why do parrots have a gap under their beak?

Why Do Parrots Have Holes in Their Beaks?

Parrot beaks vary in size, shape, and color, but their purpose is always the same. A beak is an essential tool that enables parrots to eat, climb, drink, preen feathers, and pry at items. Because of that, you may be surprised when you notice a hole in your parrot’s beak. It can seem like a serious injury or the result of an infection that you didn’t notice.

Parrots have holes in their beaks, known as the interramal space, to enable them to open and close their mouths, swallow, bite, and eat food. It’s created by the U or V shape of the lower mandible, or lower part of the beak. The interramal space allows the parrot to fully use its mouth without jamming the rigid part of its beak against its throat. The tongue and other important structures are found in this space.

Among its many purposes, this gap in the beak makes room for the tongue bone. Since parrots have a unique mouth and throat, they need to accommodate multiple parts. The glottis, choana, palate, salivary glands, esophagus, and laryngeal mound rely on this space. If a parrot’s beak hole is too small or deformed, it will have trouble living a healthy life.

Why Do Parrots Have A Gap Under Their Beak?

Parrots have a hole in their beak underneath their bottom jaw, or mandible. At a glance, it’s a fleshy gap that looks as though a piece of the beak is missing. However, it’s meant to be that way.

There are many advantages to this gap under your parrot’s beak. Called the interramal space, it is used to assist with:

Opening And Closing The Mouth

This space gives your parrot the ability to open and close its mouth. Without the gap, any parrot would hurt its throat every time its beak closed. The hard chunk of keratin and bone would press down into the skin and surrounding areas. To make room, parrot biology provides this leeway to ensure the beak’s movement is smooth.

Eating

A parrot’s tongue is nestled into the interramal space, since this provides the most access to the rest of the beak. It’s a secure area that protects the tongue itself, while still giving it the freedom to move around. Parrots rely on their tongues to eat, play, and climb. Without this space, and therefore the tongue, a parrot could not survive.

Swallowing

Parrots also use the gap underneath their beaks to swallow. That’s because the laryngeal mound and the tongue sit within this area of the mouth. Both of these are necessary to move and manipulate food, coaxing it down the esophagus as the parrot swallows.

Breathing

The interramal space also holds the glottis, enabling the parrot to breathe when it closes its beak. Because of this, to some degree, the gap underneath your parrot’s beak helps it to inhale and exhale safely. The glottis connects to the choana on the roof of the mouth. This gives the parrot a connection between its nostrils and trachea.

Climbing And Playing

As mentioned, a parrot’s ability to climb is based on its unique tongue. More importantly, the tongue contains a bone. Its unusual structure requires a hole like the interramal space to hold it firmly. This allows the parrot to close its beak and grab onto things with more dexterity.

interramal space

What Is The Hole Under A Parrot’s Beak?

While the interramal space might seem like a hole in your parrot’s upper throat, it’s no such thing. Instead, this gap is a crucial hub for several of your parrot’s most important beak and throat structures.

In particular, the oropharynx nestles right into this lower beak hole. The oropharynx is a term that refers to a collection of anatomy parts. These include the:

  • Tongue
  • Glottis
  • Choana
  • Palate
  • Salivary glands
  • Esophagus
  • Laryngeal mound
  • Opening of the Eustachian tubes

As such, the hole in your parrot’s beak isn’t just a gap that allows it to move its mouth effectively. It’s the center of your parrot’s ability to live, eat, taste, digest, and swallow.

Parrot Beak Anatomy

To truly understand how valuable this beak hole is, we need to look closer at parrot beak anatomy. Not every bird will have the same beak color, shape, or size. However, each will have the same underlying structures.

Upper Mandible

In parrots, the upper mandible is the part of the beak that moves up and down. It’s supported by a three-pronged bone called the intermaxillary and is embedded into the forehead. Simultaneously, two prongs on the lower part of the upper mandible attach to the skull’s sides.

The upward and downward motion is made possible by the nasofrontal hinge. This is at the base of the upper mandible, where a sheet of nasal bones are found. The upper mandible also has a palate.

Lower Mandible

A compound bone (or a bone made up of more than one piece) supports the lower mandible, called the maxillary bone. When joined together, two ossified pieces of the bone make a U or V shape. This is the basis for the maxillary bone. These pieces are joined in the front of the bone and left separated at the bone’s back.

Since the bones are connected at the front and not at the back, the interramal space forms. This space holds the tongue and its supporting structures. Although the lower mandible and the muscles holding it together are far weaker than in the upper mandible, it is still an important function of the beak.

The V or U structure of the lower mandible forms the iconic hole. If the beak was solid without the V or U shape, then any time the parrot closed its mouth, the beak would cut into its throat. This separation of the bones gives food enough room to pass as the bones move past the head.

Oropharynx

Outside of the upper and lower mandibles, there are many important structures. The outer surface of the beak is called the rhamphotheca.

This is a thin sheath made of keratin. The tomia (the plural of the word tomium) are the cutting edges present on the mandibles. Their size and shape vary from each bird.

However, the arguably most important part is the oropharynx. This contains many valuable structures, each with its own specific function. All of them would be impossible without the beak hole.

Tongue

The tongue is unique in a parrot because it contains a bone. That’s why a parrot can use its tongue to collect food.

Once inside the beak, the tongue can manipulate food around the mouth and swallow. Since this body part requires space to accommodate the bone, the interramal space makes room.

Glottis and Choana

In parrots, the glottis works as the windpipe’s opening (or the trachea). This is paired with the choana, which is located on the roof of the mouth.

When the parrot can close its beak, the two structures join together. This gives the parrot a closed connection between the nostrils and the windpipe.

Laryngeal Mound and Esophagus

At the base of the tongue, parrots have a small mound called the papillae or laryngeal mound. This also helps the parrot guide its food toward the esophagus.

Without the benefit of the interramal space, a parrot wouldn’t swallow its food correctly. The laryngeal mound wouldn’t fit, and food would get blocked from the throat.

Palate and Salivary Glands

A palate and salivary glands help parrots to eat and digest their food properly. The palate holds the food before it is pushed down toward the esophagus by the laryngeal mound.

Salivary glands are there to form saliva, helping food break down and travel through the esophagus. These pieces sit in the mouth of the parrot with the help of the interramal space.

Problems With The Interramal Space

Since the gap in your parrot’s beak is so important, you must make sure it’s healthy and functioning. It’s rare for problems to ever develop with the interramal space. However, it does happen. Keep an eye out for these possible issues, so you can contact a vet if the need ever arises.

Development Problems and Malnutrition

Like all creatures, a parrot is affected by genetics and incubation, as are the beak and interramal space. A parrot may hatch with a deformed or too-small interramal space, which exists as a genetic abnormality.

In this case, corrective surgery may be needed, but most parrots do not survive for long with this defect. If you breed parrots and find one has a too-small gap, then there’s not much you can do. Should the parrot grow up despite this defect, it may need help eating or picking up food. 

According to Exotic Animals Practice, malnutrition will also cause such problems. Malnourished chicks that are very young may develop a beak that’s weak and brittle. As a result, the hole may chip, tear, or fail to grow appropriately with the rest of its beak. Be sure to contact your vet in this case and discuss possible changes to the parrot’s diet.

Disease and Infection

The interramal space is indirectly connected to the ear canals, where infections may develop. This is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, leading to ear infections. Symptoms include swelling and redness, which could potentially venture toward the interramal space.

According to the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, bacterial sinusitis can also result in severe beak deformities. Look for any signs of swelling, redness, or loss of feathers in the interramal space, both the inside and outside. This will need to be diagnosed and treated by a vet.

Trauma

If parrots fight or crack their beaks against a hard object, then their interramal space may get damaged, along with the rest of their beak. This is an unlikely area to be torn or ripped, since it’s safely nestled under the beak. However, it does happen.

This is more common with young or unsocialized parrots that are still learning their own strength. According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, you can correct a damaged beak using a dental composite. However, it will be time-consuming, painful, and have mixed results.

what is the hole under a parrot's beak?

Signs Of A Healthy Gap Under Parrot’s Beak

A healthy interramal space will look different from bird to bird. After all, no two parrots are identical, and their beaks will vary. As such, the hole underneath one parrot’s beak may look different from another’s.

A healthy gap under your parrot’s beak will have all of the structures mentioned above. These will be clearly visible when the parrot opens its mouth. As long as none of these areas are inflamed, torn, or obviously discolored, your parrot is likely in good health.

Confirm that your parrot can open and close its mouth. If it refuses to open or shut it the entire way, it may have an abnormal interramal space. However, this is very rare.