Students dissect ducks to learn cause of death - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Students dissect ducks to learn cause of death


LA CRESCENT, MN (WXOW)—This year, on Pool 8, 20,000 water birds died because of an invasive exotic species.

It is a parasite called the trematode, about a millimeter in length.

Students at La Crescent High School dissected ducks to see first hand how the trematode affects the birds.

"There's nothing like hands on engaged learning," Ruth Nissen, Mississippi River Educator, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

First step, getting through all of those feathers.

"Find the end of the sternum pick it up and make a snip," Nissen said. "and cut across. I feel like I'm on a cooking show."

Once they are inside students search for the intestines.

"Really to find out where the parasite is in this particular animal and what effect it has on them," Becky Haack, Biology/Physical Science Teacher, La Crescent High School said.

You can tell how long it took a bird to die by how much fat it has; birds with a lot of fat died a quick death, birds with little fat died slowly. 

The parasite causes the duck to loose their fat reserve, so the longer it's in their body the less fat they'll have.

Students even got a closer look by removing the intestines and checking out the parasite under a microscope.

They also learned the parasite isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"In nature nothing is wasted and it does benefit the eagles and actually the public can see these large groups of eagles," Nissen said.

While we do have hundreds of thousands of ducks dying, more eagles are coming to the area for an easy meal, making this one of the best places to eagle watch.

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