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Avian botulism type E in waterbirds of Lake Michigan, 2010–2013

April 23, 2015

During 2010 to 2013, waterbird mortality surveillance programs used a shared protocol for shoreline walking surveys performed June to November at three areas in northern Lake Michigan. In 2010 and 2012, 1244 total carcasses (0.8 dead bird/km walked) and 2399 total carcasses (1.2 dead birds/km walked), respectively, were detected. Fewer carcasses were detected in 2011 (353 total carcasses, 0.2 dead bird/km walked) and 2013 (451 total carcasses, 0.3 dead bird/km walked). During 3 years, peak detection of carcasses occurred in October and involved primarily migratory diving and fish-eating birds, including long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis; 2010), common loons (Gavia immer; 2012), and red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator; 2013). In 2011, peak detection of carcasses occurred in August and consisted primarily of summer residents such as gulls (Larus spp.) and double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus). A subset of fresh carcasses was collected throughout each year of the study and tested for botulinum neurotoxin type E (BoNT/E). Sixty-one percent of carcasses (57/94) and 10 of 11 species collected throughout the sampling season tested positive for BoNT/E, suggesting avian botulism type E was a major cause of death for both resident and migratory birds in Lake Michigan. The variety of avian species affected by botulism type E throughout the summer and fall during all 4 years of coordinated surveillance also suggests multiple routes for bird exposure to BoNT/E in Lake Michigan.