Red-tailed Hawk with Long-billed syndrome

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Red-tailed Hawk with Long bill syndrome Red-tailed Hawk with Long-billed syndrome, Tooele County, Utah
D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 640, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Please see the comment below from Bud Anderson of the Falcon Research Group ( )for more information on this hawk and Long bill syndrome.

This morning while coming home from photographing in Tooele County, Utah I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk perched on a utility pole along side the road. I thought I might get a take off shot of the bird so I started to take some images, through my viewfinder though I noticed that something was very wrong with the hawk’s bill.

I was unable to stay on the road for very long because of traffic but I was able to get some images that showed the deformity clearly.

I’ve emailed the Falcon Research Group with this image and I plan to contact the Salt Lake Audubon and Hawk Watch International at their Headquarters here in Salt Lake City to see if they can advise me on whom to contact regarding this Red-tailed Hawk. Without intervention this beautiful raptor could perish.

Thanks in advance,



  1. Julie Brown November 11, 2011 at 4:52 am

    A very sad situation for the hawk. Thanks for providing this interesting information for us, Mia. Hopefully researchers will find the cause and and figure out a way to prevent it. Diseases that cross species lines are especially worrisome.

    • Mia McPherson November 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Julie, it is a very sad situation for the Red-tailed Hawk and I hope that info about Long-billed syndrome gets out, that more research is done to find the cause and that funding can be provided for that research.

  2. Cat November 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for posting this, I’d no idea. Doesn’t sound as if it has made it to the East Coast, thank goodness, but thanks for the very interesting information. Now I will know what to do if I do come across this and now the West Coast birder will too, maybe get some more data. I guess it was a good thing, Mia, that you caught this, at least from the research point of view. Going to the falcon research site now.

    • Mia McPherson November 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm


      I’ve seen it on the east coast, but in songbirds. I saw this hawk again this morning and sent more images to the Falcon Research Group.

  3. Bud Anderson November 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I just spoke on the phone with Mia after seeing her very nice photograph of an adult Red-tailed Hawk in Utah with a classic form of long-billed syndrome. She has been getting a fair amount of reponse to this photograph and has asked me to write something about this condition for the readers of her blog. So here goes.

    In 1996, we found a recently deceased adult Red-tailed Hawk here in Skagit County, Washington, where I live. It was floating in a drainage ditch and had starved to death. I immediately noticed that it had a grotesque and abnormally long maxilla (the upper beak). It was so long that it curved 180 degrees back in towards the breast of the bird. At the time, I had what in retrospect, was the normal reaction. I thought that it must be some sort of genetic anomaly or something and basically forgot about it over time. And that is a classic reponse I have found. People see it but they forget about it.

    Over time, I saw a few more, including in an adult male Rough-leg. But in the early 2000’s, we started seeing alot of them and I began to put the word out. Over the next 10 years or so, we came up with around 175 examples in raptors ranging throughout North America, but primarily from Alaska south though California. We saw in mostly in RTHAs but also in accipiters, falcons, eagles and a few owls.

    Meanwhile, in Alaska, research biologist Collen Handel had noted a similar, possibly the same, condition in an astonishing number of songbirds, especially Black-capped Chickadees, but certainly not limited to them. Another ornithologist, Julie Craves, had been seeing and studying it in passerines in the Great Lakes region.

    To my knowledge, this all began around the mid-90’s.

    Birds with long bills have been reported in the literature since the early 1900’s. What is new are the concentrations of them and the peculiar forms of the beaks, from elongated to overlapping to corkscrew shapes.

    Despite the recent attention directed at the syndrome, we still do not know the cause. Is it a pollutant? Is it communicable? Is it caused by a bacteria or virus? No one knows the answer. After 15 years, we are still essentially in the dark. With Mia’s bird, we now have a perfect example of the sickle-bill form (the worst) all the way over in Utah and the first I am aware of for that state.

    Mia thought about catching this bird to help it out, a natural impulse from a bird person.

    However, I have advised her not to do so. Unfortunately, for this bird, it is too late. Even if they caught the bird and trimmed or coped its beak it would do no good. X-rays have shown that in this particular sickel-billed form involving both the maxilla and the mandible, that the bone underlying the keratin sheathing will have dissolved. Essentially there is no longer any bone structure to support the keratin. Coping would be futile.

    Why is all this important? Because it is now being seen in bird species across North America. Aside from the suffering and pain involving the individual birds that contract it, what would happen on a population level if it were to enter the ranks of a threatened, or even worse, an endangered species? Especially, since we can’t even say what it is at this point.

    So what can you do?

    Every time you see such a bird as Mia did, no matter what species, take a photograph, get the date and location and report it to Collen Handel at the Alaska Biological Center.

    Bud Anderson
    [email protected]
    Falcon Research Group
    Box 248
    Bow, WA 98232
    (360) 757-1911

    • Mia McPherson November 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      Thank you Bud for all the information you have imparted to my readers on this hawk’s condition and about Long bill syndrome. It was wonderful talking to you today.

  4. Dan Huber November 7, 2011 at 5:19 am

    wow, the poor bird. Is this due to poor nutrition?

  5. Mike November 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Wicked catch, Mia. I’ve never heard of this problem afflicting a raptor.

    • Mia McPherson November 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Apparently it is not as uncommon as I thought Mike.

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