Sunday, November 09, 2008

Deformed Bills

Raptors with deformed bills are turning up along the West Coast.

Hundreds of other birds are not so lucky. The most commonly affected seem to be raptors and crows. But it’s easy to find distressing pictures of other species... from chickadees to hummingbirds....

Manthey surveyed fish and game departments and wildlife rehabilitation centers across the region. Reports of affected birds stretch from California to Alaska. Sightings appear to be concentrated west of the Cascades. It gets sketchier the further east you go; for example, nothing in Idaho. Among researchers, this has become known as “long billed syndrome.”
The cause of the deformity is undetermined.
Veterinarian Lindsey Oaks studies animal diseases at the university in Pullman. Other researchers are based at the Alaska Science Center in Anchorage and Oregon State University. Dr. Oaks says “many, many things” could cause a bird’s beak to grow abnormally.

Oaks: “Since there are no inflammatory cells, no evidence of infectious disease, it sort of makes you want to think about toxins. But of course there are all kinds of toxins, all different sorts of things. There is nothing consistently associated with this type of disease that we’re aware of. So it presumably would be something new.”

Oaks says genetic defects could play a role as well. The affected birds are a mixture of residents and migrants, which adds to the mystery....

Oaks hopes to unravel the mystery by figuring out what’s happening at the molecular level and then working backwards. So far, he’s found unusual proteins in affected birds that are not present in normal bird beaks.
I hope that the cause is found soon if this is being caused by an environmental contaminant or a contagious disease.