Filing Parrot Beak

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Filing Parrot Beak

 September 4th, 2009
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Previously, I have written about the pros/cons of cutting vs. filing parrot nails and about how to file parrot nails. This post will cover how to file the parrot’s beak. Any place I talk about filing beak or nails, filing can be substituted with cutting. But extra care needs to be taken because cutting too much can cause bleeding and there is a higher risk of cutting the bird or yourself. Personally, I recommend taking your bird to a vet or specialist for getting beak/nails cut but to practice by filing them yourself. If you become very proficient at filing your bird’s beak and nails, then you can use the same grip and technique but with a clipper in your hand instead of a file.

Hold parrot with thumb under mandible and forefinger over maxilla to keep beak shut

Hold parrot on it back with your thumb under mandible and forefinger over maxilla to keep beak shut

So to file a small bird, hold the bird in the palm of your left hand belly up. Put your thumb around the bird’s beck just under the mandible. Apply a small down and upward pressure. This keeps the bird from dropping its jaw while you are filing. Use your forefinger to apply a slight downward pressure on the bird’s maxilla to keep it from being able to open it’s beak. Also this finger holds the head and prevents the bird from turning.

Pass the file across the beak but be careful not to catch tongue

Pass the file across the beak but be careful not to catch tongue

Now you are ready to apply the file. Using your right hand, file across the tip of the maxilla with large motions on the file but not too much pressure. After a few strokes you should be able to see the tip begin to dull out a bit. I recommend approximately a dozen strokes but it depends on how long you can hold the bird and how sharp the beak is. It is better to do a bit less and try another filing session later than over stressing your bird.

After completing the filing, give your bird a treat if it wants it and then relax/reward it by cuddling or putting on your shoulder.

I have been told that not all parrots require beak trimming and that excessive trimming can easily cause pain to the bird as there are nerve endings in the beak itself. You should consult a vet prior to taking it upon yourself to trim your birds beak. Finally, if your bird does require trimming, be careful to never trim too deep. Birds with seriously overgrown beaks could be an indicator of a health problem so take them to the vet. My advice is strictly limited to the technique I use to file my bird’s beak and how it can be done in similarly sized birds that require trimming.

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11 Comments on “Filing Parrot Beak”

Robin  09/04/2009 12:26 pm

Your bird truly seems to be enjoying the beak filing. Such trust. I have tried to file and trim my own Senegal’s nails, but never the beak. This is an ordeal in my household. It was the first time Kiwi ever bit me and drew blood. We have since purchased a hand dremel and it takes two people to do the job. One to keep her wrapped in a towel and the other with the dremel. She is so frighten by this, it worries me she might have a heart attack. The same goes for a nail clipper. Even the Vet has trouble doing this procedure on her. Do you have any sugguestions? Thanks.

Mike  09/04/2009 1:26 pm

It’s no wonder your bird is so scared though. I would never use a dremel on such a small bird. It’s pretty easy to file those nails. I do about 5 passes back and forth on each nail, more if I can. But it takes a bit off. I would say that one filing takes off about 2-4 days of growth. So if I were to file her on a daily basis, I could actually get the nail to shorten. Twice a week basically maintains the length.

Don’t dremel the birds beak for sure. That could really hurt it. You should work on taming your bird by rewarding touch and gently holding the bird. I file my bird’s nails and beak without a towel because it’s a game of mutual trust, if she trusts me to work on her, I trust her not to bite. It goes both ways though, sometimes I hurt her accidentally and sometimes she bites me, but overall it works well.

She actually enjoys getting her beak filed. It’s like playing with her and she likes that feeling. Try turning nail filing into a more positive experience. Just do one nail per session to begin with. Just play with the bird, hold it, pet it, etc. Then get it on its back in your hand and play with the toes and than make a couple passes with the hand file and then release the bird and give it treats. It will work so much better/easier if your bird wants to let you do the procedure.

Robin  09/04/2009 8:18 pm

Thanks for your response. I would never dremel the beak, no worries there.
The trouble starts when she sees the nail file; and she won’t take a treat before or after. She does allow me to hold and pet her and lay her on her back, it’s just when she thinks I’m going to do something to her she panics. You’re right about just getting a few passes with the file each day, I’ll be trying that.
She even enjoys me playing and scratching at her beak but as of yet there has been no need to file.

Nadia  09/07/2009 9:46 pm

I have a question. No where have you mentioned why you need to file the beak. Does it keep growing like the claws do? If so, wouldn’t it be better to shorten it the way it happens in nature, ie by giving the bird things to chew on? Then there really is no need to traumatise your parrot by trying to hold it upside down and do something that makes it scared of you.

Mike  09/10/2009 12:00 pm

Yes the beak does keep growing. Unfortunately “shorten it the way it happens in nature” doesn’t always work. Believe me, I probably give my Senegal more things to chew than most people do and her beak still gets long so I file or trim it. Not only do I keep providing her new toys (a lot of which are raw wood to chew but I also put a couple filing perches in her cage. I am constantly replacing her perches because she chews them up as well. Yet her beak still grows faster than she chews it down. These little guys in the wild must be chewing for hours on end!

Also I don’t think it’s particularly traumatizing to file the beak. My bird kind of likes it actually. But like I said, this isn’t for everyone nor for every bird. Some birds need this more than others so check with your vet.

mikenz  10/03/2009 9:52 pm

i really need advice, help, etc. i live in the middle of nowhere. our closest vet only deals with livestock, dogs, cats, no birds. we’ve had two lovebirds in an aviary for about five years and all was fine until a few hours ago. they got into a fight and i don’t know if the lower beak was off center before, i did not notice anyway, but it is now just poking up to the left. there was a little blood on top where her beak and feathers come together but that doesn’t seem too bad. you showed how to trim the upper beak but do you have any ideas on how to deal with the lower beak? the closest vet who deals with birds is two hours away which under normal conditions we could deal with but murphy’s law comes into play that i just had surgery and got home yesterday and cannot go anywhere for at least a week. i don’t want her to suffer and any input whatsoever would be so appreciated. thanks, michael p.s. feel free to send an email too if thats easier.

Mike  10/03/2009 11:08 pm

I really can’t help you with that. I only have experience filing the beak as “preventative maintenance” and not as emergency care. What about finding a vet that you can call by phone and receive a phone consultation by describing the symptoms?

Patty  10/04/2009 12:40 am


Your lovebird’s beak will not repair itself. If it is serious enough, the damage could worsen as it attempts to eat hard things or use its beak to get around. Another scenario might be that it is to painful to eat and your bird could experience notable weight loss. I would email a picture of the damage to an avian vet for advice. It sounds like it could be easily repaired.

mikenz  10/04/2009 9:17 am

both ideas are good, i called a vet emergency line down in denver and got the name of vet that i could contact sunday. thanks again i’ll let you know what happens.

mikenz  10/11/2009 5:35 pm

sorry all it took so long for an update, but all is good now. found a new vet that was thirty minutes closer to home, so just a couple hours round trip and got my sis to take him down. luckily no injury to either upper or lower beaks. she, our new bird vet, filed down the bottom and a little off the top, sounds like a haircut :) did a checkup and he was good to go. had it been just the upper beak i would have tried myself but i didn’t want to take chances with the lower being the biggest issue, besides she only charged $16 which is nothing of peace of mind. good thing we did it when we did since the next day, this past friday we got 12″ of snow and whiteout conditions, they closed all the roads in our part of the state and s.e. wyoming too. thanks for your concern and input and have a good weekend. mike

Tory  04/14/2011 2:44 pm

How can you tell when the beak needs trimmed? I have an african senegal named Tengu, and I noticed that his lower beak is long enough that he can’t completely close the gap between the top and the bottom parts of the beak. He’s still eating/grooming just fine. Should I be concerned?