The beak is one of the most important tools for birds to access food sources. This is of course no different for the Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius). It is all the more astonishing how skilfully beak defects are compensated for in affected bird species. Thus only after looking at the photos of a Eurasian Jay at its meal made clear that thtis bird was missing the a good part oft he tip of the upper beak (upper mandible). It was obviously broken off.
Beak injuries happen not at all so rarely due to collision accidents (e.g. at window panes) or by fights with conspecifics. The effects are different. Splits, cracks or fractures can occur. The latter can lead to complete breakage of the upper or lower mandible.
Beak injuries are problematic for birds for many reasons, not at least because they are the most important tool for feeding – and they can be quite painful to boot.
The beak is not simply a “dead appendage” of the body. Beneath the visible part, the beak horn, lies hidden a bone. The bone is encased in active tissue that is, in a sense, the growth zone of the beak horn. From the inside out, layer after layer of the beak horn pushes forward. This means that the beak grows back in healthy birds throughout their lives. We know something like this from our fingernails. This regrowth of the beak is possible because the growth zone has a strong blood supply. In the blood, oxygen and the necessary minerals are transported to the cells that are responsible for the growth of the beak. If the bone and growth zone are damaged by a fracture or other deep injury, it can be life-threatening for the affected bird. Beak injuries often bleed profusely and probably cause severe pain because the growth zone of the beak is interspersed with nerves. If the beak is even broken off and the bone was also severed in the process, there is usually no more help possible for the affected bird. The beak will not grow back later and the bird would never be able to feed on its own again.
The upper beak fracture of this jay was probably not so severe that the bone was affected. In any case, the jay pictured seemed surprisingly unimpressed by its upper beak injury. It took the food concentrated and briskly, even if it seemed that he distributed parts of the food in the area around. Perhaps food intake was not as finely possible after all as it would be in a healthy bird. Whether a cure for the beak defect is still possible remains to be seen.
The jay is an omnivore bird. While invertebrates, especially caterpillars and beetles (Coleoptera), play the main role during the breeding season, the bird switches to a wide variety of seeds and berries at the end of summer. Beech nuts, chestnuts and acorns are consumed. This makes the jay dependent on a functioning holding apparatus that can grasp and handle more solid foods. So by autumn the jay should be recovered.
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