The avian beak is a complex organ containing bone, neurovascular tissue, and keratinized covering (rhamphotheca). Nerve-rich papillae extend through bone into rhamphotheca providing sensory input from the beak tip. Beak trimming is a common procedure in avian species and is used for corrective, cosmetic, and behavioral modification purposes. Yet, practitioners are not well versed in complete beak anatomy, and therefore, beak trimming often disregards neurovasculature, injuring the patient and hampering recovery. Here, using comprehensive anatomical description, we aim to provide recommendations on how to safely perform beak trimming without damaging underlying sensory papillae.
Here, we evaluated beaks of 2 deceased grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus).
In one, we used a novel stain and microcomputed tomography to visualize papillae in the upper and lower beaks. In a second, we hand isolated the upper and lower beak dermal papillae and used high-resolution photography plus traditional paraffin histology.
Papillae and their nerves were easily identified in these 2- and 3-dimensional approaches. This allowed us to determine the approximate lengths of papillae within the upper and lower beak.
Based on these findings, the authors recommend lateral radiographs of the bird’s head and beak to identify the location of the underlying bone relative to the overlying rhamphotheca before performing beak trims. Specifically in grey parrots, the authors recommend the upper and lower beak should not be trimmed closer than 8 to 10 mm from the underlying bone. Further work is needed to support these recommendations and provide guidelines for other species.