For those who spend any time at all thinking about botulism, it’s probably with respect to foods, particularly canned and low-acid foods.  But being, all at once, an avid bird hunter with two pointing dogs who also thinks about botulism a good bit of the time, I thought i’d simply issue this warning to any expensive hunting-dog-owning, bird-hunting folks out there about avoiding any of the many areas that have recently seen significant waterfowel die-off due to botulism poisoning. 

One such area is the American Falls Reservoir in Idaho.  Rich Simpson of Times News, an Idaho paper, states as follows:  

Despite the setback to local hunters by the recent die-off of thousands of ducks at the upper end of American Falls Reservoir, the 2009-10 waterfowl seasons are officially under way.

Biologists believe that record early summer rains – which caused extensive shallow flooding of mudflat and wetland areas – set the stage for the outbreak. These warm, low-oxygenated waters provided the perfect environment for the proliferation of the toxin-producing botulinum bacterium, Clostridium botulinum.

Waterfowl and shore birds that feed upon vegetation and small invertebrates contaminated with the bacteria soon fell victim to the paralyzing effects of the powerful nerve toxin. Infected birds can be easily identified. Prior to their death, they have great difficulty flying, paddling, and holding their heads up. Avoid harvesting or handling any waterfowl demonstrating these behaviors.

Should you unknowingly harvest and consume an infected bird, fear not: proper cooking destroys the bacteria. In all cases, avoid eating raw meat.

Dog owners would be well advised to stay clear of this outbreak zone until the emergency has passed to avoid unnecessarily exposing themselves and their trusty (and expensive) hunting companions to infected birds.