Harsh winter causes diving ducks to starve

Dead ducks on Muskegon Lake. (Courtesy Robin Bengtson via ReportIt - March 23, 2014)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Ducks have been dying in large numbers in Michigan as a result of the harsh winter, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife biologists become concerned anytime there is an uptick in deaths among a species. To investigate, DNR officials gathered several carcasses from Muskegon Lake and other parts of the state.

“There is not a lot we can do to alleviate the situation or help them out. But we have been monitoring the locations where there is open water and checking for ducks and taking samples and getting them to the lab,” DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder said. “They have come back as many of them dying of malnutrition or starvation.”

At risk are several species of diving duck that find food underwater. Heavy ice cover on inland lakes and the Great Lakes — a result of months of frigid temperatures — is preventing the animals from reaching their food source. What feeding ground there is left has been picked over pretty quickly.

“They tend to congregate in the areas. And feeding day after day, they pretty much deplete the food in the area and then they have no place to go, so they try to eke it out and a lot of times they starve,” Niewoonder said.

Learning the cause of the ducks’ deaths is important because it allows the DNR to eliminate causes like viruses or toxins.

Higher than usual numbers of deaths are being reported on every Great Lake and on many inland lakes. The ducks that have survived are weak and thin. In the coming weeks, the DNR will learn more about their ability to migrate and reproduce.

The DNR says it does not think the number of dead ducks is significant enough to endanger a species’ population.

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