The Duck with a Broken Whistle

By Sacramento Zoo Veterinarian Anne Burgdorf

One of my favorite species at the Sacramento Zoo are the Whistling Ducks. These ducks have a delightful whistle and when you whistle “Wee-hee” to them they whistle back. The Zoo’s Interpretive Center began working with four young ducklings born last year at the Zoo. Everything was just ducky until the end of the summer when zookeepers reported that one of the ducklings had a “broken whistle”.  When this little duckling named Artemis was examined, he did indeed have a “broken whistle”. His voice was very quiet and raspy.

In birds with a voice change the most common cause is a fungal infection called aspergillosis.  Artemis came down to the Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital for a thorough exam. During that exam we collected a blood sample, took x-rays and even put a fiber optic scope in his trachea to look for a fungal lesion in his voice box. Despite a very thorough work-up, an obvious cause for Artemis’s voice loss was not seen. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…. then it must be a duck. So even though we could not prove it was an aspergillus infection Artemis was started on medicine to treat a fungal infection. Artemis was treated for six weeks, over that time his voice gradually began to return. Artemis is now done with his treatment and can “Wee-hee” with the best of them! 

Artemis, the Fulvous Whistling Duck
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