Surgical Beak Alteration
An abominal, alarming and disturbing mutilation of parrots
Surgical Beak Alteration is carried out on male breeder cockatoos that have harmed or killed their mate. In the UK and many other countries it is considered inhumane but is apparently condoned by authorities in the US.
Exotic DVM Magazine Volume 2.2, April/May 2000 published an article written by Dr. X which explained in graphic detail how the procedure is performed. Dr. X does address "management techniques" to try first with aggressive cockatoos before seeking this procedure. He encourages breeders to provide large cages and flights to allow some flying, to avoid pairing large males with small females, and to provide 2 openings to the nest box - which allows the female to escape. He recommends pairing only compatible birds and trimming the male's flight feathers on both wings while leaving the hen fully flighted in order to escape.
Removal of the upper beak tip in poultry to reduce aggression is common practice. Dr. X points out in his article that similar procedures have been performed on psittacines but the beak tip can regrow. He describes a procedure he carries out whereby the upper mandible is left intact but the lower beak and mandible are bisected. He does state that any surgical procedure which leaves a bird disfigured is controversial but goes on to comment that this technique is to be considered as a last resort when all other attempts have failed to prevent a male from injuring a female.
Dr. X explains that the objective of the procedure is to reduce the force and leverage of the bird's ability to tear and crush: when the lower beak is severed this function is lost. His article details the procedure being performed on an anesthetised parrot (Leadbetter's Cockatoo). A rotary drill with an attached cutting wheel is used to sever the lower beak and mandible through from top to bottom, down the middle and into the growth plate of the lower mandible. He states, that the two segments cannot be bridged back together again. The subject will have two freely movable pieces of lower mandible. Silver nitrate is used to control bleeding, although blood loss is minimal. The bird is recovered in a carrier with padding and when it is fully awake, can be returned to its normal cage. The owner is told to offer soft foods in addition to the bird's normal diet and to monitor the general activity and food intake for the next few days.
Routine beak trimming must be carried out two to four times per year after mandible severing has been performed because the edges of lower beak tend to grow upward and out at an angle. In addition the upper beak overgrows downwards.
Dr. X has performed this procedure on over 50 cockatoos and a few other species. He comments that no complications have occurred during surgery nor has he seen any postoperative infection and that all the birds recovered well and were cracking seeds within a couple weeks and were able to eat the same kinds of food as before.
No birds have died as a direct result of this surgery and the owners have been pleased with the results.