Avian Botulism Outbreak Hits Tulelake Wildlife Refuge

, Written by Lyle Ahrens, Posted: Thu, August 29 2013 at 5:00 PM, Updated: Thu, August 29 2013 at 5:09 PM

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.

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About the Author

Lyle Ahrens

KOTI-TV NBC2 reporter Lyle Ahrens moved from Nebraska to Klamath Falls in the late 1970's.  He instantly fell in love with the mountains, the trees and the rivers, and never once regretted the move.

Lyle's job history is quite colorful.  He’s managed a pizza parlor; he’s been a bartender, and a “kiwifruit grader” at an organic orchard in New Zealand.  A Klamath Falls radio station hired Lyle in the mid 90's as a news writer and commercial producer.  In 2004, Lyle joined the KOTI/KOBI news operation.

Lyle notes with pride that he has a big responsibility presenting the Klamath Basin to a wide and varied audience.  "The on-going water crisis has underscored the fact that the people and the issues in the Klamath Basin are every bit as diverse as the terrain.  Winning and keeping the trust of the viewers, as well as the newsmakers, is something I strive for with each story".

When he's not busy reporting the news, Lyle enjoys astronomy, playing guitar, fixing old radios and listening to anything by Sheryl Crow.

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