Botulism...Or Is It?


  • Erica Miller DVM New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife
  • Emily Brunner Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc.
  • Cindy Driscoll DVM Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Peter McGowan US Fish & Wildlife Service



Botulism, Clostridium botulinum–Type C, Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), microcystins, avian toxicoses, Poplar Island MD, blue–green algae (Cyanobacteria), phycotoxins, cyanotoxins


In August 2012, during routine surveys of Poplar Island, MD, shorebirds and ducks were found in varying stages of paralysis. Some birds were ‘wing walking,’ others could barely hold up their heads, some had lost function of the nictitans, and many more were dead. These clinical signs, combined with the location, climate, and water conditions, were highly suggestive of avian botulism. As biologists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service teamed with the MD state wildlife veterinarian, Maryland Environmental Service, and staff and volunteers from Tri–State Bird Rescue & Research to capture and care for the affected birds, laboratory tests suggested something besides botulism might be present. This presentation describes the combined efforts of these groups and six separate laboratories to unravel the mystery of this epornitic and to provide treatment to those birds rescued live.


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Author Biographies

Erica Miller DVM, New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife

Erica Miller is a wildlife veterinarian with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. She is a past president and former board member of NWRA.

Emily Brunner, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc.

Emily Brunner is a Clinic Supervisor at Tri–State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc., in Newark, DE. She has a B.S. in Zoology and has been rehabilitating wildlife for three years.

Cindy Driscoll DVM, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Cindy Driscoll has been the wildlife veterinarian with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for 15 years and University of Maryland, Wildlife Diseases course coordinator and instructor for 20 years.

Peter McGowan, US Fish & Wildlife Service

Peter McGowan is a wildlife biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis, Maryland. He has been responsible for wildlife management activities at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Project at Poplar Island for the past eight years.


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How to Cite

Miller, E., Brunner, E., Driscoll, C., & McGowan, P. (2013). Botulism.Or Is It?. Wildlife Rehabilitation Bulletin, 31(1), 1–12.

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