Hundreds of thousands of birds have died in New Mexico – with biologists fearing that raging wildfires across the US West Coast could be partly to blame.
The mysterious phenomenon is believed to have begun around August 20, when countless dead animals were discovered at the US Army White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
But the incident has since been replicated across the state, as well as in Colorado, Texas and Mexico, while locals in Arizona and Nebraska are also said to have come across numerous carcasses – with the overall toll possibly even topping a million.
Various species, including swallows, flycatchers, warblers, bluebirds, sparrows, blackbirds and others, have since been found dead in the ‘devastating’ incident, according to local media reports, which have highlighted bizarre behaviour among the animals before they died. Extreme heat and drought, have also been highlighted as possible factors.
Experts say climate change is ‘playing a role’ but are unable to say exactly how many birds have died, or explain for certain why they are all dying.
Martha Desmond, a professor at New Mexico State University’s department of fish, wildlife and conservation ecology, told CNN: ‘It’s just terrible. 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.’
Many onlookers have suggested the most likely factor is the wildfires burning in California, Oregon and Washington state.
The blazes may have exposed them to harmful toxins from the smoke, which has been branded the ‘world’s dirtiest air’.
Professor Desmond suggested some birds forced into migrating early by the fires may not have had enough fat reserves to survive, but said ‘something else has been going on aside the weather events’, which they have not been able to explain.
Along with her team, she began documenting the deaths of about 300 birds on Saturday, September 12, along with biologists from White Sands Missile Range.
She told CNN that residents and biologists reported birds behaving abnormally before dying.
The scientist explained that many were lethargic and unresponsive, meaning they were being hit by cars in numbers ‘larger than ever seen before,’ while swallows — which don’t even walk — were sitting on the ground at a golf course allowing people to come near them.
It comes as the United Nations warned that the world must act now to stop ‘unprecedented’ declines in the natural world. It said countries were not doing enough to halt biodiversity loss in a stark call to action.
It could take weeks for the birds’ cause of death to be determined by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon.
Professor Desmond added: ‘We lost 3 billion birds in the US 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.
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