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Muscovy duck deaths: plague or poison?

Muscovy ducks wander through the driveway and front yard of a home on 53rd Avenue N in Kenneth City. Muscovies are found in larger social groups than are wild ducks.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2007)

Muscovy ducks wander through the driveway and front yard of a home on 53rd Avenue N in Kenneth City. Muscovies are found in larger social groups than are wild ducks.

KENNETH CITY — Mother Nature seems to be accomplishing what the Town Council could not — getting rid of the throngs of Muscovies that have chosen to live in Kenneth City.

By late last week, an estimated 28 ducks had been found dead or dying. Town and wildlife officials think the birds are suffering from an incurable disease called duck viral enteritis, also known as duck plague or DVE.

But some duck lovers aren't so sure that the birds are succumbing to the plague.

"I'm skeptical," said Maureen Lyons, who helped spearhead a successful campaign last year against a proposed ordinance banning the feeding of ducks on private property. She worries that someone is poisoning the fowl and she's not completely sold on the DVE theory.

"I'm going to have it (duck remains) analyzed by an independent source just to double check," Lyons said. The proposed ordinance she opposed in 2007 was designed to keep Muscovies from gathering in neighborhoods searching for food. Some residents complained that the ducks destroyed their yards.

Duck lovers suspect poison because the first dead ducks were found in a yard next door to a homeowner who is reported to have had rat poison in a trap out back. Their concern was heightened by the description by Kenneth City police Officer Venus Michaud of the appearance of one of the dying ducks:

"I had personally monitored this sick duck for several minutes and noted it did not appear to be experiencing any neurological effects, but was standing still in front of a water source, drinking constantly then vomiting back up a fluid that was a pale yellowish green in color."

Thirst and vomiting sounds like poisoning, Lyons said.

But other symptoms, including bloody feces, would indicate DVE, said Meredith Grinnell, a biological scientist with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Grinnell said the wildlife commission sent samples from two ducks to its lab in Gainesville and preliminary results indicate the culprit is DVE. Other samples have been sent to Atlanta and Grinnell said she expects the results to confirm those from Gainesville.

"I would be very, very surprised if it were something else,"

Grinnell said.

DVE is a common disease, Grinnell said, that affects ducks, geese and swans. It's especially prevalent in the spring, perhaps because the ducks are clustered for breeding. Muscovies, she said, seem to be particularly susceptible to the disease. That could be, she said, because Muscovies are found in bigger social groups than are wild ducks.

The disease is passed through contact with feces. The first symptoms will show within three to seven days after the duck is exposed to the disease. Within two weeks, the animal is dead.

"They will definitely act sick," Grinnell said. "One day they'll look fine, the next day they'll have trouble lifting their head, the next day they're gone."

The virus strikes the intestines and can affect other organs. It causes internal bleeding, which is why blood is often seen in the animals' feces.

"It's not a very pleasant disease," Grinnell said. "It's actually very painful. It's not a nice way to go. … Unfortunately, once it gets started, it has to run its course."

The disease usually disappears by midsummer, she said. In the meantime, the best thing to do is euthanize infected ducks and refrain from feeding other ducks so they won't congregate in large groups and run the risk

of infection.

"The more they congregate in one area, the more likely it is that they'll pass the disease on,"

she said.

Grinnell said that residents do not have to be concerned that the disease will pass to pet birds, such as parakeets and parrots. Nor will it affect humans or other pets, such as dogs or cats. People who have pet ducks or geese might want to keep them isolated, but other species are safe, she said.

The duck plague has apparently not spread to either Pinellas Park or Seminole waterfowl. Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said officials there have heard of no unusual duck deaths.

Allen Godfrey, Seminole's director of public works, said he knows of only one Muscovy that has died recently. That was last week.

"Roadkill. Hit and run, actually," Godfrey said. "Other than the hit and run, that's the only one I've got."

Muscovy duck deaths: plague or poison? 04/01/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 2:13pm]

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