EL MONTE, Calif. — Recent outbreaks of bird flu are being felt on the badminton court.
Chinese geese have been slaughtered by the millions to prevent the spread of the disease, and that has left a shortage of the fine feathers used to make shuttlecocks.
Only the thickest, heaviest goose feathers from northern China are used to make premium shuttlecocks and sometimes as few as two feathers per goose make the final cut.
But now, shuttlecock makers are having to settle for substandard feathers, and the sport's devotees in southern California say the latest projectiles — also called birdies — just aren't the same.
"Everybody complains now, 'What's wrong with the shuttle?'" Dan Chien said after a practice session at the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club. "It was goose feather, but now it feels almost like duck."
Prices have risen 25 percent in recent months, and top of the line shuttlecocks have been going for $25 a dozen as companies compete for limited feathers and players hoard the best birdies.
"If bird flu becomes pandemic, shuttlecock prices could become twofold or threefold higher," said Ahmad Bakar, director of shuttlecock seller Pacific Sports Private Ltd.