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Beak deformities also seen in Hawaii

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2004

My husband and I have been wild bird rehabilitators for seven years. We thought we'd let you know that, while we lived and worked in Hawaii (island of Oahu), we spotted the deformities mentioned in the Juneau bird-beak article at least three times among house finches. However, the finches in question were healthy and spry, which made all attempts to catch them - to attempt to alter beak shape through judicious clipping in order to achieve a more natural feeding shape - useless.

What is suspected in this beak change? Solar radiation or earth-core radiation effects, perhaps, or environmental pressures such as contaminants? Birds' beaks are marvelous organs, highly specialized by evolution. Could these alterations be considered evolutionary aberrations? Having worked with the Honolulu Curator of Birds in Oahu, I was always fascinated by the story of the native Hawaiian I'iwi honeycreeper. These endangered birds' numbers are flourishing once again, and scientists on the islands have discovered that this honeycreeper has come through a "bottleneck" in their evolutionary response to the avian flu, brought to Hawaii by the (previously unencountered) mosquito less than 200 years ago. The I'iwi has actually evolved resistance to most strains of avian flu - in a period of time which many geneticists would have considered impossible, if not unlikely (definitely a bright note for those who espouse the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution).

Rosemarie Taylor-Perry

Flagstaff, Ariz.

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