A Crossed beak (also called a scissor beak, crooked beak or lateral beak deviation) is the term used for when the top part of a bird’s beak does not align properly with the lower portion, resulting in crossed appearance. The severity of the deformity can range greatly from case to case. In this article, I will be giving some further information on the causes of crossed beak deformities. I will also offer tips and advice on care based on my experiences with crossed beak chickens…
Cross-beak chick Survival
Most beak deviations resulting in crossed/crooked beaks begin in embryotic development. Most chickens hatched with the defect will not live to adulthood. It is sad. However, it is for the best. Deformed chicks often can not properly care for or consume enough food to sustain themselves. Since beaks continue to grow, chicks with cross-beak deformities will become increasingly cumbersome as adults. Plus, other chicks often pick on cross-beak chicks making it harder for them to thrive.
Keeping Cross-beak chickens
The above does not mean that it is not possible for chickens hatched with beak deviations to live happy, healthy and functional lives. Some cross beak chicks can survive (and even thrive). However, almost all will require a little more attention than chickens without deformities to be happy and healthy. In moderate to severe cases, I believe it often more humane to give the chick a gentle end. I had to euthanize my dear Elly at nearly 2 years old due to cross-beak complications (i.e. it was not as crooked as some but the beak was beginning to rub blisters on the bottom portion of her beak. The issue that would likely only worsen with time).
Each owner should be the judge here. From a biblical perspective, I believe in drastic contrast between human and animal life. God gave people authority over the animals. We should be good stewards that wisely and humanely treat our animals. Our world is broken, fallen world due to sin. Consequentially, sickness and death abound. Knowing when to euthanize the animal is part of good stewardship. Each owner should wisely consider the health of his/her own animal and evaluate whether it has the ability to live a happy and healthy life. If one does not have the time and resources to care for a cross-beak, it is more humane to euthanize or re-home the animal to someone who wants to keep the chicken as a pet and/or has the resources and time to do so.
What Causes Crossed-Beaks in Chickens?
Fetal miss-positioning during embryotic development:
Usually, a chick has one wing sheltering its head while it is in the egg. Chicks that are not positioned correctly during fetal development are more prone to skull malformation (which may result in a crossed beak).
Deficiencies in folate (also known as folic acid or vitamin B9), vitamin D, Biotin (also known as vitamin B7), calcium and/or methionine are critical for growth. Chicks that are deficient in these nutrients are far more likely to develop beak abnormalities.
Chickens with liver disease are more prone to nail/beak overgrowth. This can lead to beak deformations/deviations. However, liver disease is not very common in birds and usually only occurs in older birds.
Certain breeds are more prone to lateral beak deformations than some others. Such varieties include Ameraucanas (and thus, Ameraucana cross-breeds such as Easter Eggers) and Crested Varieties (such as Polishes as and Crevecouers).
A chick’s early growth stages are highly influential on its long-term health. Crossed beak chickens will need a little more care than the average flock member. Thus, spotting the early signs of a cross beak is important in giving it the best chance at a health, happy, productive life.
What Crossed-Beak Chickens Need:
A Hand with Hygiene:
As is the case with crossed/scissor beak chickens, their ability to perform certain activities (like preening for external parasites) is at a disadvantage. Thus, they may need a little helping hand. 🙂 Plenty of dust access and regular external parasite exams are recommended. You can read about various treatment options for external parasites here: Lice & Mite Treatments for Chickens.
Soft, Healthy Feed:
Chickens with crossed beaks sometimes have a difficult time eating the same foods in the same way as other chickens. This makes it hard for them to get enough food. Chicks with beak deformities often can not eat straight, dry chick starter very easily. I advise feeding crossed beak chicks younger than four months chick starter mixed with a little liquid.Elly, my crossed beak Crevecouer, could eat regular chick starter without additives for the first few months. I later shifted her over to layer pellets mixed with water (about a 1 to 1 ratio). On the side, I feed her some healthy, nutrient dense treats/scraps (such as squash, wild birdseed, bananas and boiled or scrambled eggs). Plus, she enjoyed plenty of crickets and grasshoppers (which she was very good at catching) and wild blackberries from free-ranging. She also loved foraging behind the lawnmower to get first dibs on the fresh grass-clippings. 🙂
Chickens with crossed or crooked/deviated beaks are often smaller than average and low in the pecking order. To top this, crossed beak chicks may be a little more cumbersome when eating. This means that they’ll need to spend an extra minute or two at the feeder to get enough food. Overcrowding can cause crossed beak chicks to get pushed aside or trampled. This is why I advise keeping crossed beak chicks with small groups and allowed plenty of space with adequate food/water access.
Chickens’ beaks continue to grow throughout their whole lives very much like human fingernails. Normally, chickens wear down this new growth by pecking, preening and well… just being chickens. Chickens with crossed beaks do not wear down their beaks as evenly. Thus, they often require trimming. Trimming makes it easier for crossed beak chickens to grab things. It can also prevent injury caused by sharply worn edges. The need for trimming varies from case to case. However, I trimmed Elly’s beak about once every other month to once every other month. Beak trimming only takes a few minutes but it is delicate business and requires precision. I advise using small-animal nail clippers or finger nail or cuticle trimmers over dog/cat nail clippers.
Below: Elly before & After getting her beak trimmed.
According to Poultry DVM: When present in chicks, ‘Applying gentle outward pressure to the beak for 10 minutes, 6 to 8 times daily, may be able to correct some mild, early cases’ (in chicks). Surgery (which has had limited success) is the only other treatment option available.
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