Congratulations to Craig Hunt for winning the October 2021 Photo-observation of the Month for the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist! His photo of a Hairy Woodpecker with a bill deformity appearing to ponder her reflection in a pane of glass received the most faves of any iNaturalist observation in Vermont during the past month.
Bill deformities such as this are the result of a disease known as Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD) which affects many species of birds and often results in uncontrolled beak growth to the point where the upper and lower mandibles completely cross over. Sadly, AKD increases bird mortality due to the increased difficulty of feeding and preening with a deformed bill, though it seems that this individual at least has been able to find enough food to survive to adulthood even with its severely crossed bill.
A team of researchers at the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Biological Science Center have been studying birds with AKD since 1999, compiling reports of birds with deformed bills and looking for patterns and potential causes. Recently, they discovered that a virus known as Poecivirus could be linked to AKD. Species such as Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and others that often visit bird feeders seem to rarely but regularly suffer from AKD. If you encounter any birds with wonky bills at your feeders, be sure to report them to this USGS site.
Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist where you can vote for the winner this month by clicking the ‘fave’ star on your favorite photo-observation. Make sure you get outdoors and record the biodiversity around you, then submit your discoveries and you could be a winner!