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The long winter in the northern half of the U.S. has been hard on everything, including resident populations of waterfowl that rely on fish for a substantial portion of their diet — fish that are now locked beneath a historical amount of ice on the Great Lakes and other area waters. Along the Niagara River in New York, red-breasted mergansers seem to be the species suffering most from starvation, though scaup, canvasbacks and grebes have also likely been affected, the Associated Press reports:
“_Biologists say carcasses began piling up by the hundreds in early January after the plunging temperatures started icing over nearly the entire Great Lakes, preventing the ducks from getting to the minnows that are their main source of food. Necropsies on dozens of birds have confirmed the cause: starvation.
“All have empty stomachs. They’re half the weight they should be,” said Connie Adams, a biologist in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Buffalo office who has personally seen 950 dead birds.
“This is unprecedented. Biologists who’ve worked here for 35 years have never seen anything like this,” she said. “We’ve seen a decline in tens of thousands in our weekly waterfowl counts._”
Dead ducks have also been found along the southern edge of Lake Michigan, where biologists suspect zebra mussels are to blame. They believe the starving birds likely turned to the invasive species when other food sources became scarce and may have perished do to toxic levels of selenium commonly found in mussels.