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'Not necessarily isolated': Dozens of dead birds found at Muskegon Co. park prompt warning signs

Advisory messages will be put up at Dune Harbor Park Wednesday, days after the DNR confirmed avian flu is likely the culprit.

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — As Michigan wildlife officials continue in their fight against Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, a number of viewers have reached out after finding dozens of dead or dying birds at a Muskegon Park in different instances.

Dune Harbor is home to a cormorant colony.

After testing a sample, biologists this week linked at least one case to the avian flu detected throughout Michigan.

A second sample was undergoing testing at the time of publication Tuesday.

“We had park staff out here that that collected 20 bags full of bird carcasses,” Bob Lukens, Muskegon County’s community development director relayed.

The bags contained up to a hundred dead cormorants, all collected by County park staff over the weekend at Dune Harbor.

Lukens said the numbers had only increased since the birds first began turning up several weeks earlier.  

“I just hope that it doesn't move on to other species, because there are a lot of ducks and geese, swans that come through the area here, too,” he said. “A lot of people do come out to this park for bird watching opportunities and other recreational opportunities.”

“This isn’t necessarily isolated here,” DNR Biologist Nik Kalejs explained.  

Kalejs pointed to other recent outbreaks that had been traced to the Lake Michigan shoreline in Wisconsin.

He estimates the cormorant colony in the Muskegon Area comprises hundreds of individuals, many of whom congregate on a small island just off-shore.

“When you have a lot of birds together, as we potentially do here, with the cormorant’s colonial type activity, the disease can spread,” he said. “That can certainly accelerate the transmission.”

The DNR said they are closely monitoring the situation, but that the only remedy would be continuously collecting the carcasses that washed ashore.

County staff would lead that cleanup effort.  

Meantime, Kalejs stressed visitors should keep clear, avoid close contact and refrain from touching any potentially infected animals.

“The takeaway message for sure is, you know, you don't want to be handling them unnecessarily. That's just common sense,” he added.

“I would just stick to the trails, stay on the trails, stay away from the water at this time, until we're over this,” Lukens suggested. “We assess the water on a monthly basis. We'll probably do it more frequently now.”

Lukens said signage notifying visitors to the park could be in place as early as Wednesday.

Those who do come across a dead or dying bird or birds are asked to contact wildlife officials using the DNR’s ‘Eyes in the Field’ website.

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