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Lake Independence Pelican likely died of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)


LICA Board Member and Loon Center Rescue contact Angela McLaughlin noticed a pelican at Baker Park was potentially not feeling well because it was not in a normal location (sitting beneath a tree, alone, head tucked oddly). It did perk up and open its wings when she approached, but she felt it must have been earlier on in its symptoms. “I’ve seen the virus move very quickly through birds, so in a matter of hours they can go from being lethargic to hanging their head, swinging their head in circles, and tremors/muscle spasms, to death,” said McLaughlin.


Wildlife Rehabilitation Center states that if you see a bird on the HPAI-affected list that’s acting abnormally, there’s a high likelihood of infection. The list keeps growing and changing as new species test positive, but raptors and waterfowl are the most impacted species so far. Since Lake Independence has a healthy eagle and waterfowl population, that’s something for us all to monitor. Though it’s an avian influenza, they have now found it in the red fox population, as well.


Individual birds may exhibit the following signs of illness:

  • Inability to fly

  • Drooping head

  • Swimming in circles

  • Trouble standing upright

  • Tremors

  • Loss of coordination


Other signs of HPAI include multiple dead birds in the same location and timeframe. There is no cure for HPAI.


If someone sees a bird acting abnormally, they should reach out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for advice at 651-486-9453. Leave a message and the call will be returned. WRC may also be contacted for orphaned and injured wildlife of other species.


If it’s a raptor, it should be taken to The Raptor Center on the U of M campus.


Deceased birds should be double-bagged and put in the trash or buried (away from the water). And they should be removed from the environment quickly. The DNR is NOT coming to collect dead birds, so it’s up to people to dispose of them. The DNR is asking that people call to report birds suspected of having or dying of HPAI. They should call 888-646-6367, get to the right person, and file a report.


This question has been going around a lot, but as of right now, songbirds are not affected.


Angela can be reached at She is happy to answer questions.

Get the lead out!
Protect our wildlife by switching to non-lead tackle

Most fishing tackle currently available is made of lead. Lead is a toxic metal that is lethal for loons, trumpeter swans, bald eagles and other wildlife. Loons are poisoned when they inadvertently swallow lead jigs and sinkers while scooping up pebbles to help grind their food. About 20% of the dead loons turned in by private citizens died from lead poisoning.

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Loons can frequently be seen on Lake Independence

CREDIT: Barb Zadeh 

A bird with lead poisoning will have physical and behavioral changes, including loss of balance, gasping, tremors, and impaired ability to fly. The weakened bird is more vulnerable to predators, or it may have trouble feeding, mating, nesting, and caring for its young. It becomes emaciated and often dies within two to three weeks after eating the lead.


The MN Pollution Control Agency has a new public awareness campaign called “Get the Lead Out” focusing on encouraging Minnesota anglers to switch to non-lead tackle. After a seven-year study proving that Minnesota loons winter in the Gulf of Mexico, the state was awarded $1.2 million from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement. The MN Pollution Control Agency is using the money to fund the lead-free educational program, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, see


Lead-free tackle from various manufacturers


LICA fishermen can help by switching to lead-free sinkers and jigs, telling your friends about the problem, and encouraging your favorite bait and tackle shop to carry lead-free products. The MN Pollution Control Agency has a list of tackle manufacturers using non-toxic metals:


(Lead is classified as hazardous waste. When you’re ready to make the switch, collect all of your old lead tackle and take it to Hennepin County’s hazardous waste disposal site in Brooklyn Park.)

Birds of Lake Independence: Mergansers

by Dale Ortlip

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Common Merganser

Male left, female right

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Hooded Merganser

Female left, male right

Common Mergansers are larger than Hooded Mergansers with a longer, thinner bill and paler sides. Buffleheads are smaller than Hooded Mergansers. Males have a white belly and sides whereas male Hooded Mergansers have cinnamon sides. Buffleheads are smaller than Hooded Mergansers.

The various Merganser species have different plumage, or feathers, but similar body and bill shapes. Their bodies are long, and they have long, narrow bills with a hook at the tip. Their bill is similar in appearance to a cormorant’s bill.



Wooded lakes, rivers; in winter, rarely coastal bays. Mainly around fresh water at all seasons. Summer: on shallow but clear rivers and lakes in forested country; avoids dense marshes and muddy waters. Winter: on lakes, large rivers; occasionally on bays along coast.

Feeding Behavior

forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by its feet, stroking with both feet in unison. Finds most food by sight; may swim along surface, dipping head underwater repeatedly until prey is spotted, then diving in pursuit.


8-11, sometimes 6-13. Pale buff. Females often lay eggs in each others' nests. Incubation is by female only, 30-35 days. Young: May remain in nest a day or more after hatching; then they climb to cavity entrance and jump to ground. Female tends young birds for several weeks, but young feed themselves; they may survive even if abandoned quite early. Young are capable of flight about 65-70 days after hatching.


May remain in nest a day or more after hatching; then they climb to cavity entrance and jump to ground. Female tends young birds for several weeks, but young feed themselves; they may survive even if abandoned quite early. Young are capable of flight about 65-70 days after hatching.



mostly fish. Eats a wide variety of fish; also will eat mussels, shrimp, salamanders, rarely plant material. Adult males may swallow fish more than 1 foot long. Young ducklings eat mostly aquatic insects.



Courtship displays of male include swimming very rapidly in circles near female; suddenly stretching neck upward, pointing bill straight up, and giving soft call. Nest site is near water, usually in large tree cavity; also in crevices in rock, in holes under tree roots or undercut banks, or in nest boxes. Occasionally in buildings. Nest of wood chips or debris in cavity, plus lining of down.


Interesting Facts About the Merganser

These ducks are quite interesting creatures, with many unique traits and adaptations. Learn more about them below.

Dropping Ducklings – Just like goldeneyes and wood ducks, some Mergansers nest in tree cavities high above the ground. When the ducklings hatch, they jump from the tree and tumble to the ground! Thankfully, they are quite resilient (and a little bouncy.)

Stealing Seagulls – Lots of seabirds take advantage of the success of other animals, and these ducks often become the victim of this. Gulls will follow a duck as it fishes, then try to steal the duck’s catch before it can swallow it, instead of hunting for their own fish.

Brood Parasite – Not to be outdone, Mergansers sometimes take advantage of other birds as well. Females will lay an egg or two in the nest of another female duck. The other duck hatches the duckling and raises it unknowingly.

They do not make good pets.

Duck hunters call mergansers “fish duck”.


Documented they will eat zebra mussels – but not a preference.

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