Hundreds of waterfowl found dead on the islands of St. Lawrence estuary

Members of biologist Jean-François Giroux’s research team have found hundreds of common eider carcasses on the islands of St. The Lawrence estuary over the past week. The test results obtained so far confirm that the bird flu has hit them.

Despite the shock of finding all these dead birds scattered on the islands, the game management technician affiliated with the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQÀM), Francis St-Pierre, indicates that this is an opportunity to document the effects of an epidemic on common eider colonies. “We do not want to aggravate the transmission of the virus, but we want to know how the situation is on the ground. It is sad, because birds die in many places,” he explains.

On Monday, May 30, about 100 dead common eider ducks were found in the colony with about 3,500 nests on ile Blanche, located at the eastern end of ile aux Lièvres, near the Rivière-du-Wolf. The teams went there for the first time on Tuesday and brought a dozen carcasses for analysis at the Quebec Center for Wild Animal Health. “Five eider ducks and five gulls were declared positive for the flu virus,” confirms researcher Jean-François Giroux. The latter is also a member of the board of directors of Société Duvetnor.

550 BOWL

The day before, on May 29, the team had been taken to Apple Island, near the Trois-Pistoles. The colony there is a little smaller with 2,500 to 3,000 nests. However, the number of carcasses there was much higher. We found 550 carcasses of females and eider ducks and about 150 gulls. It was more important, but they have not yet been analyzed to confirm that it was bird flu, “Mr Giroux said. The odds are high. About 200 carcasses also rested on the Ile du Gros Pot and Ile aux Fraises. This situation is reminiscent of the hundreds of gannets that have been found dead on the beaches of the Magdalen Islands in recent days.

“Our people were depressed because we like live birds. On the other hand, they understand the importance of following up. We want to document things that are quite unique and that can be used elsewhere in the world. Eiders breed everywhere in Iceland, Denmark, etc., ”remembers Jean-François Giroux.

The latter is currently in communication with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs and with the Canadian Wildlife Service to follow up on the situation.


Common eider breeds in colonies of a few hundred to a few thousand individuals. The females are more likely to contaminate themselves on their nests as they are very close to each other, according to Mr. Giroux. However, he is reassuring about the future of these waterfowl. There are about 30,000 pairs of common eider ducks on the various islands of St. Lawrence estuary. “Inbreeding is over, hatching started last week. We can hope that the surviving females and their young will leave the islands and the risk of contamination will be much lower because they will be spread along the coast. Females can live for about 20 years They therefore have several years to reproduce.Already now the researcher knows that survival will be lower and that the population will decrease next year due to dead birds.

“It is quite alarming to see all these dead birds. There is a part of Duvetnor’s income that is tied up for harvesting. If the stocks are lower, less down can be harvested from the nests”, adds the administrator of Duvetnor Company. played a key role for these birds for forty years, since the counting of eider ducks takes place at the same time as the annual down harvest.

“The eider birds form nurseries along the coasts, visitors are very charming, it is a beautiful species that we like to see in the region. It affects everyone and it concerns us. We hope that the epidemic will not return next year, but we do not know, ”lamented Jean-François Giroux.


Since 2003, Société Duvetnor has implemented a band program for eider ducks. The year before its establishment in 2002, an epidemic of the bacterium Pasteurella multocida (bird cholera) had knocked down thousands of common eider ducks. The last cholera epidemics in common eider ducks took place in 1976, 1985 and 2002. Twenty years later, it will be possible to follow the evolution of the epidemic from the existing database. “We would try to understand the disease and there had been no epidemic since then. We have been calling females for 19 years to find out their survival rate, whether they are moving from one colony to another, and so on. There are ringed females who are currently dying, ”says the researcher.

As for bird flu, it spreads quickly, but the risk is low for humans, insists Jean-François Giroux. “The only cases are people who live or work very close in closed environments such as poultry farms, breeding farms, slaughterhouses and poultry markets. “There are very few cases in humans and there is no human-to-human transmission.”

However, the virus can cause significant bird mortality and it is transmitted quickly as some scavengers eat dead waterfowl on the islands and become contaminated again. It has been agreed that dead birds on islands with limited access will remain in place. Sir. Giroux adds that some bird carcasses could wash up along the banks of the St. Lawrence, in the areas of Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Rivière-du-Loup and Cacouna, among others. It is therefore necessary to avoid dealing with them.

Birds with ribbons can be reported on or by leaving a message on toll-free number 1-800-327-BAND (2263). Anyone who finds a sick or dead wild bird is encouraged to contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Network via its website or call the Department of Forests, Wildlife and Parks at 1-877- 346-6763.

Leave a Comment