Mystery toxin killed crows, state veterinarian concludes

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LEWISTON – Dozens of crows found dead in early December were the victims of congestive heart failure resulting from toxins.

For more than two weeks in December, residents of the neighborhood next to the Promenade Mall reported seeing dozens of dead birds. There was no physical evidence of injury to the birds. A number of carcasses were sent to the University of Maine for testing, by order of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State Veterinarian Don Hoenig told WGME News Wednesday that the birds had not eaten for some time before their deaths, all dying with empty stomachs. He did find small white granules in the birds’ intestines, but the decay of the granules was too extreme to determine what the material was.

According to Hoenig, the deaths are “circumstantially linked to toxicity,” or poisoning.

Samples of the carcasses were also sent to the University of Connecticut to test for Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile viruses and avian influenza, and all tests were negative.

Since science wasn’t able to pin down what toxin may have killed the birds, Wendall Strout, the city’s animal control officer, said there’s really not much he can do to investigate. He pointed out that he can’t even say with any certainty that the birds picked up the toxins in the neighborhood where they died.

Depending on what toxin it was, it could take hours – perhaps days – to cause heart failure and the birds could have flown miles between where the toxins were consumed and where they died.

No birds have been found dead in that area since early this month, Strout said, and neighbors report that the crow population appears to be avoiding the area.

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