Deformed beaks in Alaskan birds puzzle scientists

2010-12-03 11:25

Anchorage, Alaska – Crows, chickadees and other birds living year-round in Alaska are suffering an epidemic of beak deformities that is confounding scientists.

The grossly overgrown, overly curved and sometimes crossed beaks started showing up in large numbers about a decade ago, and were now being widely reported across southern and interior Alaska, as well as neighbouring parts of the Pacific northwest, said Caroline Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist.

“It’s really rare to have so many birds in a geographic area that are affected at one time,” said Van Hemert, who co-authored a pair of studies published in the current edition of The Auk, the quarterly journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

The most dramatic problems seemed to be in Northwestern crows, she said.

Van Hemert and fellow US Geological Survey scientist Colleen Handel found the rate of beak deformities among adult crows to be 16.9%, the highest rate of gross deformities ever recorded in a wild bird population.

On some parts of the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, the beak deformity rate hit 36%, according to the biologists’ research.

Hardest hit were black-capped chickadees, according to the studies.

Since 1999, scientists have documented beak deformities in 2 160 chickadees, mostly in and around Anchorage.

About 6.5% of the chickadees in the region have the deformed beaks, according to the newly reported studies.

Other affected birds include Steller’s jays, woodpeckers and magpies. Many of the birds also have abnormalities of the skin, legs, claws or feathers.

Potential causes include environmental pollution, nutritional deficiencies or disease, according to the scientists.

Van Hemert said she and other scientists had few clues to the cause.

“At this point, we really don’t know,” she said yesterday.

The deformed beaks make if difficult for the birds to feed and preen.

“A lot of birds with the really severe deformities can’t open up a sunflower seed,” Van Hemert said.


Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/World

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.