dead birds
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
September 16, 2020 ·  3 min read

Birds Mysteriously Dropping Dead Across Southwestern U.S.

Currently, in the southwestern United States, there are hundreds of thousands of migratory birds dying, and biologists can’t figure out the reason. This is what we know so far.

Hundreds of Thousands of Birds Dying in the Midwest

Researchers from New Mexico State University’s department of fish, wildlife, and conservation ecology have a growing concern about the number of species of birds they are finding dead in and around the state. The die-offs were first noticed last month at the White Sands Missile Range and the White Sands National Monument. Hundreds of dead birds have been found since then, and the numbers continue to climb. (1)

“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.” says NMSU biologist Martha Desmond. (1)

According to NMSU biologist Allison Salas, the birds seem to be in relatively good condition, except for that they have almost no muscle mass and fat reserves. On Twitter, she said that it seemed almost as though they just flew until they couldn’t any longer.

None of the species found are resident birds, instead, all of them being migratory. Among the various species that have been found are several insect-eaters, including:

  • Sparrows
  • Warblers
  • Blackbirds
  • Bluebirds

Many of these species’ populations were already struggling before this event, so this is especially devastating.

Strange Behavior

Experts at NMSU say that the birds have been showing strange behavior before dying. (1) This includes (1):

  • Hopping around on the ground when they usually are perched in trees or bushes
  • Flying slowly as if in a daze

The latter causes them to get hit by cars because they are simply too slow to fly out of the way in time.

This is not an isolated event, either: Birds are dying en masse in Colorado, Arizona, and Texas, as well.

Why are Birds Dying?

The short answer is that at this point, biologists don’t know. Some have thought perhaps it could have to do with a cold-snap in New Mexico last week, but according to Desmond, the birds were being found before that time. That also wouldn’t explain the birds dying in other states.

The theory right now is that it is related to the extremely dry conditions that have taken over the state, and the wildfires currently ravaging California, Washington, and Oregon. Desmond says ultimately, she believes it boils down to climate change.

“We lost three billion birds in the U.S. 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.” (1)

Not much is known right now about the impact that wildfires and the smoke they produce has on bird populations, but the biologists are hoping that they can at least use this to learn more.

Until then, if you see higher numbers of dead birds in your area, you can report them on the iNaturalist app that Desmond and her team are using to track the birds.

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