Fatal Beak Disorder Spreading Among Birds

Scientists have uncovered a fascinating new clue in the global mystery surrounding wild birds with grossly deformed beaks. A team of researchers from the California Academy of Sciences, University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have identified a novel virus that has been linked to Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD), a disease responsible for debilitating beak overgrowth and whose cause has remained elusive despite more than a decade of research. This new virus–identified from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest–is being investigated as a potential cause of AKD and represents a critical step in understanding the emergence of this disease in wild bird populations around the world. The results are published in the journalĀ mBio.

“Take one look at a bird suffering from Avian Keratin Disorder, and you’ll understand the importance of stopping its spread,” says Jack Dumbacher, co-author and Academy curator of ornithology and mammalogy. “Birds must be able to feed themselves and preen their plumage by carefully spreading waterproofing oils on their feathers. When deformed beaks restrict them from these life-giving activities, birds become cold, hungry, and often die. We’re trying to understand the causes, origins, and distribution of this disorder.”

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