The deaths of thousands of birds in the southwestern U.S. have sparked concern from scientists. This phenomenon has been described as a national tragedy by ornithologists, who suggest that it could be related to the climate crisis. The species of birds affected include flycatchers, warblers and swallows. Bird carcasses have been spotted in numerous places, including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska.

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According to Martha Desmond, a biology professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU), many of the cases show signs of starvation. The carcasses have little remaining fat reserves, and many of the birds appear to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight.

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“I collected over a dozen in just a two-mile stretch in front of my house,” Desmond said. “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.”

Many of the birds belonged to a group of long-distance migrants that fly from Alaska and Canada to Central and South America. These birds travel long journeys and have to make several landings for food before they proceed. However, the recent fires across the western states might have made it difficult for the birds to follow their regular route. If the birds moved farther inland to the Chihuahuan desert, they likely struggled to find food and water, leading to starvation. At the same time, the southwestern states have experienced drier conditions than usual, which might have reduced the number of insects on which the birds could feed.

Scientists have also discussed the possibility that the wildfires and their accompanying smoke may have harmed the birds’ lungs.

“It could be a combination of things. It could be something that’s still completely unknown to us,” said Allison Salas, graduate student at NMSU. “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming. … The volume of carcasses that we have found has literally given me chills.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Florian Hahn