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Thousands of dead birds at Great Salt Lake; no tie to bird flu

Thousands of dead birds at Great Salt Lake; no tie to bird flu

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Thousands of dead birds are washing up on the Great Salt Lake shore.

"We've received a lot of calls -- everybody's worried about avian influenza," said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife-disease coordinator at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

But the dead birds are free of bird flu.

Avian cholera killed more than 15,000 birds on the lake last fall, most of them eared grebes, a duck-like bird. The common bacteria can quickly spread through a bird population, McFarlane said.

The salt water preserved the birds, even though they've been dead for months.

"People are worried that it's a new die-off and it's not," McFarlane said. "We're really careful of monitoring our bird deaths."

The bacteria do not affect other people or animals, and the birds have been dead long enough that they no longer are carriers.

The DWR was aware of the deaths last fall. "They died clear out in the middle of the lake and there was no way to access them to pick them up," McFarlane said. "Now they are just washing in and they don't pose any threat or anything."

The DWR won't be picking up the birds this spring, either. They could be anywhere on the lake, and there's not enough people to search for them, McFarlane said.

When temperatures rise and the birds hit the shoreline, they'll decompose in a day or two. "People won't have to be stepping over them when they visit the lake," McFarlane said.

There are hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate through the area, she said, and the 15,000 or so deaths won't hurt the overall population.

If someone sees sick or newly dead birds on the shore or sandbars, they should contact the DWR as a precaution, McFarlane said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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