Cross beak / Scissor Beak May 23, 2012

Close-up of a Scissor Beak (the top and bottom don’t line up)

Crossed Beak / Scissor Beak, can be severe, but many times, this beak malformation is not hazardous to your chicken’s health.   This condition can afflict any breed, but seems to be more prevalent in Easter Eggers or Ameraucanas.

My only experience with cross beak / scissor beak occurred with one of my Blue Wheaten Ameraucana pullets that I had so proudly hatched in a homemade incubator.   Thankfully, her crossed beak wasn’t severe and the problem didn’t show up until she was several weeks of age.

Enjoying life – who cares about a funny looking beak!

I do remember being quite concerned that the poor baby would not be able to get enough to eat or have trouble free-ranging, but I needn’t have worried.  This sweet gal can keep up with the best.  She eats as much as her sisters and is a nice plump size.   My pretty Ameraucana loves to free-range with her buddies and has even tried her hand at being broody.

I trim her beak every 2-3 months with clippers, since the tips are not able to be filed down naturally, but other than that, she receives no special care and is now just over 2 years old.   My Pet Chicken has some helpful information on Crossed Beak / Scissor Beak  here.

My Crossed Beak girl is one of 3 (my triplets, I call them) – Can you pick her out?

22 Comments
Dree May 23rd, 2012

I have a crossed beak white leghorn. Her crossed beak developed after an injury at about 8 (?) weeks of age. Her cheek and under her chin were both sliced, when the hens were in their run. We never figured out what happened (Did a cat manage to scratch her when sleeping in the corner? Did another chick somehow scratch her? Did she manage to get her head through the chicken wire but had trouble getting it back?). After 3 days in isolation in the house, in which she stopped eating altogether and nearly stopped drinking, several application of neosporin, and the purchase of no-peck, we put her out with her friends. We figured starvating and lonilness were likely a worse death than pecking. But the pecking wasn’t too horrible, and she started eating again–but healed into a cross-bill! It has improved somewhat, she is now 8 months old and one of our 2 best layers (out of 6).

Sara May 23rd, 2012

Interesting. I didn’t realize that some chickens needed their beak trimmed.

Eric May 23rd, 2012

Cross beak or scissor beak is a very common genetic deffect, which can present it’s self in any bird breed.Even though this birds cross beak did not stop her being able to eat or drink, she should never be used for breeding stock,nor should her parents be used again. Cross beak is one of the first signs to look for in poor genetics, along with twisted toe and stiff leg in your chicks. The main cause for this type of poor gentics is usually line breeding (father to daughter and mother to son or brother/sister consectutively). To prevent these types of deffects from croping up you should observe good animal husbandry practices. First is to never breed an animal with a genetic deffect, second is to bring in new blood every 2 or 3 generations from different sources, third is to cull out, rather than sell off or give away those animals who do present a genetic defect.

Deana May 23rd, 2012

I have a Buff Wyandotte that has a scissor beak. Her’s get’s severe from time to time. I do catch her and use a regular nail file and my husband holds her and I file away. She is 15 weeks old and is the same size as the ones her age. Every thing I read says to make sure her food and water is breast high and she will get what she needs. So they are and we make sure her treats are high enough for her to reach too. She is growing and we keep an eye on her and she seems to be doing well.

Pam Talley May 23rd, 2012

I have a 2 week old chick that has a scissor beak.
She is a very large chick and seems able to eat fine. I hope she won’t be picked on later.

Mary Ann May 23rd, 2012

Hi Sara, Most chickens don’t need their beaks trimmed, but a crossed beak (which is a defect) does not get filed down naturally, since the top and bottom of the beak don’t meet at the tips. Trimming or filing the beak when needed can help the chicken eat well and live the good life.

tonya kinney May 23rd, 2012

My hen Bucky (short for Bucked Beak) has this problem and she eats just as much as the other guys. She is a 14 week old white Leghorn and shes one of my favorites because shes so easy to spot. Her top beak goes left and the bottom goes right.

Laura May 23rd, 2012

hey. I was just talking about this to my mom. I have a 3 week old Buckeye Female and she has a crossed beak. I was wondering what you guys would suggests to help her. Should I cut it should I fill it down. Just curious to see what everyone thinks about the situation. Thnaks

Jacob Bailey May 23rd, 2012

We recently hatched some wheaten ameraucanas (just like in the article/pictures) and one of them is cross-beaked. We will keep an eye on this one and provide trimming/filing as necessary. I read that it is caused by genetic reasons primarily, so I guess there isn’t much people can do, except not breed chickens that have this trait. We are hoping “Chris” (Chris Cross) will grow up to be a very happy chicken!

Mary Ann May 25th, 2012

Laura – I don’t think you should trim or file the beak until you can see some overgrowth. At 3 weeks of age, your chick’s beak is probably not long enough to trim. I can always tell when my hen’s beak needs trimming because of the white, almost clear overgrowth she gets on the tips. It’s kind of like a dog’s toenails – you can see the area which needs to be filed down. Be sure to watch your chick closely and monitor her eating. Some crossbeaked chickens may needs specially prepared food – thankfully, mine did not.

Laura May 27th, 2012

Mary Ann. The cross is so bad right now she is now losing weight. She still is eating and is always eating. I filed a little today and I gave her some vitamins and minerals to help her and also I have mixed up so grain and water and I have been taking her out and feeding her. She is one of the friendilst babies we have. She is always wants to be picked up. I wish I could do more for her. Thank you. i am hoping that if I keep feeding her special food and giving her more vitamins and minerals it will giver her strength. I still put her with the other babies she likes it with them.

Mary Ann May 28th, 2012

I’m glad to see other stories of crossbeaked chickens living out a happy life and providing their owners with delicious eggs! Like Eric and Jacob stated, this condition can be caused by genetics, but it is also sometimes caused when a chick hatches out of his shell and like Dree says, can even be caused by an injury. I agree — when breeding chickens, you should use hens or roosters with no defects, such as crossbeak or crooked toes. My Ameraucanas came from a very reputable breeder, who I know only breeds the best, but defects can still happen. I don’t have any roosters, so breeding has not been an issue at my home. Laura and Pam, I’m rooting for your little chicks – I hope they do fine also.

Chris McClure August 8th, 2012

Thanks for this great information about cross beaks. My girl is an Ameracauna, about 3 1/2 months old. She follows me around, and appreciates that I feed her crumble separately from the rest of my flock. The beak has steadily gotten worse, but she still eats and drinks, She uses a tall dog dish to eat out of, standing in the middle and only going one way around the inside wall as she scoops up the food. She is not as heavy as her sisters, but seems quite happy. After reading these posts, and others, I am going to trim her top beak this evening. Hope it goes ok.

I love the various names…i call her Crosby, short for cross beak. Glad to hear some girls are doing well…gives me and Crosby hope.

kenna August 14th, 2012

I to have a chicken with a scissor beak, she is an easter egger; her condition apperears to be a little more severe then yours. She is very happy, but can’t pick up any food or scratch from the ground; so she has to eat out of the feeder.

Natalie October 5th, 2012

We were so excited to start raising hens, and had no idead this could occur! 1 of 5 of our chicks developed cross beak. Her name is Captain Jack Sparrow (she looked like a sparrow as a peep, brown fluff all over and white underside). We were told she was an Ameracauna, but she actually might be an easter egger.

Cpt.Jack is now 6 months old and has a sever case of cross beak: the upper and lower beak jut out in the complete opposite direction. Poor baby, she can barely shovel in dry food from a dish into her mouth.

We have had tremendous success with using a mash though, so if anyone else is having trouble, maybe try the following:

Take a small bowl (we use a small white baking ramakin) and mix
-1 egg yolk
-some oyster shell dust (since she should start laying soon)
-some feed
-warm water (helps to dissolve feed)

The consistency we go for is like a thick porrage/soup. It’s kind of a trial and error thing…some days we add too much water, then need to add a bit more feed. We giver her the yolk mixed in to help her gain weight (it’s all fat we were told),as she can’t feed herself all day while we are at work. We were advised to do this by our local farmer. We have also added crushed garlic (read that if can help with immune system), and yogurt (another way of getting calcium) to her mix. She loves it!

All in all, it’s been quite hard and a steep learning curve. Not at all what we signed up for when we initially thought about getting hens. We knew to be prepared to cull in the case of a sick chicken to avoid painful suffering, but didn’t even know cross beaks could occur. We always need to be home by dinner to make sure she gets fed, and then we frequently need to trim her beak, as well as wash her front (her mash gets all caked onto her feathers otherwise and she can’t preen herself).

Many people (online and in person) advised us to cull her. We wanted to try our best to see if we could find something that would work for her, and so far the mix has been working real well. She is so sweet because she is handled so much (regularly checking her crop to see if she is getting any/enough food, helping preen her feathers since she can’t remove the casing herself, etc.), and quite docile compared to the others – we have made jokes that she is more a lap-dog than a chicken.

My hope is that this might be helpful to anyone who might have similar issues with a sever case of cross beak in thier flock. So glad to hear that others have milder cases and that their babes are doing well! Very encouraging!

chae November 1st, 2012

I have a 9 month, crossed beaked Americana hen, named Hawkeye. She quit laying eggs as of a month ago, and I chalked it up to shorter day light, I live in northern CA. Her other siblings are still going strong. I’m starting to think that it’s her cross beak and not getting enough nutrition. I’m doing the deep bowl, yogurt, mixing her pellets w/brown rice, etc. but, I can’t really be sure how much nutrition she’s getting. It’s heartbreaking to see her not being able to scratch much because she can’t peck. Lately, her feathers look mangy. She doesn’t have the fluff of the other chickens. She has this odd habit of dunking her head in the water before bed time. Her underneath feathers are always wet because she has to put her head down to drink water. I want to knit her a scarf. I’ve also, noticed that she seems to have “grey” hairs….where her feathers insert into her skin seem grey. Even though, she is at the feeding bowl longer than any others, I don’t really know if she’s getting enough to eat. She is very frantic at feeding time, sometimes “on and in” the feeding bowl. This stress can’t be good for her. Yes, she’s alive but is she suffering?

Mary Ann November 2nd, 2012

Hi Chae — Many of my hens are not laying right now either – either due to molting or shorter days. It sounds as if your cross-beaked pullet must be doing fairly well if she was laying eggs a month ago, at 8 months of age. You mention her feathers being mangy — could she be molting? Check her closely to see if new pin feathers are growing. You can see more information on molting here: http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2012/10/31/molting-hens-the-price-of-beauty/ Mangy looking feathers can also be a sign of mites/lice: http://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-help/What-are-the-signs-of-mites-or-lice-and-how-do-I-H79.aspx? Yogurt and brown rice are nutritious and good for your hen, but make sure that her diet consists of mostly pellets, so that she still gets the right amount of protein and calcium needed for laying eggs. I didn’t need to wet the pellets for my hen since her cross-beak wasn’t severe, but you may need to give yours wet mash (dampened pellets or crumbles). You might even be able to just switch your flock to crumbles instead of pellets since the dry crumbles may be easier for her to scoop up than the larger pellets – you’ll have to experiment to see if that will work for her. Keep an eye on her beak – if she is having more trouble than before with eating, it could be time to file or trim it. As for the question of her quality of life, that’s something you’ll have to judge yourself. She should have food available to her at all times — if the feed is only given a few times a day, most hens will act frantic at feeding time. All of my hens go crazy and eat like mad when I give them any type of treat, including plain ole’ mash — they really go for the dampened feed. Check her breast and compare it to your other hens — if she is noticeably thinner than your other chickens, she many not be getting enough to eat. Chickens have a pecking order and the hens lower in that pecking order sometimes have to wait till the others are finished before they get to eat. If you would like us to take a look at her beak and feathers and hopefully give you some more ideas — Feel free to send pictures of her to info@mypetchicken.com.

chae November 2nd, 2012

Mary Ann, Thank you for your reply. I don’t have a camera so I’ll need to get a friend who can do this for me. Hawkeye’s top beak looks very hook like. This, I believe is causing her not to groom or take dustbaths because pecking seems to be part of it. You are right, she is molting. I checked the link you sent. I have a friend who has cats and she clips their nails. She said she’ll help trim Hawkeye’s beak. Will the cat snippers do? Are human clippers stronger for the job? Do we do both upper and bottom beak? Hawkeye is quite nervous so I don’t think it’ll be easy. On her upper beak I can see the “yellowish” part of the beak/nail before the darker part (which i presume where the nerves are). Should we err on caution and cut only a little bit of the yellow, nailish part? Your suggestions would appreciated. I’m nervous as hell.

chae November 2nd, 2012

Hi Mary Ann: Could you clarity the difference in trimming a crossbeak’s beak vs the cruel practice of cutting the ends of beaks in battery chickens so that they don’t peck at each other. I just called a vet and he said it was cruel to do that to chickens. I think he was thinking the other, but, now I’m confused. Is there something about cross beak chickens that their beaks grow like overgrown fingernails?

Mary Ann November 2nd, 2012

Hi Chae — Yes, I agree that a different type of ‘beak trimming’ (burning a baby chick’s beak so that it doesn’t grow back) is cruel and here is information from My Pet Chicken regarding that practice: http://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-help/Do-your-chicks-come-beak-trimmed-H104.aspx? You are correct that the type of trimming I am referring to is quite different. I am suggesting a tiny trim or filing of the overgrowth, just like trimming a dog’s toenails. The only part to be trimmed off is the whitish/clear overgrowth and the beak will grow back just like a toenail and have to be done again. If the beak grows too long and is not filed, the cross-beaked chicken will have even more trouble grooming herself and eating. I, myself, used a human toenail clipper and I would think cat clippers would be fine, but that is a bit riskier than just filing it down slowly. My hen needed both upper and lower tips clipped / filed, but the overgrowth on your hen may be different. Once you decide to work on her beak, one person should hold the hen firmly (you might need to cover her eyes) and the other will gently and carefully work on her beak. I’m glad she’s just molting — that may explain her weird behavior and definitely her motley look.

Holly Rodriguez July 22nd, 2014

Thank you so much Mary Ann for this great article! I also appreciate your encouragement today over the phone! You all are so wonderful over there at mypetchicken!

Cheryl Anderegg August 16th, 2014

We have Avery sweet 4 month Ameracauna with a pretty significant cross beak. Initially she learned to eat crumbles out of the chest high feeder, always going counter clock wise. She absolutely loves wet mash, especially with banana mixed in! Recently I moved all my girls over to nipple waterers for cleaner water, worried that she wouldn’t adapt. Well, she loves it, especially the one that is 2-3″ above her head. Although she gets a bit “snapped” at, she is persistent and keeps butting in with the others for her fair share!

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