Although “feaking” is not a commonly used word for beak wiping, it sure is fun to say. Despite her 22 years of experience, Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, says her and her two avian veterinarians have never heard the word — although they were all familiar with the behavior.
“It is the behavior of a bird when it rubs its beak on branches, perches, stones, or other hard surfaces after eating to remove food and debris from the beak,” Hess said. “In wild birds, such as raptors, this behavior helps trim the sides of the beak, as well, when these birds rub on hard stones.”
Hess, a veterinarian at Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics located in Bedford, New York, cares for a Pionus parrot, Goffin’s cockatoo, caique and a canary at home, as well as an African gray parrot that lives at her animal hospital. Although the term feaking is usually reserved for raptors, “beak wiping” is thought to be the equivalent in parrots.
This behavior is usually seen after a messy meal such as a cooked carrot, soft banana or corn on the cob. The bird swipes their beak back and forth on a branch, sometimes turning their head and neck in a figure-8 to remove the debris from their face.
Occasionally when a parrot wipes its beak on surfaces it can be seen as a territorial display — possibly marking the bird’s ownership or bond over that item. I knew a conure that would rub his beak on his primary caregiver before lunging or opening his beak towards me. However, the term beak wiping or feaking is usually reserved for cleanliness.
Johanna Black, manager of Wildlife at the EcoTarium in Worcester, Mass., adds that feaking, “Allows the bird to ‘groom’ their beak — both upper and lower mandibles, to remove debris and also wipe off flaking keratin, or slowly shape/shave to proper shape.”
Keratin is the same hard protein substance that makes our nails and animals’ horns.
Black says this rubbing behavior allows for a natural and functional shape to occur in wild populations by using rough surfaces to remove overhang or other odd placed pieces of the beak. “Under human care the same can be said, however, we typically will shape the beak ourselves most commonly with a Dremel.”
Beak wiping or feaking is like humans taking their nails to an emery board and washcloth. Since parrot beaks rarely overgrow in the wild, it is our responsibility to provide hard surfaces for them to naturally file their beaks. Parrots in the wild often times wear down their beaks just prior to the breeding season preparing tree cavities or nesting material. Black offers hard textured toys, like lava rocks, for her macaws to interact with allowing them to shape their own beaks.
If you can remove food items from the beak quickly, this will reduce the buildup of hardened organic material. I cared for a green-winged macaw that was notorious for leaving tomato skins on his beak. He allowed me to remove it with my nails. Some parrots are comfortable wiping debris on their caregiver’s pants or shoulders. The world is their napkin after all.