pelican
Along the shore of a Winnipeg pond where dozens of birds have mysteriously been found dead, a seagull was gasping for breath.

Choo Rosenbloom saw the disturbing sight Wednesday afternoon. She ran to grab a box she thought would cradle the distressed bird to safety.

"I went to the car, came back to the pond and he was belly up," she said.

Within minutes, the seagull died — the latest casualty in a mass die-off of waterfowl at a Maples-area pond, the cause of which has baffled officials.

On Wednesday, Rosenbloom recovered two pelicans and three seagulls, which she took to the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Winnipeg in the hopes they will recover — but she isn't optimistic.

She estimates dozens of birds have died in the city's retention pond at the corner of Dr. Jose Rizal Way and Adsum Drive.

She thinks there is something in the water — she just isn't sure what it is.

"It's distressing," said Rosenbloom, who visited the pond a few weeks ago to check on an injured goose, rescued it, and then counted the carcasses of 13 birds flung about.

"When you arrive at the pond today, I could smell the stench from the dying birds and dead fish, it's strong.

"Then you go down there and you see the three pelicans — large, majestic birds — unable to swim, just gasping for breath," she said. "It's really heartbreaking. That's why I was trying to catch them all."

She says she met a federal inspector testing the health of the water on Wednesday. He told her the pond tested negative for botulism — a paralytic disease transmitted when a bird consumes maggots infected with the deadly virus — which suggests toxic algae might be poisoning the migratory birds instead.

The city said in a statement it is submitting samples of dead animals to the chief veterinarian's office to determine the cause, but the results have not been finalized.

Rosenbloom isn't satisfied with the city's response. She worries migrating birds might touch down on that water and never take flight.

"If they descend on that pond, are we going to have more massive die-offs? You're talking hundreds of geese will be there soon, in a few weeks."

Lisa Tretiak, president of the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, said it isn't abnormal to find one or two dead birds in a pond, but as many as 13 at one time, as Rosenbloom discovered in late July, is peculiar.

"There is something very specific within this pond that is killing these animals."

The Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre responded Wednesday night to a request to pick up animals the city rescued from the pond, said executive director Zoe Nakata.

She said they are trying their best to save the six birds in their care, but on Thursday, the centre posted that three of the birds had died. Nakata couldn't speculate on a cause.

"Some are in worse condition than others," she said.