By Jamie A.
Aug 01, 2016 07:06 AM EDT
Scientists have discovered a new virus responsible for causing mysterious deformities in birds.
Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences, University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have found the new virus that has been linked to Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD), a disease that causes debilitating beak overgrowth.
The disease has affected populations of wild birds around the world, and the cause has remained elusive despite decades of research.
"Take one look at a bird suffering from Avian Keratin Disorder, and you'll understand the importance of stopping its spread," Jack Dumbacher, Academy curator of ornithology and mammalogy and co-author of the study, said in a press release.
"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."
Avian Keratin Disorder is characterized by severe beak deformities such as elongation, crossing or curvature. The deformities affect birds' basic behaviors such as feeding and preening, which are crucial to their survival.
The mysterious condition was first documented among a population of black-capped chickadees in south-central Alaska in the 90s and spread into Canada and the Pacific Northwest.