Birds seen dead and dying as avian flu outbreak grips Northern Irish parks

Reports are coming in from the public about wild birds behaving bizarrely and then dropping dead in north Belfast.

Monday, 6th December 2021, 3:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 7:15 am
Sick swan at the Waterworks today
Sick swan at the Waterworks today

The Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has said “avian flu H5N1 has been confirmed” in the Waterworks, a large open park comprising two lakes, sited in a busy, highly-urban area near the Antrim Road.

Monlough Lake near Carryduff, south east Belfast, has been affected too.

It is not yet clear how far the illness has spread across the Province.

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Some social media accounts have also suggested Hillsborough, Co Down, might be affected too, though there is no confirmation of this from the authorities.

DAERA’s advice is: “Don’t touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds. Contact the DAERA helpline on 0300 200 7840 if you find one or more dead birds.”

Belfast City Council meanwhile is advising the public: “We’re aware of the ongoing situation with the bird population in Waterworks Park.

“We’re continuing to work alongside DAERA and the Public Health Agency in response to this issue.

“We would appeal to park users to follow public health guidance to avoid contact with wild birds and not pick up any sick or dead birds.”

One Belfast man has given an account of what he saw today to the News Letter.

Gary Harrison took the photo at the top of this story, and told the News Letter: “I was out walking this afternoon and observed a young swan come towards me and then repeatedly collide with the embankment.

“I watched it for a few moments and then it started moving quickly in a spinning motion, completely unnatural.

“It’s head was also in a twisted downward position and it looked very distressed.

“I walked on a few metres and then came across the other swan (pictured) which was on the embankment.

“I’m not sure how it arrived there, as there was a man dressed in a white forensic style suit pushing a trolley with white sacks at the upper pond, so he may have removed it from the water.

“However the swan was still alive, barely, and was attempting to lift its head.

“It was clearly in the last moments of its life.

“Both ponds are quite occupied with cygnets and swans, and I would be surprised if there are not many more already infected.”

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker has said that he understands the first cases were detected in the Waterworks in November, and that he has heard of “15 birds dying per day” in the park.

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