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Avian Botulism

Avian Botulism Update

Almost 20 volunteers are walking the Island’s beaches from the middle of September to the middle of December recording and disposing of dead birds. To date (November 10) one loon (which has been sent for testing), a few gulls and white winged scoters have been found. Certainly not as many as last year. Just in case though, we obtained avian botulism kits from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. These kits include heavy-duty garbage bags and gloves as well as information about avian botulism. Birds will be disposed of in a pit dug behind the transfer station, bagless. Forms are filled out weekly to keep track of the findings.

Avian Botulism kills. It begins naturally enough in the lake sediments. Cladophora, the smelly green algae that has plagued our Island shores the past couple of years, but doesn’t seem as bad this year, helps to perpetuate the cycle of botulism. It removes oxygen as it decays, and provides a substrate upon which the botulism can grow. The bottom-feeders, mussels such as the Zebra and Quagga, filter the botulism into their bodies, themselves not being affected. Later, fish which feed upon the mussels, such as the Goby, transfer the botulism to their bodies and become sick and slow. Then fish-eating birds pick them off as easy prey, becoming infected themselves. Most birds succumb within a few days. It isn’t pleasant. First, their flight muscles become paralyzed, then their legs, next their neck muscles can no longer hold up their heads. If the bird doesn’t drown, then the chest muscles paralyze and the bird suffocates.

It is important that family pets are not exposed to the dead birds on the beach, as it can also transfer to them and make them sick and possibly die. Hunters and fishermen should not eat fish or birds acting strangely as they might be infected also. Please report any sick or dead birds found on Beaver Island’s shores to Jacque LaFreniere at 448-2220.

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