Alaskan birds at risk: Widespread beak deformities in resident species




The team creeps silently across a well-tended lawn, eyes drawn to a small wooden box perched several meters up a lone birch tree. The first biologist is armed with a broom in one hand and a bug net in the other. Her partner wields a lunchbox-sized plastic case and a tree-climbing ladder that looks like an oversized radio antenna. A neighbor peers out her window from across the street to watch the unusual spectacle.

A small black-and-white bird zips toward the box’s tiny, round opening and both women raise binoculars to their eyes in synchrony. A specific combination of metal and colored plastic bands on the bird’s legs identify this Black-capped Chickadee, which was banded two years earlier as a nestling. “It’s the female,” Colleen Handel whispers, and Lisa Pajot nods as they duck behind the cover of a large spruce tree. The bird - named “Red-white-red”, in reference to her color bands - appeared healthy in the nest as well as the following winter, when she was caught in a mist net set up nearby. The next summer, however, “Red-white-red” appeared at a residential nest box with a severely deformed beak. The overgrowth worsened, and, now, the upper mandible curves down and back toward her breast, while the lower extends up, crossing the upper at a nearly 90-degree angle. The effect is sobering. Even from a distance, this teacup-sized bird carries a conspicuous appendage that more closely resembles a pair of mangled scissors than any recognizable seed-cracking beak.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Alaskan birds at risk: Widespread beak deformities in resident species
Series title Birding
Volume 39
Issue 5
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher American Birding Association
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 8 p.
First page 48
Last page 55
Country United States
State Alaska
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