Cormorants are usually seen alive at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. But recently hundreds of them … [+] washed up on shore dead. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LightRocket via Getty Images
It’s typically not a good sign when you see hundreds of dead birds washing up on the shore. But that’s been what’s happening in Martha’s Vineyard, an island in Massachusetts. And the cause of this fowl occurrence may be highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
Most of the dead birds have been aquatic birds called cormorants, as can be seen in the following WCVB Channel 5 Boston news segment:
Even though such a site can be quite disconcerting, there’s no need to panic, assuming that you don’t have wings, feathers, and a beak. In general. the risk of humans getting infected with the currently spreading HPAI strain still seems rather low as long as you maintain reasonable precautions. That means cancelling any bird raves that you may have scheduled. It also means that if you are in the habit of touching dead birds, it would be a good idea to find another habit. This is one situation where a bird in hand is not worth two in the bush. Remember dead birds can carry different pathogens, including but not limited to HPAI. That’s why the following Facebook post from the Tisbury Animal Control warned people to keep themselves and their dogs away from any dead cormorants:
And if you want to re-create the rising out of the water scene from the movie Apocalypse Now in a bed of seaweed, don’t. Dead birds could be floating among the seaweed. So swimming amongst the seaweed could end up giving you the bird.
The Martha’s Vineyard scenes are a continuation of what’s been a bad year for those who have been winging it. As I covered for Forbes in February, a H5N1 HPAI virus has been spreading among more than just a poultry amount of bird flocks in North America. In addition to chickens, turkeys, and other poultry, the HPAI has infected a range of wild birds. And the words “highly pathogenic” typically do not have a favorable connotation and mean “highly capable of causing disease.” So, if you someone called you those words at the end of a date, don’t expect a second date. The HPAI has already left many, many birds sick and dead.
Now, just because humans in general have not been getting infected during this continuing HPAI outbreak doesn’t mean that humans will not be affected. Egg, chicken, and other poultry product prices have already risen as a result, as I reported for Forbes in April. This isn’t just a chicken or an egg problem, though. Changing bird populations in such a dramatic manner could have reverberating consequences throughout the ecosystem. For example, while the early bird may catch the worm, when the bird is no longer around early or late, the populations of certain worms, insects, or other creatures may end up exploding.