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…
Most beak deviations resulting in crossed/crooked beaks begin in embryotic development. Most chickens hatched with the defect will not live to adulthood. Though sad, oftentimes, it is for the best. In moderate to severe cases of cross beak, the chick can not properly care for itself or consume enough food to sustain itself. 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. This does not mean that it is not possible for chickens hatched with beak deviations to live happy, healthy, functional lives. Some cross beak chicks can survive… and thrive. However, they will require more attention than chickens without deformities to be happy and healthy. In severe cases though, I believe it more humane to give the chick a gentle end.
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. If the chick is not positioned this specific way during fetal developement, it is more prone to skull malformation (which may result in a crossed beak).
Particularly deficiencies of folate (also known as folic acid or vitamin B9), vitamin D, Biotin (also known as vitamin B7), calcium and/or methionine. If chicks are deficient in any of these nutrients, they are far more likely to develop beak deviations during critical growth stages.
With liver disease, chickens are more prone to nail/beak overgrowth, which can lead to beak deformations/deviations. However, liver disease is not very common and usually only occurs in older birds.
Certain breeds are more prone to lateral beak deformations than some others. Such varieties include Ameraucanas, Crested Varieties (such Polishes as and Crevecouers) and Easter Eggers (a type of cross-breed that is often produced by crossing an Amaraucana with a different Amaraucana color variation or other breed).
Since crossed beak chickens will need a little more care than the flock member, spotting the early signs of a cross beak is important.
What Crossed-Beak Chickens Need:
A Hand with Hygiene:
As is the case with crossed/scissor beak chickens, their ability to perform cirtain activities (like preening for external parasites) is at a disadvantage. This means that they need a little helping hand. Plenty of dust access and external parasite checks are recommended. Additionally, 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 results in likely one of the biggest issues for crossed beak chickens: getting enough food. Chicks with beak deformities often can not eat straight, dry chick starter very easily. If this is the case, I advise feeding crossed beak chicks younger than four months, chick starter mixed with a little plain yogurt. Elly, my crossed beak Crevecouer, could eat regular chick starter without additives for the first few months. When she grew a bit, I shifted her over to mainly layer pellets mixed with yogurt or water (about a 1 to 1 ratio). On the side, I feed her some healthy, nutrient dense treats/scraps (like squash, bananas and boiled or scrambled eggs).
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. Since chickens with crossed beaks do not wear down their beaks as evenly, 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. Though the need varies from case to case, I trim 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. For beak trimming, I advise using small-animal nail clippers, finger nail or cuticle trimmers over dog/cat nail clippers. This is because beak trimming requires precision…
Below: Elly before & After getting her beak trimmed.
Alternative treatment options:
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). However, other than surgery (which is not guaranteed to succeed), there are no other treatment options available.
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