Think for a minute about all the things your parrot does with its beak: It forages for, transports and breaks apart food. It builds nests and feeds the babies. It’s used for climbing, gripping and balancing. It’s used in daily grooming. It’s their tool of choice in picking the padlocks we put on their cages, and, in conjunction with pressure capabilities of up to 1500 psi in their jaws (in macaws, according to tests done with a veterinarian’s oral speculum), it is a formidable weapon. We mere humans require power tools to break apart surfaces a parrot can effortlessly crush. Anyone who has been on the business end of an angry beak regards it with awe and utter respect.
The beak itself is made up of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, and is attached to the jaw bones. The upper part of the beak is known as the maxilla and the lower is the mandible. The fleshy part where the beak meets the head is called the cere, where, on the upper maxilla, the nostrils, or nares, are located. The beak areas closest to the head contains nerve endings and a blood supply but there is no feeling in the areas towards the tip. Like our fingernails, the beak is in continual growth.
The shape of your bird’s beak will tell you about their natural diet and habits. A hookbill is one where the top of the beak extends beyond the lower. It is designed for cracking and breaking open nuts and hard skinned fruits. A raptor’s beak is designed for ripping and shredding. The softbill, which includes canaries, toucans, lories and budgies have beaks that are for eating softer foods which they don’t need to chew; such as insects, fruits and berries. The upper and lower portions of their beaks come together at the tip. Let me assure you that the term softbill has nothing to do with the actual hardness of their beaks. They can deliver a painful bite. A finch’s conical shaped beak makes it easy to forage for seed. A spoonbill has a beak perfect for digging and shoveling. Nature has provided each bird with the appropriate tool it needs for survival.
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