Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Elements in whole blood of Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) in Alaska: No evidence for an association with beak deformities

June 21, 2016

A recent outbreak of beak deformities among resident birds in Alaska has raised concern about environmental contamination as a possible underlying factor. We measured whole blood concentrations of 30 essential and nonessential elements to determine whether any were associated with beak deformities in Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus). We tested for differences between 1) adults with versus those without beak deformities and 2) unaffected adults versus juveniles. Crows with beak deformities had slightly higher levels of barium, molybdenum, and vanadium (all P<0.05), but concentrations were generally low and within the range of values reported from other apparently healthy wild birds. Concentrations of several elements, including selenium, were higher in birds without versus birds with beak deformities (all P<0.05), a difference that may be explained in part by compromised foraging ability associated with the deformities. Adult crows had higher concentrations of cadmium, silicon, and zinc than juveniles (all P<0.05), although differences were relatively small and values were similar to those from other wild birds. Our results suggest that neither selenium nor other tested elements are likely to be causing beak deformities in Alaskan crows. We also provide the first data on elemental concentrations in Northwestern Crows. Levels of selenium far exceeded those typically found in passerine birds and were similar to those in marine-associated waterfowl, suggesting that background levels should be interpreted relative to a species's environment.