RENO — An avian botulism outbreak has resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 ducks and other birds at a private hunting lake near two of Nevada’s most important wetlands for birds.
The die-off has occurred since late August at Six Man Club, a private lake near both the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the state-run Carson Lake and Pasture, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The two wetlands, located around Fallon about 60 miles east of Reno, are major stops on the Pacific Flyway for a wide variety of migrating birds.
Although birds frequently fly between the three bodies of water, officials say the outbreak has not spread to Stillwater or Carson Lake. An abundance of fresh water in Stillwater and Carson Lake could help prevent its spread there, they said.
“It’s pretty much contained. It’s the water itself that has it,” said Susan Sawyer, Stillwater’s visitor services manager.
The number of bacteria-killed birds has been on a steady rise since late August and could make 2011 one of the 10 worst years for botulism outbreaks since state records started in 1949.
“It’s starting to get a bit out of control,” said Russell Woolstenhulme, a migratory game bird specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Crews fished 398 dead birds out of the lake Wednesday and another 344 Thursday. As of Friday, 1,942 birds had died.
Among affected birds are mallards, green-wing teals, redhead ducks, American avocets and white-faced ibis.
Avian botulism, which poses no threat to humans, becomes prevalent in water bodies with low oxygen levels typically associated with decaying vegetation.
By removing dead birds from the lake, biologists hope to end the outbreak soon.
Woolstenhulme said he does not expect the outbreak to pose any real serious threat to the overall bird population, now at a peak with the arrival of migratory birds.