Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cause of recently discovered abnormalities in Alaskan birds is unknown

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have discovered a population of birds in Alaska with potentially significant beak abnormalities. Scott Streater of Environment and Energy Daily reports on two studies of wild birds that conclude the deformed beaks are showing up in at least 10 times the number of birds as in an unaffected bird population. The deformity impairs the ability of the bird to eat, hunt, tend their feathers and can make them dependent on household birdfeeders.

Researchers have been unable to identify the source of the problem. Suspected causes include toxic contaminants, genetic mutations, parasitic infections and even changes in diet. Steve Zack, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Streater, "We have no idea what it is, but it's occurring at such a rate it's affecting a significant number of the populations that are being investigated. It's clearly something worth sounding the alarm on." Matt Kirchhoff, director of bird conservation at Audubon Alaska in Anchorage, said, "it's clear it's something in the environment." He added: "The way it's spreading suggests that there are hot spots, that it's not genetic but triggered by something in the environment. So not knowing the cause is a big concern." (Read more, subscription required)

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