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Botulism suspected of killing waterfowl at area parks, ponds

By Bob Conrad

Ducks and geese are dying at local ponds, and state wildlife officials said botulism is likely to blame. 

A concerned This Is Reno reader said dead birds were being repeatedly found at Lake Park. No notices at the City of Reno park were issued as of Aug. 23, but a Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian today said avian botulism has been confirmed at a South Meadows pond and is suspected at least three city parks.

“We’ve had multiple reports of mostly duck and goose mortalities in multiple urban ponds around Reno,” said NDOW’s Nate LaHue. 

A duck that is likely ill with botulism at Lake Park on Aug. 23, 2022 in Reno, Nev.
A duck that is likely ill with botulism at Lake Park on Aug. 23, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

Dead birds at Virginia Lake, Lake Park and Paradise Park are each suspected of having botulism. The outbreak is not a threat to human health, but people are advised not to go in or consume water at area ponds. Pets should also be kept out.

People should not handle dead birds.

“We’ve had …somewhat frequent botulism outbreaks in Reno over the years, so it’s not an uncommon thing to happen this time in the summer,” LaHue said.

Drought, heat and lack of circulating water contribute to the botulism outbreaks.

“What we have in a lot of these urban areas is these warm, shallow ponds [with] lots of algae growth, low water movement [and a] high amount of duck feces,” LaHue added. “It just sets up this kind of perfect condition for botulism to grow and an outbreak to occur.”

LaHue said the human-constructed ponds with low water flow are part of the problem.

“The construction of these ponds historically wasn’t necessarily meant to mimic a natural ecosystem,” he added. “They’re meant to be a nice place for people to walk around or they’re meant to hold stormwater runoff or things like that.”

Aerating the water and improving water circulation at the ponds would help reduce the severity of botulism outbreaks. The impacted birds tend to be ducks and geese, so the threat to migratory birds is minimal.

LaHue further said colder temperatures will reduce the problem heading into the fall and winter.

Learn more about avian botulism from the USGS:

Ducks and geese are dying at local ponds, and state wildlife officials said botulism is likely to blame. 

A concerned This Is Reno reader said dead birds were being repeatedly found at Lake Park. No notices at the City of Reno park were issued as of Aug. 23, but a Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian today said avian botulism has been confirmed at a South Meadows pond and is suspected at least three city parks.

“We’ve had multiple reports of mostly duck and goose mortalities in multiple urban ponds around Reno,” said NDOW’s Nate LaHue. 

Dead birds at Virginia Lake, Lake Park and Paradise Park are each suspected of having botulism. The outbreak is not a threat to human health, but people are advised not to go in or consume water at area ponds. Pets should also be kept out.

People should not handle dead birds.

“We’ve had …somewhat frequent botulism outbreaks in Reno over the years, so it’s not an uncommon thing to happen this time in the summer,” LaHue said.

The water in the pond at Lake Park is filled with algae during the late summer heat, which contributes to conditions for botulism in the water. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

Drought, heat and lack of circulating water contribute to the botulism outbreaks.

“What we have in a lot of these urban areas is these warm, shallow ponds [with] lots of algae growth, low water movement [and a] high amount of duck feces,” LaHue added. “It just sets up this kind of perfect condition for botulism to grow and an outbreak to occur.”

LaHue said the human-constructed ponds with low water flow are part of the problem.

“The construction of these ponds historically wasn’t necessarily meant to mimic a natural ecosystem,” he added. “They’re meant to be a nice place for people to walk around or they’re meant to hold stormwater runoff or things like that.”

Aerating the water and improving water circulation at the ponds would help reduce the severity of botulism outbreaks. The impacted birds tend to be ducks and geese, so the threat to migratory birds is minimal.

LaHue further said colder temperatures will reduce the problem heading into the fall and winter.

Learn more about avian botulism from the USGS: https://www.usgs.gov/diseases-of-terrestrial-wildlife/avian-botulism

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