DEC investigating death of waterbirds along shores of Lake Ontario
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating the deaths of waterbirds found along the shores of Lake Ontario in Wayne, Oswego and Jefferson counties. The dead birds started turning up in mid-October.
Preliminary testing by the DEC’s Wildlife Health Unit indicates type E botulism is the likely cause of death. Additional testing is planned in conjunction with the state Department of Health.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Similar mortality events have occurred in piscivorous (fish-eating) waterfowl and waterbirds on Lake Ontario since 2002.
“The mortality events associated with this disease usually occur during the fall and tens of thousands of birds have succumbed to this disease across the Great Lakes.,” according to DEC. “Loons, grebes, gulls and certain duck species are the principle victims during these disease outbreaks. Affected birds typically die from drowning after becoming paralyzed by botulinum toxin in the fish they are eating.”
The most common fish being consumed by the birds, according to the DEC, is the round goby, an invasive species that accumulates toxin by feeding primarily on invasive mussels on the lake bottom.
“The toxin is generated by Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that may grow in decomposing algae and other organic matter in the vicinity of mussel beds,” DEC said.
“Dead birds pose a threat to scavenging wildlife because the botulism toxin remains viable in the carcass, and carcasses can provide sites for Clostridium growth and the generation of additional toxin.”
If one finds a dead bird, burial of carcasses is encouraged, either on-site or in a landfill,a according to the DEC. . As a general precaution, DEC advises people to use rubber or plastic protective gloves or a plastic bag when handling any sick or dead wildlife.
“Hunters and anglers who harvest normal-acting waterfowl and fish do not need to take any special precautions when handling or consuming their harvest,” DEC said. “However, birds or fish exhibiting abnormal activity may be sick and should not be consumed as cooking may not destroy the botulism toxin.”
Discoveries of dead or distressed fish or wildlife should be reported to DEC’s offices in Buffalo at (716) 851-7010, Allegany at (716) 372-0645, Avon at (585) 226-5380, Syracuse at (315) 426-7400, Cortland at (607) 753-3095, Watertown at (315) 785-2261 or Cape Vincent at (315) 654-2147.