Scissor beak (also known as ‘crooked beak’ or ‘crossed beak’) happens when the upper and lower beak grows sideways but in opposite directions, forming a scissor-like cross when the parrot closes its beak.
Baby hatchlings can have scissor beak, suggesting that it’s caused by genetics or incubation conditions.
However, parrots can develop scissor beak in adulthood. A poor diet, lack of enrichment, infectious disease, injury, or neoplasia (tumor) can cause scissor beak.
In truth, few conditions are caused purely by genetics or the environment. So, scissor beak is likely caused by an interaction between genetics and the environment.
Why Do Parrots Get Scissor Beak?
Scissor beak is often discussed in conjunction with other beak conditions like elongation of the beak (overgrown beak) or ‘mandibular prognathism’ (underbite).
Scissor break – or lateral beak deviation – has several risk factors, including:
Many people want to know: is scissor beak genetic?
Since many cases of scissor beak show up in baby parrots, genetics likely play a role. Also, since certain parrot species (e.g., macaws) are more vulnerable to scissor beak than others, this supports the notion that genetics play a part.
However, no studies have isolated the genes responsible for scissor beak yet.
According to Science Direct, many beak deformities are at least partly congenital (inherited). Other proven congenital diseases in parrots include familial cataracts and being born with tiny eyes.
Stressful Breeding Conditions
Stressful breeding conditions might cause scissor beak in parrots.
In a breeding experiment from 2007, conducted by Al Wibra Wildlife Preservation, the male Hyacinth Macaw used for breeding had a history of plucking his feathers due to stress.
Two of his offspring were born deformed (one with scissor beak and the other with a foot deformity).
This doesn’t conclusively prove that a stressed parrot is likelier to parent a chick with a birth defect. That said, it seems possible that stress could aggravate any pre-existing genetic diseases, thereby increasing the chances of a birth defect.
This is an example of how genes and the environment interact to produce an outcome like scissor beak.
According to MSD Manual, incubation faults can also cause scissor beak.
It’s okay to artificially incubate parrot eggs, but breeders need to have the right equipment to do so, and they need to maintain the optimal temperature.
Faulty equipment could interfere with the chick’s development and prevent it from growing a healthy rostrum (beak).
When a parrot is very young, its beak is soft and malleable. According to Vet Exotic, scissor beak can often be corrected by gently pressing the beak back into alignment a few times per day.
Similarly, if a baby parrot’s beak is wiped too hard or knocked when feeding, this might cause scissor beak in a healthy parrot.
According to Entomology Journal, ‘beak overgrowth’ is often caused by vitamin A deficiency.
Scissor beak isn’t quite the same as beak overgrowth, but it’s similar, and a parrot could suffer from overgrowth and lateral (scissor) growth.
Vitamin A deficiency is common in parrots fed a seed-only diet devoid of fresh fruit and veggies.
A lack of Vitamin D (which can be gained from sun exposure) and calcium deficiency are also associated with beak overgrowth and, possibly, scissor beak.
Some infectious diseases cause beak deformities, including parasitic and mycobacterial infections.
A study by NIH covered the case of a poor parrot from Portugal whose beak became very deformed after a bacterial infection. This wasn’t a case of scissor beak, though.
There aren’t many case studies of bacterial infections causing scissor beak specifically. However, most veterinary guides mention infectious diseases as a cause of scissor beak.
Trauma to the beak is more common in the wild than in domestic settings. Nevertheless, a pet parrot can injure its beak by flying into a hard surface like a window or a ceiling fan.
Blunt trauma can cause damage to the top or bottom of the beak (or both), causing a scissor-like deformity. According to Wiley Online, beak fractures can be serious because the injured parrot might not be able to eat and drink.
Neoplasia is another word for tissue overgrowth, which could be cancerous or benign. If a tumor grows near the beak, this could cause it to become deformed and take on a scissor shape.
Lack of Enrichment
Parrots would sharpen their beaks on wood and other surfaces in the wild, helping them stay healthy.
If you don’t provide your parrot with surfaces to chew on, this may lead to an overgrown beak or even a scissor beak.
A paper by Alvefas argues that increasing a parrot’s enrichment (i.e., by providing different types of wood to chew on) can significantly improve beak health.
Parrot Species Most Likely to Get Scissor Beak
Parrots and chickens are most vulnerable to this beak deformity.
Within the parrot family, the most vulnerable are Macaws (Ara). Budgerigars sometimes also get scissor beak, although beak overgrowth is more common than scissor beak in budgies.
Cockatoos (Cacatuidae) are also vulnerable to a similar beak deformity called mandibular prognathism. Whereas scissor beak forces the upper and lower beak sideways, mandibular prognathism is more like an underbite. Macaws can get mandibular prognathism, but it’s rare.
Can a Parrot Live With Scissor Beak?
A parrot’s beak is crucial for its well-being and daily functioning. A healthy parrot uses its beak to:
- Hold onto perches
- Regulate body temperature
- Prey on things (in the wild)
- Eat and drink
- Build a nest (in the wild)
- Protect itself
Although pet parrots don’t need to prey on animals or build a nest, they still need a healthy beak to function. At its worst, a scissor beak can stop a parrot from eating and drinking.
Very mild cases of scissor beak could be tolerated for a while, but the deformity will worsen if untreated.
Scissor beak could cause parrots to become withdrawn and apathetic, but unless you’re sensitive to your parrot, you might not notice.
How Is Scissor Beak Treated?
Scissor beak treatment varies depending on the parrot’s age and the severity of the deformity.
In juvenile birds, it’s sometimes possible to ‘mold’ the beak back into place by realigning it after each meal. This strategy usually must be implemented within seven weeks as the beak will start to harden.
A more invasive treatment is called transsinus pinning. Here, the upper and lower beak are pinned in place. An orthodontic rubber band provides tension and helps keep the beak in place as it grows.
This treatment is suitable for chicks under 16 weeks old and lasts about three weeks. A trial by BioOne found that almost all of the 16 chicks tested were cured of scissor beak.
In adult parrots with serious scissor beak, it’s possible to use a dental composite to help align the beak. The treatment isn’t too invasive because an anesthetic is not needed.
Research Gate stated that it could take 3-6 months to see results. You would also need to hand-feed your parrot for a 3–6-month period.
If the beak isn’t severely crooked, you may be able to manage the condition with regular beak trims.
How to Trim a Scissor Beak
If your parrot’s scissor beak isn’t too severe, it can be managed with regular trims. Depending on your parrot, these trims could be every 3, 6, or 12 months.
It’s best to have your avian vet trim your parrot’s beak, at least for the first time. Many vets will be happy to show you how to do it so you can repeat the trims at home (if possible).
Your vet may use scissors, clippers, and a debeaking machine to trim your parrot’s beak.
It’s important to trim the ends only and not further up the beak, as this could damage the blood vessels and cause bleeding.
Preventing Scissor Beak in Parrots
Scissor beak is an unhealthy and potentially painful condition, so it should be prevented wherever possible. Here are some things you can consider as a parrot owner:
- If you’re going to a breeder to purchase a juvenile parrot, wait until it’s at least eight weeks old. That way, its beak will have hardened, and you’ll be able to see if it’s aligned.
- Give your parrot some non-toxic branches to chew on, like bamboo wood, elmwood, or apple tree wood. This will help keep your parrot’s beak healthy and trim.
- Feed your parrot a healthy diet. Try to include foods rich in beta-carotene, like carrots and orange-fleshed melon, as this will help to prevent vitamin A deficiency.
A vet can usually keep this condition under control by catching it early with regular trims. However, if you allow it to worsen, your parrot’s health and well-being will suffer.