Every now and then I receive a photo at work that is amazing. This one wins the prize so far this year.
Frequenting a feeder in Superior, Wis., this Red-breasted Nuthatch has a deformed bill, giving it the appearance of a hummingbird.
This is most likely avian keratin disorder, where the beak becomes overgrown and often crosses after a certain length. This disorder has exploded in the past three years in Alaska, western Canada and the state of Washington. It's estimated that as high as 17% of all Alaskan crows have this disorder. It typically affects corvids and chickadees, but other species periodically present signs of it.
In these photos, the beak doesn't appear to be crossed and fortunately, the bird has been observed eating and cracking nuts and seeds at the feeder (which I find amazing to be honest).
Sadly, there's nothing that can be done for this. The beak will just continue to grow and in larger birds, the bone beneath the keratin eventually breaks down, leaving no support for the beak.
There is new research being done on the disorder, but currently there is no definitive answer as to why this disorder is increasing. Scientists believe it may be a result of toxins in the environment.
Here is some additional reading:
- a Red-tailed Hawk at a rehab facility contributes samples to forward study on this disorder (April 2012)
- original USGS release about Avian Keratin Disorder
- a Minnesota chickadee with Avian Keratin Disorder captured and banded (Dan Tallman's blog)
Many thanks to homeowner Vern S. and Duluth, Minn., rehabber Peggy Farr
for sharing these photos.