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Large Patches of Dead Oregon Coast Birds Usually Not a Concern, But Virus Possible Factor

Published 11/30/23 a 5:39 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

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

(Oregon Coast) – To at least one observer, it was the most dead birds they've seen on a beach.

Raging tides have been pushing a great deal of objects and debris onto the Oregon coast and Washington coast as of late, and among them have been a run of dead birds in some areas. On the south coast, the volunteer group CoastWatch has noticed some large numbers of bird carcasses on a few beaches, such as around Port Orford. (Photo Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition's / CoastWatch's JaneSkipLegacy)

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It's a concerning sight to many beachgoers, giving the impression there's a massive die-off event offshore or something. Normally, this isn't anything that's an actual issue: it's simply tidal action bringing many things onshore. This time, however, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (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.

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 more dead birds than she had ever noticed before. 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.

Large Patches of Dead Oregon Coast Birds Usually Not a Concern, But Virus Possible Factor
A fledgling common murre (ODFW)

“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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