New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that thousands of dead ducks observed along the near shore waters of Lake Erie and the Niagara River died from starvation.
DEC's Wildlife Health Unit examined hundreds of dead birds and found that
starvation is the primary cause of this die-off the result of extensive ice
cover and cold temperatures that blocked access to the food diving ducks need to
"This winter has been harsh to all wintering waterfowl, but especially to
diving, fish-eating ducks, who can't access food in ice-capped waters," said DEC
Senior Wildlife Biologist Connie Adams. "Wintering waterfowl usually need to eat
an amount of food equivalent to about 20 percent of their weight every day, and
in extreme conditions or harsh temperatures, they need to consume more to
sustain themselves. Because of cold temperatures and iced over waters, many
birds have suffered food deprivation since early winter, and are only now
starting to die off in great numbers. The small pockets of open water can't
provide enough food to sustain the massive concentrations of waterfowl."
DEC estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 waterfowl are wintering on eastern Lake
Erie and the Niagara River.
Beginning the second week of January, unusual numbers of dead ducks were
observed in the Niagara River, and then in areas of Lake Erie. Sightings of dead
ducks have been reported as far east as Irondequoit Bay on Lake Ontario. Diving
ducks in particular are drastically affected by starvation this winter, but most
types of waterfowl species commonly found in this area have been impacted. The
majority of affected waterfowl observed have been red-breasted mergansers and
greater scaup, but the harsh winter conditions also has caused distress for
other birds, including American coots, lesser scaup, common mergansers,
long-tailed ducks, white-winged scoters, bufflehead, goldeneye, canvasback,
redheads, pied-billed grebes, horned and red-necked grebes.
This die-off appears to be a natural, weather-related event due to the
extreme and prolonged cold temperatures. Diagnostic testing by DEC's Wildlife
Health Unit did not reveal any infectious diseases. Hundreds of weakened diving
ducks have been recovered by private citizens and taken to New York
State-licensed wildlife rehabilitators. The ducks are ravenous and also suffer
from a lack of waterproofing, an apparent side effect of starvation. The
rehabilitators provide medical attention and food, and most ducks are released
back to the wild after their conditions improve.
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