ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Researchers in California and Alaska are hoping they've found what's causing beaks of some bird species to grow twice as fast as normal.

The disease is called avian keratin disorder. Affected birds grow beaks that are freakishly long and that sometimes curve up or down.

Birds with the disease find it difficult to feed and preen. It has affected 6.5 per cent of southcentral Alaska's black-capped chickadees and 17 per cent of the area's northwestern crows.

Using advanced DNA and RNA sequence technology, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco found a previously unknown virus in the beaks of affected chickadees.

U.S. Geological Survey biologist Colleen Handel has worked on the disorder for 18 years. She says the virus is the strongest lead for a possible cause.