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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Freakish Bird Beaks Perplex Experts

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: wildlife, birds, birdwatching, beaks, deformities, Birder’s World, Huffington Post, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Black-capped chickadee with deformed beak

There’s an outbreak of bird beak deformities in Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington, and scientists are trying to figure out what’s behind it. Birder’s World reports that black-capped chickadees, Northwestern crows, red-breasted nuthatches, and other birds are turning up with deformed beaks at unprecedented rates:

The scientists haven’t yet put their fingers on the cause of the deformities, which can arise from environmental contaminants, nutritional deficiencies, or infections. Their appearance “can be an early sign of a much larger underlying ecological problem,” Hemert and Handel wrote.

Dan Joling at Huffington Post spoke to the researchers and reports that previous outbreaks of beak deformities have been associated with environmental pollutants such as organochlorines in the Great Lakes region and selenium from agricultural runoff in California.

The affected birds, the scientists told him, live altered and sometimes shorter lives:

Read more about the deformities—and report them if you’re a birdwatcher who lives in the affected areas—at the website of the Alaska Science Center.

Sources: Birder’s World, Huffington Post, Alaska Science Center 

Image by Wayne Hall.