Biologist explains why visitors are finding dead birds at Great Salt Lake shoreline

Feb 6, 2023, 6:35 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of birds have died this winter, many now washing ashore at the Great Salt Lake.

“My youngest son, he was obsessed with having to see the Great Salt Lake,” said Phil Matthews, of Littleton, Colorado.

Tourists take in all sorts of views at the lake.

“It was really beautiful seeing the mountains surrounding the lake,” Matthews said.

But down on the shoreline, it’s not a welcome sight.

“About every foot or two, there’s a dead bird,” Matthews said.

“It’s just sad,” said Aubrey Matthews, Phil’s daughter.

But it’s nothing new.

“We’ll have this happen every year,” said John Luft, a biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Luft said he gets a lot of phone calls and messages about dead birds at the lake.

“Almost ever year, we have these die offs,” he said.

He said so far this winter, the’ve counted 15,000 to 20,000 dead wild birds.

(Shelby Lofton/KSL TV) (Shelby Lofton/KSL TV) (Shelby Lofton/KSL TV) (Shelby Lofton/KSL TV)

“These are actually birds that died probably in September,” Luft said.

The salty waters keep them from decomposing. Luft said that’s typical. What sets this year apart “is actually the first time that I’ve seen Eared Grebes die from avian influenza. We typically got them succumbing to avian cholera.”

They’re keeping an eye on the outbreak.

“It’s not a major loss,” Luft said.

If you see a group of five or more dead waterfowl or shore birds, report it to your local DWR office. The division knows about the dozens of dead Eared Grebes. So, try to avoid them on the next trip.

DWR officials said it’s important to remember to not touch the birds or pick them up. They will collect them for testing.

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Biologist explains why visitors are finding dead birds at Great Salt Lake shoreline