A parrot's beak is made of keratin, the stuff that fingernails, hoofs, antlers and horns are made of. Like all those other things, the beak grows continuously. This is useful for a beak used in the wild to break open tough outer shells, such as those found in tropical vegetables, and in nuts and seeds that have hard rinds and peels.
Type of Parrot
Well over 300 different types of parrots have been identified and the growth rate of the beak can vary hugely depending on the specific species. When determining the proper growth rate for a particular bird's beak, research the normal rate for that species. Smaller parrots' beaks often grow faster than larger birds'; parrots with fast-growing beaks should be fed accordingly, with more hard-shelled foods.
A healthy large parrot's beak should grow around 1 inch to 1 1/4 inches each year. A small bird's beak could grow as much as as 2 to 3 inches a year. In the wild (and often in captivity) this growth is checked by the birds' normal eating habits. The parrot wears the beak down as it grows, so it always appears to be the same size.
If it appears that the parrot's beak is growing faster than it should, this could be the result of liver disease, since the fast-growing proteins found in the beak are formed from amino acids in the bird's liver. Some liver diseases cause the metabolism of amino acids to change, which can cause abnormally rapid beak growth or a malformation of the beak. Take your bird to the vet at once if you suspect this.
Birds in Captivity
Parrots kept in cages should be fed foods that challenge their beaks appropriately. If they are constantly given shelled nuts and seeds, and soft fruits, their beaks will grow faster than they can be ground down. For these birds, beak trimming is a possibility—but don't attempt it yourself, as the beak is a live part of the bird and there's a chance of causing bleeding and pain. Anesthesia may even be necessary to do this job properly, so leave it to a professional. Hard wooden toys and specialized perches for whetting can help trim the beak as well.
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