The beak of a bird is one of the most essential parts of its anatomy. It’s what bird use to forage for food, catch insects, crush food, preen themselves, build nests, assist with climbing, feed their young, and peck intruders.

Closeup of colorful Macaw profile and beak

So, it’s a sad day when this most vital appendage develops diseases and maladies. This is because a diseased beak can impede all of the bird’s most natural processes.

Bird Beak Diseases – Symptoms and Causes

There are a variety of visual cues that indicate poor beak health. These include softening, discoloration, cracks, overgrowth, masses or growths, pitting, and peeling or flaking.

Causes may be due to injuries, cancer, nutritional deficiencies, infections, abnormalities that occur at birth or later, and liver disease.

The Bill Suits the Lifestyle and Weight of the Bird

The bill or beak of the bird comes in different shapes and sizes to suit its lifestyle, as well as its body shape and weight. Anything that negatively impacts the beak can spell disaster for a bird. It’s similar to a human losing all fingers and toes.

Closeup of heron profile and beak, while eating a crayfish
A diseased or damaged beak can prevent a bird from catching and eating food

You can safely say that birds use their beaks to do life! To accomplish the bird’s myriad tasks, this specialized bird tool is covered with a tough material known as keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

The entire mouth structure of the bird is called the bill. It consists of a bony framework with blood vessels and nerves. The beak has 2 parts – the upper portion of a bird’s bill which is called the maxillary rostrum and the lower portion of the bill, known as the mandibular rostrum.

The interesting thing about this most important structure is that the outer layer is shed and replaced from underneath. It is the beak that grows continually and not the bony framework of the beak.

Depending on the bird species, the beak can grow from 1 to 3 inches a year. As the bill grow,s it is constantly being worn down by the bird.

The Beak Must Remain the Same Length

In a healthy bird, the growth and wear on the beak work together so that the beak always remains approximately the same length.

Close up of Eagle profile and beak

Overgrowth of the beak signifies some sort of problem, and more so with domesticated birds. Bacterial, parasitic, and fungal pathogens in the bird’s body can cause secondary problems to the beak and difficulties for the bird.

Bird Beak Diseases and Maladies

Bird beak diseases and maladies include the following:


A wild bird can develop trauma to the beak. The trauma may be due to knocking the beak against something hard or due to fighting with another bird. A bird in a cage can damage the beak while trying to free itself from the cage. Its beak can even become trapped between the cage bars.

Injuries to the beak will often cause bleeding. The wound will need to be cleaned and the bird may require antibiotics and antifungals. Because the beak has nerve endings, pain may make it difficult for the bird to eat. A bird with an injured beak should be examined by a veterinarian.

Poor Beak Growth

Just like a human infant can be born with abnormalities, some baby birds develop beak abnormalities. These can include the following:

Overgrown beak

Overgrown beak is an abnormality where the beak has been ‘allowed’ to grow excessively long. The extra long beak is not fully functional and so cannot be used to accomplish normal tasks. Even though the lower beak can grow excessively, it is usually the upper beak that is the problem.

To rectify this problem, the vet can file a pet bird’s beak down.

This problem isn’t as prevalent with wild birds as they have opportunities to wear down their beaks by building nests and foraging for food. Pet birds don’t have these ‘wearing-down-of-the-beak’ opportunities.

Scissors beak

This is where the upper beak isn’t straight and so doesn’t meet or fit properly over the lower beak. This abnormality can be the result of genetics or nutritional deficiencies during development.

Mandibular prognathism or parrot underbite

This is much like an underbite with the upper beak resting on or in the lower beak. To treat this condition in a pet bird, a vet may provide a special appliance that the bird may need to wear in order to correct the condition.

Beak Breakage

Birds can injure or fracture their beaks. Many have done just this when they have accidentally flown at fast speeds into windows.

For birds in the wild, a broken beak can spell life or death. If your bird has broken its beak, contact your veterinarian. This is because a torn-off beak won’t grow back but it can at least be repaired.

Cancer of the beak

Those who are fortunate to have feathered friends as pets need to know about bird ailments, and cancer is one of the deadliest. Both birds in the wild and your pet bird can succumb to this deadly disease.

Close-up of profile of goose with a large cancerous growth in its beak

Birds can develop cancer on the beak, especially melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. How can you recognize it? There will often be discoloration on the beak, as well as one or mass.

A pet bird can be treated by your vet with surgery and chemotherapy, but you shouldn’t delay since there is a small window of treatment. For wild birds, cancer of the beak is a death sentence.


When you look at your bird, its beak needs to be nice and smooth. Pitting or furrows are indicative of a problem. Pitting can jeopardize the strength of the bird’s beak so that it cracks or breaks easily.

Speak to your vet as there may be something you can add to your bird’s diet to improve the condition of the beak.

Soft Beak

A bird’s beak should always be hard enough so that the bird can do what it needs to do – climb, build, crack seeds, and groom. The beak should never be soft and leaving it will simply weaken the beak further.

Your bird’s beak should also not be flaking or peeling in large amounts as this is also an indication of an unhealthy bird and beak.

Amazing Treatment Plans Can Fix Problems

Wild birds with beak problems don’t have much hope for a healthy future. Fortunately, this is not the case with pet birds – there are some amazing treatment plans that can correct the problem.

Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the bird’s diet but other times it may require something more intense such as medicinal treatments.

The prognosis for a beak problem caused by underlying maladies or diseases may not be that good. It’s why it is so important to give your feathered friend the best care that you can.

Bird beak care is an important part of a bird’s health. A diseased beak can also impact other parts of its anatomy. A healthy diet will provide your bird with all the minerals and vitamins needed to ensure a healthy bird that can fight off most illnesses and abnormalities.