The news out of Montana is shocking, especially for those who love birds. Over 11,000 wetland birds and waterfowl have died, either dropping out of the sky or being killed on the ground after a severe hail storm blew through the area.
The people in Montana are trying to fix the problems associated with the hail storm, including damaged cars and flattened crops. The hail was as big as a baseball, so it caused a lot of damage. Wildlife biologists in the area, however, are busy collecting “dead ducks and shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls, internal damage, and other injuries consistent with massive blunt-force trauma,” according to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
The agency posted pictures of the shoreline along Big Lake Wildlife Management Area. Numerous bird species were dead on the shore, littering the ground. It is also reported that thousands of other birds near the lake are injured as well.
The late-summer storm had winds of up to 70 mph and hailstones as large as a baseball. It is thought that approximately one-third of the birds were either killed or injured. After observing the living birds on the lake, FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh said that about 5% of the ducks and as many as 40% of pelicans and cormorants were showing signs of being injured or had some type of impaired movement. Most of the injuries were due to broken wing feathers or broken wings.
Big Lake Wildlife Management Area is a seasonal lake and wetland area that provides refuge and nesting for dozens of different types of waterfowl species and migratory shorebirds. Some of the birds that can be found in the area include ducks, geese, cormorants, gulls, and pelicans. The springtime has been especially wet so the lake is filled to approximately 4000 acres.
According to Paugh, as many as 13,000 waterfowl and shorebirds were affected by the summer hailstorm. Most of the dead showed up on the shore within a few days following the storm but there are many others who are likely not going to survive due to their injuries. The rotting carcasses of so many dead birds have caused some concern as well. It could increase the likelihood that disease may spread and affect the local bird populations even further. Among the diseases that are possible is avian botulism, which is a severe toxin that can paralyze the animals or lead to unusual behavior. Avian botulism has been responsible for widespread bird deaths in the past.
“On a positive note,” said FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh in a statement. “The lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.”
The situation will continue to be monitored by FWP.
Something similar happened in Idaho last year when more than 1000 geese died when a storm blew through including golf ball-sized hail, strong winds, and severe lightning and thunder.
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