Wildlife Column: Caught on camera bird’s bill puzzle

The blue tit with the very unusual deformity, taken by Mick Fairest
The blue tit with the very unusual deformity, taken by Mick Fairest

Sometimes though accident or disease, birds acquire or develop odd forms of markings or appendages. For commoner species some of these, such as misshaped beaks or bills, may be seen frequently.

Mick Fairest of Dronfield Natural History and Wildlife Group sent me a photograph and a message: ‘I thought that you might be interested in another sighting I received yesterday, complete with genuine, un-doctored photograph’.

Mick said:‘This photograph shows a blue tit with the very unusual deformity of a greatly extended upper mandible.’

‘The bird has been visiting our friends’ and members’ bird-feeders in their back garden in Coal Aston for weeks. However, it does appear to cope well when feeding and doesn’t seem to be suffering problems.’ My response was that this was an interesting situation but not unknown.

The phenomenon of distorted bills or beaks does occur, and does puzzle people. The problem is probably the result of an injury to one mandible and so the other one doesn’t get worn down by mutual rubbing. The beak carries on growing throughout the bird’s life and in this case, the upper mandible has outgrown the lower with startling results. At present the bird is coping but I wonder how long it will be before feeding becomes a serious issue. A similar thing sometimes happens in rodents if they break an incisor tooth - the opposite one carries on growing and can curve into the head, with fatal consequences.

More parakeet records are coming in, and Steven of Essendine Crescent in Sheffield spotted another, this time on Carter Knowle Road on Monday January 23. He wondered if it might be the same one, but I guess not. If you live around Abbeydale Road, Carterknowle, Meersbrook, or Warminster Road, have you seen one in your own garden? They are unmistakeable!

I finish with a ‘well done’ to the ‘Friends of Gillfield Wood’. They recently planted a mixed-species hedgerow at the ‘new’ bus terminus entrance, with support from The Conservation Volunteers, and it is just one example of the great things done by groups and volunteers everywhere.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org ; follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’ blog, UKEConet for more information.