Duck, Duck, Goose

CZ Wild Mallard Ducks Male Female 1887 066-X2

There is a heated controversy in T-Town over whether West Nile Virus (WNV) was transmitted to Forest Lake residents by water fowl.

Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News wrote:

After reports of Forest Lake residents contracting West Nile virus, Tuscaloosa officials are looking for ways to reduce the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses citywide.

In 2017, three residents who live on or near Forest Lake were diagnosed with the virus that is typically transmitted from birds to humans via mosquitoes.

There is no definitive proof, but some suspect the infiltration of Canada geese that began arriving at the private neighborhood lake after the April 27, 2011, tornado led to the West Nile infections.

Many people in T-Town are as excited about the potential euthanasia of allegedly infected birds that swim in the lake as they would be over a National Championship win by the Crimson Tide.

“How can I tell if a sick bird has West Nile Virus?” in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Bird’s reports:

The disease is spread by mosquitoes, and can affect not only birds but humans as well, usually causing flu-like symptoms. Birds with visible symptoms of West Nile virus often die within a few days. Affected birds will often be fluffed out and stay low to the ground, or seem off balance and unable to stand.

Because West Nile virus affects birds, public health officials look for cases of sick and dead birds as an early warning that an outbreak may begin. Monitoring the disease in bird populations is an important way of tracking the disease.

Thus far no water fowl at Forest Lake have been tested to determine if there is any infection. The only two dead birds found were victims of being hit by cars.

One Tuscaloosa resident has suggested that T-Town instigate a Sentinel-Chicken-Program.  Eryn Brown in the Los Angeles Times wrote:

Chickens make perfect sentinels because they don’t get sick from West Nile virus, Kluh said, and never develop high enough levels of the virus in their blood to give the disease back to mosquitoes, which in turn might fly off and bite people or horses.


The chickens also give disease control workers a better idea of where infected mosquitoes are nesting. Because wild birds and people circulate freely, it is hard to know where they were when they were bitten. But sentinel chickens are infection-free when they arrive at their coop and remain in place. If they test positive for West Nile, vector control workers know to examine the nearby area for mosquito breeding locations.


Mobile, Alabama uses chickens for mosquito borne disease detection. The Mobile County Health Department in 2017 released this information to the media:

For almost 30 years, the Mobile County Health Department’s Vector Control has monitored sentinel chickens placed throughout the county to help detect the presence of viruses carried by mosquitoes.


In 2016, the program resulted in 11 sentinel chickens testing positive for West Nile.


Other residents have suggested that the mosquito problem may be due to lack of maintenance in the sewer drainage system in the Forest Lake area. Water that can accumulate when the storm sewers are full of trash can provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. T-Town has had at least three subdivisions that have experienced flooding.


In San Francisco, California, a crew of bicylists on the  Mosquito Abatement Courier Team inspect and treat storm drains for mosquitoes. Dots are painted on the inspected curbs.




In the Tuscaloosa News Jason Morton reported that:


Tera Tubbs, executive director of the city’s Infrastructure and Public Services department, said the city’s mosquito control measures are currently under review.


Tubbs said. “What we’re looking at moving forward is modifying and enhancing our mosquito control methods.”

Options include:

‒ More frequent or targeted spraying measures

‒ Treatment of standing water to reduce or eliminate mosquito larvae.


Perhaps the water fowl are not the culprits and should not be eliminated from Forest Lake where they have developed an iconic status? Of course if a dead bird at Forest Lake is ever found to have died due to the WNV there might be sufficient cause to remove them.


If the city plans to modify its efforts in mosquito control perhaps the first place to start would be to determine if the drainage system in the area is clogged by trash.

2 thoughts on “Duck, Duck, Goose

  1. Susie Smith says:

    Please follow the link (, scroll down, and view the table in the the section entitled “Species Susceptibility and Competence” regarding birds that might carry the WNV. The probability of Canada geese infecting mosquitoes—NOT HUMANS—with the WNV is negligible. Your statement that “if a dead bird at Forest Lake is ever found to have died due to the WNV there might be sufficient cause to remove them,” is completely misguided! WNV infection is never a “sufficient cause” to remove the geese from Forest Lake. If one blue jay in Forest Lake is found to have died from WNV, are you going to recommend that all the blue jays in Tuscaloosa be removed? Nonsense! To suggest such an action regarding the geese shifts the focus from the true source of WNV in humans—infected mosquitoes—to removal of geese from the lake. The whole of available resources should be focused on eradicating mosquitoes, not on removing geese even if one or more of them tested positive for WNV! The mosquitoes that might have bitten the infected geese and contracted the virus from the geese should be the target, not the geese. Your statement about removing the geese that test positive for WNV only adds to the dissension and misinformation surrounding this unfortunate episode.

    • I don’t think it’s very likely that, after all this time, that a water fowl will die of WNV at Forest Lake. I agree that removing mosquito breeding grounds or treating them is the only solution.

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