Hundreds Of Thousands Of Migratory Birds Found Dead In New Mexico
Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds have been found dead across the US state of New Mexico, leaving scientists stumped as to what could have caused it.
Biologists first noticed something was wrong on August 20, when a large number of dead birds were discovered at the US Army White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument. Migratory birds include species such as sparrows, blackbirds, bluebirds and warblers.
Although this was initially thought to be an isolated incident, in the days and weeks since thousands more dead birds have been found in regions across the state, including Doña Ana County, Jemez Pueblo, Roswell and Socorro.
Biologists at New Mexico State University are now trying to figure out what could have caused their deaths, with Professor Martha Desmond and her team having already began identifying, cataloguing and examining approximately 300 dead birds to learn more about how they died.
Alongside biologists from White Sands Missile Range, the team are considering factors such as the wildfires currently burning across California and other states on the West Coast. These fires, which have left at least 27 people dead and dozens more missing, may have forced the birds into early migration.
Desmond, a professor at the university’s department of fish, wildlife and conservation ecology, told CNN that birds who migrated ‘before they were ready’ because of the fires ‘might not have had enough fat to survive’. She added that some birds might not have even had the reserves needed to start migrating, so will have ‘died in place’.
On top of that, some birds may have had to change their usual migratory pathways, leading them into uncharted territory, while others might have inhaled smoke and sustained lung damage as a result.
However, even if this was the case, this still doesn’t provide all the answers, with Desmond explaining: ‘We began seeing isolated mortalities in August, so something else has been going on aside the weather events and we don’t know what it is. So that in itself is really troubling.’
It’s just terrible. The number is in the six figures. Just by looking at the scope of what we’re seeing, we know this is a very large event, hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dead birds, and we’re looking at the higher end of that.
The professor said climate change is ‘playing a role’, adding: ‘This is devastating… We’ve lost 3 billion birds in the US since 1970 and we’ve also seen a tremendous decline in insects, so an event like this is terrifying to these populations and it’s devastating to see.’
Prior to the dead birds being found, residents had reported seeing them acting strangely. For example, birds that would usually frequent shrubs and trees were spotted on the ground looking for food.
On the US Army White Sands Missile Range golf course, swallows were seen sitting on the ground and letting people approach them, Desmond explained. This is extremely strange behaviour because swallows are aerial insectivores and do not walk.
Many of the birds seen by residents in the days before their death were lethargic and unresponsive, and as such were getting hit by cars in numbers ‘larger than ever seen before’, Desmond said.
Now, the birds will be sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon for necropsies in the hope that scientists will be able to determine their cause of death.
However, it could take weeks to get these results.
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