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For Release: Friday, March 28, 2014

DEC: Significant Waterfowl Mortality Event in Lake Erie and Niagara River Due to Extensive Ice Cover

Thousands of dead ducks observed along the near shore waters of Lake Erie and the Niagara River died from starvation, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today.

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 sustain themselves.

"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.

For more information, contact your local DEC office. Contact information is available on DEC's website.

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