Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of birds are dropping dead in New Mexico, alarming biologists who suspect wildfires could be playing a role. A large number of migratory birds were found dead at the US Army White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument on Aug. 20, before more turned up in the areas of Doña Ana County, Jemez Pueblo, Roswell and Socorro, reports CNN. There have also been sightings in California, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. "This is just an unprecedented mortality," Martha Desmond, a biologist at New Mexico State University who is working with colleagues to examine hundreds of the dead birds, tells the Las Cruces Sun-News. "We know this is a very large event, hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dead birds, and we're looking at the higher end of that,” she adds, per CNN.
Witnesses reported some birds were acting oddly before they died. Swallows were seen on the ground, though they don't walk. Other birds appeared lethargic and were getting hit by cars. Desmond tells CNN that wildfires may have forced some birds to migrate before they were ready and "had enough fat to survive." Smoke may have also caused lung damage, or forced birds to alter their routes. In Colorado, officials have blamed cold temperatures, per the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. But Desmond believes "something else has been going on aside [from] weather events." The mystery is especially "devastating" as more than 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970, she tells the Sun-News. "Climate change is affecting the abundance of insects, it's affecting the volatility of the fires, and the scary thing is this may be an indication of the future." (Read more birds stories.)