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Deformed beaks mean slow starvation for region's birds; cause a mystery
..."long-billed syndrome" has been recorded in about 160 birds by a Skagit County researcher, mostly in Western Washington and southern British Columbia and mostly since 2000. It's also documented in more than 2,100 birds in Alaska, where the phenomenon seems to have started affecting lots of birds in the early 1990s.
Researchers say the weird beaks appear to be concentrated in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, although reports are coming in from farther south -- from Southern California in one case earlier this month.
What's the cause? That remains a mystery. A small band of puzzled, poorly funded scientists is scrambling to find answers. Could it be chemicals? Something genetic? A disease? Maybe a combination?
Could it affect humans?
Most affected birds in Western Washington are red-tailed hawks. Second on the list are crows. Others include the sparrow in Fremont, black-capped chickadees, Steller's jays, northern flickers and a raven. Also involved are a variety of songbirds, as well as woodpeckers and seabirds, including gulls and one common murre.
In Alaska, by far the majority are black-capped chickadees. But the syndrome has been seen in at least 28 other species there, including starlings, Steller's jays, magpies, robins and sparrows.