The Cross Beak Chronicles: Helen’s Story… July 30, 2020

This is the story of Helen, my little cross beak Easter Egger. She is a survivor, to say the least, and has completely captured my heart. Helen was not expected to live very long, yet she is now three and a half years old already! She recently moved out of the main coop and is now a permanent resident of the back screen porch of our home. Helen’s home is nicely furnished. She has her very own coop, a patch of grass, and even a friend. I will explain who her friend is later on in the story!

Helen poses in her chicken tutu after getting a fresh manicure

How It All Started

I’ll begin with a little backstory, of how I got into chicken keeping. I have always loved chickens. I’m not sure why. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t even know anyone that had chickens. One day, out of the blue, my cousin said to me, “Why don’t you get some chickens?” And that was that.

I got my first 12 chicks from My Pet Chicken three years ago. I thought I’d get maybe 7 or 8 chicks and that would be great, plenty. Giving it a little more thought, I decided adding a few more chicks wouldn’t be a big deal. I ended up buying 12 chicks. I found out shortly thereafter, the local farm store had baby chicks for sale and buying another 5 or so should be fine. Ultimately I ended up with a total of about 20, maybe 22. I can’t actually remember. When you don’t know how many chickens you have, you are afflicted with Chicken Math. It’s a real thing in the chicken keeping world. In other words, who is really counting how many chickens you have?

Baby Helen

This Is Where Helen Comes In

We went to a local farm store to pick up a couple…well, lets say a few more baby chicks. On the way home, I peeked in the box to look a little more closely at who was doing all the fussing. I looked at one little chick in particular. I noticed something wrong with one of her eyes. It looked a little droopy, not quite normal and healthy like the others. I told my husband, “I think there might be something wrong with this one. Her eye is not right. Maybe we should turn around and take her back.” That said, my husband floored the gas pedal, as he had enough fun for the day already, and away we went, headed for home. There was no turning back.

Cross Beak! What Is That?

I didn’t think a lot about it at the time. Around a week later, I noticed her beak wasn’t aligning properly. It was starting to cross, or “scissor”. I had no idea what was going on. As a first-time chicken mom, I worried about what I was seeing. Immediately, I started to research and soon discovered what I was dealing with. I had a chick with a cross beak, also known as “scissor beak”. Most of the information I read, said to cull her, as most cross beaks would never be able to live a normal life of a chicken. I read articles saying it was never going to get better, it was only going to get worse, and was basically a death sentence for my little chick.

Nope, not acceptable; I knew I couldn’t cull her. So what was I going to do? After careful thought and consideration, I decided what would it hurt to see if she could live with it. We decided we would take care of her and love her no matter what.

Only The Strong Survive

The information I gathered was right about one thing. It definitely got worse! In fact, I can’t imagine her beak any worse than it is. She learned to eat with her tongue. She would stick her tongue into the feed, and the crumbles would stick to it. That is how she ate. She has never been able to pick anything up with her severely crossed beak. She prefers a trough feeder, as that is what she started out with. However, she can also eat from other sorts of dishes and a treadle feeder as well.

At some point last year, the tip of her tongue sort of, well….dried up and fell off. Let me tell you, that was a frightening discovery! My first thought was, You have got to be kidding me, now what!? My heart sank. I knew this was it. She would no way be able to survive now, with only half of a normal tongue, right? I tried feeding her a wet mash with a dropper, very unsuccessfully. Believe me I tried! What. A. Mess. I thought, how am I going to do this all the time? I mean, let’s be real. To everyone’s surprise, she made it work somehow and continued to live and seemingly thrive. Helen is surprisingly still able to eat her dry crumbles, on her own.

Cross Beak, The Struggle Is Real

Helen is at the very bottom of the pecking order. She’s lived a stressful three and a half years of life so far, avoiding continuous harassment of the other hens. I thought it was best to keep Helen with her flock mates, in the beginning. After three years of continuous harassment, I ultimately decided enough was enough.

She had all her tail and back feathers painfully plucked out. She was continuously trying to live a peaceful life. However she was just not able to, due to the other chickens. She was different, and chickens instinctively know it and act on it! I decided it was time to make a move. It was time for her to have some peace in her life. We discussed it, Helen and I, and she very gracefully accepted my offer of a new home, and took up residency in our back screen porch. She now has her very own coop and private space, all to herself. No one bothers her anymore, except me.

Home Sweet Home

Living The Good Life, With A Friend!

And so, her new life begins. She quickly grew her tail feathers back, along with lots of other feathers I didn’t even realize were missing! Helen can eat and drink in peace, without being chased away by the other chickens. She can sun bathe and simply relax. She has her very own coop, adorned with a wreath on the door, her name placard proudly hung and a “friend” that I felt she needed, to keep her company.

Helen truly loves her friend, who is a taxidermied chicken that I’ve had for years. Yes, let me repeat that. It is a real, professional taxidermied Black Australorp hen. It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with. In short, it has to do with a family owned gift shop, some very old hens that lived a full life and a taxidermist that let them “live on”. I have several of them and I chose one to live with Helen, so she wouldn’t be completely alone.

Helen and Company

She took to her immediately and loves being by her side. I decided to offer her another friend, since the first hen was so compatible. I gave her a beautiful taxidermied Welsummer rooster for her to flirt with. She actually lost her mind for a moment! She attacked that rooster with such vengeance, I thought she was going to seriously hurt herself. Never, did I ever think she had it in her to do something like that. However, it’s Helen we’re talking about. She was now queen of her castle and surely wasn’t about to let an old rooster rule her roost, no way! Here is a video of Helen, ruling her roost!

And The Cross Beak Story Continues

It was very important to share Helen’s story. Just because a chicken has a cross beak, there is still hope for them. There is a lot of hope, actually. It is not an automatic death sentence. I think the key is, do what works. There are no set guidelines, on how to care for a cross beak. It really is all about doing what works for both of you.

I am glad my husband had a lead foot that day and didn’t turn around. We enjoy Helen so much. She is a big part of our family. I enjoy caring for her and doing what I can to improve her life in every way possible, and really, it doesn’t take all that much effort. Okay, that’s not entirely true. However, it’s what you do when you love a chicken or any pet that needs a little extra care. I’ve enjoyed every minute of caring for her. She gives us so much back and she doesn’t even know it. Helen is one very special girl.

Helen, The Little Chicken That Could…And Does

Do you have any cross beak chickens in your flock? Share with us in the comments below.

Mary November 12th, 2020

I adopted a cross beak male quail,I’m gueesing that’s why he was rejected.My son suggested putting a piece of slate in his pen and putting his food on it.To my amazement the hooky top beak bit has gone within two weeks.

Petra Bruketa March 15th, 2021

Wonderful story, am just starting my journey with one tiny cross beak chicken, Thank you for your story it is inspiring

Mary October 17th, 2021

Thank for your story
God Bless you and Helen.
So nice to be reminded of the kindness of
People and the strength of animal’s love

Michelle Schmid March 6th, 2022

I have a bantam Porcelain d’Uccle baby, three weeks old. I within 2 days that he/she had cross-beak. It gets severely worse every day. The hatchery reimbursement me and expects me to end his/her life, but I just can’t. This is the absolute sweetest most loving chicken I’ve ever seen and we are absolutely in love. The beak gets worse every day and I’m so worried because I have no idea what I’m doing. If you’d be willing, I’d love to have you as a resource for advice.

Bambi March 8th, 2022

We are so sorry to hear about your crossbeaked chick. Please check out the links shared in this blog and feel free to reach out to us by email should you have any other questions. We’re happy help if we can!

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