Thousands of birds feared dead after outbreak in N. Portland lakes

Thousands of birds feared dead after outbreak in N. Portland lakes »Play Video
Dead birds were collected Friday at Smith and Bybee lakes in North Portland. Thousands of birds are feared to be dead after an outbreak of avian botulism at two North Portland lakes.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Several thousand ducks and geese may have already died on two North Portland lakes operated by Metro after the waters became infected with deadly bacteria.

It's happening on Smith and Bybee lakes near Portland International Raceway just off Marine Drive.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Metro crews were out on kayaks and canoes Friday looking for dead birds, attempting to stop the outbreak before more birds die.

"We want to make sure we are doing everything we can for the birds that are healthy out here," said Metro Natural Areas Land Manager Don Moeller.

A disease known as avian botulism has already killed at least 2,000 birds, mostly young green teals.

The state's wildlife veterinarian said several thousand may have already died.

Collecting the birds is an essential part of staving off more massive losses of waterfowl, according to Metro.

"Because the maggots that end up on the dead carcasses and can be consumed by other birds and that's how the botulism spreads from one bird to another. And as you can imagine, then it can spread very quickly," said Moeller.

And the fly populations only increase as the number of rotting carcasses increase, compounding the outbreak. Warm water and decomposing plant material in the fall also help increase bacteria levels in the lakes.

It's not dangerous for humans, but it can devastate migrating bird populations.

Birds with limp necks and paralyzed legs are the early signs of the disease, according to an expert at the Audubon Society of Portland.

"Then it goes to kind of a respiratory distress, because their lungs become paralyzed, and then eventually they die from suffocation," said Lacy Campbell with the Audubon Society Care Center.

The Audubon Society is helping nurse sick birds back to health and releasing them back into safer waters.

Experts said the cooler temperatures are helping, but they are really waiting for the fall and the rains to dilute the warm water and help end the outbreak once and for all.

Metro is also drawing down the water in the lakes to try to get migratory birds to move on to other locations.

No other area lakes are in danger, but Bybee and Smith lakes are closed until further notice.

Check Metro’s website to learn when it’s safe to return to the lakes.