth ache, the beak and is quite sensitive. May be that is why so many parrots enjoy having their beak rubbed by humans. The beak also has a good blood supply. To maintain a healthy beak – there needs to be a balance between beak formation and wear.

Does it hurt when a bird breaks its beak?

Regardless of the type of beak injury, birds with injured beaks may be painful and not want to eat. They may be lethargic, fluffed up, and less vocal than normal.

Do damaged beaks grow back?

The beak is much like our fingernails and grows constantly. If a birds beak breaks to close to the base near the nares it may not grow back. If only broken partway yes it is able to regrow. It may need some shaping by the vet but can grow.