Avian Botulism

Avian botulism is caused by the soil bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, and causes paralysis and death in birds. Two types of botulism have been found in birds: Type C, which occurs during warmer months across the U.S., and Type E, which is found primarily in the Great Lakes in the U.S.

Birds can become infected with botulism after ingesting decaying organic matter or live invertebrates that have been infected with the toxin.

USGS scientists are studying avian botulism on microscopic and geographic scales to answer questions about how the botulism toxin spreads through the food chain, how botulism can be controlled, and where botulism outbreaks may occur next.

Cooperative Research

Avian Botulism in Distressed Great Lakes Environments — Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

Waterbird Distribution and Foraging Patterns on the Great Lakes with Respect to Avian Botulism — Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center

Avian Botulism Information — National Wildlife Health Center

Avian Monitoring for Botulism Lakeshore Events — Volunteer science at Lake Michigan

Migration Data

Common Loon Migration Study

UMESC scientists and partners captured and radiomarked juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014.  The objective of this work is to describe the movements and wintering ground use of juvenile loons produced in Minnesota and Wisconsin during their first two years of life, using satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies.  

  • Publications

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

    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. 

    Journal of Great Lakes Research, v. 41, issue 2, June 2015

  • Prevalence of toxin-producing Clostridium botulinum associated with the macroalga Cladophora in three Great Lakes: growth and management

    The reemergence of avian botulism caused by Clostridium botulinum type E has been observed across the Great Lakes in recent years. Evidence suggests an association between the nuisance algae, Cladophoraspp., and C. botulinum in nearshore areas of the Great Lakes. However, the nature of the association between Cladophora and C. botulinum is not fully understood due, in part, to the complex food web interactions in this disease etiology. In this study, we extensively evaluated their association by quantitatively examining population size and serotypes of C. botulinum in algal mats collected from wide geographic areas in lakes Michigan, Ontario, and Erie in 2011–2012 and comparing them with frequencies in other matrices such as sand and water.

    Science of the Total Environment, v. 511, April 2015