Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with deformed beak at Museum feeders.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) with deformed beak.

We observed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the Museum feeders for several weeks in January.  Unfortunately, we have not seen it for some time.  This individual spent most of its time feeding at the suet feeder and it stayed close by whenever the other bird were disturbed.  It rained one morning and this bird perched onto the wooden post under the predator guard, which served as umbrella, rather than seeking cover in the vegetation.  We noticed that his feathers were becoming matted which was probably due to the bird not being able to preen as well.  Beak deformity is a condition that can be caused by several factors including: malnutrition, genetics, and disease/parasites.  We reported the observation to a national database serviced by the USGS Alaska Science Center.  There you can review the various species that have been recorded with beak deformities.  A great deal of research has been performed with several populations of Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) in Alaska and Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus).  The problem is referred to as "avian keratin disorder" and effects other bird body parts that have keratin such as claws, feet, and legs.  Keratin is a protein layer, very similar to our fingernails, that covers and protects the bony areas of bird bodies, such as bird beaks.

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