Pelican sole survivor of 12 sick birds found in Winnipeg retention pond

A pelican is on the mend but at least 11 other birds found sick in a Winnipeg pond over the past week have died, as the province tries to determine what's behind the die-offs.

Cause of waterbird deaths at Santa Fe Park pond still unclear, says Manitoba Sustainable Development

This pelican is one of a dozen sick birds found at Santa Fe Park pond and brought into the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre since Aug. 22. (Supplied by Tiffany Lui/Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre)

A pelican is on the mend but at least 11 other birds found sick in a northwest Winnipeg pond over the past week have died, as the province tries to determine what's behind the die-offs.

Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre staff and volunteers have visited Santa Fe Park pond, at Adsum Drive and Dr. Jose Rizal Way in the Mandalay West neighbourhood, every day since last Wednesday, following reports of sick and dead birds in and around the soupy green water.

Wildlife Haven animal care co-ordinator Tiffany Lui said 12 birds from the pond have been turned over to the non-profit rehabilitation centre or scooped up by volunteers in the past seven days — including pelicans and a ring-billed gull, herring gull, pied-billed grebe and two species of shorebirds called greater yellow legs and lesser yellow legs.

As of Wednesday all but one pelican had died, she added.

The carcass of a decomposing bird washes up amid fetid algae on the gravel shore of the retention pond in Santa Fe Park. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"Most of them either die overnight or within 24 hours of coming in," said Lui, adding the lone pelican and first bird brought in from the pond is now eating fish and appears to be doing well.

"We're just trying our best to help whoever we can, but I think the problem is they're already so debilitated it's past the point of saving."

Birds being tested

The City of Winnipeg and the province are having dead birds from the pond tested. Results of those tests have yet to come back, a Manitoba Sustainable Development spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The province previously said the cause of the deaths could be toxic algae or avian botulism, the latter a disease that can paralyze and kill large numbers of birds. Botulism outbreaks occur naturally in ponds, particularly at this time of year, according to a provincial spokesperson.

Lui said there was one such outbreak at a Winnipeg pond or lake about eight years ago. Twenty-three sick birds were recovered by the Wildlife Haven and 21 of them were eventually released.

"Unfortunately we're not so lucky this year," she said.

A dead bird washes up on the shore of the retention pond in Santa Fe Park on Aug. 23, 2018. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Though the Wildlife Haven has been visiting the pond regularly over the past week, some in the neighbourhood say they've seen dead birds near the water since at least Aug. 16.

The pond is considered a magnet for geese and other migratory waterbird species every spring and summer. Lui said she is concerned more birds could get sick or die as flocks of birds stop over at the pond when fall migration takes off in the coming weeks.

"I am definitely a little scared," Lui said. "Hopefully we'll have answers by then. Maybe there will be a solution to help mitigate the problem by then as well."

Lui said volunteers will continue to visit the pond on a daily basis to keep an eye on the birds.

The city and province suggest people keep their pets away from the water in Santa Fe Park pond and avoid handling any sick wildlife in the area. 

Lui recommends people call the Wildlife Haven (204-878-3740) before trying to contain or transport potentially sick or injured wildlife.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.