ASTORIA, OR (KPTV) - Thousands of birds have taken over a major bridge on the Oregon coast, causing a major headache for the Department of Transportation.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, as many as 10,000 double crested cormorants have set up shop under the Astoria-Megler bridge, building nests, and leaving behind a major mess.
"There's so much now, excrement covering the bridge, we're getting concerned about that," Lou Torres, a spokesperson for ODOT said.
Cormorant guano, it turns out, is highly acidic, so the droppings they leave behind on the bridge eat away at the bridge's paint.
The most recent paint job on the bridge, which was just finished in 2018, cost close to $75 million.
Also, for bridge inspectors to get a good view of the condition of the metal on the bridge, it will need to be pressure washed, which ODOT figures could cost anywhere from $80,000 to millions more if the agency is asked to keep the bird waste from washing into the Columbia River.
The Federal Government mandates the bridge be inspected every two years.
"We're the ones that have jurisdiction on the bridge, so we are the ones who have to maintain it," Torres said.
Double crested cormorants have a long history in the area, and are notorious for dining on endangered juvenile salmon.
The birds' appetites prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to launch a program to haze and kill cormorants on East Sand Island, where there was a huge population.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes that operation may have had something to do with the birds moving to the bridge.
"It appears to be largely the result of a federal program," James Lawonn said, an ODFW biologist who has been counting and monitoring the birds on the bridge.
The Army Corps of Engineers admits some birds may have left the island during its activities, but also said some birds are making their way back to the island.
The two agencies, along with ODOT, are working on a plan to get the birds off the bridge.
In the meantime, they'll continue to snack on salmon at what ODFW considers alarming rates.
"It could be that the plan not only failed to achieve its goals, but might actually not have reduced predation on salmon at all," Lawonn said.
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