Cause of mortality was studied in waterfowl in hypersaline playa lakes of southeast New Mexico during spring and fall migration. Mortality was not common in wild ducks resting on the playas during good weather. However, when birds remained on the lakes for prolonged periods of time, such as during experimental trials and stormy weather, a heavy layer of salt precipitated on their feathers. Sodium toxicity was the cause of death for all experimental mallards housed on playa water and for 50% of the wild waterfowl found moribund or dead during the spring of 1995. Gross lesions included heavy salt precipitation on the feathers, ocular lens opacities, deeply congested brains, and dilated, thin-walled, fluid-filled cloacae. Microscopic lesions in the more severely affected birds included liquefaction of ocular lens cortex with lens fiber swelling and multifocal to diffuse ulcerative conjunctivitis with severe granulocytic inflammation, edema, and granulocytic vasculitis resulting in thrombosis. Inflammation similar to that seen in the conjunctiva occasionally involved the mucosa of the mouth, pharynx, nasal turbinates, cloaca, and bursa. Transcorneal movement of water in response to the hypersaline conditions on the playa lakes or direct contact with salt crystals could induce anterior segment dehydration of the aqueous humor and increased osmotic pressure on the lens, leading to cataract formation.
Additional Publication Details
Sodium toxicity and pathology associated with exposure of waterfowl to hypersaline playa lakes of southeast New Mexico