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Long-billed Hawk Syndrome

In April 2006, the Wildlife Care Center received its first known case of Long-bill Hawk Syndrome. Birds with this syndrome have abnormal, uncontrolled growth of the upper and/or lower bills.

Long-billed syndrome

In April 2006, an adult Red Tailed Hawk with a severelyovergrown, rotten beak was brought to the Wildlife Care Center. The bird - unableto eat due to the abnormal beak - was emaciated, weak and in poor bodycondition.

This bird was the Wildlife Care Center’sfirst known case of Long-bill Hawk Syndrome. Birds with this syndrome haveabnormal, uncontrolled growth of the upper and/or lower bills. The abnormalityis isolated to the keratin of the beak; the talons of these birds, also made ofkeratin, appear normal. The beaks themselves are overgrown and often havesecondary infections.  Due to the manyessential functions of birds’ beaks, affected birds may be quite debilitated.Beak abnormalities may interfere with eating, grooming, courtship, killing, feedingyoung, and other activities. Most of the affected birds die from starvation.

The condition has been called Long-billed Hawk syndromebecause the majority of affected birds have been Red Tailed Hawks, but otherbird species have also been observed with similar overgrown beaks. BudAnderson, director of the Falcon Research Group, has gathered reports ofsightings in Peregrine Falcons, Rough-legged Hawks, and other raptors. Speciesother than raptors may be affected. Colleen Handel, with the USGS in Anchorage, Alaska, hasbeen studying beak abnormalities in 29 bird species in Alaska, particularly in chickadees andcorvids.

Anderson hasbeen following the syndrome since 1997 when the first case was reported in Washington state. Reportsof affected birds have been increasing. Although initial cases were seen in Washington, new cases are being reported in Oregon and California,suggesting the disease is spreading southward.

Unfortunately, the cause of the Long-billed Hawk syndromeremains unknown. Affected birds have been analyzed for environmentalcontaminants(toxins), parasites, nutritional deficiencies, and infectiousdiseases. The findings are puzzling in that possible individual causes arefound, but there has been no universal finding to suggest the true cause ofthis malady. Research is underway to investigate whether there is a single causeof the beak malformation or if there are multiple causes being lumped togetheras one syndrome. Wildlife biologists, pathologists, toxicologists, virologists,wildlife rehabilitators, and veterinarians are pulling together to find acause.

Since the original Long-billed Hawk came to the Wildlife Care Centerthere have been 4 more cases, all Red Tailed Hawks. We are determined to help finda cause. If you find a sick or dead bird with a deformed beak please contactthe Wildlife Care Center at 503-292-0304.If you see a wild bird that appears to have this syndrome report the birdspecies and location to Bud Anderson at bud@frg.org.        

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