More than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds have fallen dead from the sky following a dramatic hailstorm that wreaked havoc through the state of Montana earlier this week.
As Montanans tend to flattened crops and broken windows damaged by the baseball-sized hail in the area, wildlife biologists working in the eastern part of the state collect “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.
Images posted by the agency show the shoreline along Big Lake Wildlife Management Area littered with a variety of bird species, while wildlife officials report thousands of additionally injured waterfowl and wetland birds in and around the lake. Nearly one-third of the birds were likely killed or injured during the late summer storm, which had winds reaching up to 112 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour). FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh says that of the living birds observed on the lake, 5 percent of ducks and up to 40 percent of pelicans and cormorants show signs of injury or impaired movement, namely from broken wings and wing feathers.
Big Lake Wildlife Management Area is a wetland area and seasonal lake that provides a nesting area for dozens of migratory shorebird and waterfowl species, including ducks, geese, cormorants, pelicans, and gulls. A particularly wet springtime has filled the lake to an area about 4,000 acres.
In all, Paugh reports that up to 13,000 waterfowl and shorebirds were affected by the hailstorm, with most of the dead having been blown to shore in the four days following. Of those still alive, a number of the birds are not likely to survive their injuries. Such a large number of rotting carcasses has wildlife officials concerned about the potential for diseases to spread and further devastate local bird populations. Avian botulism (Clostridium botulinum), for example, is a serious toxin that can result in paralysis and unusual behavior that has historically been responsible for widespread bird deaths.
“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.”
FWP officials say they will continue to monitor the situation.
Last year, the neighboring state of Idaho similarly lost more than 100 geese to a severe spring storm that brought with it golf ball-sized hail, high winds, and intense thunder and lightning.