A lake in Montana, US, bore witness to death on a biblical scale after thousands of birds fell to the ground.
The Big Lake Wildlife Management Area west of Molt was covered in carcasses and injured birds after a devastating hailstorm at the weekend (August 17/18).
As residents in the area recovered from the ‘baseball-sized hail’ that flattened crops and smashed windows, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) were picking up pelicans, cormorants and other birds that suffered at the hands of Mother Nature.
A press release from FWP said biologists were collecting ‘dead ducks and other shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls, internal damage and other injuries consistent with massive blunt-force trauma’.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh estimates that around a third of the birds at the lake – between 11,000 and 13,000 – were either killed or injured in the storm, which was reported to be propelled by 70mph winds.
Of the birds still alive at the lake, Paugh estimates ‘five percent of ducks on the lake and 30 percent to 40 percent of living pelicans and cormorants show some sign of injury or impaired movement – mostly broken wings and broken wing feathers’ and that many will likely not survive their injuries.
Big Lake Wildlife Management Area is a seasonal lake with shallow waters that functions as a nesting area for dozens of species, including but not limited to Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, pelicans and other waterfowl.
Due to the onslaught of particularly wet weather, the lake is filled to the brim and the area covers around 4,000 acres.
Paugh and wildlife research specialist Jay Watson have been back at the lake in the days following to continue to assess the situation. One concern they have is that disease – including botulism, a toxin which can cause paralysis and has been previously responsible for widespread deaths among birds – from rotting carcasses could hamper the development of future populations.
In an FWP statement, Paugh said:
On a positive note, the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.
Last year, Idaho experienced a similarly apocalyptic scene. A flock of more than 100 geese were caught in a wild storm – golf ball-sized hail, thunder and lightning included – and were sent plummeting to the ground.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.