Cardinal with a Bill Deformity

By josh • Nature, Wildlife • 28 Nov 2012

We’ve had a few odd looking birds in the yard this week, and it’s not just because I’m not accustomed to seeing pine grosbeaks. Among the largest flock of cardinals I’ve had in any of the places we’ve lived (five males and three females around the feeder at once!) is a female with little remaining upper mandible and a compromised lower mandible.

Northern Cardinal w/Beak Deformity

Northern Cardinal
Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400

And here’s a likely first year female with a normal bill, for reference.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 400

I suspect this is probably a result of avian pox, which attacks soft tissue and leaves warty lesions around exposed skin areas such as the eyes, legs, and bill surround.  It can also damage adjacent tissue (such as the bill) and the effects are notable even after the virus has run its course.

Northern Cardinal w/Bill Deformity

Northern Cardinal
Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400

This bird seems pretty healthy, so I suspect she’s finding a way to eat despite lacking much of her bill.  I haven’t seen her at the feeder or accessing any other seeds, so I think she may be sticking to softer fruits around the neighborhood.  She’s certainly at a disadvantage, and I wonder how she’ll fare this winter.

Northern Cardinal w/Bill Deformity

Northern Cardinal
Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400

Avian pox can be spread by mosquitoes or by proximity to other birds.  Though I haven’t seen her at the feeder, I’ll probably give the feeder station a thorough cleaning this weekend anyway.

 

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Joshua, bill deformities are on the rise, there are studies being done in Alaska because so many birds are showing up with extra long bills, twisted ones and so forth. I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk here in Utah last November that has the sickle type of long bill syndrome and according to Bud Anderson who has studied long bill syndrome it was the first reported in Utah. I have photos of that hawk on my blog.

    I think we should be worried about the high numbers of bill deformities.

    • Thank you Mia, it is a concern. I hadn’t heard of long bill syndrome until I started trying to figure out what was going on with this cardinal. I’m not aware of any cases in the east, but perhaps someone else will chime in. Hopefully the research being done in the west will help us understand what this is about before it becomes more prevalent.

  2. Pingback: 251 Birds » Blog Archive » Leucistic House Finch

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