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Hundreds of dead birds washing up on Martha’s Vineyard

Tisbury Animal Control says avian influenza may be to blame

Samantha Gitschier, the assistant animal control officer in West Tisbury, is seen picking up dead cormorants at Lamberts Cove Beach on Sunday.Kathleen Hoffman

Animal control officials in Tisbury say a strain of bird flu may be responsible for killing hundreds of birds on the island.

Officials wrote in a Facebook post that hundreds of dead cormorants have been washing up all over the island, and animal control officers have collected them and sent them to the state for testing.

“This is extremely dangerous to us as a small island. PLEASE inform your local ACO [animal control officer] if you find any dead birds,” the post said. “MOST IMPORTANTLY: DO NOT TOUCH THEM!!! Keep your dogs leashed if on beaches so they do not get contaminated. Take care when going in water, many are floating in seaweed etc.”

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Tisbury Animal Control Officer Kate Hoffman said she and Samantha Gitschier, the assistant animal control officer in West Tisbury, picked up 41 cormorants at Lamberts Cove Beach on Sunday.

“Other ACOs have picked up more,” Hoffman said in an email. “Edgartown picked up a bunch as well on South Beach I believe.”

Emily Stolarski, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, said the agency is aware of “the increase in reported bird mortality,” and would be releasing more information soon.

The post on the Tisbury Animal Control Facebook page states that highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as HPAI, could become a major problem and that the public needs to be aware of it and report any sick or dead birds they encounter.

“This new strain of Avian Influenza (HPAI) is hitting bird colonies very hard and we could be looking at a major shift in bird populations that may take years to recover from,” the post states.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, there have been 14 documented reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza detected in wild birds in Massachusetts in 2022. It was found in nine sanderlings in Barnstable County in March and April; one red-tailed hawk in Barnstable County in March; one turkey vulture in Barnstable County in March; two Canada geese in Barnstable County in March; and one Canada goose in Middlesex County in March.

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Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.