Hundreds of Canada geese have been found dead on their stomachs, their wings flared out, puzzling officials. Residents reported seeing them staggering like drunks, then eventually collapsing on their stomachs.
KEIZER, Ore. Hundreds of Canada geese have been found dead on their stomachs, their wings flared out, puzzling officials.
The bodies of about 300 dead Canada geese were found between last November and this March near McMinnville, Keizer and Salem. Residents reported seeing them staggering like drunks, then eventually collapsing on their stomachs.
Lab tests showed the birds had a high level of zinc phosphide in their system, a poison used to kill mice. But wildlife officials don't know whether the poison was misused, and if so, by whom.
The mystery became more complicated last month when three dozen geese were found dead in Dayton and Hillsboro. Some of their carcasses, found last month, have been sent to a Michigan State University lab to see whether zinc phosphide also killed them.
"Eyewitness reports in the winter more or less match the eyewitness reports we received this summer," said Jim Stinebaugh, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Geese with drunken behavior, unable to hold their heads up -- and in the posture they assume after they die."
On Aug. 18 and Aug. 19, 36 dead geese were found near Dayton. Another 11 turned up Aug. 22 near Hillsboro.
Investigators strongly suspect rodenticide misuse in the winter deaths, but they aren't as sure about the summer ones.
"The reason we suspect misuse over the winter, among other things, is that if it is applied as per the label, then the product has to be placed in holes so it is not accessible to geese," Stinebaugh said. "With the number of geese found dead, it is a pretty good indicator that there was misuse this past winter."
This summer, because of a high population of field mice, the Oregon Department of Agriculture implemented special labels that allowed grass-seed farmers to spread the rodenticide, which is usually mixed with grain as a bait on their fields, said Dale Mitchell of the agriculture agency.
Canada geese are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and, for that reason, those who do not follow the instructions are liable for the geese deaths.
The mushrooming population of Canada geese in the Willamette Valley has made pesticide use trickier for farmers trying to protect their crops.
Biologists estimate that 200,000 to 300,000 geese live in the Willamette Valley, up from about 25,000 in the 1980s.