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Dead Birds Washing Up on Oregon Coast, Some Carcasses Could Be Infected

Published 12/02/23 a 3:45 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Dead Birds Washing Up on Oregon Coast, Some Carcasses Could Be Infected

(Port Orford) – One observer said: “Never seen so many dead birds on this small beach.”

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Back on November 24, that was what one volunteer from CoastWatch wrote as she was checking out the south Oregon coast beach she normally patrols, looking for changes both natural and manmade. It's not a report that's singular to that area, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). A fledgling common murre (ODFW)

The wild tides of recent weeks have been heaving a great amount of things onto the Washington coast and Oregon coastline, including a run of dead birds in some areas. At Port Orford, CoastWatch and ODFW have noted a large swath of bird carcasses, as well as other spots scattered or there.

It's leaving many – including CoastWatch's JaneSkipLegacy – concerned, and normally events like this are no bad sign at all. Stuff washes up in great heaps sometimes: it's simply tidal action bringing many things onshore. This time, however, ODFW said it could partially be a sign of a disease that's been hitting birds all around the United States and killing more than usual.

Run of Dead Birds on Oregon Coast Normally Not a Concern, But Virus a Possible Factor

(Photo Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition' / CoastWatch's JaneSkipLegacy)

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is still out there, and some of those bird carcasses could be infected. While it's never a good idea to touch or pick up dead things on the Oregon coast or Washington coast, this time it's really important you don't touch them – not that this occurs to most people, anyway.

CoastWatch's JaneSkipLegacy was checking out the Hubbard Creek and Graveyard Point areas of Port Orford, and found this large run of dead birds. Near Battle Rock, she counted 43 dead avian bodies.

Meghan Dugan with ODFW said most of this, however, is a combination of migration patterns and more birds being out on the ocean right now, but there is a warning.

Battle Rock, Port Orford, courtesy Flickr / Julia Sumangil

“We are at the tail end of migration mortality and HPAI is still out there; people should not handle dead or sick birds,” Dugan told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

ODFW said HPAI has been circulating around North America, with the current strain (H5N1) was first detected in Oregon in May of 2022. Normally, these outbreaks disappear, but ODFW said this one is of concern because it did not go away the following spring.

Port Orford find: CoastWatch's JaneSkipLegacy

Dugan said ODFW biologists say there have been many young common murres out there, not just on the south Oregon coast but up north as well. The large numbers of them washing ashore in some areas are not a big surprise to scientists.

Storms offshore – even far offshore – create larger debris events, especially considering how many murres there are out there now. Big numbers of carcasses of anything are just bound to wash up.

“High wind and large wave events occasionally deposit that debris onshore,” Dugan said. “This can make it appear to be a large, localized mortality event when in actuality those carcasses may have been collected over a very large area. All of these things are still present in the ocean, just wouldn’t be visible without the tidal events pushing them onto shore.”

When there's more of something out there at sea, more of it is going to wash up. The avian disease may or not be a factor, but in any case you should keep your pet and kids away from the bodies on the beaches.

“HPAI is still present in some areas of Oregon,” Dugan said. “During this past spring and summer, six birds from the coast tested positive. More recently, a herring gull, a cackling goose and a bald eagle tested positive as did a bald eagle from Clatsop County.”

The virus has been cause for warning for hunters, with ODFW saying it seems to have increased the death rate of waterfowl, especially geese, but also affecting ducks. However, it's not killing masses of them, either.

Another issue the virus causes is infections in animals that eat infected birds. It's been found in coyotes, foxes and skunks, ODFW said.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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