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Cause of 15 dead ducks near ponds remains mystery

“The ducks are dead. We don’t expect there was any fowl play.”

That’s how Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Ross summed up last month’s discovery of 15 dead ducks at Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs.

Between the inconclusive pond site tests and state-sponsored animal autopsies, Ross has had a few weeks to come up with the pun but said that doesn’t mean he takes the matter lightly.

City officials reopened ponds 1, 2 and 3 for fishing while conducting routine maintenance on a fourth .

Ross has heard different theories on a likely cause of death, one of which links the deaths to last month’s 28,000-acre Carpenter 1 Fire on Mount Charleston.

“The report I got from the (Nevada Department of Wildlife) said they’re migratory birds, that there are a lot of them up on Mount Charleston and that they could have been fleeing all that smoke and ash we had and died down here,” Ross said.

The 15 dead ducks discovered at the park July 26 have stumped Ross, city parks and recreation staff members and state wildlife officials, who had the birds flown to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis ., for a lengthy post-mortem evaluation in August.

Pond water tested by city officials came up clean, and fish pulled out of the water are safe to eat, according to city spokesman Jace Radke.

That leaves avian botulism, a paralyzing, often deadly form of bacterial bird food poisoning, as the most likely culprit of the ducks’ death.

Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Doug Nielsen said the botulism — caused by seasonally low water levels that encourage bacterial growth in ground spores consumed by maggots and other bird food sources — is “perfectly natural and fairly common.”

The good news, he said, is that officials did not wait to take action.

“One of the keys is to dispose of those bird carcasses. If you don’t, that’s something that could spread,” Nielsen said. “My understanding is that there have been no other deaths, and if it were something other than (avian botulism), you’d see ongoing problems. We don’t have confirmation of what it was or wasn’t, but the bottom line is in nature, things happen, and we don’t always know the whys and wherefores of what caused it.”

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at or 702-477-3839.