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Northwest birds’ beak deformities “truly puzzling”


The U.S. Geological Survey is distributing fliers asking for help finding birds with deformed beaks. Scientists don't know what's causing a spike in the deformities across multiple bird species in the Northwest.

The U.S. Geological Survey is distributing fliers asking for help finding birds with deformed beaks. Scientists don't know what's causing a spike in the deformities across multiple bird species in the Northwest.

In a Q&A with Andrew Revkin of the New York Times’ DotEarth blog, U.S. Geological Survey scientists Colleen Handel and Caroline Van Hemert elaborated on the news released yesterday that record numbers of wild birds in the Pacific Northwest have been found with beak deformities.

New research suggests the deformities might be evidence of an epizootic – a disease outbreak among wildlife that often has implications that extend to humans. But so far, the two scientists said, they can’t pin it on any one pathogen or environmental contaminant.

Time Magazine has a story explaining how beak deformities in the past have been the first sign of a larger environmental problem.

Van Hemert:

“There are no real red flags. Certain contaminants show slightly higher levels in the affected birds, but nothing at levels where we’d expect to see gross changes. And there are no point sources for these pollutants here.”

Handel:

“At this point we do not know if this disorder is being caused by a pathogen or something else.  It is truly puzzling!  However, the abnormally high prevalence in multiple species is an ecological signal we cannot afford to ignore.”

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