'Sickening and upsetting,' Shoreline residents overwhelmed by bird die-off in Southern Georgian Bay
Warning: Some people may find the details of this story disturbing.
Gillian Vanular has cleaned up the bodies of dead birds near her beachfront home dozens of times over the past three days.
A task that the Tiny Township woman calls "sickening and upsetting."
Still, the situation isn't new to Vanular. In the fall of 2011, more than 5,000 birds and fish washed up onshore.
"It affected all of the shoreline owners for days," Vanular recalled. "It was really horrific."
Naturalist Bob Bowles said a bacteria is likely the culprit.
"It's called Clostridium botulism Type E," he specified.
Botulism builds up in zebra mussels and round gobies, then bigger fish eat them, and the birds eat the fish, passing along the poison one by one.
Bowles said the lack of frost this fall set the stage for disaster and "allows it to build up more in the food chain."
Desmond Barnes with Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge has been scooping up birds from beaches around Southern Georgian Bay poisoned by the bacteria.
He said once it takes its course, the outlook is grim.
"First, they'll get weak and lose flight. Then, the toxin affects the muscle tissue, which causes, essentially paralysis," he explained.
Barnes said when the toxin reaches the neck, things turn dire.
"They cannot support their own head," he noted. "The head will drop, and if they can't keep it out of the water, unfortunately, they will drown."
But Barnes said with early intervention, fluids, and rehab, there is hope, especially for a younger, stronger bird to take flight again.
Meanwhile, Bowles expects more die-offs in the years ahead as the planet warms.
Shoreline property owners and the public are encouraged not to handle the dead or dying fish and birds and to keep pets on a leash at all times.