Thousands of birds are dying from an outbreak of avian botulism in the Tulelake Wildlife Refuge Area...and that outbreak is being intensified by drought conditions.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dave Mauser has been busy picking up dead birds to help prevent further spread of the disease...
"Thus far, we've picked up 4,500 birds. I would estimate losses at this time, usually you can only find about half of what's actually out there - so it's probably near 9,000 lost birds at this time."
The Lower Klamath Refuge area has run dry, causing more birds to congregate to the nearby Tulelake Refuge.
"Tulelake is pretty normal this year." Stated Mauser. "It receives return flows from the Klamath Project. So as long as the project is getting irrigation water, Tulelake generally gets enough water."
But that heavier concentration of birds leads to quicker spread of the disease.
"Luckily," Adds Mauser, "This is a type of botulism that does not affect humans."
The dead birds are incinerated.
But Mauser notes some of the sick birds can be helped...
"We have a duck hospital over on the Lower Klamath Refuge and we put the birds in there, give them fresh water, keep them in the shade, and about 50 to 70 percent of those birds will recover."
Mauser estimates that the botulism season is only about halfway through...and more migrating birds are on the way.
Avian botulism occurs most often from July through September.
It's been around for a long time, and used to be called 'western duck sickness' by early European settlers.