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Beak deformities in Northwestern Crows: Evidence of a multispecies epizootic

January 1, 2010

Beak abnormalities are rare among adult birds and, typically, are not widespread in a given population, within a region, or across multiple species. A high concentration of beak deformities was recently documented in Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and other resident avian species in Alaska. We describe a parallel condition in Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) that signals the emergence of a multispecies epizootic. On the basis of 186 Northwestern Crows captured at six sites in Alaska during 2007 and 2008, we estimated the prevalence of beak deformities in adults to be 16.9 ± 5.3%, the highest rate of gross deformities ever recorded in a wild bird population. Prevalence varied among sites and was as high as 36% on the Kenai Peninsula, which suggests possible epizootic clusters. We also documented beak abnormalities in an additional 148 Northwestern Crows in south-central and southeastern Alaska and in 64 crows near Vancouver, British Columbia, and Puget Sound, Washington, a region where both Northwestern Crows and American Crows (C. brachyrhynchos) occur. The increase in frequency and distribution of crows observed with abnormal beaks throughout the Pacific Northwest since the late 1990s indicates a geographic expansion of this problem. Affected crows exhibited elongated and often crossed beaks that were morphologically similar to deformities documented in Black-capped Chickadees and other species in Alaska over approximately the same period. Additional research is needed to determine the etiology and potential adverse effects on bird populations affected by this disorder.

Publication Year 2010
Title Beak deformities in Northwestern Crows: Evidence of a multispecies epizootic
DOI 10.1525/auk.2010.10132
Authors Caroline R. Van Hemert, Colleen M. Handel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Auk
Index ID 70120460
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center