Bird Die-Off Linked to Climate. (Wind Turbines not so much)

December 26, 2020

Mysterious large die off of birds in the US Southwest this fall. Investigation continuing.

CBS News story above suggests, among other hypotheses, that smoke from fires could have affected birds lungs.
That has not been born out by subsequent examinations of carcasses, see Guardian story below. There does seem to be an association with extreme weather events. CBS piece does make the point about keeping your damn kitty cats inside.


The mass die-off of thousands of songbirds in south-western US was caused by long-term starvation, made worse by unseasonably cold weather probably linked to the climate crisis, scientists have said.

Flycatchers, swallows and warblers were among the migratory birds “falling out of the sky” in September, with carcasses found in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska. A USGS National Wildlife Health Center necropsy has found 80% of specimens showed typical signs of starvation.

Muscles controlling the birds’ wings were severely shrunken, blood was found in their intestinal tract and they had kidney failure as well as an overall loss of body fat. The remaining 20% were not in good enough condition to carry out proper tests. Nearly 10,000 dead birds were reported to the wildlife mortality database by citizens, and previous estimates suggest hundreds of thousands may have died.

“It looks like the immediate cause of death in these birds was emaciation as a result of starvation,” said Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, which received 170 bird carcasses and did necropsies on 40 of them. “It’s really hard to attribute direct causation, but given the close correlation of the weather event with the death of these birds, we think that either the weather event forced these birds to migrate prior to being ready, or maybe impacted their access to food sources during their migration.”

The first deaths were reported on 20 August at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, with accounts of birds appearing lethargic and congregating in groups before dying. Most deaths happened around 9 and 10 September during a bout of cold weather that probably meant food was particularly scarce. In a weakened state, the birds seemed to become disorientated, flying into cars and buildings, some dying on impact and others landing on the ground, subsequently dying from cold temperatures or being eaten by predators.

“We’re not talking about short-term starvation – this is a longer-term starvation,” said Martha Desmond, a professor in the biology department at New Mexico State University (NMSU), who collected carcasses. “They became so emaciated they actually had to turn to wasting their major flight muscles. This means that this isn’t something that happened overnight.”

The birds probably would have started their migration in poor condition, which could be related to the “mega-drought” in the south west of the country. “Here in New Mexico we’ve seen a very dry year, and we’re forecast to have more of those dry years. And in turn I would say it appears that a change in climate is playing a role in this, and that we can expect to see more of this in the future,” said Desmond.

Concerns were raised about wildfires in California causing birds to re-route their migration inland over the Chihuahuan desert but necropsies showed no smoke damage in their lungs. The centre also ran tests for contagious bacterial and viral diseases, parasites and evidence of pesticide poisoning, all of which came back negative.

Allison Salas, a graduate student at NMSU, said the volume of carcasses she had collected had given her chills. She said: “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming.”


3 Responses to “Bird Die-Off Linked to Climate. (Wind Turbines not so much)”

  1. mboli Says:

    So for every bird killed by a wind turbine, ten thousand are killed by cats.

    I had a friend who was very fond of feeding the geese in a pond near her house. Every day she went to feed them, it helped her to feel like a useful person. If one of the geese appeared injured, she would put what she believed to be pain medicine (it was homeopathic) in the food.

    She also had several cats, which she encouraged to roam outside. She left a window partly open as a cat entrance/exit door.

    I never pointed out the obvious to her. It wouldn’t have changed her behavior, just created tension.

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