Hundreds of dead birds at Pigeon, Minnesota lakes

July 28, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

More than 700 cormorants, pelicans, and other birds were found dead at Pigeon Lake, south of Dassel, and at Minnesota Lake in Faribault County.

Biologists from the Department of Natural Resources found the dead and dying birds when they were banding pelicans.

Officials know it is some kind of wildlife disease, but they don’t know which. As of Tuesday, there were 687 double-crested cormorants, 37 pelicans, ring-billed gulls, and a great blue heron found dead, or struggling to breathe. Some were too weak to hold up their heads, according to DNR Area Wildlife Manager Joel Anderson. The disease might have been infecting the birds for the past three weeks, he added.

Initial tests for avian influenza were negative. Experts at labs in Iowa and Wisconsin are analyzing samples DNR biologists sent them.

Michelle Castensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator, said there are numerous pathogens that could have caused the die-off. Also, regarding the total number of birds that are dead, the deaths don’t affect the population of cormorants significantly, she added.

It appears the birds, flying between the two lakes 100 miles apart, have the same disease. To make sure the disease doesn’t spread to other birds, the sick birds are being euthanized.

John Schladweiler, a regional ecological resources manager with the DNR, said the DNR treats an unknown situation like this as a worst-case scenario.

The DNR has alerted both the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture about the infection. The agencies are warning farmers to watch their poultry and turkeys for symptoms of a strange illness.

Also, the public is asked to stay away from both lakes.

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