Wildfires helped kill nearly a million birds

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Wildfires helped kill nearly a million birds

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Smoke, early migration, and harsh flight conditions may have caused hundreds of thousands of birds to drop from the skies

Scientists and bird watchers are reporting multitudes of dead birds across the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. 

The death toll is at least in the hundreds of thousands, but possibly more than one million migratory birds have fallen, in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and other western and southwestern states, as well parts of Mexico, according to Martha Desmond, professor at the New Mexico State University’s department of fish, wildlife, and conservation ecology,  

“It’s just terrible,” Desmond told CNN. “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 dead birds included warblers, bluebirds, sparrows, blackbirds, the western wood pewee, flycatchers, and other species that migrate south for the winter. In addition to falling from the sky, many birds have also exhibited strange behavior, like searching for prey low to the ground rather than in trees and shrubs — causing many to be run over by cars. Desmond said in one incident, a group of sky-dwelling swallows that do not even have the ability to walk were found sitting in the middle of a golf course. 

Why are so many birds losing their lives? The main suspect seems to be problems with migration due to strange weather and wildfires. Migration is a long, perilous journey, and even a slight irregularity can be a death sentence for a bird. According to a news report by the Audubon Society, a cold snap earlier in the month could have caused the birds to depart too early, before they had accumulated enough fat for the voyage.  Unusual atmospheric conditions caused by the recent severe wildfires could have also triggered the early departure, and smoke and fumes from the wildfires may have impaired the birds sight and breathing. Furthermore, the fires may have forced the birds to re-route their flights through harsher climates. 

All of these causes are linked to climate change, claims Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest. “This is about abrupt changes in our weather patterns as a result of climate change,” he says. “All these things are going to cause long-term declines, long-term losses [of birds], and they’re gonna be punctuated by big scary events like this. It’s part of this bigger problem.”


Written by

Maheep Chawla

Maheep is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is pursuing a major in Psychology. Previously, she has interned with a pre-school for children with special needs based in New Delhi. In the past, she has also written for her campus newspaper and the editorial department at UBC’s Psychology Student Association.