Bird Burden: Who Deals with the Dead Geese at Fort Collins City Park?

On January 27, an eagle eats at a deceased goose on the frozen waters of Lake Sheldon at City Park in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Rawlin Davidson.

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Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News


High Number of Dead Geese Observed at City Park

For Rawlin Davidson, observing Sheldon Lake in Fort Collins is a hobby. Rawlin has been walking his dog at City Park, where Sheldon Lake is located, for over eleven years, and if he can, he likes to take his dog on the trails twice a day to take photos of the beautiful wildlife scenery City Park has to offer.

But what Rawlin has been photographing lately hasn’t been quite as pleasant. The east side of Sheldon Lake has been a popular spot for finding dead Canadian geese lined along the lake’s ice for over the last month.

According to Rawlin, to make matters worse, the bald eagles in the area have made this discovery, as well, and made it a daily feeding ground for what could potentially be birds infected with the HPAI virus. In addition to seeing dead geese, Rawlin said the area has also been known for spotting geese with odd behavior.

“I’ve counted as many as 28 dead geese on the ice,” Rawlin said. “You can also see Canadian geese on the water with their heads bobbing up and down while they swim in circles. I saw it as recently as four days ago and for more than two weeks, roughly twenty feet from the Island that’s out at City Park.”

With a highly contagious strain of Avian flu infecting birds worldwide, Colorado is no exception to experiencing what experts call the ‘largest global bird flu in history.’ Colorado has even had recent reports of the H5NI bird flu strain being detected in other wildlife, such as bears and mountain lions. According to the USDA, the last recorded outbreak inside Larimer County was on January 19 of an infected Red-tailed hawk.

An eagle lands on the frozen lake at City Park in Fort Collins to eat one of the many deceased geese littered across the ice. Photo courtesy of Rawlins Davidson.

While that news could be seen as optimistic, Northeast Region Public Information Officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Kara Van Hoose, said that shouldn’t suggest Larimer County isn’t still experiencing high toxigenic avian influenza or HPAI.

According to Van Hoose, it’s just being detected less than in previous months, which she said may be evidence of the virus being on the “downside of the crest of the spike” seen this winter.

“We started seeing cases of HPAI in Colorado last March, March of 2022,” Van Hoose said. “We saw more cases in the summer, it kind of died down in the Autumn, and then last winter we really started seeing populations affected, a lot of reports of infected or dead birds, and basically through December and January we saw many, many reports of that and also observed that within our state parks. So, now, anecdotally, in February, I feel like we haven’t had as many reports. For Larimer County specifically, the last report was in January. So that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen birds that have been infected by HPNI since this case in January, but the number of cases and reports has slowed down.”

According to the CPW’s website, the agency was receiving reports of sick and dead snow geese in Northeastern Colorado associated with “large-scale HPAI mortality events” back in late November of 2022, further stating CPW documented mortalities in “excess of 1,000 birds on multiple waterways” within Morgan and Logan counties.

But when does it become someone’s responsibility to clean up or remove dead birds during a record-high bird flu outbreak?

Van Hoose said that CPW’s responsibility regarding animal removal tends to stay within state parks rather than city parks. Even then, the removal of animals is determined by how close they are to the path of people.

“Since it was a city park, I don’t think that we would be the primary responding agency to speak to that. We could be called in to assist if the city or animal control wanted help with that situation,” Van Hoose said. “As far as other state parks, I believe we do remove them if they’re in human spaces or in spaces where domestic dogs may go. Otherwise, if they’re out of those locations or maybe in the middle of a frozen lake, we’d let nature take its course.”

Van Hoose said CPW is still very much tracking different incidences of HPNI, so anytime people observe birds that are infected or appear in distress by displaying odd behaviors, especially if this is multiple birds over a two-week period, people are then asked to contact the CPW.

Van Hoose said such matters are the agency’s “threshold” regarding multiple birds in the same area for an extended period.

But Rawlin said that despite having contacted the department and seen CPW staff surveying the area at least once, large numbers of dead geese continue to be an issue when the lake is frozen. Rawlin said that his concern is not only for the eagles to catch and carry the virus potentially, further prolonging the spread, but also eagles will often leave discarded remains of the geese on the shore where other animals could have easier access.

On February 22, one goose lies with another deceased goose on the frozen ice of Lake Sheldon at City Park in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Rawlin Davidson.

Rawlin said Sheldon Lake is also a common spot for ice freezing hard enough and often enough to support the weight of people and their dogs.

“My opinion is that the Division of Wildlife should do something about it, but that’s just me,” Rawlin said. “I see these eagles eating these dead geese, and I think of them as your national symbol, and they’re protected like if someone gets caught picking up an eagle feather, that’s a 250,000 fine. Picking up the dead carcasses would be the answer. I understand not being in the pathway of people, but what about when the ice is frozen? You see people icefish out there all the time.”

Van Hoose said presently she was unaware of any reported incidents at Sheldon Lake but acknowledges that there’s still “not great news” concerning infected wild bird populations. Additionally, Van Hoose said strains of the virus had been observed to be stronger than years previous, likening it to people experiencing stronger flu seasons than others.

“There’s no vaccine. There’s not a lot of preventive measures from birds spreading it from bird to bird,” Van Hoose said. “This current case of Avian influenza does appear to be a very strong strain,” Van Hoose said. “It has passed from domestic to wild bird populations and vice versa, so it’s affecting both of those populations simultaneously, which is something different that we’ve seen from past years when dealing with Avian Influenza.”

Regarding human contact, Van Hoose said that the threat is still low. However, precautions should always be taken by never handling sick, infected, or dead birds and always keeping dogs and other pets away.

Van Hoose said to never approach the animals personally but rather contact CPW at or by phone at (970) 472-4300 to reach the Fort Collins office.