Wildlife officials remove dead ducks from local pond

Wild and domestic ducks hang out on the banks of the pond Beck-Kiwanis Park on Tuesday afternoon while a dead domestic duck is floating in the water just behind them. Wildlife officials who suspect the cause to be avian botulism spent the day removing 15 carcasses from the pond.

ONTARIO — Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials dealt with the removal of dead ducks at Beck-Kiwanis Park on Tuesday. An early theory is that it could be related to botulism — but not the kind that affects humans.

“That’s our guess,” said Philip Milburn, district biologist for ODFW in Ontario. “We’ll see what the lab comes back with.”

As labs are the only way to know, he said until labs were official, his guess was “pure speculation.” However, he did note that the conditions of the water (at a lower level and hotter than usual), varying stages of decomposition indicating deaths that occurred over time, and the behavior of a duck when they arrived that ended up dying, led him to that hypothesis.

Botulism is a neurotoxin, Milburn explained, adding that it isn’t likely concentrated in the water, but that ducks are more exposed to the bacterium, due to “dabbling in the soil and all that.” The duck that wildlife officials saw die on Tuesday “couldn’t stand, walk or raise it’s head up,” characteristic of neurotoxin exposure.

Waterfowl unable to hold their heads up may drown, according to an overview of avian botulism on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. This type of botulism, known as type C, does not affect humans, according to USGS.

The newspaper alerted Milburn and Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Tuesday morning after receiving a news tip about the ducks. Milburn got back to the newspaper Tuesday afternoon to discuss details.

Overall, officials found 15 dead ducks — all of which were domestic and, as such, not managed by ODFW. However, the pond also has wild ducks, including mallards, greens and coots, according to Milburn, which may be at risk, too.

He said all the wild ducks appeared healthy and alive, noting that other domestic ducks that were near the water were, too.

At the request of the Department of Agriculture, ODFW submitted two carcasses to the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab for testing.

“Because we suspect botulism we collected the carcass and disposed of them to help slow the outbreak and will continue to monitor the area,” he said. “Please note that [ODFW] has no authority over domestic ducks and only acted today to assist [Oregon Department of Agriculture] and to help protect the wildlife that also use the pond,” Milburn said.

Wildlife officials state that wild ducks can also be affected by avian botulism. As such, local officials suggest the domestic ducks may have been affected as a result of being fed by someone.

USGS states that avian botulism does concentrate in aquatic invertebrates that filter feed sediments or water, and when the birds eat those, they in turn get a concentrated amount of toxin. Additionally, it states that there is a bird-to-bird cycle, which exists when maggots feed on dead birds and are then eaten by other birds.

How long the risk will remain is unknown: In addition to the botulism being naturally present in the soil, it becomes problematic with the pond’s lower water and high temperatures. Furthermore, the weather cooling off isn’t expected to lower the botulism levels.

“It would be better if there was a way to put more water in to manage that water,” Milburn said.

However, he thought Beck-Kiwanis was ground source influence with no actual connection for other water.

“If there was a way, that would help,” he said.

A similar move was done recently to combat avian botulism in the Kwlamath Basin, where officials were able to divert about 10,000 acre-feet of water to a “critically dry wetland unit on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge,” according to a recent article in (Klamath Falls) Herald and News.

Avian botulism is common in wetland areas that don’t see a lot of water flow, but in his years of experience in this region, Milburn said it wasn’t that common here. This is because water flows associated with wetland on the Snake and Owyhee rivers tend to have enough water flow and are not big wetlands like those in the Klamath Basin, he said. For this reason, he says, avian botulism isn’t that common locally.

While bringing more water into the pond at Beck-Kiwanis Park isn’t likely an option for Ontario, Milburn says wildlife officials did the next-best thing: picking up carcasses so they don’t contribute to the outbreak. And they’ll continue to monitor the situation.

While humans and, even fish, are not likely at risk from the avian botulism, Milburn said he would be more potentially concerned about going into the pond with blue-green algae, as there are risks for dogs and humans.

“This time of year, that’s fairly common,” he said of the algae build-up on the pond.

There were also some dead fish in the water, which Milburn said he does not believe is associated with botulism, but said he did alert ODFW’s fish biologist.

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