The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends
Environment & Science

Possible avian botulism outbreak at Laguna Niguel lake

Photo by Isidro Vila Verde via Flickr Creative Commons

The OC Register reports that more than 20 ducks and other water birds are being taken to a wildlife center in Huntington Beach suffering from what appears to be an outbreak of avian botulism.

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center -- a facility already overcrowded from a recent rush of starving brown pelicans -- is receiving the animals via volunteers who are transporting the birds from the lake at Laguna Niguel Regional Park. 

The illness makes the birds "floppy," or unable to hold up their heads; as it worsens they can lose the ability to close their eyes.

The paralysis can quickly progress, leading to death. "They’re looking pretty stable," [Wildlife director Debbie] McGuire said Tuesday. "They’re able to hold their heads up today. It’s best to get care as quickly as possible — give IV fluids right into their veins, and start flushing out that toxin."

Botulinum is believed to kill tens of thousands of U.S. waterfowl every year, said McGuire. In a low-oxygen environment, lake organisms, carcasses, and even bread, can stimulate the bacteria's growth.

Other birds can pick up the toxin, either by eating the animal matter or the maggots found on carcasses, she said."They become little botulism pills," McGuire said. "As few as one maggot the bird eats can kill (the bird)."