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  • Carcasses of migrating birds found in White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, U.S. September 12, 2020.

    Carcasses of migrating birds found in White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, U.S. September 12, 2020. | Photo: @ConservationFF

Published 16 September 2020
Opinion

The first deaths were reported in New Mexico, but they seemed unrelated to other events until ornithologists noticed a regional pattern. They also revealed that the birds changed their habits and behavior before dying. Local species such as Curve-billed thrashers, great-tailed grackles, and white-winged doves are not affected.

Thousands of migrating birds died in southwestern U.S. states, apparently due to starvation during flying because of massive wildfires.

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"To see this and to be picking up these carcasses and realizing how widespread this is, is personally devastating. To see this, many individuals and species dying is a national tragedy," said biologist at New Mexico State University (NMSU) Martha Desmond.

Experts found carcasses of flycatchers, swallows, warblers, and other species in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska. According to their reports, the birds have a low rate of muscle mass, which indicates they flew until starvation overcame them.

The birds proceed from Alaska and Canada and head to the South to spent winter in warmer locations like South America and the Caribbean islands. They have to stop to feed during the migration, but the wildfires forced them to re-route, depriving them of nourishing time.

The first deaths were reported in New Mexico, but they seemed unrelated to other events until ornithologists noticed a regional pattern. They also revealed that the birds changed their habits and behavior before dying. Local species such as Curve-billed thrashers, great-tailed grackles, and white-winged doves are not affected.
 
The last mass bird's death in the U.S. was registered in March of 1904, during a snowstorm that killed 1.5 million specimens. Experts estimate the loss could be higher as the birds had to detour over the Chihuahua desert, an unwelcoming habitat for them. However, the exact cause for the deaths is to determine.

"We're kind of coming at them from all sides. If we don't do anything to protect their habitat, we're going to lose large numbers of the populations of several species," said NMSU graduate Allison Salas. 

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