Saturday, 13 July 2024


LUCERNE – California Department of Fish & Game officials working to collect thousands of dead ducks and waterfowl along the Northshore believe that the animals have perished due to avian cholera. 

DFG veterinarian Pam Swift said a number of dead ducks collected for testing arrived at the DFG's lab in Rancho Cordova Tuesday morning.

Andy Atkinson, a senior wildlife biologist supervisor in Lake County this week to lead DFG efforts in addressing the die-off, said additional samples were sent to the California Animal Health & Food Safety Lab at UC Davis.

Final test results are expected Wednesday afternoon, Swift said, but officials are already venturing an educated guess based on initial tests on the animals.

“We've already made a presumptive diagnosis of avian cholera,” said Swift.

That diagnosis, she said, is based on the discovery during necropsies of white spots or lesions, caused by bacteria that causes avian cholera, on the birds' livers.

Swift said the DFG lab coordinates disease testing for animals, and also has been conducting tests for an avian cholera outbreak that occurred at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge's Butte Sink section earlier this month.

DFG set up its staging center for dead bird collection this week at Lucerne's Harbor Park.

On Tuesday afternoon, Atkinson worked with other staff to collect the dead animals and take samples from some of them.

Atkinson said a total of 11 DFG staffers from different agency divisions were on scene to collect the birds

For this die-off event, Atkinson said, they had already picked up more than 1,500 dead birds, with an estimated 700 picked up on Tuesday alone.

“We covered the entire lake today,” said Atkinson.

He added that they know where the concentrations of dead birds are and they're working to clean them up.

Atkinson said avian cholera can affect any avian species. A DFG manual he follows for avian influenza and cholera outbreaks explains that avian cholera is caused by the bacteria Pasteurella multocida, which commonly affects waterfowl, coots, gulls and crows.

The vast majority of the die-off victims appear to be ruddy ducks, a migratory bird that winters on Clear Lake, said Atkinson.

However, one of the bags of dead birds collected Tuesday included numerous grebes, thousands of which make the lake their home.

“We're really hoping it doesn't get into the grebe colony in the lower part of the lake,” said DFG Game Warden Lynette Shimek, who was among the first to respond to the die-off which began this past weekend.

Shimek spent Tuesday morning on the lake collecting dead ducks and later hauling them to the landfill. She said DFG has four boats it's using to aid collection.

The birds appear to be dying in the same portion of the lake where the massive 2004 avian cholera die-off occurred, said Shimek, which is in the lake's main arm.

She said the ruddy ducks, which are a smaller species of duck, are apparently dying in the lake center and the wind is blowing them toward shore, where they're being found in areas stretching from Nice to Glenhaven.

The birds are flying in with the disease, Shimek said. Once in the lake, they like to stay out more in the open water, where they congregate in close, tight-knit groups.

Atkinson said avian cholera is transmitted in a number of ways, including through direct contact and bacteria transmitted through the air.

With the ruddy ducks staying so close together, the disease can easily among them, said Shimek. “That's why they're affected so much more than other species.”

Collecting the dead bodies helps stop the spread of the disease, said Atkinson.

Sandie Elliott of SpiritWild, Lake County's wildlife rescue group, said she received her first call from an area resident Friday reporting dead birds.

Shimek, Elliott and some volunteers began collecting the dead animals along a 12-mile stretch of shoreline over the weekend until the other DFG staffers arrived.

Elliott said at that time they spotted nearly 1,000 more sick or dead ducks in a small stretch of water. “It's going to be big,” she said of the die-off.

Avian cholera is commonly seen in winter, said Elliott.

The National Wildlife Health Center's (NWHC) Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases notes that waterfowl in California that often are hit with the disease during the migration period that starts in fall and ends in the spring.

DFG urges people not to touch the animals at all until they have an official diagnosis for the die-off's cause.

Shimek said people can call her home office, 275-8862, to report dead animals for pick up.

She asked for the community's patience while the main collection goes on, and said she will respond to pick up the animals as quickly as she can.

For now, she said, “We have to focus on the hot spot areas.”

Atkinson said he expects to have a better idea by Wednesday of how much more collection will be required and what other resources he'll need to finish the job.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




This article has been updated.: Please note, the previous version gave handling protocols and local officials are asking the public not to pick the birds up at this time.


NORTHSHORE – County officials are reporting a die-off of ruddy ducks in the Nice-Lucerne area.

Officials don't yet know what has caused the birds to die. Last year, avian influenza killed a number of ducks near Lakeport's Library Park; three years ago, avian cholera claimed thousands of ruddy ducks in the lake's main arm.

Pamela Francis, deputy director of the county's Water Resources division, notified Supervisor Denise Rushing of the situation on Monday.


Francis reported that 150 animals have been collected, and that the state Department of Fish & Game (DFG) has taken samples in order to find a cause of death for the animals.


In January 2004, a massive ruddy duck die-off occurred on Clear Lake which DFG attributed to avian cholera. A DFG report said a total of 7,400 dead ducks were collected and disposed of in that die-off event, which was the first recorded avian cholera outbreak on Clear Lake.


Ruddy ducks are a migratory fowl which can be found wintering in Lake County, not just on the main lake but also Borax Lake, according to the county's tourism site.


In addition to the ruddy ducks, that avian cholera outbreak also claimed the lives of mallard ducks, grebes and egrets.


The 2004 die-off occurred in the main arm of Clear Lake. DFG, California Department of Agriculture, County of Lake staff, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and volunteers from SpiritWild, a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization, collected the dead animals both on the water and on land.


Most of the dead ducks were picked up on the lake's eastern shore – from Nice to Glenhaven – with some dead ducks found in the Oaks arm of the lake.


This latest die-off appears to be occurring close to the same area as the one in 2004.


The National Wildlife Health Center's (NWHC) Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases notes that waterfowl are common avian cholera victims, with wading birds, shorebirds and cranes falling to the disease less frequently. California, the report noted, has outbreaks of the disease almost annually.


Avian cholera hits wild waterfowl in a season pattern closely associated with seasonal migrations, the report notes, with outbreaks in California normally starting during fall and continuing into the spring.


DFG reports that disposing of the carcasses helps slow the spread of diseases like avian cholera, which is lethal to waterfowl and other birds but does not affect humans. Only one type of avian influenza has been noted to affect humans, but it has not yet been found in the United States.


Officials are taking care of collecting the animals and ask area resident not to pick the animals up at this time, until they know the precise cause of the birds' deaths. 


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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