Authorities investigating dead geese found in Madison Heights pond

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 17, 2020

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Authorities are investigating the cause of death of a group of around 20 Canada geese that were retrieved from a pond in Madison Heights.

The pond is near the Meijer property on 13 Mile Road, west of Dequindre Road. The dead birds were discovered there near the end of June.

The Madison Heights Police Department was notified, and the local animal control officer and code enforcement was sent to the scene.

Now local and state authorities are trying to determine what may have killed the geese, although progress has been slow due to COVID-19 closing testing labs.

“It is concerning to me when any animals die, and we need to solve this issue as quickly as possible,” said Madison Heights Police Chief Corey Haines.

One suspected cause is avian botulism that contaminated the water. Avian botulism is harmless to humans but has killed tens of thousands of birds across the state since the early 2000s.

Haines said that avian botulism is a neuromuscular disease that begins with botulism spores — the bacteria’s inactive state. These can be found in the sediments of ponds and lakes. If the spores germinate, they grow bacterial cells that produce toxins that could theoretically cause partial paralysis in fish, who in turn are preyed upon by the geese, transmitting the ailment up the food chain.

The most common type of avian botulism is Type E, and its most suitable ecological conditions are a combination of warmer water temperatures combined with nutrients from plant decay and low oxygen levels in water.

The pond where the dead geese were found has waterfall features to oxygenate the water and a fountain as its centerpiece, but these were inactive during the spring and early summer.

The waterfall has since been restored, and in the time since, there have been no more deaths. Haines said it’s possible that the previously low oxygen levels, combined with the accumulation of geese droppings and other sediment in the waters, may have caused the conditions for botulism.

“We are working with the owner of the pond who has hired a company to treat the pond,” Haines said. “The company is currently awaiting permits from the state to begin further treatment of the pond.”

There is also signage around the area that prohibits ground-feeding of birds to avoid the sort of accumulation that can create these conditions.

“We hope people stop feeding the geese, because the food they are giving them is harmful,” Haines said. “We have been told that people are feeding the geese all kinds of food, including bread and lunch meat. This is not proper food for geese, and has also led to the geese remaining in this area year-round instead of following their normal migration patterns. We have added additional patrols in this area to help discourage the feeding.”

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