CONCERNS have been raised over a rise in reports of sick and deceased birds being sighted near the coast.
In recent days, images of dead birds in Cobh and at Garretstown beach have been posted online, with members of the public speculating that avian flu could be to blame for their demise.
BirdWatch Ireland also said it has received an increasing number of reports of sick and dead waterbirds and that there are fears that some of these cases may be due to the virulent strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that is currently circulating in many parts of Europe and which has in particular devastated breeding seabird colonies in the UK and on the continent.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, there have been 14 positive avian influenza cases confirmed in wild birds in Ireland since July.
This includes four cases in Kerry, with one in Cork.
Three of the birds found in Munster were gannets and a fourth was a raven found off the Kerry coast.
Green Party Skibbereen-West Cork Local Representative Rory Jackson has urged people to report any sightings of birds with signs of the disease.
Signs of avian flu can include but are not limited to a swollen head, discolouration of the head, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing. However, signs may differ among different species.
“It is very worrying to see an increase in the number of dead birds being reported on our shores,” said Mr Jackson.
“We have watched avian flu spread across the UK and knew at some time it would visit our shores and birds here. The increase in dead or dying seabirds being found on coastlines is very worrying. Avian flu can still be contagious from dead birds for over two weeks and it is important that any sightings are reported immediately.”
Mr Jackson, who said he has been protecting local birdlife in West Cork since the days of the Kowloon Bridge disaster in 1986, described the ongoing situation as “worrying.”
“We have not seen this scale of pelagic bird loss in many years,” he said. “This is extremely worrying for a population already under severe pressure from pollution, overfishing, and the rise in temperatures.
“I would reiterate the calls for the public to report any sightings of dead birds or birds behaving in ways that signify distress or disease.”
The department said that while the risk of transmission to humans is considered very low, members of the public are advised not to handle sick or dead wild birds. In addition, due to the highly infectious nature of the disease to birds, anyone travelling from an area known or suspected to be affected with avian influenza or where wild birds have been found dead should not come into contact with poultry or captive birds without prior cleaning and disinfection of clothing and footwear. The department also advised poultry owners and keepers of captive birds to maintain the highest standards of biosecurity to protect their flocks.
“Strict biosecurity remains the number one preventative measure to introduction of avian influenza into poultry and captive bird flocks. Further information is available at www.gov.ie/birdflu.”
Members of the public who see a bird that they suspect is affected by avian flu can report sightings to the Department of Agriculture’s Avian Influenza Hotline: 01 607 2512 (during office hours), 01 4928026 (outside office hours) or log it using the Avian Check app via the Department of Agriculture’s reporting portal.