California Wildfires Claim the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Migrating Birds

by Kaushal Kumar

Last week park rangers in Albuquerque, New Mexico were startled to find hundreds of dead swallows scattered around their forests and parks. These birds were meant to be migrating from the Western United States to the tropics as a part of their biannual migration to remain in warm weather. This year, however, they didn’t make it. John Hayes explained how unusual the large amounts of deaths were when he said, ““Birds that are migrating are often stressed and exhausted. But that results in a few birds here and there dying; you don’t see thousands of them dropping dead.”

Ornithologists, scientists who focus on the study of birds, consider this mass die-off as a byproduct of the ongoing wildfires in California. They suspect that the birds were forced to divert their path to avoid the fires and thick smoke that is impacting much of Central and Southern California and pass through New Mexico. However, due to ongoing weather conditions in New Mexico, including an extreme cold front and an ongoing drought, the birds may have starved due to a lack of insects. 

The birds found in New Mexico are just the tip of the iceberg, with many other locations, including California, Colorado, and numerous Mexican States also reporting similar cases of large numbers of dead birds.  Scientists expect that the total number of deaths may be in the hundreds of thousands and that the bird population will only continue to suffer as the smoke from the wildfires begins to reach the East Coast. The effect that smoke has on birds has been closely studied and the exposure to smoke can impact a bird’s ability to reproduce and makes them more susceptible to developing respiratory illnesses.

The unsettling deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds are just another reminder of our constant battle against climate change. As the weather becomes more extreme and natural disasters like the historic wildfires in California and droughts in New Mexico become more common it is inevitable that the wildlife that depends on the climate to survive will suffer. Continued human action that speeds up climate change will continue to have an impact on not the future of people, but also the future of all living things on the planet.