ST. PETERSBURG — Mike Price has lived near Lake Pasadena all his life, accustomed to ducks lazing on the water, waddling along nearby streets and wandering into neighborhood yards.
Then they started dying, their carcasses floating on the lake with the tiny island in the middle, where egrets and other birds returned to rest in the evenings.
Price, 44, the owner of a martial arts business, became alarmed when he saw what was happening at the lake in his Eagle Crest neighborhood.
"It's always had a group of ducks down there. Usually the majority are Muscovy ducks," he said, adding that the lake had also become home to other species as people abandoned ducks they no longer wanted.
But the ducks weren't only dying at the lake.
"I was getting calls from the neighbors saying, 'I have a couple of dead ducks in my yard,' " Price said.
It started about a month ago.
"I buried well over 30,'' he said. "It's been heartbreaking. I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen anything like this before."
Patricia Toups, who also lives in the neighborhood, said that besides the ducks, egrets, herons and other animals normally seen at Lake Pasadena are also now scarce. She added that residents have also noticed a die-off at nearby Lake Disston.
"I thought somebody was taking them," she said of the disappearing ducks, adding that she then wondered whether the lake was being poisoned by chemicals used on nearby lawns.
Lauren Partridge, a biological scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said the office got a report about a fish kill, dead ducks and possibly one dead egret on April 15. Workers from the city of St. Petersburg collected four dead Muscovy ducks, she said.
"However, they were too decomposed for any meaningful analysis to be performed," Partridge said, adding that Fish and Wildlife staffers did not find any dead fish or wildlife when they went to the lake.
They did test the water at Lake Pasadena.
"The water color did look discolored. It had a green slimy layer on one portion of the lake and that was in the southwest corner, between two culverts," she said.
Tests indicated a mixed algae bloom, which can lower the oxygen content of the water and cause a fish kill.
"All the wildlife we did see appeared normal and healthy. The cause of the duck kill is unknown at this time," Partridge said.
What's happening to the Muscovy ducks is not unusual for this time of year, she said.
"Muscovy ducks are prone to certain diseases that other ducks aren't. We seem to get an increased number of calls to our hotline at this time of year," the scientist added.
Muscovy ducks are not native to Florida and "have the potential to transmit disease to and interbreed with Florida's native waterfowl," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website says.
The ducks "can be a nuisance to landowners because of their droppings and aggressive behavior," it adds.
But for Price, who rehabilitates neighborhood wildlife with the help of his 14-year-old daughter, Tessa, the ducks are welcome neighbors. He has been trying to nurse them back to health and save their hatchlings in pens in his back yard.
"A lot of them, I started raising and then I release them," he said. "If there's an abandoned nest, I'd incubate them."
Ellen McDowell, manager of the mayor's action center, said the city's stormwater department will continue to monitor Lake Pasadena and Lake Disston in the coming weeks.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.