With the rise in reports of deformities in residential and migratory birds in the city, Chandigarh Newsline talked to noted ornithologist and principal scientist with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Dr Vibhu Prakash Mathur about the causes of these deformation and preventive measures. Dr Vibhu Prakash Mathur is settled in Pinjore district, Panchkula and manages a vulture conservation centre called Jatayu.
When did the concept of beak deformities come into notice?
Bird beaks are made of Keratin (a type of protein) and keep growing. Birds rub their beaks on hard surfaces to keep them in shape. The deformity in bird beaks is reported on and off from different species of wild birds both big and small and also reported in pet birds and poultry. It is usually seen in individual birds in a population. No systematic study on beak deformity has been done in India and the exact causes are largely unknown. Rarely observations are published in natural history journals and magazines.
What are the main causes of beak deformities?
Beak deformities are seen in all kinds of birds. There are many reasons like malpositioning of the embryo in the egg during incubation, an injury on the skull or poor nutrition in food especially low protein in diet. It could also be due to bacterial, viral or parasitic infections.
Studies done in the US have however indicated that wherever a large number of birds were found with deformities it was due to a novel virus. They used a technique in molecular biology called deep sequencing and isolated a novel virus related to a group of virus called avian picornaviruses. However, they have not ruled out other viral, bacterial or parasitic infections or malnutrition as causes of deformities.
Are local people responsible for these deformities? What should be done when a layman come across a bird suffering with such deformities?
I do not think local people can be blamed for the deformities. The best way is to report the deformities seen by members of public, ornithologists, biologists and researchers and develop a database. If a large number of different species of birds in a region are showing deformity, then there is certainly some disease or malnutrition, which warrants attention. In such a case, a few birds should be caught and subjected to tests to check for viral and other diseases.
What are the prime diets of resident birds found in the surrounding areas of Chandigarh? Should people be conscious when they offer eatables to birds?
Birds of different habits are found around Chandigarh. There are granivorous birds like munias, pigeons, doves, sparrows and finches, so they feed on grains and cereals, omnivores like babbles, crows, tree pies, mynas that feed on anything humans would eat including cooked rice, roti, raw or cooked vegetable and fruits. The fruit eating (Frugivorous) birds like barbets, parakeets, hornbills, feed on fruits and vegetable. Insectivorous birds like drongos, bee-eaters, bulbuls, swallows and swifts feed on insects. Birds of prey of course hunt and feed on other birds, insects and small
mammals and scavengers like vultures feed on dead animal meat.
What eatables can be offered to the birds then?
I think it will be good to offer a mix of food items, so as to attract a diversity of birds. The only precaution one has to take is that they should not be given food laced with pesticides or preservatives which is very difficult to avoid these days. The fruits, vegetables, and grains should be offered to birds only after thoroughly washing them. Remember birds are very sensitive bio-indicators: If they are having problems in surviving in human environment, we will face the similar consequences.