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The death toll at the popular Forest Grove bird-watching spot is more than 100.

COURTESY PHOTO CLEAN WATER SERVICES - Thousands of geese stop at Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove while traveling south from Alaska each year.Geese are dropping dead at Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove during an ongoing outbreak of bird flu.

Clean Water Services education and outreach coordinator Ely O'Connor said so far, the death toll at the popular bird-watching spot is more than 100 birds, mostly cackling geese.

"This time of year, birds are migrating and flying thousands of miles, and they are stressed out from that long journey. Typically, we do see some bird deaths. It's part of traveling that far and being stressed out and getting sick or not being able to find enough food," O'Connor said. "This year is an extreme, though. We have never seen this many dead birds. It's absolutely abnormal."

O'Connor said the open water at Fernhill Wetlands, which used to be a pond before Clean Water Services turned it into a water treatment center, is a popular stopping place for migrating birds.

The deaths started around Nov. 1, and Clean Water Services sent three carcasses to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for necropsies, which confirmed suspicions of avian influenza.

The disease can pass from bird to bird and bird to scavenger, such as coyotes. In very rare cases, avian influenza can jump from bird to human, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clean Water Services is asking visitors to stay away from dead birds, which have been piling up as wind pushes them to the northwest corner of the pond. Clean Water Services hired a contractor to wear gloves and KN95 masks to collect dead birds Friday, Nov. 11, and O'Connor said another collection was expected to take place soon.

O'Connor said this is the largest outbreak of bird flu in Fernhill's recent history.

Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife spokesperson Beth Quillian said this particular strain of bird flu is abnormally contagious and was first detected in Oregon in May. The outbreak in Forest Grove is currently the largest in the state.

"This is the biggest outbreak on my radar right now. I've been talking to our vets a little bit, and it's a pretty big one," Quillian said. "We do have a couple other outbreaks across the state right now where our test results are still pending."

Geese typically travel through Oregon after spending the summer and fall in Alaska. The disease also can ravage domestic birds such as poultry.


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