Last Updated on: 27th September 2023, 08:10 am
A parrotlet has a rhinotheca (upper beak) and a gnathotheca (lower beak.) The commissure connects these two parts of the beak and can move independently of each other.
The warning signs of parrotlet beak problems include overgrowth, prognathism (underbite,) and misalignment (scissor beak.) Be vigilant about flaking, discoloration, holes, cracks, or fractures.
To promote good beak health in parrotlets, provide them with a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet rich in amino acids (like L-cysteine), calcium, vitamins A, B7, and C, and zinc.
Additionally, provide parrotlets with chew toys to wear down, shape, and sharpen their beaks.
What Does a Parrotlet Use Its Beak For?
Parrotlets are energetic and explorative birds, with the beak playing a vital role in their lifestyle and survival needs. Parrotlets don’t have hands or fingers, so the beak acts as a third limb.
The primary use of a parrotlet’s beak is eating. A parrot’s taste buds are at the back of the throat and the roof of the mouth. Food will be picked up using the top of the beak and dropped into the mouth.
The beak is sensitive, enabling parrotlets to explore the world around them. The beak contains blood vessels and nerve endings, equivalent to feeling within the fingertips.
Climbing is a favorite pastime of parrotlets. A parrotlet’s strong beak and neck muscles assist the bird in scaling cage bars or climbing apparatus.
Anatomy of A Parrot’s Beak
All parrot species, including parrotlets, are hookbills. This means there’s an upper bill that curves over the lower bill. These two parts aren’t connected, separated by the commissure.
A parrotlet’s upper bill is called the rhinotheca, which covers the upper jaw bone (maxilla). The rhinotheca also hosts the cere, a soft and fleshy part of the beak that contains the bird’s nostrils and has a sharp tip.
The lower bill of parrotlets is called the gnathotheca, covering the lower jaw bone (mandible.) The gnathotheca should always be smaller than the rhinotheca, tucking under the upper bill.
Parrots don’t have teeth, so the gnathotheca and rhinotheca have tomia – serrated cutting edges that allow parrotlets to cut food into smaller chunks.
As per Zoological Science, parrotlets have a craniofacial hinge that allows them to move their rhinotheca independently. This feature is unique to psittacines, as the beaks of other birds are fused to the skull.
What Are Parrotlet’s Beaks Made Of?
A parrotlet’s bill is covered by an external coating constructed from beta-keratin (β-keratin,) a structural protein commonly found in the anatomy of birds and lizards.
Keratin covers the beak with a protective layer and should remain smooth to the touch.
Keratin is produced within a bird’s body, so if the beak isn’t regularly worn down or trimmed, it’ll grow to excess. In young and healthy parrotlets, β-keratin grows 1-3 mm a month.
As parrotlets grow older, β-keratin production slows down significantly.
What Does a Healthy Parrotlet’s Beak Look Like?
Owners can determine the health of a parrotlet’s beak by sight and touch. A healthy parrotlet will have the following physical attributes on and around the beak:
- The beak should be smooth, devoid of lumps, peeling and flaking, and holes.
- Its color should be consistent and natural – never ignore any discoloration of the beak.
- The beak shouldn’t be swollen.
- Both parts of the beak should be symmetrical.
If a parrotlet refuses to eat or drink or avoids contact with the beak, it’s likely in pain and needs vet assistance. Birds that don’t eat or drink for 24-72 hours are unlikely to survive.
Common Parrotlet Beak Problems
An owner must recognize the warning signs of a parrotlet’s beak problem. These include misalignment, flaking, bruising, bleeding, or broken bones caused by impact trauma.
Overgrowth will result in the rhinotheca growing too long and prominent. Beak overgrowth can make it impossible for a bird to eat and may result in injury during preening and grooming.
A parrotlet failing to wear down its beak can lead to overgrowth. If this is the case and the parrotlet is otherwise healthy, as per Lab Animal, a vet can file the beak to the optimal size and shape.
Substandard nutrition can also lead to overgrown parrotlet beaks. If a parrot regularly plays with chew toys, check with a vet for warning signs of avian polyomavirus infection (APV.)
Prognathism is a protrusion of the lower mandible. A parrotlet with prognathism will have a gnathotheca that juts out, with the rhinotheca unable to curve over the lower beak. This is called an underbite.
It could result from inappropriate incubation of a parrotlet’s embryo, genetic inheritance from a parent, or excessive hand-feeding of a chick.
A mild prognathism may be rectified by applying moderate pressure to the beak over several weeks, forcing the mandible into its correct position, though specialist orthodontics may be required.
Scissor beak (crooked beak) when the upper and lower beaks are misaligned. Usually, this condition causes the rhinotheca to lean to the left and the gnathotheca to the right, or vice versa.
Poor diet, injury and trauma, genetic inheritance, and bacterial infection can all cause scissor beak, and the issue must be managed to enable a parrot to eat.
If you identify the problem early, scissor beak can be rectified.
A vet will demonstrate physical exercises that enable you to guide both parts of the beak back into position. This will be easier if the parrotlet is young, as the beak will be softer and more pliable.
If scissor beak is prominent or a parrotlet is growing older, orthotics may be required. Think of them as avian orthodontic braces, designed to apply steady pressure to the beak until it holds its new position.
Parrotlets’ beaks are usually smooth and free from pits and indentations. The constant regeneration of keratin means that small holes should gradually repair themselves.
If a parrotlet has pitting in its beak, it could be due to proventricular ulceration. This is due to a bacterial or viral condition or something lodged in the beak.
Holes can also compromise the integrity of the beak, leading to cracks and breakage.
If a vet believes a hole in a parrotlet’s beak is unlikely to correct itself, the cavity will likely be filled with polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) as a precautionary measure.
Flaking And Peeling
Layers of keratin form at the base of the beak. It’s normal for the old and worn upper layers of keratin on the beak to peel away so new, healthy layers can grow through.
Rubbing vitamin E or coconut oil on the beak can provide dryness relief. Also, slightly increasing the humidity in the bird’s living environment can be beneficial.
Dryness and peeling suggest metabolic problems or fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).
Peeling can also be a warning sign of psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD). If a parrotlet is also shedding feathers alongside beak pealing, it requires veterinary intervention.
Squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) can impact a parrotlet’s beak. The Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery details a case of a parrot that developed cancer in the rhinotheca.
While squamous cell carcinoma can arise in other body parts, including the toes, wings, and eyes, discoloration is a warning symptom of a cancerous mass on the beak.
Streaming nostrils and trouble breathing are other notable concerns.
If identified early enough, a lesion or tumor on the beak caused by squamous cell carcinoma may be surgically removed. A parrotlet will require regular monitoring to ensure the bird remains in remission.
If the issue is more developed, it may need to be treated through radiation therapy.
Parrotlets are curious and fearless birds who regularly explore their surroundings. This can result in mishaps and impact injury if a parrotlet is left unsupervised.
Swelling and Bruising
Check for swelling around a parrotlet’s beak, especially if it also shies away or tries to bite. This suggests the beak is bruised following an impact, like flying into a wall or window.
Bruising means that the capillaries have burst, releasing blood. The blood will dry and darken.
The beak contains blood vessels, meaning an impact injury could cause bleeding. A parrotlet will be in significant distress and may be at risk of shock through blood loss.
Open wounds to the beak can invite bacterial infection, causing secondary illness. Use a clotting agent like a styptic pencil to perform first aid to stem the bleeding and apply pressure to the wound.
Don’t use medications, as prescription medications like Warfarin are often toxic to pet birds.
The bones in a parrotlet’s beak can be fractured or broken through trauma.
If a parrotlet’s beak has been cracked or broken at the tip, a veterinary surgeon will trim the beak and level out the injury. Keratin replenishes over time, so a parrotlet’s beak can eventually repair itself, although it may grow misaligned.
A parrotlet’s beak that’s so seriously broken that it is torn from the face is called avulsion. A surgeon can reattach the beak if enough tissue remains in place.
If this isn’t the case, the parrotlet may require a 3D-printed prosthetic replacement beak.
How To Care for A Parrotlet’s Beak
Parrotlets can manage their beak care requirements in the right living environment. This involves a quality diet and opportunities to wear down and shape its beak.
Trimming and Filing
Parrotlets must wear down their beak to prevent them from becoming overgrown. Parrots need appropriate food and apparatus in the cage, including the following:
- Abrasive (pedi) perches.
- Chewing toys.
- Cuttlefish bones.
The occasional feeding of tough foods like nuts will also help parrotlets wear down the tip of their beaks as they work to crack open the exterior shell and access the food.
If a parrotlet’s beak remains overgrown, it may need to be manually filed by a vet.
A bird should be fed a pellet-based diet from an avian pet store.
Supplement these pellets with fresh fruit and vegetables, especially though that encourage the development and growth of keratin. Essential nutrients include:
Foods for parrotlets’ beaks include fresh meat (especially liver), fish, boiled eggs, yams, and dark, leafy greens. Cuttlefish bone hung in a parrot’s cage can also be beneficial.