PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s aviary is closed to the public and will remain closed as long as avian influenza cases continue to appear in Oregon.
Heather Olson, an assistant curator for birds at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said she and her colleagues began monitoring the highly pathogenic avian influenza as soon as cases were first detected in the U.S. in early 2022.
At that point, the aquarium developed a plan of actions they would take as the flu cases drew closer to Oregon. When the bird flu reached nearby states, the aquarium started putting foot baths (mats filled with sanitizing liquid) at the entrance and exit of the aviary. When the virus was first detected in backyard birds in Linn County on May 5, the aquarium closed its aviary to the public that same day.
Since then, Oregon has reported several more cases in Canadian Geese in Lane County and in backyard flocks in Lane, Linn and Polk Counties. The most recent cases were detected on June 8 in Polk County.
So far, no cases have been reported in Lincoln County, but if they are, the aquarium has a plan for that too.
“If it were to come into Lincoln County, we do have a cover that we can put on the aviary,” Olson said. “With our winds and stuff, that’s not ideal, which is why we haven’t done it yet.”
She said that cover will help prevent anything from falling into the aviary that could make the birds sick.
Right now, she said there’s the risk another bird could fly over the aviary and its fecal matter could drop into the enclosure, but Olson said the aviary is trusting local testing to alert them if the virus is in the area before they take that step.
The aquarium could also move its entire seabird flock into a protected covered area in a behind-the-scenes pool area. Olson said this move would be stressful on the birds and they’re hoping they don’t need to do it during breeding season.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium plans to keep the aviary closed for four weeks after any case of highly pathogenic avian influenza is detected in the state. If four weeks pass without another positive case, they’ll discuss taking measures to reopen it.
The bird keepers are currently the only people allowed in the aviary. When they arrive on-site at the aquarium, they change their clothing and boots and disinfect their footwear before entering the aviary. They’re also regularly disinfecting all the surfaces the birds come in contact with.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said birds infected with the flu can shed it in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.
Olson said the aquarium had to take precautions because, with the number of visitors it gets, there’s always a chance someone could have bird feces on their shoes from backyard chickens or could introduce the virus to the seabirds in some other way.
The seabirds at the aquarium would likely exhibit symptoms if they did contract the virus, Olson said.
“They can be asymptomatic and just suddenly die… but they can also have a lack of energy and appetite. They can have some swelling. They can have respiratory issues and neurological issues are usually common symptoms that you see,” she explained.
Portland Audubon’s wildlife sanctuary is still welcoming visitors, but the Audubon has said it is not accepting any injured ducks or geese for treatment at this time as a result of the highly pathogenic avian influenza. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has also asked people to contact them if they find an injured waterfowl bird, rather than take it to a wild bird rehabilitation facility.
The Oregon Zoo said it has not had to take protective measures against the bird flu quite yet, although it is prepared to do so quickly if cases appear in the area.
If no more avian influenza cases are confirmed in Oregon, the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s aviary will reopen sometime in July.