NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Dead birds are being found at an alarming rate across New Mexico and wildlife experts are trying to figure out what is behind it.
Ecologist Martha Desmond, who studies birds, is a professor at New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology. She said this started in late August when large amounts of birds were found dead at the White Sands Missile Range. At first, it was thought to be an isolated incident. Now, she estimates hundreds of thousands of birds are showing up dead across the state.
“It’s devastating. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so horrible in my life. When you’re there, you know, picking them up off the ground and seeing the extent of it and then looking at all these carcasses come in and you hear the stories from people across the state,” Desmond said. “A lot of these species, they’re already in trouble and they’re experiencing declines. And then to have this type of event occur on top of it, it’s devastating.”
A number of bird species are impacted including warblers, swallows, and bluebirds. Desmond said insect-eating birds seem to be the most affected. Desmond is now studying the birds that come in, identifying the bird species, seeing what kind of shape the birds were in before they died, and shipping them off to a forensic lab to learn more.
Desmond said they don’t know what is behind the mass deaths but the recent, early cold snap did play a big role. They are working on a number of hypotheses.
“We honestly do not know. It could be that the weather moved it and pushed birds out early in Colorado where it just snowed like crazy. Some of them might not have been ready to migrate and so they died in place. But, we also, it could be the fires…the west fires across the western United States forced some of them to change their migratory routes. Some of them could have some smoke damage, birds have very sensitive lungs, it could be that we’ve had some very extreme, dry conditions here…it could be something unrelated that we’re not aware of,” Desmond said.
Desmond and other wildlife experts are urging the public to help and download an app called Inaturalist. They want people to take photos of any dead birds they come across and upload them to the app so experts can study them and get a fuller picture of what is happening in the southwest region.
Along with studying the dead birds, Desmond and others are also studying birds who are still alive. She said birds are showing odd behaviors like being lethargic, spending a lot of time on the ground, and letting humans get close to them.
Neighboring states Colorado, Arizona, and Texas, are also reporting similar situations and large amounts of dead birds.