200+ birds dead in suspected avian flu outbreak at Barrington lake
More than 200 birds have been found dead in the past week at Baker's Lake forest preserve in Barrington, and the culprit is suspected to be the avian flu strain that's sweeping the country, officials said Thursday.
If the cause is determined to be the H5N1 bird flu as local scientists presume -- only the federal government can make such a declaration -- it would be the largest outbreak in wildlife reported in the area so far, according to the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
"It's common to find one or two dead of anything anywhere," said Chris Anchor, the forest preserve district's wildlife biologist. "But when you start seeing a concentration, then you have to start investigating what's going on."
That's exactly what Anchor and other staff members started doing on the evening of April 6, when they saw a number of dead birds in and around the spacious lake and man-made island rookery -- a popular nesting and feeding spot for native and migratory birds, and bird-watchers' hot spot.
The biologists sent seven dead double-crested cormorants to a laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and after necropsies, pathologists there determined there's reason to suspect an outbreak of avian flu at the lake.
"Everyone that's looked at it is leaning this way," Anchor said.
The outbreak at the Barrington lake has affected only cormorants -- a species of water birds known for their long necks and bills -- and not perching birds like songbirds, sparrows and finches.
Biologists are also monitoring other forest preserves in Cook County for indications of bird flu, but they so far haven't seen anything anywhere else, officials said.
The outbreak has killed more than 24 million wild aquatic birds, commercial poultry, and backyard or hobbyist flocks in 26 states since January -- the worst avian flu outbreak in the United States since 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the current risk to the general public from the outbreak to be low.
Forest preserve officials say visitors shouldn't touch or handle a sick or dead bird, or any animal. But if they do see a group of dead birds, they should report it to ResourceManagement.FPCC@cookcountyil.gov or the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.