Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of Bills & Tipping

So how much do you tip on a bill?

In Alice's case, it probably depends on how much needs to come off.

I'm talking about the bill (beak) on Alice's face, if that helps.

Bills (or beaks if you prefer) are made out of the same stuff (keratin) as our fingernails, and like fingernails, they are always growing. Somehow they grow so that they self-sharpen and wear down continuously into the same basic shape. Little flakes, chips, and bits come off here and there to help keep them in shape. Without enough wear and tear and exposure to the elements, however, bills can get overgrown.

In captivity owl beaks sometimes need to be coped (trimmed.) For Alice, this has needed to happen once every year or two. But we're well over a year, and things have been flaking/breaking/wearing fairly well.

Her lower mandible was getting a bit long and not breaking off (so her mouth didn't close completely), so I finally took a fingernail clipper to it and patiently but carefully got off as much as the little clipper could handle, which wasn't much. Now Alice's upper mandible is working to adjust.

I thought Alice had a chunk of gopher stuck to the tip of her bill the other day. I looked closely because she was going to have some close-up facial photos done. I tried to pick the bump off with my fingernail, and realized it wasn't gopher at all--it was the tip of her bill itself!

It's a hard little knob that will certainly come off in time. It's too hard to pick off with my fingernail yet, but I've contemplated taking the trimmer to it. So hence the question: How much do you tip on a bill?

But instead I think I'll let Alice do her thing and see how long the bump takes to come off on its own. Then I'll have to pay REALLY close attention and see if I can find it when it does come off. That'll take a miracle, but I have found bigger bill flakes several times before. If they come off the front of her bill they tend to look like raisins. Flakes from the side look like, well, flat pieces off the side of a bill. This one will be a little nubbin.

I've circled the bump on the tip of Alice's bill in the photo. It's not super-noticeable--that is unless you're hooting nose to beak with her.

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