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Hundreds of fish-eating ducks on Great Lakes starving in brutal winter, unable to break ice

  • A dead red-breasted merganser duck sits on an examine table at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's wildlife health unit on Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Delmar, N.Y. Hundreds of fish-eating ducks, mostly red-breasted mergansers, have been found dead along lakes Erie and Ontario, where unusually heavy ice cover has made it hard for the birds to get the minnows they depend on. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    A dead red-breasted merganser duck sits on an examine table at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's wildlife health unit on Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Delmar, N.Y. Hundreds of fish-eating ducks, mostly red-breasted mergansers, have been found dead along lakes Erie and Ontario, where unusually heavy ice cover has made it hard for the birds to get the minnows they depend on. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)  (The Associated Press)

  • Biologist Joe Okoniewski examines a dead red-breasted merganser duck at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's wildlife health unit on Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Delmar, N.Y. Hundreds of fish-eating ducks, mostly red-breasted mergansers, have been found dead along lakes Erie and Ontario, where unusually heavy ice cover has made it hard for the birds to get the minnows they depend on. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    Biologist Joe Okoniewski examines a dead red-breasted merganser duck at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's wildlife health unit on Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Delmar, N.Y. Hundreds of fish-eating ducks, mostly red-breasted mergansers, have been found dead along lakes Erie and Ontario, where unusually heavy ice cover has made it hard for the birds to get the minnows they depend on. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)  (The Associated Press)

The Niagara River corridor from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is renowned as a winter haven for water birds. But this year's bitterly cold season has made it notable for something else: dead ducks.

Biologists say carcasses began piling up by the hundreds in early January after consistently low temperatures started icing over nearly the entire Great Lakes, preventing the ducks from getting to the minnows that are their main source of food. Necropsies have confirmed the cause: starvation.

It's a phenomenon that has been seen elsewhere along the Great Lakes, with news reports of diving ducks and other waterfowl turning up dead by the hundreds along the southern part of Lake Michigan. They've also been found in Lake St. Clair between Lakes Erie and Huron.