An Unfortunate Pewee
Well birders, its been too long since I’ve had the chance to speak with you. A lot has happened since I’ve made an appearance on 10,000 Birds. Hurricane Sandy happened, and ever since then the eastern United States has been absolutely swarming with vagrants…Ross’ Gull, Mountain Bluebirds, Pink-footed Geese, Northern Lapwings, Virginia’s Warbler, Anna’s, Calliope, Black-chinned and Allen’s Hummingbirds, not to mention all the storm waifs and winter finch invaders. A Citrine Wagtail (!!!) happened in British Columbia, and a Brambling brambled into Colorado. Late fall has been very kind to many birders in the country.
Last month I accompanied Seagull Steve to South Florida for two weeks, which yielded some excellent birds…we missed the Fork-tailed Flycatcher on Big Pine Key, but that’s because we were on the Dry Tortugas, so we aren’t complaining. One of the most interesting birds of the trip was this Eastern Wood-Pewee at Indigenous Park in Key West, which sported a seriously deformed bill. Pewees, being flycatchers, eat insects and arthropods almost exclusively, so the fact that it managed to survive this long with it’s flycatching device in such disrepair is an impressive feat. This bird may have migrated down from Canada for all anybody knows (maybe more than once?), and how it could have pulled off such a feat with such a major handicap is difficult to fathom.
The bird was unable to close its bill any more than you can see here. The upper mandible appears underdeveloped while the lower mandible looks overgrown.
The condition this bird is suffering from is avian keratin disorder, I believe. This is caused by damage to the bird’s DNA, which can be brought about by a calcium deficiency, or more likely, exposure to high levels of pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs have been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency since the 1970s, but due to their chemical makeup, can persist in the environment for many years. PCBs have been linked to major health problems in animals and humans alike…it is also worth noting almost all of it used in the United States was produced by everyone’s favorite corporation, Monsanto.
The bird looks deceptively happy from this angle.
Here is a normal-billed Eastern Wood-Pewee for comparison. And yes, it has a vest, and no it is not an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Photographed at Dry Tortugas National Park, FL.
If you would like to see what is, without a doubt, the coolest yet most depressing gallery of bird photos in existence, click here. This is not artistic photoshop, this is most likely the work of environmental contaminants. I think the modified Clark’s Nutcracker looks pretty rad, but the American White Pelican is a major bummer.